‘I’m a modernist and a fu­tur­ist’: Róisín Mur­phy maps out her new mu­si­cal moves

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

The years go by in the blink of an eye. It’s been eight of them since Róisín Mur­phy was last on the phone with this news­pa­per to talk about a new al­bum.

A lot can hap­pen in eight years. In the Ark­low-born Mur­phy’s case, there were chil­dren, a cou­ple of dance sin­gles, some DJing, col­lab­o­ra­tions with the likes of Fat­boy Slim and David Byrne . . . and an EP in Ital­ian.

“What drew me to that,” Mur­phy says about Mi Senti (2014), a col­lec­tion of Ital­ian pop songs, “is that I am madly in love with my Ital­ian part­ner [Se­bas­tiano Prop­erzi], who is a mu­sic pro­ducer and is steeped in that mu­sic, so it’s around me all the time.” Her new al­bum, Hair­less

Toys, may be cut from a dif­fer­ent cloth than her pre­vi­ous solo records ( Over­pow­ered, Ruby

Blue), but you wouldn’t mis­take it for the work of any­one else. A stylish slate of elec­tro, melan­cholic disco and sub­tle pop hooks, this pal­ette of sounds al­lows Mur­phy to go deep.

When it came to writ­ing, Mur­phy found her­self look­ing back.

“There is a sort of nos­tal­gia about some of the songs,” she says. “I am of­fi­cially a mid­dleaged woman now, which gives me this abil­ity to look back and which gives some po­etry to the lyrics. I think the rich­ness to the grain of the lyrics is a new thing for me.

“Ob­vi­ously there’s a push and a pull. On Over­pow­ered, there was a nos­tal­gia for disco and early house mu­sic. But I’m a modernist and fu­tur­ist as well. I do be­lieve, and this is go­ing to sound re­ally pre­ten­tious, I know, that hu­man­ity will fig­ure it out so I’m op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture.”

She says her long­time col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ed­die Stevens has a lot to do with how the al­bum turned out in the wash. “What makes the record pri­mar­ily is the fact that the two peo­ple in­volved in it have a 20-year mu­sic his­tory to­gether.

“That’s the main in­flu­ence on the record, all the time we’ve spent to­gether mak­ing mu­sic over the years. We didn’t bring in ref­er­ences to the stu­dio. We didn’t do the Phar­rell Wil­liams thing of play­ing a record and won­der­ing how to make it sound like that, which I do some­times when I’m work­ing, and there’s no prob­lem with that.

“This is what hap­pens when you throw me and Ed­die in a stu­dio, two peo­ple who have had a shared life­time of mu­sic to­gether and a shared love of Derek and Clive, and see what hap­pens.”

New chal­lenges

Mur­phy calls her­self a “chal­lenge ad­dict” and the new al­bum pre­sented a few of th­ese.

“I hadn’t sat down with some­one at an in­stru­ment and just made up a song in an old-fash­ioned way that much be­fore, and that was a whole new weird chal­lenge for me,” she says. “Com­ing from some­one who started in the busi­ness by sim­ply say­ing some­thing – ‘do you like my tight sweater?’, which lead to Moloko – I like to feel I’m out­side my com­fort zone be­cause it makes me think I can make an even bet­ter record than the one I just made. I’m not some­one to sit on her lau­rels.”

One of the most strik­ing

songs on the new al­bum is Gone Fish­ing, in­spired by Paris Is Burning, Jen­nie Livingston’s doc­u­men­tary about New York’s flam­boy­ant drag ball cul­ture of the late 1980s. Mur­phy was drawn to the char­ac­ters in the doc­u­men­tary for many rea­sons.

“They were ge­nius per­form­ers, just awe­some,” she says. “Those per­for­mances in the film en­cap­su­late so much of what I try to do as an artist, that sense of hav­ing all the flam­boy­ance and sparkle and joy and de­light and beauty, as well as this river of com­plex­ity and depth and pain and melan­choly.

“Those ten­sions are fas­ci­nat­ing to me be­cause I think my per­for­mances are about say­ing a lot of stuff in one mo­ment. When I’m at my best, that’s what I try to do.”

The ses­sions with Stevens were very pro­duc­tive; in all, 35 songs were writ­ten.

“It’s easy to let your­self go when you’re so close to some­body and you trust that per­son and they cru­cially trust you,” Mur­phy says. “You don’t stop and talk about stuff be­cause there’s no need to do that, which of­ten hap­pens when you don’t know some­one in the stu­dio. You end up wast­ing time wor­ry­ing about the tools you don’t have or the songs you don’t have or what you should be do­ing.

“With me and Ed­die, if some­thing wasn’t quite right in a song, we didn’t talk about it, we got the thing down and we moved on and we knew both of us were ex­pe­ri­enced enough and tal­ented enough and smart enough to ad­dress that when the time was right. It meant we could get stuff down a lot quicker and main­tain the en­ergy that was ap­pro­pri­ate to that mo­ment and song. It’s an im­por­tant thing with any kind of cre­ativ­ity be­cause sit­ting about stress­ing about what you don’t have is a killer.

“You’ve got to deal with the tools you have in hand. I’m a firm be­liever in that.”

Toys and dance tunes

Mur­phy draws an in­ter­est­ing com­par­i­son be­tween how she worked on Hair­less Toys and her var­i­ous dance sin­gles over the past few years.

“When the mu­sic is so un­boxy and it’s not as easy to cat­e­gorise as the mu­sic I made in the last few years, and when you’re work­ing with some­one who is a vir­tu­oso mu­si­cian, you can go deep and wide, you can go left or right or up and down. It be­comes more of a land­scape rather than the boxy Lego way of work­ing you get with stu­dio boffins, where ev­ery­thing is strictly de­fined.

“Th­ese land­scapes of mu­sic lent them­selves to non-repet­i­tive lyrics which meant I could get more po­etic and deeper with the words and the songs. It’s a con­ver­gence of many things be­cause of where I am now in my life and the mu­sic I was writ­ing to.”

Those one-off sin­gles, such as the re­cent on the Cross- town Rebels’ la­bel, re­main an im­por­tant part of the Mur­phy nar­ra­tive.

“That part of me is just as rel­e­vant and I en­joy both sides of the coin when it comes to writ­ing songs,” she says. “It’s more of a dis­ci­plined chal­lenge to write dance­floor songs, but I love it as much as I love any­thing on Hair

less Toys.”

Be­ing a Mur­phy al­bum, the vis­ual el­e­ment around Hair­less

Toys is strong. Much of this came from her mus­ing on a char­ac­ter in­spired by the al­bum.

“It was some­one from my mem­ory with this vin­tage, glam­orous aes­thetic, some­one from the 1970s and 1980s in sub­ur­bia who’s a per­fec­tion­ist, some­one like my mother.”

This meant eight dif­fer­ent looks to go with the al­bum’s eight songs, Mur­phy says. “What made me pick up a cer­tain look when I was do­ing this – and I know this sounds re­ally ab­stract and kind of bull­shit but it’s true – was ‘is this hair­less toys or not?’ She laughs. “It turns out that slightly ugly, big-col­lared, bru­tally min­i­mal­ist clothes turned out to be the thing which made me have an affin­ity with hair­less toys.

“I was try­ing to cre­ate a look which was very unique and which was not a fash­ion look, although I didn’t suc­ceed in that be­cause when you look around now, it’s all about big col­lars. Even with the best will in the world, the in­ten­tion not to be fash­ion turned out to be very fuck­ing fash­ion, and there’s noth­ing I can do with that.

“I have a lit­tle an­ten­nae and even when I’m try­ing not to be, I’m con­nected with the bloody zeit­geist.”

Hair­less Toys is re­leased on PIAS on May 8th. Róisín Mur­phy plays the Elec­tric Pic­nic on Septem­ber 5th

When the mu­sic is so un­boxy and it’s not as easy to cat­e­gorise as the mu­sic I made in the last few years, you can go deep and wide, you can go left or right or up and down


Róisín Mur­phy

“I like to feel I’m out­side my com­fort zone.”

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