Thursday, 9 July 2015

Roisin Murphy | Clothes, Music, Boyz

I recently talked to former Moloko singer Roisin Murphy for the Under The Influence feature in the app Electronic Sound Magazine, June 2015, Club Edition, to mark the release of ‘Hairless Toys’, her first album for eight years

In the Under The Influence feature well known artists talk about the influences that have affected their artistic lives - mostly a book is in there, often a person, in the case of Guy Called Gerald the 808 was included. Here is the Roisin Murphy interview in full. The July issue of Electronic Sound is out now.  

One of my first influences was all the incredible gear (vintage 60’s women’s fashion) in my aunt’s attic, back home in Ireland. She was a beauty queen and married to a well-known musician.
   Another influence when I was little was the film Calamity Jane, featuring Doris Day and Howard Keel (Warner Bros). I just loved it, loved seeing this amazing tomboy. I still adore her to this day, also Ginger Rogers for the same reason: witty boyish girls.
   After that we moved to Manchester, from Ireland. Imagine living in a small town with one baker and a butcher (no candlestick maker but you get the picture) where everyone listened to AC/DC and heavy metal, and then moving to a city like Manchester, where’s the sky the limit? It was hugely influential. By the time I was 13 or 14 I was going to shows. The first one that really changed me, and my style of writing, was Sonic Youth. I sat on the stage for most of the gig and watched them as they picked up Kim Gordon repeatedly and threw her into the audience. I was open-mouthed: the experience, the excitement, the music, the vibe between the band, it ALL just blew me way. Next day I went straight out to the record store with my old U2 records and exchanged them for “Daydream Nation”. It set me on a path (Jesus And The Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, The Pixies). I realised that I didn’t have to be in the mainstream and that was a great liberation for me because I suddenly felt good, not crap about it.

Next big influence, of course, was moving to Sheffield on my own where I ended up starting Moloko with Mark (Brydon) after that famous chat-up line “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body?”
   The club scene was very influential. There was a feeling of change in the kind of mix of people, not just weirdoes but also kids that looked like they might have just come off the football terraces. I was too young to realize it’s connections with Ecstasy and I think that the club scene is more than just about hedonism. It has aspirational value. Like Northern Soul is sometimes called the music of the kids of coal miners.  The fact that you’ve found yourself here, dancing, means that you are not going to be a cog in that machine after-all. “You stick me in the machine I’ll break it!” (That’s what I always think about Mark E Smith, another huge influence but as a lyricist. He was supposed to go into the factory but he broke the machine. For example, The Fall’s fifth single, “How I Wrote Elastic Man”, where did that idea come from? He is so unique.)
   Suddenly, in Sheffield every person you met in a club was a producer, writer, artist or in a band and it was a real melting pot of musical tastes. It was truly creative and therefore very influential because now the boundaries were down.

My first record with Moloko was never about launching my career but the beginning of a relationship. Obviously Mark was totally influential. He taught me a lot about writing songs, about studios and also about having high expectations. So, when I was writing a song he might say, “There are too many you’s or me’s in those lines,” or when we were recording, he would stop me and say, “You didn’t quite get the note right there.” He taught me to push the levels all the time. To this day I make sure this resonates in my work: to be experimental and have fun. But… at the time I was more of the influence there because I was an opinionated cow and he’d just made a record for acid jazz and was quite downhearted about it that night, because the record had just been deleted, and I came in and I was like “I fucking hate acid jazz anyway, it’s stupid.” (Although I can appreciate it these days.) I brought him back to his experimental roots.

After the success of Moloko I was nervous about becoming a solo artist, so seeing Grace Jones live was a powerful, good influence. There were no on-stage explosions, fireworks or crazy lights, just an innate drama, an understanding of The Show, which so obviously came from her, not some clever artistic director. She totally inspired me, although I had already discovered there was a natural performer in me by then, by accident, when Eddie Stevens, (keyboardist, composer and arranger) and Moloko’s live musical director came into our lives. 
   He was a massive influence because although Mark was a brilliant producer he was not a natural showman. Eddie spruced all that up and showed us how we could have tremendous fun, because at first it was really hard to translate from being a studio band to a live act.

Working with Matthew Herbert on my first solo album, “Ruby Blue”, was a big influence, both in terms of his method of working and the attitude, or structure of working and that with discipline, comes freedom. (I used to sit around for hours waiting for inspiration to come before that.) This still influences my method of working in the studio today – perhaps even more expertly for “Hairless Toys”. He doesn’t use sound that’s created from synthesizers he does it himself. He uses samplers. He would ask me to bring in objects from my home. He would use the sound of me dancing or the sound of the rain outside and they ended up sounding like drum beats. It seems a bit academic. He’s written theses about these things and influenced more artists and producers than just me, but ultimately his biggest influence was putting me on a sonic pedestal. He was able to do something with whatever sound I made. He was just so paternal, warm, funny and sweet. Coming out of Moloko and being pretty scared about what I was doing he turned out to be the absolute perfect person to do it with.

The latest album, “Hairless Toys”, the follow up to “Overpowered”, has a recurrent theme of flamboyancy and creativity as a reaction to oppression, and of creating a safe space from the mainstream, particularly “Gone Fishing”, which is influenced by the documentary film Paris Is Burning, about the history of house music and black, gay culture.
   Another major influence on the making of this album, would you believe, is  “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore Present Derek and Clive Live”, a favourite thing that also had an enormous influence on me when I was growing-up. I always wish to have that level of fun; you couldn’t pick me up off the floor the first time I heard it, I was laughing so much.
   I actually listened to it every day before going into the studio to work with Eddie (Stevens). Eddie and I have a great comedic relationship because we’ve known each other for so long through Moloko, we crack a lot of jokes, but I had never worked on an album with him before.  I wanted to remember that sense they have (Cook and Moore) of making it up as they go along. It takes all your defences down and you’re laughing at things that you shouldn’t be laughing at and you kind of end up purer. It’s like a cleansing.

If I had to choose a book that has influenced me it would be Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theatre. The protagonist is a gruesome character, a dirty old bastard and when I first read this, in my 30s I was so shocked. I re-read it last year and surprised myself at how my levels of resistance to shock value, have gone down. It is absolutely brilliant and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This interview and the Roisin Murphy album review of "Hairless Toys" is in last months edition @ Electronic Sound  or  i tunes for one off copies or reduced subscriptions. 

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