Singer-songwriter Roisin Murphy's independent streak made her leave home at 15 after her parents split up, and helped her achieve pop stardom as part of Moloko. Now she's back as a solo artist - but please don't liken her to Kylie
The blond pop diva being promoted by her record company as the new Kylie Minogue is staring at me in horror. Her ice-blue gaze conveys scorn and am-I-really-hearing-this disbelief. "Am I the new Kylie? What a load of nonsense!"
"You should be looking at all the people I've influenced, rather than comparing me to anyone," Roisin Murphy cries, from which I can only infer that her record label bosses at EMI haven't shared this crucial piece of marketing information with the ex-Moloko singer.
Where the Australian princess fizzes with showgirl affability in Julien Macdonald spangles, Dublin-born Roisin, 34, cuts a more aloof figure, languidly androgynous in sculpted Viktor & Rolf clothes that accentuate her lean body and sleek bob. Kylie sings songs about chocolate. Roisin sings songs about oxytocin, the neurotransmitter said to be responsible for love.
Nevertheless, I can see why industry insiders might be making comparisons, because when it comes to crowd-pleasing club tunes and anthemic disco, Roisin's new album proves that she's anyone's match, even the sainted Kylie.
As one of the Moloko duo, she notched up a modern classic with "Sing it Back" in 1999. Her latest electronic offering, Overpowered, is equally catchy and commercial. It's a far cry from her first solo album, Ruby Blue, released in 2005 and widely described as "bizarre". It was promoted using a picture of Roisin dressed in armour milking a cow in the Alps, and by her own admission she "would go into the studio and grunt and then we'd do a great song around it." Together with her theatrical dress sense – she once wore a dress fitted with a lighting rig – it has earned her a reputation for wilful eccentricity.
"I'm eccentric maybe, but not wilful, and I wish people would stop calling me an edgy, avant-garde, left-field icon as if that were a bad thing," Roisin says.
But for all her initial froideur, when Roisin warms up she is entertainingly self-deprecating and darkly witty.
"My video director once described me as being 'a very loud and funny woman'. Not very intelligent and brilliant. It made me sound like Su Pollard."
But, in fairness, pinning her down is tricky. A self-confessed muse ("I always bring out creativity in the men around me"), she's also a workaholic: "I'm the one turning up at the edit at 10pm and staying on until 1am."
She's an "optimistic cynic," and a homebody who, paradoxically, loves touring. When performing, one moment she's cultivating the untouchable aura of a Hitchcock blonde, the next she's stage-diving into the audience in a Vivienne Westwood ball gown.
"Am I contradictory? No," she says. Then, contradicting herself, "Yes. Maybe I compartmentalise myself."
"Women are used to doing that. Throughout the day we take on different personae and we dress accordingly: for work, for being a mother, if we're feeling sexy or just want to have fun."
She lives with her boyfriend, artist Simon Henwood in an Edwardian semi in Cricklewood, North London, and takes clothes as seriously as music. Professionally she wears modernist constructions from Viktor & Rolf and the innovative British designer Gareth Pugh, known for his playfulness with silver foil, latex and giant cone hats.
In civvies, she favours vintage pieces, Luella Bartley and Preen. "I don't wear clothes thoughtlessly – I like them to have meaning."
I suspect Roisin, who has a history of philosophy from Aristotle to Alan Turing on her iPod, seldom does anything thoughtlessly. She's fascinated by science, and says it feeds her songwriting imagination.
"You have to keep your mind open to ideas."
"It's like taking a pile of vegetables and fruit: when you put them in the juicer all you get is a dribble out of the other end, but it's rich and potent."
Roisin comes from a family of self-starters. Her mother was an antiques dealer, her father supplied furniture to the bar trade, her elder brother runs a kitchen-fitting company.
"My family were all self-employed, so we weren't working class or middle class, we were wheeler-dealer class. It means I have to be my own boss."
"From an early age I loved fashion and would wear my mothers 60s clothes. My primary teacher would trail me off to the staff room to show them what I was wearing."
Roisin's otherness and hunger to be noticed were celebrated within her family.
"Every time I walked into the house there would be an auntie or uncle telling me how beautiful I was, or how clever or talented and special. It was very nurturing and gave me a great sense of confidence."
Then, when she was 12, her parents moved to Manchester. It was there that she honed her chameleon-like ability to adapt. Picked on for her Irish accent, she adopted Mancunian at school and reverted to her native brogue at home. ("I'd have had my ears boxed otherwise.") But home was not always an easy place to be.
"My parents had a passionate, tempestuous relationship, so full of drama it was like watching a film."
"That's probably made me the artist I am, but it's also coloured my relationships; as soon as I've got the stability I'm looking for the row."
Her parents split up when she was 15, and both returned to Ireland. She stayed in Manchester with friends, got a council flat and coped.
"I didn't have a second's hesitation. Maybe at a subconscious level I knew that my mother was recovering from the end of a 21-year marriage and wasn't in a place where she could be of any use to me nor I to her."
She buckled down to her A-levels – "easy, creative ones like art and theatre studies because I'm dyslexic" – and spent her evenings having dinner at someone's mum's.
"I was being looked after, just not by my parents. I made close friends and learned to be self-reliant."
She passed her exams and moved to Sheffield to be with her architect boyfriend, who took his muse on a tour of Europe. When the relationship ended, she was on the cusp of moving back to Ireland when she met musician and producer Mark Brydon, introducing herself with the line, 'Do you like my tight sweater?'
The pair became romantically then professionally involved (Roisin playing the muse again), and Moloko was born, their first album fittingly entitled Do You Like My Tight Sweater? When, after 11 years, the partnership ended, Roisin began her solo career.
"I've changed since Moloko. I'm not afraid to make demands of people, to work hard and expect the best."
"I wanted to make a disco album because I take dancing seriously. Night culture is a form of escapism."
She credits her relationship with Simon Henwood (all stability and no rows) for giving her the security to flourish creatively. He's painted her more than 15 times.
"I'm not sure why I'm treated as a muse.
"Maybe it's because I'll give every bit of me to a person when I really love them."
"Or maybe it's because I'm quite fit and they want to sleep with me."
Cue more laughter. Then she dresses up for the photographer in vertiginous heels and tourniquet-tight trousers.
So not the new Kylie, just the new Roisin – and it doesn't get much better than that.
From the Daily Mail website.