A few months ago, Roisin was interviewed and photographed for an exclusive feature in UK magazine Clash. In the first part of the interview she talks about Moloko, Ruby Blue and recording Overpowered...
Keep it Loose – Part 1
“I’ve come full circle with how I’ve performed and who I am. I think I will do the best performances of my life on this record because this will be one that people sing an dance along to.”
Roisin Murphy may have recently retreated into suburban life, but she has just aptly described an atmosphere that encapsulates all my memories of her former band Moloko live. It seems accurate that this fiery woman would make every performance her best yet.
My first Moloko gig was in 1993. A backpacking gap year adventure had brought me to Berlin and Murphy and her then partner Mark Brydon’s debut album Do You Like My Tight Sweater had been my soundtrack to the previous year. That their show blew me away is an understatement; I’d never witnessed a leftfield singer perform with such passion and dynamism and connect to strongly with an audience. When Roisin lost her voice towards the end of their set that night, she was hugely apologetic. Walking past her on our way out, she croaked to us: “I’m so sorry!” Still reeling from her performance, I was well and truly won over.
Roisin remembers that gig – the awesome but deathly cold venue that had given her voice a beating, her stage-antics, with “all that mad robotic stuff” and now famed flamboyance. She once cringed at these early displays of showmanship, “I was really embarrassed because it just looked like I was hiding.” Now Roisin sees her performances as “brilliantly naïve” and “poppy in a way that wasn’t back then.” She reflects: “Not that I think it blew the world apart but it was ahead of its time.”
Six years later I saw Moloko heading a summer outdoor festival in Sydney. The due were touring Statues, the first and last album they’d made a friends rather than lovers. With massive hits The Time is Now and Sing it Back on every club compilation and turntable that past year they has the entire audience singing along euphorically as the sun went down. Roisin’s performances has evolved to become more extravagant and even less restrained. With a broken arm in low and costume changes throughout, she swooped across the stage in a McQueen dress and Dior feather headdress, and at the crescendo, designer gear and broken arm forgotten, she stunned the ecstatic audience by stage diving into the crowd.
Now 32, with her sixth album – her second as a solo artist – about to come out, a more mature yet nonetheless playful Murphy sits across from me in a swanky Soho bar, sipping Bellinis and crackling in recollection at her antics. Would she say she is extrovert?
“Probably, I didn’t desperately clamour to be what I am though,” she states defiantly. “I accidentally became a singer and I accidentally discovered that I could put all these things together and it took me a long time to get it all going at the same rate.”
The famed story of Moloko’s formation begins with the feisty Murphy sidling up to Brydon with the pick-up line: “Do you like my tight sweater, see how it fits my body.” They promptly went to his studio and at her insistence recorded it to music, six months on it became the title track of their debut album.
“I was 18. I didn’t know I could sing,” Murphy recounts. “I got signed because I said “Do you like my tight sweater see how it fits my body” on a track. I did fuck all singing. Everybody sings in Ireland and any and every event. When I was 9 I learned Don’t Cry For Me Argentina for my mum. They all went, ‘She’s got a voice! She’s the same as Elaine Page!’”
It’s a sensitive subject to broach, obviously Murphy and Brydon’s relationship ended, what was the breaking point with Moloko?
“There wasn’t really a breaking point, we broke up and then we made a record and toured it for a year and a half. We played to massive venues, had a great time and left it on good terms. People think how was that possible? But, you know, even on a small bus you don’t have to sit next to each other every day!”
At this Roisin chuckles. Cheerfully coarse in a very Irish way, she inserts haphazard ‘Fuckin’s’ for emphasis. Her appearance, however, is demure in a green shift dress paired with Chanel heels. She promises she doesn’t normally doll up for interviews, but she and her boyfriend, artist Simon Henwood, are off to the Royal Academy summer exhibition private view afterwards – a red carpet affair where they intent to purchase some works to add to their collection. The couple met when Henwood painted her for the cover of Ruby Blue, her first solo album. They now share “a very large house in suburbia” where they walk their dog every morning, garden and covet a library of 25,000 books. “It’s brilliant. You get up in the morning, have your cup of coffee, my boyfriend will pull out a book and open it in front of me at something wonderful. He loves to do that and I love him to do that.”
She gushes for a moment and it’s obvious she thoroughly enjoys this world, far removed from the sweaty clubs and stadium tours of yore. Will her new album reflect a more mature phase of her life?
“No, actually I’ve really tried to be as naïve and pure as I could be on this record,” she tells me resolute. “I love that sound of youth in dance music. It doesn’t have to be too clever.”
Clever was where Ruby Blue sat. With experimental maestro Matthew Herbert steering her first venture into solo territory, Murphy and Herbert utilised everything and the kitchen sink to produce sounds for the eccentric electro epic. “I had to bring a different object in every day,” Murphy recalls, smiling. “He was a good teacher.”
Two years on, she’s had a label change (to EMI), travelled the world for 8 months recording her second album, Overpowered, and finally given birth to a pure pop opus. Enlisting the production genius of Andy Cato of Groove Armada and Seji from Bugz in the Attic, both used their respective skills to real her sound back into the neu- disco realm that Moloko once ruled, while Scottish upstart Calvin Harris (Kylie’s current producer) also worked with Murphy on two tracks that didn’t make the cut. Was her choice of producers a conscious effort to move into a more commercial dance sphere?
“Dance music has not been in the mainstream for a long time, so they can’t be that commercially successful,” she claims. “It wasn’t a decision based on commercial success, but utter compatibility. Dance music is not on the radio right now, but there are actually hundreds of thousands of people who go out every weekends to clubs dancing.”
In part 2, Roisin talks about fashion.