A muse and her music
A great interview from Telegraph.co.uk, where Roisin admits that she would love to be a massive cult:
Singer, show-woman, fashion icon and her own best stylist… is there no end to Róisín Murphy's talents? Stephanie Rafanelli meets a musical maverick of many, many guises.
It's not often that a girl can truly say she relishes such a comment as: 'I love your dress - it's got that real touch of the white trash about it.' But when the remark comes from the pop singer and all-round style icon Róisín Murphy it becomes the sort of compliment with which you can bore strangers at parties for years. And so I try not to blush, at the Stella photo-shoot, when the slender, honey-haired Murphy adds in a smoker's drawl, 'It's what the Texan wife would wear in that Coen brothers' film No Country for Old Men.'
Murphy then pads off in bare feet, hairgrips and a beige bra to ferret through a rail of Vivienne Westwood and Yves Saint Laurent, and Philip Treacy objet d'art hats, before throwing on a mismatched tweed jacket and feathered headdress as if she were late for a meeting and just running out the door. She looks fabulous. For a second we all stare in awe; then an Iggy Pop track bursts on the radio and she starts head-banging violently from the vertiginous heights of a pair of Jonathan Kelsey heels.
Such behaviour is typical Murphy, and has led to the press labelling her 'quirky' and even 'a nutter'. But for those who 'get' her, it's what makes her a star. Now others, it seems, are finally beginning to get it, too: at the age of 35 and after 13 years in the industry, first as the frontwoman of the arty boyfriend-girlfriend dance-music duo Moloko, Murphy is becoming more widely recognised as a musical maverick. Her second solo album, 'Overpowered', was critically acclaimed, and earned her comparisons to Kylie, Madonna and Gwen Stefani. Yet it's hard to think of Róisín (pronounced Roe-sheen) Murphy as mainstream. She writes and produces her own music, and likes to style her own shoots. There aren't many female singers who would appear in a video brushing their teeth on the loo in a giant inflatable black-and-white checked Gareth Pugh ensemble, or look as good in it (as she did for the song Overpowered).
There is, however, more to Murphy's theatrical antics than mere eccentricity; they have more in common with the performance art of the singer Grace Jones and the role-play of the feminist photographer Cindy Sherman (who depicts herself in self-portraits as the lead actress in a series of film stills). Today, now decked out in a Viktor & Rolf winter coat, thigh-high boots and swooping winged coronet, Murphy enacts Tippi Hedren in The Birds, radiating gooey sexual chemistry at the lens. She shifts from one reference to another, transforming each outfit as if with a flick of her transparent-blue eyes.
'I don't really know if I am thought of as a style icon,' she says, visibly shrinking into her chair in an old-fashioned boozer some time later. 'I don't feel like that at all. Music comes first, but I also just enjoy being creative in whatever I'm doing, be it wearing clothes, making images or performing. I just wouldn't enjoy standing there like a paper doll, having someone else stick paper dresses on me. That would be no fun.' (Even her accent defies definition, flitting between Irish R's, by 'eck northernisms and dropped Cockney T's.)
In a world in which women such as Victoria Beckham and Katie Holmes frequently appear in (the same) head-to-toe straight-off-the-catwalk looks, Murphy's ability to animate designer creations has won her friends in the highest echelons of fashion. One of those friends is Frida Giannini, the creative director of Gucci, who chose Murphy to represent Gucci at the Swarovski Fashion Rocks event last October and who approached her to record a cover of Bryan Ferry's Slave to Love for this autumn's Gucci by Gucci men's fragrance campaign. 'They asked me to play at the Gucci party in Milan [in June], and I was wearing this beautiful floor-length beaded gown and I had my hair up in this classic do,' says Murphy. 'I floated elegantly out on stage - and the next thing you know I'd hitched up my skirt and I was doing "the running man" [a comedy dance reminiscent of a Charlie Chaplin chase scene]. My performance is always about mixed messages.' She chuckles. 'It reflects the complexity of life… Humour is ahead of everything creatively. I think if things aren't humorous they are just crap.'
Humour, complexity and music are three things that featured heavily throughout Murphy's upbringing in small-town Arklow in County Wicklow, Ireland. Her grandmother, a progressive woman who wore mannish suits, ran her late grandpa's entertainment businesses, a restaurant and a snooker hall. Her Uncle Jim played in a jazz trio, and her father, an 'entrepreneur', was a born performer. 'He should have been Terry Wogan - he's got a singing voice like Guinness,' Murphy says, sighing. For the Murphys any excuse was a good excuse for a knees-up. The young Róisín always dreaded the inevitable special request: a solo rendition of Don't Cry For Me Argentina.
When Murphy was 12 the family moved to Manchester, and it was there, bullied by the girls at school, that she began fully to embrace being 'different', wearing head-to-toe 1960s clothing and exploring the Madchester nightlife. When her parents separated in 1988 and her mother, an antiques dealer, returned to Arklow, Murphy asked her if she could stay behind, lodging with a friend. In 1990 she moved to Sheffield with the intention of enrolling in art college.
Murphy only stumbled into the music industry - falling madly in love at the same time - in 1994, when she sidled up to an older man at a party in Sheffield with the chat-up line: 'Do you like my tight sweater?' The man turned out to be the music producer Mark Brydon and 'Do You Like My Tight Sweater?' became the first of four albums (and included the club anthems Sing It Back and Time Is Now) that they would produce together as Moloko, before splitting romantically in 2001 and professionally in 2003. 'Moloko was a relationship at first, not a career,' says Murphy. 'We were just falling more in love, and making music was a by-product of that. We had a ball. But after we broke up as a couple I got scared that this could be my last chance to make music. That was the moment I thought, "What I'm doing is right. I am a performer." Suddenly I got really focused.'
After the last Moloko gig Murphy began working with the producer Matthew Herbert, and in 2005 released the experimental jazz record 'Ruby Blue', which won her critical acclaim, and a deal with EMI for a second album.
Did she miss Mark after going solo? 'Of course. I still miss him.' But she doesn't still love him? 'Do I still love him in a sexy way? Oh no, I love him in a sexy way. He's a sexy man. He was a massive part of my life,' Murphy says, smiling. 'He's never said a word about my music… We just meet at weddings and funerals. We're not going to get together to talk about music, not any time soon.'
Murphy now lives in down-to-earth Cricklewood in north-west London with the artist Simon Henwood, who painted Murphy for the cover of 'Ruby Blue' and directed the video for her forthcoming single, Movie Star. 'Simon's brilliant. I think I'm a bit of a nightmare to go out with, to be honest. I'm so passionate and have big highs and big lows. Being Irish is a bit like being Italian: "Whadda ya trying to do with my mind?"' she says, throwing her hands wildly in the air in mimicry of herself.
But at the moment things are going extremely well for her, and the success of 'Overpowered' has signalled a serious bid for mainstream stardom. 'I would love to be a massive cult, I won't lie to you,' Murphy exclaims with a grin, peering over her pint. 'But I'm not looking for adoration in the way that nine-year-olds are. What's important to me is being creative - on a scale that's relevant to people.'
Kylie is, of late, the singer to whom she has most often been compared - how does she feel about that? '[The singer-songwriter] Kate Nash said something brilliant recently - she said: "You know, being a woman isn't a genre." I thought that was genius. If I was a man they wouldn't compare me to Will Young.' She pauses. 'I'm not there to shake my booty - I mean I do shake my booty - but I'm not there to be just a "woman" singer.'
Shake her booty she does. Murphy has played 22 festivals in the past two months alone. Her stage performances are electrifying: high-energy affairs packed with robotic dancing, head-banging and myriad cutting-edge outfits, from a Shadows & Dust leather jumpsuit to Martin Margiela's futuristic 'spacesuit'. 'Sometimes I wonder if my body is physically capable of doing what it's doing,' she says, looking momentarily weary. 'But I've actually got a lot more stamina now than when I was younger.'
In October last year Murphy sustained a serious eye injury while vigorously head-banging at a gig in Moscow, and had to undergo corrective surgery. Last month she turned 35 - would she ever be tempted to have a little help so that she continues to look as young as she behaves? 'I've got crap teeth, crap hair, I never have facials. I still have hairs in the middle of my eyebrows,' she says, giggling. 'I need to start shaving in a few places before I think about Botox.' She breaks into an ironic rendition of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.
There's more of the 'natural' Murphy to come, it seems. She has recently bought a house in the Irish countryside, which her mum has helped her furnish. Having always been thought of as a party girl, could Róisín Murphy be mellowing with age? 'I've upset my parents a few times in the past year because I've been swearing or done an interview pissed-up after a gig, and I really, really regret that. But my dad always says to my mum [she adopts a County Wicklow brogue]: "At least she's not that Amy Winehouse."' She adds: 'I've had times when I'm a party girl - and I even have the odd week now - but I'm a real homebody. I love me boyfriend, and I love me dog, and I love trimming the roses.'
She delves into her bag. 'Oh, I'm gaggin' for a fag, darling.' And with that she's off. Leaving me to picture her pruning roses in the rolling Irish landscape in a Viktor & Rolf number and YSL stilettos, like some beautiful, curious Edward Scissorhands.
> 'Movie Star'/'Slave to Love' double A-side is released on 29 September. Róisín Murphy's new tour begins in November
> Jacket and shirt by Alexander McQueen, from Selfridges. Trousers by Yves Saint Laurent. Shoes by Jonathan Kelsey. Stylist: Hew Hood. Hair and make-up: Emma Day, using Tommy Guns and Crème de la Mer. Location: the Ragged School