Róisín Has Landed
The story of Róisín Murphy begins in fashion. The springboard for her ascent from small-town, working-class misfit to in-demand style icon and neo-disco queen was a snug, secondhand, torn purple pullover she wore to a bash in a Sheffield, England, basement in the mid-'90s. The U.K.-based Irish-born singer recalls flitting about the party all night, saying to guests in a silly, coquettish American accent, "Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my bo-o-ody' ' Enchanted by her flair for drama, writer-producer Mark Brydon took her to the studio hours later and subsequently enlisted her as the lead singer of electro-pop outfit Moloko. Fittingly enough, Do You Like My Tight Sweater? became the title of the group's 1997 debut.
Fast-forward 11 years and four Moloko records later, and Murphy has gone solo, having confected two of the most polished, sophisticated albums of the decade: the heady, intricate art-jazz project Ruby Blue and Overpowered, a superbly structured, atmosphere-charging dance affair inspired by old '80s disco mixes passed down to her from her New York City DJ pal Danny Krivit. In the grand tradition of shrewd, convention-shattering, versatile divas (Annie Lennox, Bj'rk, and Murphy's idol Grace Jones), she has employed her love of drama and flamboyant couture in a recent string of cinematic music videos. She twirls and kicks her way through 'Let Me Know' in a greasy spoon transformed into a club, mines photographer Cindy Sherman's 1981 Centerfolds and Louis Vuitton pastels to take on multiple guises in 'You Know Me Better,' and in the biggest shocker of them all, is violated by a giant lobster in the new John Waters'influenced oddball extravaganza 'Movie Star.'
Already a hit overseas, Overpowered finally invades the United States early next year. 'Movie Star' will soon be released as a single, along with Murphy's remake of the 1985 Bryan Ferry ballad 'Slave to Love,' which will serve as the theme song for the worldwide ad campaign for upcoming men's fragrance Gucci by Gucci. Out sat down with Murphy -- whose striking aesthetic has helped her forge relationships with Givenchy, Gareth Pugh, and Viktor & Rolf -- to chat about her infatuation with disco, her hatred of red-carpet vultures, and why she's a diva.
Out: 2008 is a big year for you. You're planning the U.S. release of your second solo album, Overpowered, along with your remake of Bryan Ferry's 'Slave to Love."
Róisín Murphy: Yes, it's a dance version of the song. I worked on it with Seiji, who produced 'Overpowered,' 'Footprints,' and 'Dear Miami' [from Overpowered]. The video is slick and beautiful, where the video for 'Movie Star' is dirty and cheap.
You were very inspired by John Waters for the 'Movie Star' video.
Yes, I started re-watching his films to finalize the idea. I love his movies. Cry Baby is a masterpiece -- I even have a song on Overpowered called 'Cry Baby.' It's not meant to be a hugely commercial video; it's meant to be a cult thing. Actually, going out in London inspired me because the people embracing me reminded me of John Waters characters. It was nice to write a script with real people in mind. All the characters in the video look exactly like that when they go out. The woman who plays my mother, Jodie Harsh, is becoming quite famous. In the video she's this evil mother figure who ends up laughing after I get raped by the giant lobster. The lobster idea was pulled directly from Waters's film Multiple Maniacs.
What's the deal with the zombies at the end?
That happens after the rape in Multiple Maniacs as well, where they're all running down the street infecting each other. It's very Dawn of the Dead.
The video also seems like a dark, really warped take on 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.'
Yes, it's stuuupid! That's what it is!
Your songs and videos seem generally well-researched.
I like learning things, absorbing things. It doesn't feel like work. I don't read shit, watch shit films, listen to shit music.
What are reading now?
I just finished [Katherine Dunn's] Geek Love. It was fantastic!
Do you consider yourself a geek?
A freak. No, I don't think I'd consider myself a freak, but people used to call me a freak in school. I'd turn around, thinking I was so intelligent, and say, 'You don't even know what a freak is!' I was a naughty kid.
I'd talk back to kids. I was wild. All my learning took place outside school. I spent time with people who were interested in art, music, and film. Those are the people I surrounded myself with at an early age -- the freaks and misfits. I thought I'd do an art degree. In fact, I had a place in art college, but then I got a record deal -- which was pure accident. I established a relationship with someone [Mark Brydon of Moloko], and in the same night we were in a studio, and I was saying, 'Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my bo-o-ody.' Then he put it on a track, and I became a recording artist.
He just liked your voice?
He liked me. I had been saying 'Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my bo-o-ody' all night to people in an American accent. Then Mark had me to his studio because no one was there and he liked me. His studio was just an excuse to show me his 'big equipment.' We fell in love, then the next week we were at another party, and in the middle of the night we decided to go to the studio to record me saying 'Look at all these party weirdoes.' I was pretending to be L.A. and crazed -- you know, a girl disgusted with party weirdoes when she was the biggest party weirdo of them all. Then we got a deal. After four albums, we broke up.
Did you know when you were finishing your last record with Moloko that you would go solo?
I knew it was the end of Moloko, but I didn't know what I was going to do. After I finished the record, I thought, This is the last time I'll ever do this. I don't make records, so I'm not gonna tour. I really threw myself into it and started to work outside my relationship with Mark, who was never a showman. Thinking it could all come to an end, I wanted it to be the best possible show it could be. I wanted to change parts of the costumes, elongate arrangements, and make it all professional. It's not that I wasn't a bonkers performer before -- for my first shows I'd come out in a dog basket with a bone in my mouth -- but with the Statues tour, I was like, 'Let's make a fucking show.' That was when I really started to feel like this is what I'm meant to do.
Then you collaborated with Matthew Herbert for your first album, Ruby Blue.
We'd talked about it before, but literally, the day after we finished the Moloko tour I was in the studio with Matthew -- because I had time. We had such a good rapport that we got halfway through an album, so we just carried on -- and then I guessed I'd gone solo. It was natural and organic.
Ruby Blue is a strange album. You refer to it as 'cult.'
I think I'm a bit cult, aren't I? I sang 'Ruby Blue' [the title track] the other night and the audience was fucking screaming, and I just thought to myself, Shit, it's a fucking brilliant record. There are so many great songs on it, and it's done in such a radical way. It's a record I'm extremely proud of, and I got glowing reviews when I released it. I got better reviews for Ruby Blue than I did for Moloko's Statues.
Ruby Blue is not as melodic and easy to navigate through as Overpowered.
It's not a genre record, or a lifestyle record. A lot of avant-garde records fit nicely into the avant-garde lifestyle, and that makes me think it's not avant-garde at all -- you know, if it fits really neatly into your CD player and you sit back on your bloody Yves Saint Laurent sofa and you listen to it and feel real smug. It's a challenging record. I don't ever want to make music you shop to, that makes you feel stupid.
I have friends who love Overpowered, but they can't wrap their heads around Ruby Blue.
I think they might like it in 15 years. And yet So You Think You Can Dance used like three songs off it. 'Ramalama (Bang Bang)' -- the weirdest song on that record -- seems so perfect on a massive mainstream U.S. TV show. It worked brilliantly. Ruby Blue is stricken with millions of ironies in that sense. It's not seen as a dance record, but you type in 'Ramalama (Bang Bang)' on YouTube and you get all these little dance troupes from all over America doing routines to it.
Also, your voice sounds more soulful and mature on Ruby Blue, while it's more 'pop' on Overpowered.
I tried to channel some kind of naivet' on Overpowered like I'd never done before. I always tried to feel 16 when I was singing [on that album]. In Moloko, I wasn't doing that. I think my voice was quite annoying sometimes in Moloko because I was trying to become a singer. I was taking on these characters. This time, I wanted to put youth and joy into my voice, brashness, ballsiness, and fearlessness. On Ruby Blue, Matthew's ear tended toward the jazzier side of my voice.