Róisín Murphy takes her turn

By: Gay.com
10.14.2008

80481625(courtesy of Getty Images)
It was a drag performance of "Fun for Me" at a little San Francisco dive bar, back in 2005, that first introduced me to Moloko.

Of course I knew the track "Sing It Back." I spent much of 1999 and 2000 out in clubs, twirling to the dance-pop number, but I never paused to uncover its roots. Trip-hoppy "Fun for Me," was a different deal entirely. I think it was a combination of the funky beat, member Róisín Murphy's jazzy voice, and the brilliant, Japanese-inspired spectacle created by Miss Holly DeVille that brought me to a halt and made me take notice this time around. Running up to the gender-illusionist, post-show, I asked her for the name of the Massive Attack (or was it Portishead?) song she sang, and I wasn't alone in my interest, as other audience-members crowded around in anticipation of her response. "It's by Moloko," she said mysteriously, without elaboration, which only peaked my curiosity even more as I ran home to research the band. But more importantly, who was the single's singer-songwriter Róisín Murphy and why wasn't she as big as Liz Fraser or even Madonna and Kylie Minogue?

That's what 30-year-old Sheffield, England-based mixer-producer Mark Brydon (House Arrest, Cloud 9, Psychic TV) must have been thinking on a fateful night in 1994 when the then 18-year-old Arklow, Ireland-native, who moved to Sheffield via Manchester a year earlier, approached him at a party with the now infamous come-on, "Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body."

The two began dating, formed the duo Moloko and achieved numerous hits on both sides of the Atlantic, including "Fun for Me" featured prominently on the "Batman & Robin" soundtrack, "Sing It Back," "The Time Is Now," and "Indigo."

(The Sonny and Cher of trip-hop: Moloko's Mark Brydon and Róisín Murphy, courtesy of Getty Images)2648205

But the honeymoon ended around Moloko's fourth album, "Statues" (2002), when Murphy and Brydon severed ties romantically and later professionally.

As a solo artist, Murphy relocated to London and co-produced the under-the-radar album "Ruby Blue" (2005) with electronic producer Matthew Herbert. Now, Murphy returns to the U.S. for a one-stop New York City performance to promote her latest release "Overpowered" (2007), which features sure to move you insta-classics like the electro-disco number "Overpowered," the soulful "You Know Me Better," and the discofried "Let Me Know," with styish videos -- portraying an exquisitely dressed Murphy as a modern-day gamine, at once a part of her world and apart from it, a sensation which one might imagine harkens back to a time when the Irish-born singer first moved to England, then most unwelcome to those of her nationality.

Gay.com chatted with Róisín Murphy, who at 35, has definitely come into her own as a solo star about her show, her latest album, being a social misfit, her drag influences and her gay fans.

Róisín, are you excited to return to New York as part of your current tour?

We'll come and rock it just like we rock it everywhere else. New York is a bit different than everywhere else. It's a great city for disco, so there's definitely open arms for what I do.

I've read that a trip to New York actually inspired "Overpowered."

Part of my inspiration for the record is New York, itself. The first ideas for the album, the genesis was when I was asked to play for the 718 sessions club a couple years ago. They asked me to play the Moloko song 'Forever More,' which became a massive club hit five years after its release. I thought it was a beautiful thing, but it's what happens in dance music all the time. When I went and sang it, the audience's reaction was incredible. [The promoter Danny Krivit] also gave me mixed CD's [of rare disco and house] that became the basis of the record. 'Forever More' is that kind of record. It's really known in one kind of scene, and even still within that scene. It's become a rare record, and the basis for everything I know.

So what can audiences expect at your New York City show?

It's going to be eight people on stage, very rock 'n' roll, because we really are a band. Simon, my boyfriend, has done this beautiful, magnificent animation as projections for the backdrop, with two beautiful back-up singers. I'm changing outfits all the time, so there's chaos on stage. I have moments in Margiela, Givenchy and Gareth Pugh. It's all fancy stuff, hats from here, there and everywhere.

You're kind of from here, there, and everywhere, yourself, at least within the UK, starting with your family's move from Ireland to England when you were a young girl. The transition couldn't have been easy -- especially with all the discrimination at that time.

I went to Catholic school, so it was not as bad as it might have been, because there were lots of kids in school of Irish descent. But I was bullied in Ireland and Manchester. I had problems even before I left, so when we moved I had a few months grace. I was really happy, the happiest out of everyone in my family, because it was a brand new slate, a brand new start. But things started falling apart in school.

How so?

I took myself out of teenage culture for a year or two. It coincided with my parents going back [to Ireland]. I would withdraw, and didn't go to school, but I met the weirdos that lived around the place, who were obsessed with music -- all boys, actually. I hung out with the boys into back-combed hair and The Jesus and Mary Chain. It kept me safe and helped me develop a sense of being different and thinking differently. I developed a pride in myself, in who I was going to be. The rest of my family had a harder time. It was the time of the IRA and things were being blown up. It was a funny time being Irish.

You lived in both Manchester and Sheffield, which each had strong music scenes in the 80's. Which of these cities would you say had a greater influence on your sound?

For Sheffield, I think more Mark, having been a part of it. He had been in Cabaret Voltaire at times, produced many of those bands, and had a recording studio in Sheffield called Fon Studios for many years before he met me. For me it was Manchester, which had a particular scene that arrived post acid house. Manchester had been very pioneering with acid house and house music, so they pushed that at first. But I came after that, when some DJ's became disillusioned with four on the floor, so you'd hear an old funk record mixed with industrial house, getting both extremes in one set. It was a real education. Coming for Manchester, where the scene was much more divided, there was less of a feeling of lineage, because you went to a particular club for a particular kind of music.

Speaking of Mark Brydon, that story about your approaching him at a party, with 'Do you like my tight sweater?', 'See how it fits my body' is pretty hard to believe. Is it fact or fiction?

Yes, I met this guy at a party in a cellar in Sheffield. That's where the best parties were, the disused spaces, and I had been chanting this thing all night, and getting really excited about it. Eventually I said it to the right or wrong man, and we immediately fancied each other; it was more of a chat up line.

Well, what was his response?

He took me to his studio in the middle of the night, and recorded me saying it, and it became a full-length track. We started a relationship, and I went into this valley girl role play, and he decided to record that as well. There were two tracks that we had, and he brought them to labels in London. People became interested, but I didn't get into this for this. But Mark said to them, 'Róisín will be fine.' It was completely fated. I couldn't figure it out at the time, but I was so in love.55939615

(Not a sweater, but it sure fits her body: Róisín Murphy with designer Vivienne Westwood, courtesy of Getty Images.) 

You had a fear of singing. So what changed for you, where you felt comfortable forming Moloko with Mark?

I was shy about singing properly, definitely. I was coming from a different angle, a more arty angle, like what if I take this and sample that, and that would be really stupid, wouldn't it? I was an arty weirdo. But I remember this American guy at the label, who said, "Oh my god, you gotta get her to sing. She sounds like Nina Simone.' I was told that I was great enough times that I started singing.

The first time I ever came across Moloko was in a drag performance of "Fun for Me." After watching the 'Movie Star' video, I have to ask if drag culture has influenced you in any way.

I really don't feel influenced by drag, but since 'Overpowered,' I've gotten a lot of drag queen friends. It's a wonderful by-product, and hence the wonderful video for 'Movie Star.' It was an accidental correlation rather than deliberate. They do like me. I don't know, [American photographer] Cindy Sherman was a massive influence, but maybe she's a drag queen in disguise. Like my gay friend said, 'You're like a drag queen in a woman's body.' Not on purpose. I'm just living every girl's fantasy of being in a dress-up box. There are a million archetypes that I want to play. I don't want to just be one. I'd rather have a bit of mystery around it and a chance to play.

I love the "Movie Star" video. It's like Cinderella with "Female Trouble." What was your intention with that?

I think it's just, in the song as well, about a girl who will do what she has to do where she wants to do it to get where she wants to go. But I will never be that girl that has sex with a lobster. I am quite pure in certain ways. I have a filthy mouth, but my behavior is fairly straight-forward. Of course I do not find it difficult to be manipulative and duplicitous or to take chances. I'm not the shyest and I'm not a wallflower. I've done things, but there are places I won't go.

So maybe you're not the filthiest person alive like the Divine character in "Pink Flamingos." Still, it's clear that director John Waters was a huge influence on this particular video.

It also fits the budget for that video. I'm not going to reference Stanley Kubrick on that budget. With Mark, we would have times where we'd watch one director for a week. It could have been David Cronenberg, but John Waters was a massive influence. Seeing his films as a teenager were huge watershed moments. That particular scene that I rememeber in 'Multiple Maniacs' is the lobster raping Divine. One experience I can relate to is when Peter Cook and Dudley Moore recorded these disgusting tapes of them chatting, called 'Derrick and Clive.' It was totally filthy. I remember hearing that and crying with relief that someone said and did the things I was not allowed to do. But there is still nothing worse than eating dog shit. It has not been surpassed and is still modern in its shock.

Watch the dragtastic "Movie Star" video here:

How difficult was it for you to co-produce this album, as well as 'Ruby Blue' before it, without Mark?

Working with Matthew Herbert on 'Ruby Blue' was extremely different than working with Mark, where you had two people writing together. Throughout the project of making 'Overpowered,' I had to deliver with brand new producers and writers, and it was scary to walk in and not know a person. Sometimes it wasn't good, and sometimes you're on a roll, and it was like meeting your other half.

What is your relationship with Mark like now?

I haven't spoken to him in year, but I'm always talking about him.

Are you two on bad terms?

It's not that, but we're on different paths in totally different worlds. I see him at funerals and weddings, and that's fine. I've been in a relationship for a few years. He's an artist and makes films as well. I did the 'Movie Star' video with him and 'So Into You' and the art work for 'Ruby Blue.'

Well, you know what they say... boyfriends and husbands come and go, but your gay fans are with you forever. Why do you think that you have such a strong gay following.

Are you calling me tragic, like some Judy Garland figure? Well, I did have a bit of a Judy Garland moment recently. I was with my mom, and it was a perfect, normal day. We went to see Auntie Linda, and my mom said, 'Oh god, Linda, give us some valium.' So she went out and got it. We sat around the kitchen table drinking tea and taking valium.

That story doesn't sound too tragic, if you ask me. I'm just sayin'

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(Róisín on the road, courtesy of Getty Images)

Catch Róisín Murphy in New York City at Mansion (530 W. 28th St.) on Oct. 24. For more information, check out: http://www.saintatlarge.com/

Tags: MUSIC
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