Róisín Murphy: “Don’t fear the blank page”The flamboyant queen of dance pop is back after eight years, with tips on being creative and love for her heiress, Lady Gaga.
In the early 1990s Róisín Murphy was the singer of the hugely successful dance outfit Moloko. In the 2000s the Irish musician went solo and made a name for herself as the most flamboyant queen of dance pop. Now Murphy is back after an eight-year hiatus with a new album, tips on being creative and catch-up lines.
THE RED BULLETIN: In an interview with the newspaper The Independent last year you said, ‘the aim is to write a masterpiece’. Do you feel you were able to achieve that goal?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: I always approach albums like that. I want to write a masterpiece every time I bloody do it. But it’s a bit tricky writing a masterpiece, you know? It’s not that easy, but I always try! (laughs)
You also mentioned that the new songs come from a deeper place. What do you mean by that?
I probably have a little bit more depth than I used to have. I’ve grown a bit more in the last eight years. I’ve had children, I’ve had a relationship fail, I’ve fallen in love again, I’ve travelled a bit, I’ve seen a different side of life, I’ve found that being a parent is the hardest thing of all to do. And so therefore I’ve kind of stretched myself in ways that I hadn’t before. And I’ve had my ups and downs, you know? Like everyone else has had in the last eight years.
For your new album, you wrote 30 songs in only four weeks. Where do you draw inspiration from?
All of life is inspiration. But you have to actually do the work to draw upon. Recently I had a day of total emptiness. I was wandering around, alone, when everybody else was working a job or doing something exciting, or it felt like that. And I was just wandering around in a cold city with nothing but cold faces all around me. It was like a day spent in the opposite mode of inspiration, you know? And yet that inspirationless day gave me the inspiration to, later on down the line, to write a song about it. So all of life is inspiration.
That sounds plausible. But can you really force creativity?
I think so. With all my years of experience, I know this feeling really well. It’s important not to be frightened of the blank page. You have to sit down and say, “okay. I’ve got to do something here.” Don’t fear the blank page. Force yourself to do it. For me it always works out.
Generally, are negative feelings more inspiring than happy ones?
Yes. It’s so much difficult to write a happy record, as opposed to a really frustrated one. But I think that if you are a person with sense of humour and a sense of irony, then happy-happy is not your bag anyway, you know? I don’t feel that would express the full scope of who I am at all.
There’s a quote from you somewhere saying you actually scare the living shit out of men. Is that still valid?
I probably did say that once, yeah. I don’t know if I do or I don’t. A bit, I think. I said that to my dad one time and he just looked at me and he said: “You what? Don’t be silly, Róisín. You’re just a nice girl. There’s nothing scary about you at all.” He made me think, like: “Uh, yeah. Maybe I’m actually imagining that I’m scary, but I’m not actually that scary.”
The album title is Hairless Toy, which sounds a bit creepy. What does it mean?
Hairless Toys is a misunderstanding from when I left the studio one day and I hadn’t named a song. My producer Eddie [Stevens] had to give the track a title. He heard me saying “Hairless Toys” when I was actually saying something else like “Careless Talk”. And then he named the song “Hairless Toys” because he’s a lunatic. When I saw it I was like, “that’s got to be the title!” And I still love “Hairless Toys” because it’s just so unique. Nobody else would have an album title like that. I’m not like the other girls who have sensible album titles. I have totally insensible album titles.
Speaking of this sense of unconventionality that runs like a thread through your 20-year career, do you think you’ve paved the way for younger artists like Lady Gaga?
I don’t think I’ve paved the way for anybody, but let me put it like this. After Moloko disbanded I went to the record company EMI and I said: “Can I make a pop record for you?” And they said: “Yes, you can make a pop record. Here’s a million quid. Go and make one.” When I delivered the album, people were saying: “This is one of the best pop records of last twenty years. It’s astonishingly good. But she’s not a pop star because she’s too weird.” And I think it’s interesting to note that today people are allowed to be both, which is great. So I think I was just about being slightly too soon with that kind of idea of what a modern pop star can be.
Looking at Lady Gaga’s career, it seems like the visual element today is sometimes more important than the music. Would you agree?
My music has always been different to Lady Gaga. My music has been different to any of these people. There’s a subtlety in my music and there always will be. At the end of the day, for a girl who started off singing – not even singing – saying: “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body?”, to be still here, and to have developed into the artist that I have become, every step of the way has been crucial to that story. And it’s turned into a really good story, hasn’t it?
20 years ago you approached Mark Brydon with mentioned chat-up line at a club in Sheffield which resulted in the foundation of Moloko, “Do You Like My Tight Sweater?” Was the title of your first album together. Do you still use that chat-up line?
I don’t ever use chat-up lines anymore. I always get chatted up. No, I don’t. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever used a chat-up line, ever. Lucky for me I did, huh? (laughs)