Roísín Murphy: „My story is still untold, because I make my own happy endings“

Roísín Murphy is one of the few artists, and I can say that without exaggeration, whose music I have been dancing to half of my life. To her catalogue as a solo artist as well as in former times to her groundbreaking Electro Pop Band Moloko, at private parties, in the video store I used to work at after we closed doors, at concerts in big venues. Like for example one time at the Tempodrom in Berlin, which was the first gig I went to after the brutal terrorist attack at the Parisian Le Bataclan. It was a special night, one of those where you overcome a strenuous fear, to find out that this will always be what you live for – dancing, being among people, listening to music together, feeling safe even among strangers. 

Roísín Murphy is also the only artist I’ve ever seen entering the stage wearing a handbag. Maybe that is why my inner eye pictures her like that when we talk on the phone without seeing each other, she in her London home, me at my desk in Berlin. I don’t know why, but the way she talks, earnest, funny, thoughtful and chatty, I kind of see her sitting there with a handbag in her lap, casually smoking a cigarette. At least the last part is probably true, at some point I am pretty sure I hear the lighter clicking and Roísín Murphy taking a deep inhale. 

Corona and it’s changes on the world as we know it have taken me down some strange paths this year. This conversation was definitely one of the good ones. 

Hello Roísín, how are you?

I’m good, how are you?

Oh good, thank you, but probably not as busy with exciting things as you are. 

Where are you right now?

I’m in Berlin at home in my apartment, with three kids playing lego next door. 

Fall is here! The rain is coming.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but I don’t really know where this year has gone, even tho nothing has really happened.

It’s weird, time wise. I felt it went very slowly in the summer. It was the slowest summer, longest summer I’ve known in a long time. And then this part, since I got back, went very quickly. I just said to someone I don’t feel like I’m in London, I feel like I live in a simulation, in a matrix (laughs). Here I am, talking to you in Germany, and the next thing I do is talk to an American and the next thing will be I’m working with someone in another country. All from here, all from this one chair. It’s kinda strange. 

It feels like a loop, right? All the time in the same spot.

I am not in reality! I’m there somewhere on the internet. 

So how were the last weeks for you, since you released your album? It must be such a different experience.

I won’t forget this in a long time. It’s been very uncanny, paradoxical… exciting! There’s been a level of control I can take from here, from my house and there is a certain amount of energy conservation that’s going on. You’re not wasting energy going through big hotels that the PR man has hired for you to do interviews there. You have to get there first, dress up, you walk into the hotel, you meet the journalist, it is awkward sometimes. And then you might think oh, if it was me I wouldn’t have had this hotel (laughs). And then there’s a line of other journalists waiting outside and the journalist walks past them and you all know each other and say hi, and it can be embarrassing (laughs). So maybe in a way this is the best way to do interviews, just focus on the message, the questions and the answers. 

Now that you say it, I have to admit it sounds pretty stressful…

Well, there’s not really much party to it. All those nice press trips and everything else, I’m sure we’ll all learn a lesson and not be doing all that as much afterwards. Lots of work can be done without using as much energy as we’ve been using. Lots of things are going to change. The awful downside of it is that offices are left empty and coffee shops die, the little cinema dies… it’s not worth thinking about, love. It’s depressing. 

It is… so let’s focus on the more positive things. You are working on a show right now!

Yes! It’s exciting. I’m getting a band. I’ve pulled every rope I can pull to get my band back together again. I need to mark this moment together with the band and see how this moment transfers to the live experience. Otherwise I won’t have a chance to do it in this album cycle. Anyway, it’s a 360 degree problem for me, obviously as a director I have to think about concepts and where and when and how, the story that it’s telling, the cameras we are using and the moves that the cameras make. It’s inside a huge warehouse which stores all the sound and light equipment that usually would be out on the road now, but it’s all now full of gear. Right in the middle of that they will build me a stadium stage with screens. So I have to think about the content of the screens as well as the lighting design together with the lighting guy. Because I do most of the content myself, it comes straight out of my videos, straight out of my phone sometimes. And then I have to think about what I’m wearing, what they are wearing… (laughs). When I’m wearing it… my visualization muscle is in full flex. I’ve transitioned into the creative matrix, that’s another dimension, another world to go. I’ve always gone there, ever since I was a child. I had a crazy upbringing, mad people all around me, wonderful, incredible people, but loads of drama. From the drama, when the shit hit the fan, I ran to my room at the top of the house, big cold house with no central heating or carpet, but fabulous old house. My room was far away from everyone else so I just went there hours on end, drawing, making things, changing the room, dressing up, performing out the window for people out in the cars going by. I’ve always done it. And if you had asked me when I was seven years old: „What do you want to do Roísín?“ I would have very precociously told you I wanted to be an artist. So, that’s what I’ve always done. And I guess now is a good time to be like that. 

Do you think you will miss the response of the audience? It must be so different, performing with your band but merely to the cameras. 

I don’t think so, I think it offers different options. Even with the little films I made at home during the lockdown period, they are very much performative to people. I have the people in my mind, I know them, in a way I can reach in closer to them. I can do a close up, you know, you can’t do that live. I mean, you could, I suppose, you could put a camera in your face and beam it into a huge screen. But there is something I learnt from TV performances, especially from Italian TV performances in the 60ies and 70ies. They had these amazing studios with this amazing art direction, incredible crane shots, but they would always come close to the face. And if you look into our face, into our eyes, they are just the windows into our soul. Truly, it is so complex what you see in our facial expression. I think you have to look at it and see how things can be set up in a different way than they would be if it was just a live show in front of an audience. And the way you use the space – I’m going to use all of the space! And the stage in the middle of it all. It gives possibilities that other things don’t. But I wouldn’t like to see it replace it forever. Not at all! I think it can go hand in hand and it’s joyful for me to try something new. But… yes, I would love to go back and play in front of an audience!

Normally I am one of those people on the other side. I mean, I know what has to be done has to be done, but I miss going to concerts so much. I don’t know about you, but I like being close to people. I find social distancing quite hard.

I’d love to go to a club and have a dance! But I dance around the park, like yesterday. When I go out, sometimes I just can’t stop to dance and I don’t care what anyone says. Actually I was thinking that when I was in the park yesterday, they should make a rule that you can go outside, you can go to the park but only if you dance in the park. 

Ha! That would be a great rule. I love that. 

(laughs) As soon as you cross the threshold of the park you have to start kicking and dancing. I think dancing, and dancing in connection with other bodies is almost like… you know I’m no hippie but… it feels like a forest. It feels like communication, like trees in a forest that are all talking to each other. Isn’t there a theory that they communicate underground? The roots connect. That’s what happens when you are on a really good dance floor. The roots connect. Not just through all the people on the dance floor, but all the people in the world. All the pain and all the joy, all at once! She said, poetically (laughs).

That brings me to one of my favorite lyric lines from your album: „How dare you sentence me to a life without dancing?“ God, that would be the worst!

Yeah! Do you know what Alan Watts says about dancing?

No.

You know Alan Watts, the philosopher guy, right? He was a guru of all kinds of spirituality, all over the world, amazing guy. And he said about dancing that when you are trying to figure out life, people are so goal orientated. They see life as a ladder, they are always going somewhere. There’s a destination, there’s always a goal. That’s what causes so much anxiety. So much let down as well, when you do get to the goal and then it’s just the next one, because it is never enough. And he says when you look at two human beings dancing, they just dance around and there is no logic to it. They are not going anywhere, there is no start and there is no finish. It’s totally nonsensical, but it’s absolutely everything that we are! Scientists say we are using everything that we are when we’re dancing. We are using our mathematical brains, we are using our sense of creativity, left and right hemispheres… it’s all connected up in one big easy gesture! 

I think if you take the possibility away from people to have a hedonistic outlet, it becomes harmful for society.

Absolutely. No society that has that kind of restrictions for very long can withstand itself. Those sorts of totalitarian measures, they end up in big trouble. I don’t know… we’re getting too political. I am very happy to stick to the restrictions, I just really want to keep dancing. And I’m dancing on my own, with my husband, I DJ-ed for two people a couple of weeks ago and we stayed up all night dancing. That is something I won’t let go of. 

I have to say, it really touches me to see how long you’ve been around as an artist. I have been dancing to your music literally half of my life now. Looking back at such an amazing career, does it even bother you that much when things change so profoundly? You sound pretty Zen to me.

(laughs) I think you do get a bit like that in life anyway, don’t you? When you get older you start seeing a bit of patterns in your own behavior, you see your own fears and anxieties and you see things being resolved. Then you kind of learn to put a little bit more belief in things being resolved eventually. The real truth is, I know I’ve been there for 27 years. But I never felt and I still don’t feel like it’s safe, you know? I always feel like the next thing has to be more. The next record is going to be the best record ever. And then everything will make sense. The truth is, every time I put a record out everything makes more sense. When you add another one at the end and the story gets longer and more continued. The jumps between things that I did, that maybe caused a bit of dissonance in people… like the beautiful girl in „The Time Is Now“ with the lovely hair to that crazy lady in the „Pure Pleasure Seeker“ video. There is a bit of like: „Oh, who is she? What is she now?“ The longer it goes on, these things become smoothed out, because this is what it was to me in the first place, one big story. All I want to express is a true point of view. Which can be so complicated. It’s complex. But I don’t feel secure in it and I shouldn’t in a way, because I sell a certain amount of records, I sell a certain amount of tickets and I feel like I have to keep feeding the machine to maintain it. It’s not like I can sit back and thing: „Oh, I’ve made it.“ My story is still untold, because I make my own happy endings. 

That is actually such a nice way to wrap it up. There is just one more thing I wanted to pass on to you. I recently heard someone making this statement: „Dance music is so limited when it comes to expressing a variety of feelings.“ And I was instantly wondering what you would say about that.

That person is going to the wrong disco. 

Perfectly put!

(laughs) No, it’s not true. It’s the opposite really, isn’t it? Dance music is a huge, complex thing. It’s many things. But I would also like to say to that person, there is a lack of macho ego in Disco Music that they probably would respond to if they understood it. It is really refreshing against most of Pop, most of Rock. It all works very different as one would assume by looking at the last years of EDM nonsense going on. I don’t know, there is something really refreshing about that world. Men and women are all equal. It’s not such a macho music world. It’s fluid. 

Roísín Murphy just released her latest studio album „Roísín Machine“. On November 14th she will play an exclusive Streaming Live Show for Mixcloud. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photo © Adrian Samson