May 22, 2014
Originally published on FACT.
Words: Joe Muggs
Róisín Murphy has presence.
Partly it’s the dress sense, that’s as unique as ever – with her roughly chopped short hairdo, checked shirt in acid shades, big ankle-swinging trousers and striped tights she looks like some kind of virutal reality Suzi Quatro, and it’s quite hard to believe that, as she suggests later, she could ever have dressed down in proto-normcore style. Partly it’s the fact that she makes constant eye contact, making the most of her chair with a blokey sprawl, puffing away on a vape through an entire hour’s conversation.
But more than that, it’s the sense that she doesn’t take any shit from anyone. She is funny, sweary, super-direct, boldly challenges questions she thinks are too vague but doesn’t shy away from direct ones, and frequently takes sharp left conversational turns or unleashes torrents of consciousness in an accent that swerves unnervingly between Ireland (where she grew up), Manchester (where she misspent her teens as a precocious indie girl) and Sheffield (where she first threw herself into the club scene and met her musical and romantic partner in Moloko, Mark Brydon). When Murphy talks, people listen.
She’s got plenty to talk about too. The occasion of the interview is her return to making solo records after a long break. She only ever made two solo albums – the Matthew Herbert produced Ruby Blue and the poppier, major label supported Overpowered – both of which are the definition of cult classic, but she has managed to keep her hand in while taking maternity leave from popstardom by singing on tunes by Crooked Man (aka Sheffield legend Parrot, who formed Sweet Excorcist with Richard H Kirk and was one of the earliest DJs in the UK to play house, at the Jive Turkey club), Toddla T, Hot Natured, Boris Dlugosch (whose remix of Moloko’s ‘Sing it Back’ assured Murphy a place in club royalty) and most recently Freeform Five.
Now, though, she has her own records too: a limited vinyl EP put out by The Vinyl Factory (streaming in full here), with covers of five classic Italian pop songs from the 1960s and 70s, plus one original also in Italian, and then a full Róisín Murphy album later this year. Or, as it transpires, possibly two.
Well we’d better start with the obvious – you’re back in the game after quite a break…
Back in the GAME, mate! [adopts rapper-like southern drawl] The game keeps on calling, it’s always there, know what I’m sayin’? [back to normal] But yeah, it’s a funny thing, you start to roll – once you start the ball rolling, it’s underway. It took a while. It’s two babies I had in that time…
Was that the main reason for stepping back from it all then?
Yes, or well, lots of different things happened – I split up with the father of my first child and that took a while to get over, then I met another guy and I got pregnant again – all sorts of life happened in the meantime. It’s not all the kids’ fault or anything, I hate making it sound that way! And I’ve enjoyed living a bit of life, you know? I’ve done the whole music thing all my life since I was an adult, so it was good to have the kids and do the things that other people do, and just live a bit. I spent a bit of time with my own family in Ireland too; I had my first child in Ireland and I stayed there for a few months after she was born and learned how to be a mammy. And really the time just goes by very quickly – it’s a shock when you hear it’s six, seven years! It shocks you.
Did you get feelings of withdrawal from the stage in that time?
Sure there was. Not really initially, but in the last couple of years I’ve really wanted to pursue it again, definitely.
Were you forming plans in that couple of years, then, or was there just a day when you decided to make a leap?
A plan started to form gradually, definitely. I started writing and working on my record with Eddie Stevens, who I’ve worked with on this project and the Italian project – that just naturally happened, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to work with Eddie. I’ve worked with him on my live shows, and in Moloko on records as well, but I’ve never sat down with him and tried to write loads of songs with him. It was completely natural, I decided to sing one song and then it rolled into this project very naturally – I never expected to be making this set of songs. But it’s always like that with me. Nobody expected me to make a record with Matthew Herbert, for example – least of all me label [laughs].
And the EMI gig came out of nowhere too: my friend who was an A&R man came to meet me, he lived round the corner from me, and I wanted to talk just as a friend, like “what’s your opinion, what should I do, this is the vision I have musically,” but then he wanted to sign me in that first meeting. I didn’t go around looking for a deal, and that’s been the way all my life really, since the first flash of the Moloko thing: it was just me saying “do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body” and somehow we got a six album deal out of that, which then sort of presented itself to me. But it’s become clear the last few years that I do have to have lots of energy for it, I do have to really want to do it and have the energy and it be something that feels right, otherwise I wouldn’t want to be able to do it.
Does it feel like you need that passion now more than ever, when there isn’t much slack in the industry?
What do you mean?
Well the record industry isn’t exactly flooded with spare money for projects…
Hmm… no – I think you can always make money if you need to and you’ve got something that some people want, and in many many ways the industry is a hundred times more relaxing than it was – in the sense that there’s so much of it that I can control now. Obviously there’s the fact that I’m controlling my own Facebook now, for example. People will say, oh Facebook, don’t get embroiled, they’ll charge you this, charge you that, but I haven’t done any of that – paying for advertising – and I still find it a very very good way of communicating with my fans what it is I want to say when I want to say it.
I don’t need any record company at all in between me and them. But also the fact that everything that’s done now is looped in on an email, everything’s in writing, so much stuff that I thought was very mysterious within the industry when I was on a big label actually looks very simple to me now, and I see I can make those decisions too. A lot of those very simple decisions day to day can add up and make a real… aesthetic difference to the way I’m presented.
That’s funny you mention the paper trail aspect – in my recent interview with Hatcha, who started his career in the area of UK garage which was a pretty crooked mini-industry, he said almost precisely what you did: that emails and online record make it easier to see what everyone’s up to, so harder to hide dodgy goings-on.
Yep. This is a real change. And while I’m writing a record, I can at the same time be writing the biog to go with the record and this, that and the other – and I’d never have done that without being so computer literate, as you need to be now. So there’s several things going on at the same time, and yes it’s more complicated in a certain sense, but you’re controlling those certain things, or your choosing which ones you want to control, and you have got a degree of control over it, and I find that quite liberating. I’m beginning to get my head round all these things. I’ve just joined another social media thing today, so making a go with that, slowly slowly. It’s not like I want to disperse any mystery or tell people boring shit about my life – I don’t want to get drawn into it too much – but I think it’s quite an interesting time to take a handle for yourself, to take control as an artist.
Did you take any inspiration in this from younger musicians who are, you might say, web native?
No, because I’m not really following what other people are up to. I’m not one of these people who’s following a lot of Facebook or whatever – that’s not how I find my music. How I find it is that I’m a lucky girl in that there’s usually a lot of fellers around in my life who just feed me good music; since I’ve been a teenager it’s something I’ve cultivated or that just happens to be, that I attract chaps who are obsessed with music.
OK, so you keep up with what your friends in music are doing? You were on Toddla T’s album, and you had that record a couple of years back with Parrot…
Oh yes. ‘Simulation’. Yes, Crooked Man, I’m all about Crooked Man. I do keep up with what all my mates are doing, but I don’t think that counts as being in touch with what’s happening because that’s quite an easy thing to be doing – they tell me about it.
Do you go out to gigs much?
Oh no. My friends don’t do them. Parrot won’t even DJ – of course he used to be a DJ originally, a superb DJ, then someone stole all his 7”s and he got completely disillusioned and he stopped DJing. He could make loads of money DJing, even now, but he really is the crooked man – Crooked Man by name, crooked man by nature. He won’t do it.
Sheffield seems to be full of…
Crooked men, yeah.
Well, I was going to say legendary figures who refuse to play any kind of music industry game. I interviewed Rob Gordon a while ago and all he seems interested in now is taking soundsystems to bits…
Oh… hoooooo! Bless him. I was at a party not all that long ago, and Toddla T was playing – this is before he was as famous as he is now, he was probably about 17, but he blew everybody absolutely away. That’s the sort of thing that happens in a place like Sheffield, every now and again a 17 year old will just come and do that. And they embrace it totally, people like Winston were lording him up… Anyway he was DJing, but the system was all F’ed up [sic], they were all scratching their heads, and the next thing is the door opened and it was Rob Gordon, he came in, he had the little spectacles down at the bottom of his nose, and everyone was all “ROB’S ‘ERE! ROB’S ‘ERE!”
There was this amazing system but not working as it should be, so Rob came in, ignored everyone, the little glasses, the dreadlocks, with a screwdriver in his hand, and he went in and fixed it like that. That’s Rob. He built gear that didn’t exist – sampling gear and that type of stuff – in the day. It’s wish fulfilment, people like that want certain equipment to evolve and it’s the strength of that desire that makes them create it. It’s part of the blood of British dance music. And Sheffield was the sort of place where even daft bints like me would know about someone like Rob Gordon, there was a crossover. I sometimes get the sense that I wouldn’t have become the artist I am if I’d stayed in Manchester – maybe I could’ve, but there’s such an intimacy across boundaries in Sheffield… in fact there wasn’t a boundary there. You understand me? It’s just music: it’s either rite good or it’s fookin shite.
It seems that everything you’ve done so far has had a club groove that can be traced back to those Sheffield days – but the new EP is a bit of a departure from that.
Do you think? Well there six songs on the EP, five are covers, one’s an original, and that one I think is totally groove. It’s a groove record. I would say it’s definitely stretched me vocally, regardless of talking about the style, more than anything I’ve done before. Certain ones of the songs, well, massive big songs they are, when you’re singing them you go over here, over there, over there, big long notes etcetera etcetera. And they’re less linear – it’s a less linear type of songwriting, structurally it’s a bit looser, there can be more changes.
Is it different though? I don’t know. I still find it’s electronic pop. Every element in it is Italian – Eddie was very specific about that – so even if we’re not covering songs in their original style, we’re using elements that are Italian but from ten or fifteen years later, from Italian pop or disco with the electronic side of it. Even when there’s new parts or new music written by us to fill in sections or whatever, they’re still Italian sounding – so maybe that’s what you mean, because that does lift it away from the north of England for sure, somewhere into the continent! It’s flying somewhere over that area, looking over Rimini and the north of Italy, that’s the feel of it melodically. There’s a middle-of-the-roadness in the songwriting isn’t there?
So why make an Italian record now?
Well, I’ve got an Italian baby. Tadhg Properzi, he’s got a right old name. Irish first name, Italian second, T-A-D-H-G-P-R-O-P-E-R-Z-I – you write it down it sounds like something you put on the Argos slip, you could buy a paddling pool with his name. So yes, he was a big inspiration, and the Italian is right there in my house, my home, my life, but also it’s curiosity: just “can I sing that?” And there was a long time of knowing about Mina’s music, since about twenty years ago when a good friend of mine in New York, who I’ve dedicated the record to, introduced me to the music of Mena. I’ve come across her again and again through my life; none the other artists did I before come across, so she really led me into this project. Then there was loads of resonances, when I look at Patty Pravo and Mina performances on YouTube, there’s loads of resonance, loads of “oh wow I didn’t realise someone had done it all before.” Anything I’ve tried to do, they’ve done, to be honest.
Does singing in Italian come naturally? How are you with speaking it?
I’m a bit alright with the Italian. I can certainly understand a lot of it when it’s spoken – I’m nervous to speak it, but if I lived in Italy for a while I’d pick it up quickly I’m sure. My son for sure will be fluent Italian, my daughter a little bit – she has a good bit of it already. Lapping it up. There is a connection between Sheffield and Italo disco though, right? The kind of bleepiness and condensing of melody that’s there in that type of music, pure melody, condense it down so we don’t waste none of our time bullshitting around with loads of different interchanging key parts and stuff that harmonise against one another – NO! Where’s the melody? Let’s make sure people know where that is. There’s a sort of simplicity there, a sort of minimalism, that’s very similar.
Well Italo and the first wave of Sheffield electronics were happening at the same time, and both fed into Chicago and Detroit…
Sure. The guy who’s done a couple of remixes for us, Baldelli – Daniele Baldelli – when you listen to his old Cosmic mixtapes, you’ve got the German, the Italian song styles, African music, dub, what was happening in Jamaica with dubbing up records, some seepage and beginnings of what is going to happen in America, but only just… You can hear it’s heading towards what was going to happen with house and all that. It’s all connected isn’t it?
Is it different singing in Italian? Do you take on a different character?
I definitely draw on characterisation when I write and sing songs, it’s always me though as well. Sometimes it’ll very much be a narrative type song, I’m writing about someone else, but me too: the delicate part of it is so it works on both levels, so it can be read as something personal or as a narrative that isn’t. They’re almost the same thing.
Well you’ve always played with double meanings around the way the songs are experienced too – tracks like ‘Sing it Back’ or ‘Simulation’ seem to be about dancefloor experiences, but also about more universal themes…
The more levels you have in a lyric the better, if it can be read in a lot of different ways then that’s fantastic and you play with that all the time, words are playful things. That’s part of why I like to write songs! Sometimes they’re very personal, they come from a very personal standpoint, but that can make them the most universal songs of all, and sometimes they’re coming from telling somebody else’s story, a completely other person’s story, but it’s your take on that story so it’s always a reflection of yourself.
Have you reassessed your songwriting processes having taken a long break from releasing, or were you writing in that time anyway?
I was writing, because I was doing collaborations anyway, but that was very much in the same mould as how I wrote on Overpowered – which is that in Overpowered I went into a new situation all the time, wrote with different people, would write a song every time I went into the studio and not go home without having one. And there’s a discipline that comes from that and energy that comes from that that’s very, very positive. It’s not about being on a production line, it doesn’t take over by any stretch of the imagination, but what it does is makes you more athletically good at writing songs.
You literally are more of an athlete, once you’re constantly on that thing like that [smacks hand into other palm repeatedly] – whereas with Moloko you could relax a bit, go off, go and have a sandwich, you could forget about it for a bit, you could do it next week, do it the week after, you could completely forget that you did it at all… which is another thing altogether. Which is a bit like doing my album that I’ve just written, because I know Eddie so well, and it is relaxed – but there’s a whole thing that I’ve learned from being a bit more of an industrial songwriter, more of a honed songwriting animal that can go in at 11 in the morning and come home at six having achieved something. I can go home and tuck the children in, and I’ve done something that day.
Well, there’s one glaring thing that comes between Moloko and Overpowered and that’s Matthew Herbert. Did he have anything to do with you taking on this discipline? Because he has an insane workrate…
No… because I didn’t really have that with Matthew because I was in the studio every day with him and it was a bit more relaxed, although I did step it up a bit for him a bit I suppose because he wasn’t my boyfriend and he did expect me to [clicks fingers] step it up. But Matthew was like… [gazes up in thought] d’you know, probably the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.
I couldn’t have possibly asked for a more receptive place to go than to go into his studio, because his whole way – which I didn’t realise when I started, so I was worried – his whole thing about sound and exact way of going about it, is that if he says “yes, I’m going to record an album with you,” it’s OF you. You’re the subject. If he says “yes”, you’re already there, it’s already done. It’s just the sound I make that’s what he’s interested in, it’s not like he’s going to ask me to make a kind of a sound, or write a kind of a lyric or a kind of a melody, he just only really wants the untreated version.
You make it sounds like he’s painting your portrait!
No, it’s not that. He’s like… It’s like he’s taking your fingerprints. It’s like he’s extracting the truth that’s there from you, like whatever noise I make is a good noise. “Whatever noise you make is a good noise, I’ll be able to do something with whatever you do.” It’s not like being with my boyfriend who loved me in this little world we inhabited which was called Moloko that had its own strange rules – the stepping stone out of that was this anything-goes person, where it’s like, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, I’ll big you up until we’ve got a fucking record basically.
And that was perfect because otherwise I might’ve lost confidence, or got overawed by the process of stepping out of Moloko, but as it happened he was ideal. Absolutely ideal. He made a record that was my record, my first solo record, where every single sound on it was of me, was of sounds that I made out of my own body or by touching something. All of it bar the brass arrangements – but other than that, it’s not just the songs, but the music is me as well.
So you learned a lot about yourself too in that process?
Yeah. It was very paternal on Matthew’s part, I did some growing up.
Having spoken to Matthew in the past, the amount of information he is able to process and understand through sound is incredible. He can find meaning in the most minute artefact of sound.
He’s a philosopher, yes he really is. An artist, a scientist and a philosopher.
So after that you had the confidence to call all the shots on Overpowered?
Well yeah, that was very different. It was the first record I ever made where I wasn’t a 50/50 partner in it. It was my decisions, all of them, except at a few rare points when there were arguments because it was EMI and there was a lot on the line and they’d put up the money for it. But I had the original A&R guy, my friend, and he fought my corner too, and I was able to do things like throw away songs that they thought were the only hits that I wrote – I was protected by him, and also I’m quite a bossy cow too. I was the boss, I just thought OK, I’m going to write with this person now, and with that person now, I’ll mix that song with so-and-so. Occasionally that didn’t work, so I though, OK that didn’t work, well then let’s mix it with so-and-so instead.
It’s not like with Matthew or Mark [Brydon], where I’d say [adopts hesitant, girlish voice] “Can you do this? And can you do this? And can you do this? And can you do that?” and that would go up to a certain point and up to a certain point and up to a certain point then they’d go [pause] “I’m not doing it any more”, and you’d go “oh, OK”. You’d got as much as you could within the limits of your powers, and then they’d got fed up with it and wanted to do it their way, and fair dues, it’s 50/50, you’re writing the song with them. But with this, it was quite a bit to go “Uhhh, nah nah nah, it’s not right. Not enough piano. Get him to mix it instead.” Quite an interesting process.
Was it easy to stop that spiralling out of control if you had less boundaries to push against?
Oh there were certainly boundaries to push against. There always is. But I stand by the record, and the fact that I was given so much freedom meant that all the parts of it that are so disparate still connected because I was the boss. Otherwise it would’ve been the same-old-same-old pop record that they make. That the machine makes.
It’s still a pop record, though, with catchy tunes and all that – did you ever get a sense of why it wasn’t a bigger hit?
I don’t know, you know. Before I’d even put it out, there are always certain people in the industry who get the record and make decisions about it, key among which is, is it going to go on the radio? That’s the first thing. It was given to Radio 1 way up front, and we were told that the guy who runs Radio 1′s wife just loves this record – it was like “we’ve been on holiday with it and we love this record, we’ve been listening to it and listening to it and listening to it… we’re not going to play it though.”
And that was it. You’ve spunked the money, and you’ve got the power, because you’re EMI, to hand the record to the guy at the top of Radio 1 to take on holiday with him before anyone else has heard it, before anyone in Radio 1 has heard it, but they’ve still got the power to just say “nope, sorry”. It was like “it’s fuckin’ brilliant, but no, I’m not going to play it, it’s not going to work on Radio 1.” So that happened, and that was a bit of a disappointment for EMI.
Then other things, things that are inexplicable to me, like you can put out a record like Overpowered into the world, and before it’s done anything, there are all these reviews that contain more discussion about the fact that I’ll never be a pop star than about the record itself. Which is a way of getting someone to read your review, as you realise when you get a bit older, if there’s a way of him getting someone to go like that [mimes doing a wide-eyed double take at a magazine] to his review then he’s gonna use that. They had a weird set of preconceptions about me. There was a review that compared me to, umm, the guy from the weird eighties goth band… Bauhaus! They compared me to Bauhaus! Like, are you completely fucking mental or something? Are you completely out of your tiny mind?
Well Peter Murphy, Róisín Murphy… surely that’s a natural connection?
Ha! Yes, I am a Murphy, my second name is Murphy, that must be it. Because I hadn’t seen Bauhaus having any huge hits in Ibiza, for example. I mean, what’s the relevance there? But I guess my market is spread. It’s diverse. And it’s never say never for an artist who’s got fans as diverse as I have, because it could go any place and you just don’t know. But if things are being written about you before people have even heard the record that are just misleading, well, then other simpletons in the industry read that, and that’s the decision they make or the impression they have in the first instance.
I mean, I don’t mind it being judged on certain criteria. I did go to EMI and say “this is a pop record”, and so I don’t mind it if people are judging it purely as a pop record. That’s fair. It’s a good record though, and it did really well for me – I have four times as many fans now as I did before. I’ve obtained more fans through my two solo albums that I can hold in my hand as it were, and be in contact with – and obviously this is maybe to do with the technology as well, because I can collate my own fan data – than I did with Moloko. A huge number of people have come to me since Moloko. Maybe that should be recognised a little bit when people talk about how successful I am.
But then there’s another aspect which is that people expect and want me to act like a pop star, and I’m not interested in doing that. The meaning behind the artwork for Overpowered was about that – the difference between just being a famous person and being a star in the way of embracing what it is to be unique and special and different: being a peformer. So yes, the way I went about doing Overpowered wasn’t the most mainstream way of going about being a pop star.
Your lyrics are pretty unorthodox too – there’s not a huge amount of other dance-pop with songs about oxytocin and dragging cavemen out of their caves.
Well what do you expect disco to be about? Remember, ‘Barely Breaking Even’ is about being in poverty and on the dole. ‘Tears’ is about deep misery. But they’re still things people will go “wooo” [waves arms in the air] to.
Sure, but even so you had some quirky subject matter. Did EMI push back on that front?
No no, their notes were much simpler than that. They’d just stick something down like “you wrote that song with Cathy Dennis, that must be the hit record.” “Errr, no! Not necessarily, OK?” Same argument as I had with Echo about ‘Sing it Back’, where it was “That’s Todd Terry, that remix, so it’s got to be the best one, no?” “No no, this one, this one here by this guy you’ve never heard of, that’s the best one.” I’m crying by this time, tears coming out of my eyes, like PLEASE put this on the a-side, but no… Todd Terry goes on the a-side. Wrong again.
You certainly got the last laugh on that one.
I did. I got the last laugh on all of them, because I’m still here, I’ve done well, I can tour, I can play big venues, I can control my output, I’m happy with the output I have made, I stand by every record I’ve ever made, and almost every performance – almost, heh – and every video I’ve ever made, every film… I’ve been controlling to a degree that’s scary to some of the industry, but it’s my art, you know? Why should I do what other people think I should do?
So you’re happy with how it panned out in the long term, but were you happy with, say, how Ruby Blue sold, given how much you put into it?
Yeah! There’s several scales aren’t there? So you put it against records that I put out previously, in the US for example it’s a much bigger record than I’d ever made! Strange things happen. It could become Wade Robinson’s favourite album to do his massive choreography on mainstream US television… It’s been used across the board on Gray’s Anatomy, it’s gone into mainstream areas that none of my other records ever achieved. Mainstream mainstream – kids on an American football field with flags doing a routine to Ruby Blue. Weird… but true.
Nice. That Gray’s Anatomy era was a bit of a golden age for sync deals but do you still think those opportunities are still there to find a whole set of weird routes to the mainstream rather than relying on that one guy at Radio 1 to let you in?
Oh sure there are. Sure. Those guys don’t have that much power any more. Or very little power that speaks to kids who feel that they’re really into finding music and loving it because they themselves have the taste and the wherewithal to find it and know what it is and to understand and interface with it and bring it to a place where they can make a culture for it. And music is much much more like that now.
So it sounds like you still believe in alternative or underground culture, is that fair to say? Others would say that anything underground gets subsumed instantly these days…
Oh it does, yes. I can’t say I’m not a hipster, because I fucking am. I’ve got no choice, no chance whatsoever of being so far ahead of the game that nobody else has ever thought of it. I mean, this normcore thing, a few years ago I thought I was the only person in the world – not that anyone ever saw me because I wasn’t doing anything in public, now I’m miles from normcore – I thought I was the only person in the world who’d thought of beige trenchcoat, a handbag you didn’t notice, that sort of thing.
Then we read about it on – shows how far late we were – on the Guardian: there’s this thing called “normcore”, and it turns out not only was I not ahead of the curve, but it was years even before I was into it that these [spits the word out] TREND people called trendcasters had identified it. It’s about five years old the name, right? I mean what can you do? It’s like my boyfriend said to me a while ago “I’m not a hipster” – and he was surrounded by cassette tape players he’d just bought off the internet. I just went “Are you mental or what? You’ve got loads of cassette players around you! One of them’s for BLIND people from the seventies! Are you mad? ‘I’m not a hipster!’” [laughs, sighs]
Ha OK, but going back to what you said about kids finding their own music, you think there are real support networks that help music to survive?
Oh yeah, I get a lot of support from that sort of thing anyway. Touch wood, I’ve got no trolls anywhere, is that what they call them, trolls? I’ve got nothing like that. I put something up and I get a lot of response, and it’s quite nice most of it, and it does buzz you up a bit I have to say. Obviously if they all started to turn around and say “you’ve lost it, you’re a pain in the arse” then it could turn around and bite you, but genuinely it’s very nice to hear people saying “we’re really looking forward to this record” or “you moved me at this performance”, to have direct access to the people who give a toss about what it is you’re trying to do. And you realise then that you can put these negative comments and characterisations into a bigger perspectives, if there is any bad comments. In the old days you’d get a bad review and it’s all you could think of for months.
So it’s almost like something between an old-school fanclub and you actually creating and maintaining your own subculture in the absence of one that you’d want to join…
Yeah it is like that. Hopefully. I wouldn’t like to talk about “my crowd” in any defined way because like I say they truly are very, very diverse… What were we talking about?
Errrr… just how you fit into the current climate I guess.
Well look, I think what’s pushed me forward though is the idea that I’m a performer. I came to that quite late, in a funny way. First of all I signed a deal, because I’d said “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body.” to this guy, then I had to learn to sing and write songs, after the six album deal was done, then all the way through we were writing the first album and we actually had these three dolls which were going to be Moloko – you can see one on the sleeve of ‘Where is the What if the What is in Why?’ – we weren’t going to show our faces at all…
Ahead of Gorillaz then…
Yep. But then we decided we were going to show our faces after all, then we weren’t going to do any gigs, then we decided we would do gigs, and it was only once I finally got onto stage that there was this moment of “fuck…” I’m actually quite good at this, it’s a thing I really enjoy, I seem to be moving people and giving them a bit of something. Then a few years went by, Eddie came and got involved in the live thing and made it [claps hands together] *shlrrrp* come together amazingly and we toured and toured, and as a performer that’s been such an important thing in the records and it feeds in and out of both things. And I guess I have a sense of vocation in that way. Almost duty – I do feel a bit bad when I hear people saying “Where are you? You’ve given up on us!” kind of thing, I do feel a bit bad that people thought that when I was away for so long…
So it’s about the craft and process for you, rather than a feeling you want to connect with any particular culture or movement in the wider world?
Oh I do do that. But I don’t want to be restricted by it. Certainly with house music, the disco mentality of the kind of house music I love, where there are a varied range of conflicting emotions and it reaches varied people, there’s something about that which means a lot to me. I’ve been involved with it, I’ve been through almost every conceivable type of nightclub, I love to dance, I love to learn dance moves, if I get into something I like to get into what the actual vernacular dance is, what the vernacular behaviour is to the scene, yeah absolutely. But if it’s not soulful, then no – and I find it’s quite hard to find that, and it always has been. It’s always been hard to find something that’s got a lot of soul, that’s got its own rituals, club culture that has a sociological context; when it’s taken over by money and marketing you do lose a lot, you lose an awful lot.
When you say it’s always been hard, it sounds like you don’t hold with the idea with period X or Y being a golden age for club culture?
Noooo… Look, it’s much easier when you’re young to mainline into it, you’re not invited into the underground unless you’re out in it every night of the week, you’re in it and doing it. But I wouldn’t put it down or say that there’s nothing out there these days. I’m not out there doing it right now, but I’m sure that there’s things going on that are just as brilliant as Body & Soul was for me 15 years ago, or parties in Sheffield or Manchester. Funny thing, London has never been about that for me, I’ve never found it here… but that’s just me.
How long have you been here now?
Ten years, no more, 12 years. But I’d be more inclined to find it when I’m somewhere else, Eastern Europe or wherever when I’ve been clubbing after I’ve done a gig. That’s where you’ll find something that’ll blow your mind, “woah, what’s going on here, these are the most fantastic young people I’ve ever seen in my life!” sort of thing. But I’m not going to Fabric every weekend, no.
OK so you’re settled, you’re back in the game as we said – have you got a long term plan through the next release and beyond?
Well I’ve written a lot of songs, an awful lot, recently. I’m just starting to work through this glut of 30, 35 songs we’ve written, so it might even be we’ve got two albums. We’ll have this stuff, the EP and the album coming out either side of the summer, there two remix EPs – which are excellent, by the way – coming out over the summer, probably put out a single in October from the album, put out an album… then hey presto six months later put out another album. It’ll be like buses, my fans have been waiting for ever for a bus, now they’re going to have their choice. Shows around the album, then festivals next summer. [beams broadly]
Seems like you’re buzzed up about getting back into it and back on stage.
Yup! I’m going to do the shows a bit different this time, though, a bit techno with the visual element. Less massive great live band, more about the show and visuals than ever before. We’ve been almost able to write knowing we’ll do this sort of thing, so we’re geared up towards it.
Any visual inspirations or themes you’d like to share?
No, we haven’t decided that yet [laughs] But there are so many possibilities now with the lights and technology that’s available now, and a lot of those are disgusting possibilities, so it’s going to have to be classic and not get overawed by the new technology. I’m not going to do anything too repulsive! And anyway, you’ve got me in the centre of it who’s a performer and a narratist [sic] and a person that’s going to be reacting against this setup, so it becomes a more theatrical notion, it becomes a narrative that you have to write which is a bit more interesting than a feller going like this [pumps fist] and all this stuff behind him that’s basically Wizard of Oz. It’s going to have to interact with me, and anything that happens is to do with me… [wild eyed] It’s all about me! But you know, as far as the fans are concerned they don’t want to see me hiding in the shadows even if I’m not as hot as I used to be. Bah, you’ve still got it… once you’ve got it, you’ve always got it, love!