Irish Moloko singer Roisin Murphy back to Belfast

AN IRISH ROVER (Introduction) I’ve moved around a bit since I was a kid. When I was twelve, my family moved to Manchester from Arklow, a small town in southern Ireland. My family drifted back to Ireland when I was 15; I stayed in Manchester. I moved to Sheffield at the age of seventeen thinking I would go to Art College. Then I met Mark Brydon and we did some tracks with me kind of ‘chatting’ lines on them like “Do You Like My Tight Sweater?”, “ See How It Fits My Body”. Moloko was born. It freaked me out
11 September 2007

roisin murphy
AN IRISH ROVER (Introduction)
I’ve moved around a bit since I was a kid. When I was twelve, my family moved to Manchester from Arklow, a small town in southern Ireland. My family drifted back to Ireland when I was 15; I stayed in Manchester.

I moved to Sheffield at the age of seventeen thinking I would go to Art College. Then I met Mark Brydon and we did some tracks with me kind of ‘chatting’ lines on them like “Do You Like My Tight Sweater?”, “ See How It Fits My Body”. Moloko was born. It freaked me out when we were asked to sign a six album deal but Mark being ever the pragmatist pointed out that, in the extremely unlikely event that we actually did get to make six albums, something would have had to go very right.

I have lived in London for a few years now. Of course I toured all six albums, mostly around Europe, though occasionally in further flung places like Australia, the US, much of eastern Europe and Russia. I’ve been around a bit.

I can’t imagine making a record and not being totally consumed by the process, even though that might be nice. I don’t expect I’ll ever be completely satisfied. On this record the tracks certainly went from pillar to post, I worked along side some really great people and lots of them. I was always there, writing in Miami, London or Barcelona, additional production in Sheffield, strings in Philadelphia, mixes in New York, Jersey, Miami, Las Vegas and every studio in London with a Neve mixing desk, then back to Sterling in NYC for mastering.

RARE GROOVES (Influential journey)
Before I began collaborating on ‘Overpowered’, I took a trip to New York to do a PA. Danny Krivit asked me to come and sing ‘Forever More’, a Moloko song. It had become (three years after its release) a kind of anthem at his party. Just one Sunday a month, the ‘718 sessions’ has taken over where ‘Body and Soul’ left off. Like a Northern Soul, Sunday “all-day-er” with Vogue-ing. I sang to the Françoise K version; a stripped down, purely electronic remix, it exposes the architecture of the song and its pure Disco functionality. Happy sad, sad happy. I also sang ‘Cannot Contain This’, another song from the Moloko album ‘Statues’. I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing anything from my solo album ‘Ruby Blue’ which was current but wasn’t really PA material.

I had a very good time and as if that wasn’t enough, on asking Danny for a cheeky mix tape, he hands me a bundle of ten. A couple of hundred songs, some I knew and had danced to, and some I didn’t. The songs with the highest play count in my ITunes were, ‘Keep On’ – D Train, ‘Spank’ – Jimmy Bo Horn, ‘You’re The One’ – Little Sister, ‘Number One’ – Patrice Rushen, ‘Together Forever’ – Exodus, ‘No Way Back’ – Adonis, and the original Danny Krivit edits of ‘You Got Me Running’ – Lenny Williams and Diana Ross’ ‘No One Gets The Prize’, a nine-minute opus, which was my number one most played. I also hammered Danny’s edit of The Brand New Heavies’ ‘Stay This Way’.

Other stuff that crept in would be Robert Palmer, Gwen Guthrie, Lisa Stansfield, Freeze, Mantronic, Universal Robot Band, Rene & Angela. There’s also a smidgen of Manchester, way back when I first heard acid house and got submerged into scruffy club culture. With ‘Voodoo Ray’ I crossed over from being a Sonic Youth/Jesus & Mary Chain obsessive to a dancefloor aficionado because Manchester was like that; bands like ACR and the Mondays loved Kraftwerk and Marvin Gaye and 808 State loved The Stooges and Can.

I got signed to EMI because I reminded them of Robbie Williams.

(Starting the album)
When I began collecting my thoughts together and homing in on the influences that I wanted to feed into ‘Overpowered’ I felt the need to go back to Sheffield. I talked for a long time with Parrot, an old friend and someone I had always wanted to work with. I told him about all this old disco and house I’d been listening to and he gave me lists of more tracks he thought I should check out. We did wonder about how all this might fit into the current musical landscape, would anybody be listening? With dance music the way it was, who could be sure? Anyway, it seemed too natural not to go that way.

So I went to work with Seiji in West London, Andy Cato in Barcelona, Richard X in Hoxton and then to Miami to work with Jimmy Douglass and the boy Ill Factor, who at twenty-four manipulates the studio gear and computer plug-ins like a kid on a Nintendo; fast and with precision. Recording strings in Philadelphia (a bit of a dream for me) with Larry Gold (a legend) blew my mind. I was sending things back to Sheffield occasionally for perusal and sometimes a little tweak here and there. I also wrote a couple of songs with Parrot and his musical partner Dean Homer. ‘Cry Baby’ is a disco marathon of a track. Also ‘Scarlet Ribbon’s, the only really slow tempo song I’ve written in two years, loosely interpreted in a lover’s rock style by my band in London and produced with Dan Carey.

I really lived it there for a while, only going to my bed and the studio. When it came to mixing, both Tom Elmhurst and Jimmy Douglas like to go on well into the morning. Dan Carey would stop at midnight. At the last minute Alex Cupper worked through the night to subtly “housify” the Andy Cato co-written ‘You Know Me Better.’

(New perspectives)
I did 95% of my writing on ‘Overpowered’ there and then, on the spot with my co-writers, most of whom I did not know at all at the before the process began. That was a new thing for me and I learned a lot. Seiji helped me break the back of it, with songs like ‘Overpowered’ and ‘Footprints’ we found a link between the music I had been obsessing about and what I could achieve in a, hopefully, modern way.

I’ve made six albums in my career. The way I measure their success or failure varies. Now I believe you can go straight to a web site and access sales figures as Jimmy Douglass was happy to remind me, saying that “in this information age people can’t bullshit anymore”. Jimmy put the Fear of God into me. Picking me up every morning in Miami to take us to the studio, he would play mainstream black music radio and dissect it, give me a good talking to and generally point out how ridiculously simple it all was. A hard taskmaster, he’d only occasionally let slip a compliment. When we’d completed ‘Checking On Me’, he smiled and drawled, “you wrote your ass off on that one Ro-sheen”.

(Herbert collaboration)
‘Ruby Blue’ was a minor miracle to me. In the days after Moloko’s Brixton Academy gig, the last date of a year’s touring, I went back to Brixton, to work with Mathew Herbert in The Dairy studios. His tiny room was crammed with what looked like, to me, NASA space technology. You could hardly move for old BBC sound equipment, a beautiful 60’s French mixing desk that looked like something from 2001 a space odyssey, hand built Russian mikes, all manner of instruments and objects possessing something sonically particular. We did the whole record in that room, writing, recording (vocals, musicians, whole brass sections, bits and pieces, objects I’d bring from home) and we mixed it there.

Mathew’s taste in sound is concerned with energy, his technique is straightforward. Using microphones and recording technology to capture something pure, organic, acoustic even. Matt would always put preference on the first take, stop me doing it again if he could. He wanted to get it down and start another song. It was fun and liberating, an antidote to some of Moloko’s more overblown experiments. All this excitement didn’t leave time for self-doubt. Had there been time, I might have asked myself whom did I think I was, going and making a record with this fella? I had only ever written songs with Mark Brydon and he had been my boyfriend. I had never before tried to make a record without that kind of support. It started with a piece of music made from the sound of scrap books and newspaper articles being ripped up and hit across the microphone, a few months later there was an album.

Ruby Blue hasn’t sold by the bucket load yet, but I am very proud of it….

(Visualizing the music)
Scott King is the art director for ‘Overpowered’. I have worked with him once before. He was creative director of Sleaze Nation when Elaine Constantine (Photographer) asked me to model in a fashion story she was shooting for them. We shot his idea, like a little movie, it was a narrative about a “small town pub band”. I ended up on the cover of the magazine, pictured being shagged by a hairy rocker in the cabin of a parked transit van. My Mother was very proud.

I reckoned that something about being a performer was a good place to start and showed him some bits from the Moloko Live DVD of the Brixton Gig. First thing he showed me was footage of David Bowie walking down a London high street in the video for ‘DJ’. Scott’s idea of me is like a kind of street-diva, ready for my close up in off the wall couture, even when getting my fill of beans and sausage down my local greasy spoon. Or like the Queen of the Tinkers photographed in resplendent garb, going for maximum impact whilst out shopping and/or shoplifting on the Cricklewood Broadway. For the ‘Overpowered’ single sleeve I was dressed in a Viktor & Rolf frock that comes with its own lighting rig attached to the body on a full back brace. The rig is very heavy scaffolding, like the stuff they use in music venues; the dress is hooked up on the rig so as to become rather like the sail of a big boat (great for shoplifting). It was very windy on the high street and I couldn’t move my feet in the clogs, with the bits of wood nailed on, to make them into high heels! A stray gust of wind almost carried me over a couple of times. Luckily a burly Grip was put on hand, just out of shot, to catch me.

(Gearing up)
When shooting a record sleeve (Moloko’s second album) up a Swiss mountain in the middle of a storm and going snow blind trying to milk a cow in a suit of armour (me, not the cow) I might wonder what’s it all about? But I love the nonsense of it. Life is often mundane, spent waiting at the bus stop of our imaginations, planning what to do when the night bus finally gets you there. I fully admit that I’m a dreamer; I idle away downtime thinking about the future, the next collaboration, the next album and ultimately the performance. Obsessing about every detail of it. All this pre-planning and intentionality is kind of ironic considering I didn’t choose this path; it chose me so to speak.

It’s funny to me now how all this happened so accidentally…

I met a producer guy in Sheffield and made him smile when I asked if he liked ‘my tight sweater’. I was 18 and full of it. He swept me off my feet, took me to the studio and proceeded to teach me all I needed to know about making records and singing and stuff. Fate, I guess. We both adored Larry Levan’s’ edit of ‘Seventh Heaven’. It was love. Still is.

The album ‘Overpowered’ is released on EMI Records on October 15th.

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