Both as a solo artist and as the former frontwoman of Moloko, Róisín Murphy has been one of the most consistently intriguing artists working in dance music for over two decades now. In her work with former Moloko partner Mark Brydon, electronic music polymath Matthew Herbert and Sheffield’s bleep techno originator DJ Parrot she’s consistently innovated – and created a few stone-cold dance music classics along the way. With Metronomy’s Joe Mount about to release his sixth album under the Metronomy banner we got him together with Róisín (he’s been a fan since he was 16) for the latest in our b2b interview series.
Joe: I had quite a cool route into Moloko, actually. When I was 16 I was really into snowboarding and used to go to the dry ski slope in Plymouth all the time. I remember my parents gave me a snowboarding video and it had the track ‘Fun For Me’ on it. Do you even remember licensing that?
Róisín: Ah, not at all, that was such a long time ago!
Joe: I thought it was super cool and I went out and bought the 12” single.
Róisín: That whole album was pretty good!
Joe: Well, it was a cost issue back then, when you actually had to go and buy music: should you save up for the album or just get the track you want straight away? Then the next thing you did that I was really into was the Handsome Boy Modelling School record that Dan The Automator and Prince Paul put together in 1999. You did a track on that. I was obsessed with that album, and used to always put your track ‘The Truth’ on mixtapes for people. How did that all come about?
Róisín: That all came out of the blue, really. They flew me to San Francisco to record it at Dan The Automator’s house, and Prince Paul was there too. I was petrified! I got on a flight and I didn’t know these people at all. I’d written and recorded the song on a four-track before I went out. They’d sent me a couple of backing tracks first and I’d chosen the one with the piano loops in it and wrote the song over that. They didn’t have to change too much in the studio, as the structure was all there. It was a very proud moment to have Prince Paul sitting there going ‘Fucking yeah man, this is fucking good!’ And they bought me a lot of presents too, which was nice.
Joe: I’m glad to hear that it was a good experience, as I absolutely love that track. Did you get into the whole album?
Róisín: It’s a great record! You can’t go wrong with those two, really.
Joe: What was it like when you first started Moloko?
Róisín: Part of it was a reaction against club music and four-to-the-floor house. We just thought that [style] had been around for a long time – we’d been dancing to it for six years, since 1988. At that point the template had been set, and we just thought, ‘Oh, all that stuff’s done, let’s kick against that. Now you look back and realise, ‘Jesus, that was only the beginning!’ Then I went to New York a few years later to stay with friends and fell back in love with house music there, because I had some perspective on it. But in ’93 and ’94 I just thought it was over.
Joe: It’s funny, because when I first started making beats in my bedroom I thought I was really late to the party. But then as I got more involved in ‘the biz’, I realised there had only actually been one big movement of it before I joined in. So all that early dance music by the originators wasn’t actually that far away.
Róisín: I think what our outlook and music has in common is that electronic music doesn’t seem that alien to other types of music we’re into, whereas for other generations it just seemed completely bizarre and separate from other styles of music.
Joe: I totally agree with that. Are you still kicking against things when putting out new music?
Róisín: I think so. It’s a powerful thing, reactionary energy. It’s also just proving a point to yourself a lot of the time, like, ‘I’ve done that, now lets try something different’. It’s about your own curiosity. I was never someone who went to stage school, and wanted to be a singer. It was all a big experiment. Myself and Mark [Brydon] were boyfriend and girlfriend and we would just mess around making weird records. I’ve always had an experimental attitude, not a professional one.
Joe: I think that’s a great way of approaching making music, if you can. There’s that old cliché of bands having a successful album and then the record label want you to do the same thing again, but the perverse way artists tend to work – unless you really want to make money – is to turn round and do something different. Just turn round and say, ‘See, I tricked you into thinking I was a pop star but I’m not!’ Have you ever found it hard to maintain that sense of experimentalism?
Róisín: I don’t find it hard, because I can’t do anything else! And nobody’s ever dared boss me about. I think because I’d lived by myself since I was 16 and learned to look after myself, I had some balls about me and had that ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude when I walked into a record company office. I’m good with creative people I work with, though. I listen to them!
Joe: I probably have very few balls about me, but think I’ve been lucky that I wasn’t viewed as someone a label was going to splash loads of cash on, so I got a completely sensible deal with Because Music and that gave me plenty of leverage to do what I wanted. You’ve worked with some great people over the years. How have those collaborations come about?
Róisín: They always just seem to be there. After I finished with Moloko, Matthew Herbert was just there and we’d talked about working together before, so I went down to his studio in Brixton, which is just a Tube ride away for me. Matt has a certain way of working where you start at 11am and finish at 6pm and I just got into that rhythm of working with him. Then I had a bit of a difficult period. I went for a few pints with my mate Eddie Stevens, who was working at EMI, and ended up signing for them. Eddie was learning to be a producer and he wrote and produced the ‘Overpowered’ album with me and became my musical director. And recently I’ve been making music with DJ Parrot, who I’ve known since I was a teenager. It all happens quite organically rather than me making a list of people I want to hit up. That’s the beauty of being a solo artist; you can navigate this path through different people without being tied down to a band. It always seems to be men, though! There must be something deeply heterosexual in my process, even though the gays love the music.
Joe: Do you still enjoy playing live? It’s probably the area where I still don’t feel particularly natural.
Róisín: I just love it. Like I said earlier, it was never my ambition to become a singer or perform, it all happened by accident really, but the stage has kind of turned into my natural habitat. I did struggle with it in the beginning, though. It was like, ‘How the fuck am I meant to sleep on a moving vehicle, then soundcheck, do interviews all day, then do a show and repeat that day after day?’ It was uncomfortable and I didn’t enjoy it, but once I got Eddie involved as my musical director I realised it’s about making it fun and having good people with a good vibe around you. He showed us how to have a good time on tour, and then it all became easier.
Joe: I think that’s what I like about having the band. One, it takes the pressure off me on stage as there’s five of us – but it’s always going to be easier and more enjoyable if you have people you like and get on with around you.
Róisín: I heard Metronomy on the radio first of all, and whenever I did, my ears always pricked up. It’s clever music. And then my best friend Dawn Shadforth directed a music video for your song ‘Old Skool’ a couple of years ago that had Sharon Horgan, in it, which got me even more interested. What’s up next for you, Joe?
Joe: Well, I’m on the promotional trail for the album. I’m actually quite enjoying it this time. The last album, ‘Summer ’08’, we just put out and didn’t perform live as a band. It was so I could do an album without the hassle of touring and promo and just get some music out more easily. But because it’s been a while since we did a big tour and promo I’m enjoying being back doing it. How about you?
Róisín: I’ve been working with a completely and utterly mad genius on and off for a year now. I can’t say who it is… but his music’s incredible and he’s got this certain way of working and will just completely reconstruct things. He’s doing my head in a bit, though! I might just go back and work with Parrot. He doesn’t fuck about, we just get in the studio and get it done!
‘Metronomy Forever’ is out on September 13 on Because Music. The Crooked Man remixes of Roisin Murphy’s ‘Incapable’ are out now on Good Machine
[Photos: Michele Yong, Fraser Taylor]
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