Inroducing a lady, who has stood at the forefront of the UK’s dance music scene since the 90’s. A lady who has been described as “This adolescent century’s true art-pop queen” and of being “pop’s exiled princess of glam” / “representing a confection of disco, art, sensuousness and intelligence” introducing Queen, Roisin Murphy! Welcome to 1BTN, how are you?
Oh, I’m very well my dear subject! (laugh) You really bigged me up there didn’t ya! (laugh)
Shame the rest of the interview isn’t as good, it’s all downhill from here! How you getting on and bearing up? You’re in London at the moment you were saying?
Yeh, London sides at the moment.
Looking at your back catalogue and body of work in the last 25 years you have been pretty prolific, even with a semi-hiatus a few years ago, it doesn’t appear that you have really stopped producing music since back in the mid 90’s with Moloko? Can it be difficult to find the energy for that kind of work ethic?
Yeh, I definitely know how to get me nose down to the grindstone and get it done, but you do question these things as you get older, you do start to wonder. Perhaps that’s why I called the album ‘Roisin Machine’ to try and remind myself that maybe I was heading in the direction of losing my mind a bit really. I do work very very hard and I do all the artwork and the video’s and all that as well, so I am ready for a break, to just relax.
I think we can all agree that you have earned that
(laugh)…Yeh, just a touch.
Before we get into this incredible year you have had can we touch on a brief history of your background?
Yeh, I’m from Ireland and I moved to Manchester with my family, we already had other family living in Manchester and therein, I dunno, started getting into music and being around weirdo’s and finding, well, everything was available in Manchester, every Avenue could be explored, and I tried to, I explored all of them and it was just the best thing that ever happened to me. So, then I moved to Sheffield when I was 19 I think and I fell in love with Mark Brydon and on the night that I met him, I started to make music with him that then turned into a band called Moloko. That was all by accident but it worked out ok!
It certainly did and what a lovely accident that turned out to be! What was it like discovering the music scenes of Manchester and Sheffield back then? That must have been a proper buzz
Fascinating! You know, as you get older and especially in today’s day and age, with the things that have gone on in the last year or so, you really feel priviledged, actually, to have been part of the night culture at that time and the music culture, it was exploding! Manchester was like, everyone was coming together, under one roof at that moment in the late 80s and everything started to feel like it was falling away like, it was a very special time. I know people go on about it and it’s right boring and that, but It was and you took it for granted at the time but I think people…for the last 10 years or so, and when we started this record Roisin Machine, myself and Parrot, you know there’s been this kind of revisionist thing, looking back and wondering what was so special about the time, was there something we can retrieve from the time, from the music, from the feeling and something that we can maybe save, cos things have changed in so many different ways since then. Yeh, so we were already starting to look backwards weren’t we, I suppose, even 10 years ago but in that interim you found that they have started putting this stuff in art galleries and things like that now. So, it seems to have become a big concern for people to look back and really try and work out what that whole era was about. For me it was great fun and I found myself.
Yep. Manchester and Sheffield are both mecca’s for the UK music scene, no doubt. What influences did you draw on back then for your work with Mark and the sound of Moloko?
Well, our influences were really broad, we had a big pallet to draw from with stuff that was happening with Hip-Hop in America at the time, to a lot of Funkadelic and that there was this natural place where Mark Brydon had come from and running studios and making house records, then he had made some Acid Jazz stuff, so there was all kinds of influences in there. With regards to the scene, I was never really involved in any kind of purist scene, you know, I used to kind of flit around a bit. I’d maybe go to an R&B club one night and, especially in Manchester, then to an Acid house night somewhere else, or I might go to a Reggae do, a soundsystem, or I would go to The Kitchen, in Hulme after I went to the PSV, so it was really mixed. I had come from being into weirdo music, you know, I was into Sonic Youth, as a young young kid, I saw Sonic Youth and it changed my life, told that story so many times it’s a bit boring, so I’ll move on! (laugh) Yeh, I sought out things and I was part of a crowd that was into music and we were looking for stuff, you know, so, curious, just curious about all kinds of things and I found like minded people on the scene and I think that was more important than some purist musical vision.
You and Mark recorded 5 albums as Moloko, do you remember the point in the mid to late 90’s when it all shifted and you had that breakthrough moment?
Yeh, well, It felt a bit removed to have a remix as a hit for sure. It didn’t feel like we owned it completely but the visual that went with ‘Sing It Back’ was my idea, you know, the disco dress and all that. It was very simplistic, one faceted, like, the disco dolly spinning round and round, so it was brilliant and it was wonderfully executed but it was a narrow thing that we were never going to stay within. We didn’t have the discipline to churn out Sing It Back over and again.
I understand that you were already working on your solo work whilst still with Moloko but it was 3 years from the last Moloko album ‘Statues’ and your debut solo album ‘Ruby Blue’ how was that period of transition for you during that period?
It was hard in the beginning, Moloko were a relationship more than anything, it was me and Mark in the first instance, and remained the kind of heart of it; the writing part of it anyway. We broke up, and we made that last record, which was really hard to do, the album Statues. We then went on tour for a couple years actually, which was immense. The tour was incredible, it was like the highlight of my career in a way, even though the record didn’t really have it’s shining moment when it came out. I think the touring that we did in the two years after it really solidified us a very strong live act and we got into a flow with it, but it was difficult. To tour with your ex-boyfriend and so on and all the time we knew it was going to come to an end, that there would be a last gig, so there was a certain amount of fear building up in me all the time. I didn’t really think I was going to be a singer, so obviously at times like that you wonder, you know, maybe I should have been an artist, what I thought I was going to be, instead of going with the flow and wondering if I had made the wrong decision and stuff like that. So, it was a bit scary. Later on and thankfully, I knew Matthew Herbert wanted to do something and I was actually scared to do that too but he was quite insistent. I was going out with a lovely fella at the time called, Jonny Rock, he’s a Dj as well, he was going “What you doing not taking that call?! That’s Matthew Herbert! Go on, go and do it!” So, he made me do it and it was easy once I got stuck in because he’s just wonderful to work with. It’s like i say, you couldn’t have a more, Roisin Murphy, record in a sense that he put a microscope on, Roisin Murphy. It was made out of the sounds that I make, it was made out of the sounds that I brought into the studio, it was made out the sound of me dancing, and humming and singing and skipping and laughing and shouting and tap dancing and what have you, and that’s the way he works, he gets a found sound and I was the found sound. So, I didn’t go into it thinking it was going to be that conceptual – and it is very conceptual in a way – but it’s also really simple and really works and it does what it says on the tin, his way of doing things. It brings a sound that is, well, exceptional, you know, he’s really into sound, so then he’s really listening to me and so I couldn’t really go wrong, there wasn’t anything I could do that he thought was wrong, so I couldn’t really have been in a better place for me to start seeing as I would have been insecure. He kind of built me up from zero again, if you know what I mean. Then I delivered the record and the record wasn’t very liked in the record company, and that was a bit of a shock to get negative comments from them about it because we had never had that in Moloko, we had been in a total bubble in Sheffield and no one had dare say a word to us and they were brilliant, you know, the label in that sense, that they really let us develop over a number of years. I think that they were coming to the end of their life as a label and they were panicking, so I guess it’s very understandable now looking back on it, how we started to fall out about that record, but that hurt almost as much as breaking up with Mark, you know, they had been with me since I was 19.
This was Echo Records, yeh?
That was Echo yeh, part of Crysalis, then more or less the same thing happened with EMI but in the space of one album! (laugh) Not in the space of what most people would call a career really, which is the time I spent with Echo.
So, it was a very difficult time for you on a personal level back then by the sound of it?
Back then it was, yeh. I think a lot of people find it really hard going from their 20’s to their 30’s, I believe there’s sort of a thing about that. I’m a very decisive person, you know, I decided to stay in Manchester when I was 15 and my parents went off. Ever since then I’ve always made my own decisions and I’ve had to stand by them.
They are the right decisions, as it transpires
Are they? I dunno, we will have to see about that! (laugh)
You mentioned Matthew Herbert there, was it Matthew’s incredible version of Sing It Back that introduced you both?
No, I think he did a remix of an earlier one, maybe something from the first record.
You have worked with a number of prolific producers over the years as well as Matthew, the likes of Handsome Boy Modelling School, Boris Dlugosh, Seiji and Maurice Fulton. All of them are very different and have their own distinct sound. Do you have an idea for a certain sound and look to those producers, or as is the case with Matthew, they seek you out to work with you?
Well…they have to be handsome!
(laugh) No, that’s not true actually, If you put them in a line, that’s quite a line up! I think I go for maverick producers, for want of a better word. I like to go to a place where I feel out of my depth, you know, I want to go into something and learn. So, I’ll hear a piece of music by someone and think “How the hell did he do that?” That’s usually what perks my interest. They were all really different but you know, Maurice Fulton, I’ve never seen such soulfulness at work in a studio. It was like, what’s the word? Like the opposite of evaporated, it was like a transpiring of pure funk, like. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from even watching it in the studio!. He would pull out this sack, like a potato sack, and he would pull out all these percussion instruments and he would be like a whirlwind for a few minutes and then it would turn around and be the FUNKIEST track you have ever heard in your life, it would make you cry it was so funky! It just comes out of nowhere! (laugh) For all intense and purposes it’s like Mr Magoo in the studio but I have absolutely no idea where it’s coming from and how he’s doing it! (laugh)
He’s incredible, one of my all time favourite producers, no question. He’s out there on his own plain for sure
Oh, he is, yeh.
Those four 12’s you worked on with Maurice for The Vinyl Factory were pretty special and they got roundly hammered on 1BTN, as I’m sure they did everywhere. How did that collaboration come about?
I chased him down for years, you know. I knew his Missus, funnily enough. I was mad about his music and then he ended up married to someone I know in Sheffield, Moo, who he did that amazing project with a few years ago. So, I was ringing her but she was going “Ohh, I dunno, Roisin, he’s a nightmare!” (laugh) So, I was like, “Ok, well just say it” and never heard anything and then every now and then I would just check in and see if he was interested and then one time he said he might do a remix but it had to be his choice of song. So, I sent him the whole album of ‘Hairless Toys’ and he did a beautiful mix of a song called ‘House Of Glass’, which we put out as a vinyl on it’s own, as it was so good. Then i think that made him feel that i was quite nice, you know, for doing that! Then he said he would. So, then i started going up and down to Sheffield again, weirdly, here i am going back to Sheffield again working with Parrot . . .
It’s weird innit? Suck’s me back in! *adopting Michael Corleone impression* “Just when i think i’m getting out, it suck’s me back in!” So, yeh, that was that basically but that got in the way a little bit of us coming back to Roisin Machine. Parrot was ready with ‘Incapable’ while i was doing that stuff with Maurice, Chris Duckenfield was gagging to put it out and i had to put a stop to it, and i told them we can’t put out loads of records at the same time but as soon as this stuff had it’s moment then we put out Incapable and funny enough like, 9 years after ‘Simulation’ everyone started going mad about it!
Yeh, well bringing us nicely to 2020 then, without question the strangest and most testing year of our lifetime, as it would appear. In 2020 we have seen artists release music, which has been swallowed up in the noise of so many other artists and releases, some have done well and rose above the rest and then others have taken it by the scruff of the neck and slapped it’s arse! I think it’s fair to say that you fall into that latter category. Did you foresee the incredible success of the new album Roisin Machine considering the circumstances?
Well, i wasn’t considering the circumstances because, i dunno, it just all came up at the same time really. So, it has been born into this strange new reality. Half of it was made before lockdown, maybe a little bit more than half. We had just signed the deal actually, not long before lockdown and we had a date in mind when we would have it finished and that meant that we worked through lockdown on the remainder of the record but the story of the record, the real nuts and bolts and the heart of the record was already in our hand 10 years ago to be honest. When i first started talking to Parrot, it was almost hard to talk him into doing house music because, well, i think if you’re an early adopter of things you can kind of suffer from that, obviously at the beginning of dance music as we know it, Parrot and some of his mates had hits, you know, they were on Top Of The Pops before i ever got to Sheffield, with dance records, and i think they were put into a world where people just though that was novelty music, so it was almost like a dead end. So, a lot of people like him felt that they were banging their head against a brick wall trying to develop a project. The idea of a band that made dance music going out on tour even at that time was absolutely, you know, they were alien concepts from each other! So, there wasn’t much future in it and that! (laugh) He’s done all sorts ever since, obviously he did really well with ‘All Seeing I’ and he’s always kept his hand in, he’s never gone away really, Parrot. He’s another one that people are like “Aah, he’s come back!” but he’s never been away.
As an aside here, for those who may be wondering who Parrot is, Parrot AKA Crooked Man is the producer of Roisin’s new album. Do you and Parrot go all the way back to your early days in Manchester and Sheffield and that same crowd?
Yeh, not in Manchester but Sheffield, yeh, i mean the difference is that when i was in Manchester i was going around with people, who were really into music and for the most part their lifestyles were completely driven by it but, when you went to Sheffield everyone was doing it. They were starting a label, or they were running Designers Republic, there was an interdependent scene there and they were all feeding each other and it was impossible not to meet them on the first night out. So, it was only a matter of time before i accidentally became a singer. People used to say to me when i was first in Sheffield, like, Rob Mitchell, who was one of my first friends there actually, he started Warp Records, he used to say to me “I don’t know what you’re gonna be, Roisin, but you’re gonna be something!”
I go that a lot during my life! I probably still get it, i don’t know what I’m gonna be i’m gonna be something.
Well, you were obviously keeping the right company, which helped to steer you in the right direction. I know you’re friends with, Luke Una, do you know Luke from those early days too?
I didn’t know Luke in Manchester, i knew Luke from the Sheffield connection, so i had always known him after he left Sheffield but because of other people, who were close to him in Sheffield. We used to go over to in a minibus to Manchester very regularly to their parties and stuff.
Brilliant, yeh, he’s been one of my lockdown heroes for sure.
So, it’s been, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air to have a record like yours that can take a bad year by storm and give us something to be excited about, so well done to you and all your team for that
I just want to give a little shout out to our, Amy Douglas, as i know she will be listening to this
*Thick Northern accent* “Hi, Amy? Y’alright love? Y’alright Amy?”
(laugh) Amy, of course penned ‘Something More’ for you for the new album
Amy is another lady who has had a successful and eventful year. How did you both meet and how did that track come to pass?
Well, you know, we met at a speaking event in London for the first time and it was kind of like a date that i invited her on. Andrew Weatherall was speaking at the event; it was about the science of sound, the physics of it, it was a lot to do with dub and stuff like that as well. So, it was very interesting, we did a bit of heckling i think! She’s quite a handful and I’m quite a handful! (laugh)
I can only imagine!
(laugh) Yeh, it was ace and it was one of them where you meet a load of old friends and there was a load of great people there that night, so i asked her that night to write me a song about exponential need, i thought it was going to be a high energy thing but it never got to the level of high energy…we did the original version, which was quite poppy in a way, sort of quite Jam & Lewis (ish) and by the time i got into lockdown and by the time Andrew had died – it was around that time – it didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like we could go in all jazz hands and so this mix, which became the original mix if you like, came in as one of the remixes. Parrot does lots of these sweet mixes of these tracks, amazing, amazing remixer he is! Anyway, it felt a bit like something Andrew might play at the end of the night and it felt like the moment and it had this melancholy, ‘cos the song’s a real bitch! You know, she’s not a nice character, so it gave her a bit of humanity, (laugh) It’s funny how things work out like that, you think that you’re doing one thing and you end up doing another. It was beautiful working with her, you know, to take the pressure off. We had just done ‘Murphy’s Law’ and i thought “I can’t do another one of them!” You know, “I know I need another one, i know i need another anchor on the record but i just can’t take the pressure!” It was pressure for it to be as big as Murphy’s Law . . . do i sound really big headed? (laugh)
Not at all…more self-assured
(laugh) On balance i didn’t think i could do it twice, quite so well, so i got her to do it for me and Jesus it was handy!
Yeh, it’s a corker of a record! I just want to give props to Brighton’s own Skint Records. Shout out to Damien Harris AKA Midfield General and all the crew there. What a lovely marriage that’s turned out to be, what influenced your decision to sign to Skint?
Damien just came out of nowhere, with like a cloak on, and that, with a big hat on looking like Orson Welles in the shadows and he said “I can save your career!” (laugh) He was very very keen, he came out of nowhere very keen and i just thought “He’s such a nice man and he really loves music” and it has been really nice to work with him.
He’s been around a long time Damien; he really knows his business for sure. He’s also a very lovely man, to boot. Hello, Damien!
Maybe it was a bit like that, you know the end of ‘What’s love got to do with it’ when Tina Turner is singing on a boat, or something like that, but it’s like me singing on a cruise ship and Damien comes out of nowhere and says “I can do something for you!” (laugh)
(laugh) Yes, he cuts a dashing and suave here figure!
Are you making any plans, or have you made any plans to tour this album? I know it’s a bit of a finger in the air job
Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes. We have lots of dates coming up this year, some during the summer and i hope they go off. Then, September we have loads of gigs, so, i think it will happen, i really do and i fully believe we will be back up and running by then. I also think that when people go into these environments, these escapist environments, the door will close behind you and you will forget what you have left behind outside, just like you always did! So, it will come back, so i’m not so worried. I’m worried about all kinds of people in the meantime. All kinds of little businesses, oh, it’s carnage!
I think we have to grind it out until spring, before we see a turning point, absolutely
What next for you, are you taking time out from this album and enjoying all that it brings? Or have you got new projects planned?
Well, we have got the remix album coming!
Oh, wow! Go on
Aye! Crooked Machine. Honest to God, it’s so good! So good! It’s all Parrot, you know, all one seamless listen again but it’s a totally different animal to Roisin Machine. It’s…I was going to say darker Sister but it’s not, she might even be the lighter of the Sister’s but yeh, it’s very much ‘fer ‘t lads!’ you know, it’s not going be one of them that’s like ‘Save 2021 with Kylie and all the rest of the pop stars!’ (laugh) It’s definitely ‘fer ‘t lads’ this one. It’s proper! It’s proper! It’s personally my favourite; I mean, i prefer it to Roisin Machine. It’s exactly what I would like me to be like, less…I dunno…less pop I suppose.
When’s that dropping, Roisin?
I don’t know, pretty soon. A month or two
Has he remixed the whole album, yeh?
The whole album, yeh, the whole thing.
That’s going to be a piece of work isn’t it?!
Oh, it’s unbelievable. It’s so good. It’s a masterpiece; the best remix I’ve ever heard and i’ve heard a few.
I can’t wait to see this album out on tour; it’s gonna to go off all over again
It has another story to tell, for sure.
Amazing. Well, Roisin Murphy, I would just like to say – and I think I speak on behalf of all the fans, whether those, who have known you since the beginning, or those who may be discovering you for the first time because of this beautiful album – a huge thank you. It’s a stunning record, as are the incredible remixes from, Crooked Man. We have really needed our favourite artists, DJ’s & producers to step up and allow us to focus on anything other than the draining vacuum of an awful year, which it has been, and you have stepped up with aplomb, and with the usual style and class that we have to come to know and love you for. Thank you, it’s been lovely speaking to you
…Thank you!…That’s so sweet! I think I’m gonna cry! (laugh) I feel like I’ve won an Oscar!
(laugh) The ending’s are getting as good as the intro’s. I’m becoming well versed!
You big soppy!
(laugh) Well, i just want to say a big thank you once more. Keep doing what you do, big love and we will catch you soon, hopefully
You’re welcome pal, thanks very much, Mickey, bye!
Listen to the full interviw on the 1BTN Mixcloud page