Culture & Music
Roisin Murphy is a true creative, her maverick spirit has seen her go from indie darling with Moloko to queen of the dancefloor with her ethereal vocals lending endless magic to numerous tracks. She talks to us about her new foray into directing, why fashion has lost its allure for her and how friendship is the superpower that keeps her going.
Can you talk to us about the video you made with DJ Koze?
That was a bit of a joke; he’s obsessed with cats, so I did it to rib him, he’s got one or two cats at his place in Spain. He says he’s in a homosexual relationship with this cat. They sleep together, and the cat listens to all his tunes. I was taking the mickey out of him by using cats. Though I do like a good cat myself, I have to say. There’s nowt wrong with a cat! I surreptitiously recorded our phone call, and I didn’t have a visual to go with it so cats it was. You can find anything on the internet, any emotion involving a cat that you can imagine, so it was a very easy thing to do.
Tell us more about the videos you’re making, it’s always seemed that you think of things in a very holistic way, can you elaborate more on that?
I think the way to put it is that I enjoy that side of things. I thought I was going to be a visual artist. I had no clue I’d be a singer, it all happened accidentally because I fell in love with someone that was a producer. In the beginning, I began making music but in the sense that I was playing around with ideas and I approached it in a conceptual art type way. That was my initial approach, not as a singer. I need to make music that could be on its own, that doesn’t need anything and is brilliant without anything – that’s first and foremost for me. That has to be the seed for everything. It needs to work anyway. But, I personally enjoy doing the rest of it and I find it’s a great challenge for me, and a journey for me, to get stuck into directing videos, finding people to do the artwork and photography. Even though I don’t do those parts, I’m still really involved in who’s doing it and how it’s done, where it’s done and what way.
What’s been most fun about the two most recent videos you’ve made?
Directing is something I love doing, I feel switched on, every part of me is “on” when I’m doing it, and really alive. The act of being on set with 50 people in front of you means you have to switch every part of yourself on. It’s a physical and mental challenge to have everything going on at once. It’s enjoyable to have so much happening at once, and it’s a huge buzz! For these two videos, the first one is deeply personal, All My Dreams is based on my first rave experience, in a place in Stoke in the north of England. It was called ‘Shelly’s rave’. When I was looking around for stuff on the internet, I found all this stuff about the culture I grew up in, which I guess you’d call rave. I wasn’t that mad on raves or anything, I loved music. Anyway, I found some Shelly’s rave footage, and that was the cornerstone for what I did for this video. The second video for Plaything, it’s like culture has moved on a bit, this one is a little bit starker, although it’s rudimentary in some ways, you start to see the notion of commerce and performance that wasn’t there in the first video or in the early days of what inspired it. It’s becoming a bit more about performance, commerce and money, men and women – bigger topics that are a bit more serious and a little darker. They’re both inspired by personal things that I know inside out, and that has been the best things about making these videos.
You’re a longtime collaborator of Elaine Constantine, and you both share a love of movement and the culture that is rooted in as an expression of that. How do think that’s expressed in your work?
She’s a huge influence on me, just as a person. Elaine is a person who left school and freely admits she could barely read or write. As her friend watching her closely, I’ve seen her decide to start reading literature because she wanted to learn about story and that made her think, “I can” which was really inspiring. Obviously, visuals she learned to a very, very high level and the next part of that for her was story. It was all self-driven by her. If you’d said to people 20 years ago that she would make Northern Soul – no one would have believed you. I find that really inspiring. I come up against that a lot myself, where the vision is there, I’ve got the vision but trying to get others to see that or to make the vision come true is the main hard part of it all. It has to be done, and it does separate the men from the boys. Elaine just sees things differently than other people and not only that, she has the guts to go out and do it, and do it properly.
That’s definitely something that is clear in her work, especially in the strong and playful way she documents women – it always feels really authentic.
That’s the director in her, more the director than the photographer. When she’s shooting portraits with people, it’s really about the stripping back what gets in the way of telling the narrative. She’ll say, ‘Make that stupid face. Let yourself go and be beautiful as who you are’, and she’s a great director, through and through. That’s what you’re seeing. Other photographers just shoot what’s in front of them or make a set, but they don’t get in there, the same way a great film director would with a subject. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing in portraiture. We’re both quite reactionary people, and we get a lot of power from what we don’t want to do, even if we don’t know what we do want. That gives you a massive push to do what’s left to do after all the stuff you don’t want.
In terms of other influences of what you listen to, I read that you loved bands like Nirvana and when you began to sing, you felt you sounded like Elaine Paige, was that true and can you tell us more about it?
I was really into Sonic Youth, and the lads I hung around with were into Jesus and Mary Chain, that was the era I was in – the late 80’s. In Ireland, everybody sings songs, they all have a few they know from start to finish. When they have a few drinks, they all sing theirs unaccompanied – so I grew up with people just signing songs, it was literally like living in an MGM musical.
The song I learned was ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’, that was the song that led everyone to discover I could sing. I remember my parents were there, my auntie, my cousins, my grandmother and from that day on, I got no peace from them all. They would all come running after me to have me sing this song, and I hated it. I don’t know that I sounded like Elaine Paige, but I definitely want to be singing that song. At that time, I didn’t want to be singing anything – I’d didn’t think I had a good voice or the attention span to do anything about it – it was a big surprise to become a singer.