Róisín Murphy — The Woman-Machine
November 4, 2022
Culture & Music
Róisín Murphy has always been a singular performer, enigmatic and yet bombastic on stage with a voice that slays. Her latest record sees her emerge from the ashes of the pandemic to soar to new heights. But, as we find with this incredibly self-driven star, the apex is still to come.
Dress & boots by Balenciaga
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing her perform you’ll recognise the eclectic whirlwind that is Róisín Murphy’s on-stage presence which, combined with her incredible voice, is always impactful. Her fashion sense and multiple costume changes are also an integral part of her stage persona, but last time we spoke she was feeling a little fatigued with fashion, so I ask if a brief hiatus has revived that for her. “Going on to the fashion battlefield, it’s almost like I’m wrangling, especially in the shows. Obviously, I’m changing all the time and I don’t practice that before I go on tour. I bring the clothes with me and I do try to think in a modular sense when I’m touring when I’m doing a show, ‘Will this work on top of this and under that and over this?’ So I work that out as I go along on the tour and that’s very much an expression of how I feel about it. I think there’s a joy in it and a drive and a battle.”
Part of the battle for Róisín is just an overwhelm of stuff, something it seems more and more of us is feeling. “People are not as convinced, I think, as they used
to be that having a lot of stuff is a good idea. So that sets things off in quite an interesting way in fashion I think at the moment.”
That’s not that there’s no enjoyment and pleasure to be found for her though. “A lot of my life is spent in a kind of uniform, to make up for the fact that I have to do all this to express myself. I’ve always had to do it to express myself. It’s been going on since childhood.” Case in point her shoot for us with Balenciaga, Demna is a favourite of hers because he “subverts desirability. By controlling the tide of what’s desired or the electricity of it is like playing with fire, without something so ephemeral as fashion and I admire anyone who’s brave enough to do it, to be honest.”
We discuss her approach to dress and how she represents herself and the fact that she’s always been an artist not afraid to try strange silhouettes, edgy patterns and in a simpler sense is interested in something more sophisticated than just looking pretty. Her take on this is refreshingly simple, “I think there’s an idea when you’re
an artist, that everything has to be shiny in some way. It’s not shiny enough to be grounded these days. Everything has to be shiny and buffed, and even the music itself, even the imagery, everything is overthought and analysed before it gets to you.”
jacket, trousers & boots all by Balenciaga, Róisín’s own necklace & rings
jumpsuit & dress both by Balenciaga
For her it’s different, there’s no team informing her how to be, that’s all self-driven. “I drive the visual, I drive the performance, I drive who I work with, make music with and there’s no way it could have been any other way. There just wasn’t any option at all. I never really believed that I should let other people make mistakes for me. I always thought I should be the one to do it.”
That’s not to say she’s a lone wolf. In fact, it’s her knack for collaboration that launched her into the music world. Starting with Moloko which she formed with her then partner Mark Brydon but expanding over the years to include Matthew Herbert and Eddie Stevens.
Her take on this is grateful and unpretentious. “I’ve been either lucky or good at making connections with solid, deep, beautiful creative people. They are to be trusted and to be relied on at all times. Also there are plenty more people in my life that I don’t make records with who are also grounded but brilliant and inspiring and we help each other, that’s the basis that I build everything else onto. But beyond that circle, you have to take it or leave it because it comes from trusting your instincts”.
Part of trusting her instincts has been answering a personal call to take pleasure in your life, and we discuss the infamous Kate Moss quote, where she described arguing with her mum and saying, “Why can’t I have fun all the time?” and how in some senses that was a de- fining message for Gen-X. Róisín’s take is it would be wrong to think this is rooted in decadence. “It’s a thing you have to have, you have to want to live a creative day every day because that’s what gives you the fun, the buzz, the excitement and sense of forward motion. This ultimately happens when you’re in the midst of something creative and it’s somehow working and I want to do that every day. So I’m sort of protecting that. That’s what I’ve been protecting all these years. It’s absolutely not hedonistic. It requires quite a lot of discipline and sacrifice in some ways. I don’t want to be too dramatic, but it’s what we do it for and with that, there are good times and then there are bad times too”.
Dress & jumpsuit both by Balenciaga
dress & boots both by Balenciaga
Dress & jumpsuit both by Balenciaga
Róisín’s ability to sit in her own skin, something which is only increasing with age, is part of her allure. “My forties have been my best years,” she says. “There’s been a rollover into what I do. I’ve almost stepped even more into myself and what I do. I feel like every day in my forties it’s amazing what’s going on, you know? I’m making this or I’m doing that and I really appreciate it. I’m not joking. There is not one person who could appreciate more what it is that I’ve been allowed to do for the last 30 years. Really.”
We discuss some of her highlights, including playing to 60,000 people at Exit Festival in Serbia which she said made her feel “like Freddie Mercury” and a lowlight which was playing Reading Festival with Moloko and “absolutely bombing”. Part of the reason for that was that festivals used to be very genre specific, which has now changed significantly. For her this is a welcome change and she thinks it’s arguably one of the most exciting times in music. “It’s not even about identifying things that are bound to go across all these boundaries, they aren’t called eclectic anymore. They have a fused identity, so you could be seamlessly listening to something from Africa, something from Detroit, something from Sheffield, something from New York, you know, something from Warrington and they would all express something about this moment. So there’s definitely not a localised music scene that I could put my finger on and say, ‘Oh, this is super exciting’, but it’s exciting all over, I love that.”
For her latest record Róisín Machine, she enjoyed the freedom to use Ableton and work from home to combine all the influences she was experiencing. “Every record I make is like a world or a planet or a place or a journey. The big album format, which is the main thing that everything else hangs off, for the structure of my life. They’re the centre point of the structure of my life in terms of what I do, when and how and everything else is around that. The album is sort of sacred in a sense, that it’s pretentious to think of it like that. Now people don’t really think of it like that. But during lockdown, you see, when Róisín Machine came out, people were very glad to have worlds to step into and to step out of the misery that they were possibly in, you know? The fact they couldn’t leave their apartments and the fear, so a song is a nice stimulant for a moment, but an album is a place to go. Each one of them represents something different.”
Photographer: Lola Banet
Styling: Yana McKillop
Make-up & Hair: Louise Maxwell using Charlotte Tilbury
Location: The Standard Ibiza
Retouching: Paul Drozdowski
Special thanks: Federica Zizzari & Charlotte Arif