Irish-born avantpop-queen Róisín Murphy has become synonymous with a twisted hook and an eye-spinning look. Clasping hands with noted Baltimore producer and DJ Maurice Fulton, she has recently updated her extensive catalogue with a series of twelve-inches accompanied by two self-directed videos. Longstanding star unblinking - fifteen years after the solo departure from success propeller Moloko - her unmistakable contralto vocals still make you transcend the mundane whenever one of her songs come on. Honestly, if you've never made a heart-broken mate smile through their tears by performing an over-the-top choreography to one of Róisín Murphy's tracks, what kind of friend are you?
KNOTORYUS talks to the artist about her raving days, directing, crafting new work and trusting your talent.
KNOTORYUS: Congratulations on the new music, Róisín! You directed the accompanying videos. How did that go?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: It all started with the music. I rationalised it as something for the club or about club culture. At first I was trying to make the tracks more slick, work them some more. But my collaborator, Maurice Fulton, would take them from his studio to the club to play them with the premise: "If they work in there, we can't touch them afterwards." I thought: "Okay, so it's not an album, it's about a very authentic part of club culture, musically." Then I packaged it that way. Four twelve-inches, four releases, two songs each, phased out. I just couldn't approach pure club music as a Róisín Murphy album. I then began to research internet footage from the late 80s and early 90s club culture. I edited that into little ideas, made lots of short films for reference and to get people via social media to come be in the video and show them a little flavour of what we were trying to do.
KNOTORYUS: How was the response?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: To my surprise it was massive! We got a load of great messages from fans, dancers, choreographers and a lot of amazing people came through. Because of the little films I had already posted or sent to them, they understood the idea.
KNOTORYUS: Could you talk us through the videos and your approach as a director?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Sure! Even though it looks like we had five cameras in the club and it was all very simple, that wasn't the case. You can't just throw a party and yell: "Now everybody have a good time!" and film that. We had to be very precise. Otherwise it just becomes actors and dancers in a club instead of real people clubbing. If you'd just shout 'go' and start running around with a camera, people start to get really show-offish. So, each shot or scene was very thought out and we only had one camera - that's all you need anyway. We had to set everything up exactly the way we wanted it to look and put everybody in the mood for the particular scene we were trying to portray. It's all preconceived, but it doesn't look like it was and that is the hardest thing to do. I've directed videos before, but these have been the toughest because you have to work hard to make it look credible and effortless.
KNOTORYUS: How did it feel, referencing the 80s and 90s? Going back to a time when you were very much into the club and rave scene?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Oh, it felt highly personal. The first video, "All My Dreams", was based on my first rave experience in a place called 'Shelley's' in Stoke-On-Trent. The three girls going around together, rather naïve, was something that happened to me. It's very close to home. The video for "Plaything" is not really based on personal experience as such, it's set a couple of years later and the reference is more like a Grooverider rave in 1992 or maybe '93, '94 at the latest. There are dancers on stage and all you see is the outline from behind. You get the sense that they are starting to be removed from that naïveté. They are up there because they want to dance and they want to be seen. It's the beginning of the commercialization of clubbing. It's still amateur at that point, but it's becoming more and more about commerce. It also showcases the difference between girls and boys. In the beginning of my raving days we were all one big mix, it was the rush of something new and there was no sex involved during the first part of rave culture. And then sexuality and commerciality and the difference between the stage and the people started to creep in. That's what we referenced there. I'm not sure what we're doing for the next one, we haven't done that yet. We're probably shooting in September.
KNOTORYUS: Are you planning on releasing all 12-inches this year?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Oh yes, I was supposed to release one every month, but I had to put a brake on it, because I got really tired.
KNOTORYUS: I think it's ok to give your fans some time to digest the new work. Especially because you are serving a full course. You might not be releasing an album, each of these drops come with its specific graphic design, two songs, a video... It's not just some throwaway, no-chewing-just-swallow deal, I find.
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Yeah, that might be true, Dominique!
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Oh, that's wonderful! I guess he's been getting pretty famous.
KNOTORYUS: He's worked with Frank Ocean and A$AP Mob in recent years, but why did you choose him in particular?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Initially, I was looking for a graphic designer from those early raving days. So I started researching small house music labels, but it was a bit of a dead end, to be honest. I then found Bráulio because he also does all of the artwork for a well-known club in New York called 'Good Room'. His work came up and I immediately said: "That's it!"
KNOTORYUS: I saw on your Instagram that you were selling t-shirts with the artwork and they immediately sold out.
RÓISÍN MURPHY: It's the first time I've done merchandise! I did it because I really liked the designs, but it's a recent development that only happened a few weeks ago. Yes, they went pretty quickly, but I will be restocking very soon!
KNOTORYUS: You are so involved with fashion and how everything looks, that it's quite surprising to me that this is the first time you've done merch. You also bought an entire graduation collection from Camilla Damkjaer, one of the students of the Royal College of Arts London. Do you like going to the graduation shows?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Oh yes, I was a jury member at La Cambre in Brussels a couple of months ago. I got to give marks and everything. It was incredible! Were you there?
KNOTORYUS: I was a member of the jury at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp Fashion Department and both schools had their shows the same weekend. I still haven't recovered from the jury-experience, though.
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Right? It's amazing!
KNOTORYUS: You are a very visual artist yourself. I was wondering how you approach songwriting? Do you only write about things that you have gone through?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: Well, this time it was very instinctive, there wasn't too much research involved. I do collect words and phrases in notebooks. I also cut up papers and magazines and make collages of phrases and words that I use as a prompt in the studio. But only when I need to. They're like a crutch, my big bag full of ideas that might help when I get stuck. It's very straightforward and instinctive, in a way.
KNOTORYUS: You don't have to dig that deep?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: It's different every time. 'Overpowered' required a lot of research on Oxytocin. The one thing that stays the same in my process is that I want to write good songs. I'm very critical of my own work. I'll ask myself: "Can I make that a better lyric? Can it have more meaning with less words?" I try all kinds of ways to write songs, I'll use anything: it might be a film I saw last night or one sentence in the collage-books that I make, it might have just popped into my head listening to the music - there are lots of different ways.
KNOTORYUS: You're known for super vibrant sets and many costume changes during your live shows. What've you come up with this time?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: All the getting in and out of costumes on stage at the end of the previous run of shows got on my nerves. It's just too difficult and too many things can go wrong. Having said that, the music across the board will be more banging because I'm putting this new music into the set and I will have different visuals up there of course. There are still some costume changes, though. Listen, I think everyone knows I'm never going to be minimalist. (laughs) And I also think that it's not worth doing anything unless it can go wrong. Unless it might fail. That's kind of a rule for me, I guess. If you're doing something that can't go wrong, it's no good. You have to be close to fucking up all the time.
KNOTORYUS: I have so much respect for the arch of your career and I really relate to how much of it you want to take into your own hands. But since you got into the music business almost by chance in the early 90s - that also means it might have taken you a while before you took your talents seriously. When did you start trusting that you could actually do this and that it's not a fluke?
RÓISÍN MURPHY: That was a gradual realization. I think I grabbed any opportunity I could along the way to satisfy the visual artist in me - that was what I thought I was going to become growing up. I did not think I was going to be a singer. That happened accidentally through the process of falling in love with someone who was a producer and this was a way for us to be together. Singing wasn't difficult for me, I just opened my mouth and did it. Then, I was always curious and wanted to be involved in the videos, the artwork and what the vision or the message was going to be. In the beginning, I took it on as a conceptual thing, like: "We are not going to do this, we are going to avoid that, we are going to be funny, we are going to interested in this..." You know, having visually interesting ideas instead of trying to be just a singer. I learned to sing as I went along and learned about everything else step by step. I was extremely involved in everything surrounding "Overpowered". Yet. From 'Hairless Toys' onwards, I took over a lot of responsibilities. I creative-directed everything from start to finish. So yes, slowly, slowly, we take complete control. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: Thank you so much for talking to me!
RÓISÍN MURPHY: You're very welcome and maybe I'll see you soon!