In Conversation with Róisín Murphy

The importance of Róisín Murphy in contemporary electronic music and the relevance of her lyrical poetry. Word by word.

The exuberant and disruptive Róisín Murphy visited Lisbon, in a concert at Lisb-on. A monumental and theatrical performance, with each movement extending itself in time and space, under the festival’s atmosphere. Each movement and beat, followed by her musicians, was prepared in detail. The dilation of time on stage is outstanding, a “new world” built by herself, of which we are all part.

There are several sudden changes of clothing, in a succession of events taken to the limit. For instance, a silver toy, imitating the human figure on an approximate scale, repeating a circular movement for (almost) four minutes.

Umbigo interviewed Róisín days earlier, identifying her references in plastic arts and trying to pinpoint her writing process and how that fits into the current social context.

Pedro Sousa Loureiro – I want to congratulate you on your journey and theatricality of your performances. How do you create those and what is your relationship with the audience?

Róisín Murphy – I don’t have that awareness. Especially since I never start a project with a large budget. These are simple ideas that start with music. Each album or period, if we use that terminology, creates an aesthetic sensibility based on music.

PSL – What are your references in plastic artists?

RM – Cindy Sherman was a big influence when I was a teenager. It was good to find a woman capable of celebrating and using those feminine archetypes, transforming them into a kind of playground, which, instead of being negative… I mean, it’s a very post-feminist attitude, where we take the negative things and make them positive. I wasn’t the only one influenced. I think a lot of pop stars should be thankful to Cindy Sherman for that openness to the desire of all the younger girls, and enjoy and interpret their own female archetypes without feeling restricted.

PSL – In one of your lyrics, for instance, (I sing an excerpt from the song on the phone): “Got to find somebody, but there’s nobody, to love me” from the Moloko era. Were you aware of how this would reach people? It’s one of the timeless songs you created…

RM – I’m not sure how many songs I wrote. Maybe about 100 have already been published. Maybe more. It depends on my mood. I don’t really think about connecting with the audience. Just like the last song Incapable. I never dreamed that so many people would connect with these “disconnected” lyrics. (Laughter) I’m surprised that people feel connected. The world is currently very selfish.

PSL – Too much…

RM – Very narcissistic. I don’t write for the audience. I write about what I feel at the moment.

PSL – When I listen to your songs, it’s as if time has stopped. It’s magical.

RM – Thank you. I don’t write about not needing a man, about being an independent woman or many things we hear today. I don’t like that. I like to write from an “insecure space”, without much certainty about myself. I like the “grey” area (referring to the middle ground between black and white, as if everything were found only on those borders) between the things I say.

PSL – Out of your comfort zone!?

RM – Yes, I can’t even have absolute certainty. Sometimes I’m writing a song and I don’t even know if it’s actually about me. And it only acquires meaning when I sing it on stage. It sounds pretentious, but songs, at best, are better when we’re artistically creative. What we create is born through us. It’s almost like it’s not us.  It’s as if everything is in our head, materializing in our voice.

PSL – Does your writing fictionalize your biographical side?

RM – Yes, it’s a mixture between the biographical and the fictional. It’s like I don’t know where fiction and biography begin. That is the “place”. If I get to that “place”, I feel like I’m on the right track.

PSL – When you hear some songs you’ve written in the past, do you think of something like “what was this place”?

RM – Yes, but, as I said, I also think of its connection to the present. Something I wrote twenty years or ten years ago connects in a different way to this day and age. In a way that I have not yet fully understood. It seems foolish.

PSL – Not at all. It’s an important question about contemporaneity. A work that is more or less dated can connect with you more than something that was created yesterday or the day before.

RM – For instance, “Got to find me somebody… to love me” [referring to Forever More from the Moloko era]. When I wrote that song, I wanted someone to love. Yes, it’s nice to be in a place where there are so many songs in “catalogue”. It’s almost like a small (new?) language.

PSL – Do you feel the need, when playing the same songs from concert to concert, to do it in different says?

RM – Not really. A song has its place, which we identify in our voice. Forever More has a comfortable place when sung.

PSL – Is it difficult to connect with “the other”? Was music the way you found to do it?

RM – Music is a great connector, probably the best. It’s so universal, so much more than the fine arts. It’s elementary, like air or something. It’s very universal and music is extremely special. It sounds like a platitude, but everyone needs music. A painter needs it. A filmmaker will tell you: “music breathes life into my films”. Life needs music! There is no one on this planet who is not affected by music. It’s elementary.

PSL – It was a pleasure talking to you, Róisín. I wish you all the best for your future creative endeavours. Your lyrics show your poetry, make us feel more alive and human. Even if life is sometimes conditioned by the social pace and rhythms of each one, with all its paradoxes and complexities.

RM – Thank you, I also really enjoyed talking to you.


By Pedro Sousa Loureiro

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