- 05 Jul 22
As Róisín Murphy celebrates her 49th birthday, we're revisiting a classic interview with the Arklow-born icon – originally published in Hot Press in 2005, following the release of her debut solo album, Ruby Blue.
Real life is what happens once you stop making plans. When Moloko took a natural sabbatical after the Statues album Róisín Murphy, the band's singer, found herself in a flat in London, a city she barely knew. Seeking relief from cosmopolitan ennui, she began laying down bits and pieces of music on her four-track and snatching chunks of downtime with Matthew Herbert, the producer, scorer and remix wizard who’d sprinkled stardust on some of Moloko’s most impressive singles. The result was Ruby Blue, Murphy’s first solo record.
“I didn’t set out on a solo career, but what brought me to this point was wanting to work with Matthew,” Murphy explains. “He was one producer that I really, really did want to work with. I had a curiosity and fascination with his sounds. I’d never really met him while he was doing all the mixes for Moloko, I met him once very briefly about five years ago in a club when I was touring Statues. But I had moved to London, whenever I went off on tour and came back here for three or four weeks there wasn’t really anything for me to do, I hadn’t really set up a life here at that point, so I’d just record tracks.”
Was the process good for her?
“Well, people said there was a big change in me. At the beginning I had dark clothes and my hair was down and towards the end I just blossomed – colourful clothes, hair blow dried, I was like a hair advert going in there in the end, smiling and everything! And I fell in love before the end of the record. I think if you haven’t got the right people in your life, the right situations, don’t put yourself in the wrong one just because you’re lonely and it’s hard. It’s important to go through hard times. I did find that when I went out with people I didn’t really know, I came home even more depressed.
“So I just decided, fuck it, I’ll work on me record, I’ll watch good movies, read the odd good book, I’ll go back to how I was as a teenager, when I stayed in Manchester on me own, and that strength that I had really was based on a process, feeling like I was filling myself with good stuff and wasn’t reliant on people. I had to go back to that strength. And gradually people, relationships, came back. One thing you can’t control is people, so I found myself in a position where I went back to stuff I could control, making output and getting input.”
Murphy found the ad-hoc yet formal nature of the Herbert sessions a welcome contrast to the cabin fever of a Moloko record.
“I think both of us found it great just having that clarity,” she admits. “Both of us had a background of working with our partners. That sounds like we thought about it before we started, but it was only after we got into it we realised we’d both had that past. I’d go down there and just work, we didn’t ever go for lunch or for a drink together after the studio, we didn’t do anything sociable at all but work. That’s not to say that it wasn’t intimate, it was, but really it was just about work. Periods of four and five hours and then weeks away from each other. With a Moloko record we’d set aside six months and that’s it. But with this, it was done in my spare time and I had to be really, really ready for it, had to be clear what I needed.”
Ruby Blue is an impressive reconciliation of both approaches. It’s a rhythm album but not necessarily a dancefloor one (the jerry-built percussion tracks sometimes evoke the bronze age clang of Tom Waits’ Bone Machine). It’s also that rare beast, an avant-garde dance pop record with an idiosyncratic point of view, on a par with '80s mavericks like Grace Jones, Kate Bush or the mad hatters in the Was brothers’ early Ze stable. For Murphy, the politics of dancing are a serious business.
“I love taking it seriously when I go out,” she laughs. “Me boyfriend reckons I’m a bit like, ‘You’re not having fun in the right way!’ I recognise how escapism is just really, really important. I think this record really goes through a lot of genres: cabaret, disco, to ritualistic dancing, all the way through. I’m the kind of queen of the night if you like!”
Ruby Blue gets a live airing in August when Roisin Murphy plays the Electric Picnic.