In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: former Moloko singer turned solo disco superhero Róisín Murphy.
1: You directed Fat White Family’s surreal ‘Tastes Good With The Money’ video. According to the credits that appear midway through, who is its Brexit supervisor?
“(Laughs) I went through all this when I was doing it but I’m lost now. That’s proven your point that brain cells have certainly been lost! Is it a pornographic name?”
WRONG. It’s Nancy Sinatra.
“Ey well, I guess the Brexit supervisor is non-existent (Laughs).”
How did it come about?
“I’m a big Fat White Family fan and had been hassling them for ages to let me do a treatment for one of their videos. We filmed it in a house owned by the guy that wrote Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son, which was perfect for the comedy vibe.”
Among the other fake credits, is Jeremy Corbijn responsible for handling Effects of a Special Kind and ‘Irish Backstop’ as director…
“Aye! I never got a good lip-sync of them speaking to camera for that part because it’s just chatting, so I had to think of something on the fly in the edit and that’s where it came from. It was inspired by how Monty Python would have a fake ending in the TV show then come back.”
2: In 2000, Moloko covered ‘A Day In The Life’ for a Channel 4 celebration of John Lennon. Who did you perform between?
“I have no clue. Oasis were there?”
WRONG. Oasis were there, but you were sandwiched between Ronnie Wood and his son Jesse performing ‘Jealous Guy’ and a Stereophonics rendition of ‘How?’.
“Well…obviously I’ve blanked that from my mind! (Laughs). It was superstar central. It was wall-to-wall Kate Moss and flippin’ famous people everywhere you looked. I was chatted up by people of both sexes and got asked to leave my boyfriend in the band [Mark Brydon] and go off probably somewhere in Hampstead and get involved in God-knows-what – which I couldn’t do unfortunately. Damn! Because of my boyfriend, I had to stay behind while everybody else went off to this crazy celebrity sex party that was going on.”
3: What are you wearing on the inner sleeve of Moloko’s ‘I Am Not A Doctor’ album?
“A suit of armour. You wouldn’t forget that in a hurry!”
“A big man’s suit of armour as well, I can tell ya! And I actually am up a mountain milking a cow in Switzerland. We had to get the cow from the other side of Switzerland because the only cows they had on that side of the country were brown and we wanted a black and white one. She arrived by train that morning with her own farmer/pimp – who was drunk from the get-go, swigging whisky out of a flask. They had to put this cow in a big ski lift and it was fucking tremendous! And then there was a bloody snowstorm so there’s no real view as I’m milking the cow dressed in armour in that picture. (Laughs) You were supposed to see all these incredible mountains all around. I was snow-blind and couldn’t keep my eyes open to have my photograph taken. We laughed through it. The cow wasn’t too happy. Mind you, the farmer kept tickling the cow in a very private place. And he’s in the photograph – they cleaned him out afterwards. That’s when we realised they could have just Photoshopped us in!”
For a bonus half-point, which of your record covers features somebody dressed in armour?
“Well I suppose it’s the first one [Moloko’s] ‘Do You Like My Tight Sweater?’. Is the little cartoon feller on that dressed as a knight?”
WRONG. It’s your 2007 solo song ‘Let Me Know’.
“Oh yeah, on the single sleeve the little boy’s dressed as a knight.”
4: You once busked for BBC2’s ‘Culture Show’. How much did you make?
“Er, I don’t think we made anything. I might have procured sexual favours but there was no money involved (Laughs). Wouldn’t it seem a bit rude to come up to us and throw fifty pence down?”
WRONG. At the time, you topped the leaderboard with £65.10p.
“Well there you go! Your test is obviously proving I haven’t got the brain cells anymore (Laughs). I remember the response was really good and it lives on as a YouTube clip.”
5: Inside your ‘Overpowered’ album, there’s a diagram featuring quotes. Who do you quip that you got signed to EMI because of?
“I lied though. That’s not true. (Laughs) I was just joking – my irony often goes awry.”
Ever bump into him afterwards?
“No, but I met him before that. He’s a nice enough fella, actually.”
What do you remember about ‘Overpowered’?
“It was ridiculously expensive and I relished spending the money! We travelled all over the world writing with different people every couple of weeks – including Madrid, Barcelona, Miami, London, Las Vegas. I got to choose exactly who I wanted to write with, who I wanted to produce and do mixes and edits. I was very much the boss on that record – more than I usually am because I tend to work with one other person in which case you have a 50/50 collaboration and there’s only so far you can push things. But when it’s a big machine like that and I’m the boss, I can really get my own way. It was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.”
6: Which band T-shirt did you wear when you played Glastonbury in 2016?
“They were huge in late-‘80s/early-‘90s Manchester. The ‘Chill Out’ album was massive for me. I have it on cassette. I never read any of the silly books or anything, but they did some right old tunes!”
You lived in Manchester on your own as a teenager. Did anything you got up to cause you to clutch your pearls in retrospect?
“For sure! What it makes me think as well is it’d be a shame if my kids didn’t have that freedom. I was all over that city aged 15. I always made independent decisions from an early age. And I had a scary aura (Laughs). You’d end up smoking bongs in houses in Moss Side that didn’t have any furniture inside them and were only there to collect the housing benefit. I went to the PSV in Hulme and gunshots would go off regularly. It was hardcore – and absolutely brilliant. I’d go blues parties at The Kitchen – three knocked-through flats. I was into music – and went wherever I could to get it.”
7: You covered Pulp’s ‘Sorted for E’s & Wizz’ as a B-side for which of their singles?
“I don’t know.”
WRONG. It was ‘Bad Cover Version’.
“That’s definitely one that people say to me I did and I cannot even remember doing it. I don’t remember singing it. I haven’t listened to it either. I’m friends with Pulp – supporting them at Brixton Academy was one of Moloko’s first ever gigs.”
8: ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ won an Emmy for choreography in 2007 for a routine to your song ‘Ramalama (Bang Bang)’. What were the contestants dressed as?
“Wade Robson did the choreography for that – he was Michael Jackson’s little friend.”
What did you think of it?
“It was mind-blowing. It’s one of those songs I fought for – [producer] Matthew Herbert didn’t want to do it and I was adamant it had to be finished, standing over him during every little arrangement. But it’s a very strange, weird, ‘What the fuck is that?!’ song so for it to catch fire like it did – where every dance troupe in America was doing their own routines to it on the internet, including flag dancers on big football fields – was pretty amazing.”
What’s been the most unusual thing you’ve heard your music used for?
“A TV show about homosexuality in animals. They used ‘Pure Pleasure Seeker’ by Moloko over some gay chimpanzees bumming each other. Perfect! It’s good!”
9: Which rapper once phoned to ask who styled your videos?
“He actually ended up working with my boyfriend at the time – and father of my first child – Simon Henwood. He was his creative director across for everything – videos, live stuff, visual stuff of all ilk – for a good couple of years, so I saw quite a lot of Kanye at a certain time. That’s because he was looking for my stylist but I was the stylist then he said ‘Well, who directed it?” and that’s how he became such close colleagues with Simon. Did I give Kanye any fashion tips? No! (Laughs) He doesn’t exactly come out and go ‘Can you give me some advice, love?’”
10: Your 2016 album ‘Take Her Up to Monto’ features imagery of you dressed as a builder. Other than the construction worker, can you name the occupations of the other Village People?
“Is there a sailor? A policeman? Er, a Native American? Is that it? There’s two more? Oof, I don’t know. A skateboarder? Carpenter?”
WRONG: It’s sailor/soldier, cop, Native American, leatherman/biker, and cowboy.
What’s been the campest thing you’ve done?
“Lord and mercy, I’ve done some camp things in my time! Well, I did take Björk to the Raymond Revuebar one night when all the drag queens were doing their performances and we had a table. That was a fucking good night! Me and her were the wallflowers that night!”
So many of your visual looks have been appropriated by other artists years later…
“I just do what’s in front of me. Like the construction gear – that’s become very fashionable since, like Calvin Klein or whatnot. And then all the protesters in France started to look like they were in my ‘Take Her Up to Monto’ videos. But that happened because I got into post-modern and brutalist architecture appreciation societies online, and went round photographing buildings for these groups like a nerd. I started noticing all the construction and then the construction workers, thinking ‘wow, they’re so invisible in hi-viz’. I felt like a hi-viz singer. But it never worries me about having done ideas then other people doing them, because the truth is, I’ll always have another idea.”
The verdict: 5/10
“Oh well! Half-arsed then! That’ll be two and a half out of ten in a few years when I come back and re-do it.”
Róisín Murphy plays All Points East on Friday 24 May. The Chemical Brothers headline. Her new single, ‘Incapable’ is released on June 5.