“Adapt or die. You have to adapt, that’s just it.” -Roisin Murphy
For Roisin Murphy, the Irish electronic singer-songwriter, adaptability is what she credits her double-decade spanning career to. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s insanely talented. Murphy hit the scene in the mid-90s as one half of the electro duo Moloko with her ex-boyfriend Mark Brydon, famous for their dance hit “Sing It Back.” After the pair split, she made waves as a solo artist, proving she was a force to be reckoned with on her own. A decade after her debut album Ruby Blue, which came out in 2005, Murphy released her third album, Hairless Toys, in May of 2015 to critical acclaim.
“It was just a natural step really,” says Murphy of the decision to release new music after a break of eight years. “And I did a lot of living and had normal life for a while. Not the sort of thing I’ve been doing since I was twenty, which was: make your record, tour every two to three years… The way that it went ‘round, it got a bit boring. And then I had two kids.” Prior to Hairless Toys, she recorded an Italian language project Mi Senti, featuring covers of Italian pop hits, a bold career move that demonstrated not only her language skills, but also versatility. “That took me to another place,” says Murphy of Mi Senti. “And I felt ready then to make an album [Hairless Toys], and it just so happened that we had to ask Eddie to come and help us because I knew he was a great musician.
Eddie Stevens is an accomplished British keyboardist who had previously worked with Murphy during her time as Moloko. “And I knew he was a genius. I mean obviously, because I’ve worked with him for twenty years,” she says of her friend. “Some of the songs we recorded when we were a little bit drunk, to be honest. We’d go to the pub, have our lunch, have a pint, and then we’d come back and just sit down with the instruments and start to sing and play and record in kind of an old fashioned way.” So was it a misheard lyric after a round of pints that lead to the whimsical album title Hairless Toys, or is it deeper than that? “You kind of don’t know what I’m singing – what I’m saying… It’s really more of a question – what does hairless toys mean to you?” teases Murphy.
While that bold electro-dance aesthetic that Murphy is famous for runs abundant through the album, there’s also surprising elements of soul, and even country and gospel. “When people say there’s country there, it didn’t come because we thought to throw a bit of country in there. It came because it came.” The album, ranging from its playful title to secret ingredients of unexpected spice, is a wholly organic sensual experience. Of course, Murphy’s signature style is what ultimately catches you, even though she herself perhaps cannot pin it down. “Oh now I don’t know what to call the kind of music it is. I don’t know what it is. There’s something lovely about the fact that people still feel disco from it. I just find that it’s wonderful that people still feel that even though we didn’t do any disco!” says Murphy. “It’s like the glitter left over from the night.” Another aspect of Hairless Toys that makes it so irresistible is Murphy’s self-directed music videos, such as the darkly humorous and relatable video for “Evil Eyes,” which explores the concept of a wife and mother who has gone mad.
One of the album’s standout singles, “Gone Fishing,” was inspired by the cult classic ballroom film Paris is Burning. “When I’m watching it, I feel like I’m eating chocolate. It’s like everything about it is beautiful and deep and complex and interesting,” says Murphy. The film speaks to her own art. “It’s beautiful and it’s flamboyant… and then it’s got all this pain and darkness and kind of complexity underneath, and that’s what performance is for, for saying all of those things in the moment in a way that you just can’t say to anyone.”
Achieving the kind of longevity in the music industry that she has achieved can be attributed to sheer talent, her sanity in the face of it, and to her grit and strength of character. “I’ve been a feminist since Cindy Sherman,” says Murphy. She credits the artist for allowing her to embrace feminism without having to forsake the glamorous fun that comes with being a woman. “The spectrum, the kind of role models that’s been built and made into icons, you know, or made into dreams, and made into all these amazing things, it’s so attractive to me. And to kind of just remove it from female history in order to be a feminist, was something that for people like me in the late 80s would’ve been thinking, ‘Jeez, I really don’t relate to feminism because it’s taking all the fun out of it.’ Can’t wear makeup, stuff like that. What a nightmare! So then you see somebody like – well you see her, Cindy Sherman, and she took all the fantasy back and the stuff that is brilliant that women possess that men don’t.” From Cindy Sherman to Beyoncé, Murphy embraces the notion that feminism can be fun. “I really do feel like I can be a feminist now. I can really admit it and really embrace it. We have come to a time when feminism is fantastic.”
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Roisin Murpy photographed by Rosi Di Stefano
Stylist: Sarah Grittini
Make-up by Carolyn Gallyer
Hair by Raphael Salley
Photographed at The Athenaeum
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a print edition of the issue today!