Listen And Watch: Peter Murphy On TAS In Session On WNYE 91.5
Solo artist and ex-Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy doesn't mind being dubbed the "Godfather of Goth" and the man and his former bandmates have also influenced a battery of rockers, goth and not, including Nine Inch Nails, Interpol, The Horrors and Smashing Pumpkins.
Murphy, who lives these days in Ankara, Turkey, recorded his new album Ninth in the pastoral, decidedly non-Goth environs of Woodstock, New York with producer David Barron. "It might sound hokey, but it does have an energy about it still," explains Murphy, who celebrated his 54th birthday earlier this week.
While Murphy might be best known for his work with Bauhaus, like the classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and his nine solo albums, like the 1989 modern rock hit "Cuts You Up," he's also worked with an array of other artists. He's toured with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, worked with Yoko Ono and recently completed mastering a second Dali's Car project, recorded late last year with his longtime mate, Japan bassist Mick Karn. The handful of songs were recorded in the fall of 2010, shortly before Karn's death from cancer this past January. The EP, In Glad Aloneness, will be out later this year and marks the second time that Murphy and Karn had worked together as Dali's Car since the release of The Waking Hour back in 1984.
Murphy, who appeared in the David Bowie vampire flick "The Hunger" back in 1983, also did a cameo turn in the third film of the Twilight trilogy, Eclipse, invited by director David Slade to play the vampire, Cold One.
When the legendary rocker visited The Alternate Side's studio a few weeks ago, draped dramatically in a scarlet scarf and accompanied by fellow musicians Danny Blume and Emilio China, he was charming, disarmingly chatty, slightly hungover and surprisingly frank about the final breakup of Bauhaus.
Listen to the entire interview with Peter Murphy tomorrow, July 15, on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. or via the TAS stream or archive and below, check out a few highlights of that conversation and Murphy's dynamic live performance of tracks like "I Spit Roses," "See Saw Sway" and, cloaked in one of the songs, a vampiric morsel of old Bauhaus too.
If you missed the session and want to catch it in our archives, you can go here or for our abbreviated Take Five podcast, visit here.
Kara Manning: The process for the writing of Ninth was a bit different for you, wasn't it?
Peter Murphy: David Barron and I wrote it in fits and starts and I’d just come out of making the Bauhaus album. That again ended on a premature, quantum leap, and it was frustrating. I had all of this creative energy plus I came out of working with my band. The only work, when we’re in a room together, plugged in, forging songs out of performing and capturing it. That’s the only way it exists. I starting writing straightaway with David and then it was a matter of taking time to wait for the money to come through because, as you know, the industry is in a crisis. We wrote it all and my relationship with David was one of, I know who you are, but who are you? And I said, well I’m me. And he said, who’s that then? I’m obviously not an icon. I’m bloody good-looking and all that stuff. As a producer, it was more of a relationship thing. We were almost too fast when we wrote so there was no rushing in a sense. I think he tangentially made me look at where I was and what I wanted to do.
Kara: Did he push you in a particular way? There is a real raw, visceral energy to this album.
Peter: That was part of it. We were still considering how to construct it. I had financial issues in terms of having to work within a confined budget as well. You don’t have to spend a year on an album and drops sacks of dollars on Brian Eno’s garden again and say, “Come and make my album and make me sound marvelous.” I am marvelous already. It’s just there, shut up and get on with it!
Kara: “See Saw Sway,” the first song you’re going to do, was that something that was brewing for a while.
Peter: These lyrics come to me and I know what it’s about, but I don’t know what it’s about. It’s a very poetic sort of thing. I’m not writing wonderful words all of the time but when I get a line in my head, I’ll note it down or it will trigger something. But these words I decided to write as I needed to. No pre-thought. I had to do this. Most of them were written on the porch of this beautiful house. A lot of the songs are like a document to my interior and exterior experience in that place. It was not only hanging out; I was living there. So I was having great intimate experiences. We had the death of the child of a close member of the community, at the age of two quite suddenly, and that was massive. I was writing about that and writing out of that. So “See Saw Sway” is actually evoking the idea that I am in a relationship. I’m rapturous and in love. You go into a beautiful madness. You do. It’s transcendent, it’s painful, it’s everything.
Kara: You have one of the most unique voices in all of rock.
Peter: I think it’s because I have a stammer. Not all the time. It’s very irregular. My father had a very bad stammer. I think as as the youngest child, son, I tried to take that off of him, but it does give me problems.
Kara: Were you quite plagued by it as a boy?
Peter: It was never hard, it was just subtle enough to give me fear of asking for a bus ticket. It would be terrible. Or asking to read at school would be terrifying. But it was imaginary, of course, but that’s what it is. It’s a fear-based thing. It’s not real. There’s no physical aspect. But when you sing, I can at last speak. I’m free. So it’s where I want to be. I think that explains something. But I’m also happy that I’m a really good singer. I’m so delighted that I can sing to.
Kara: When did you begin to sing?
Peter: I was always vocal with my music and drawn to vocals and harmonies. I would whistle when I was a kid, when I was lonely, and I’d be walking to school. I’d whistle and sing songs. There was a lot of music in the house and my father was a singer, naturally, Irish. My elder brother was [too] and Christmases there would be hymns and every year the same thing, boring. Bloody “Ava Maria” - which is marvelous, I like that one. Good Irish Catholics. A mother who is beautiful and fey and quiet and peaceful. Father was all over you - kissing, very tactile. “Father, I’m 45 now, now stop kissing me, I’ve had sex.”
There was the moment, I swear, I was coming home in a car with my mother and sister, it was nighttime and I was asleep and I just went, “Mum! Stop talking! I have to tell you something! I’m going to be a singer!” I was probably 12 or 13. I just knew it.
Kara: There seems to be a real emotional undertow to this entire album but the song “I Spit Roses,” marked the transition, for you, from the end of Bauhaus to where you are now.
Peter: It describes on one hand, the perpetual, persistent mess that caused Bauhaus to prematurely end and whilst I don’t want to go into petty name calling or details about issues - because that’s nobody’s business - it’s the story of the breakup, really. I thought I’d write a bloody song about it and get it out of the way? It was a big rejection again from the others who I’m totally committed to as a band. But the singer gets the s**t. We get projected onto from the back too. We suck it all up because we’re the apex of the pyramid. I am a great frontman and a great singer in that band. Everybody knows that.
But roles have to be understood and there was a point where there was a cluster of “us and him.” And I always found that very disappointing but also quite profoundly upsetting because is was frustrating. So I would argue. This time I was out with this. There was an incident in Ojai, California. I was delighted that we were all together again. The ethic was that we were in a room, stop talking, plug in and play. That’s when it happens for us. Don’t talk! Don’t have a conversation! That morning I was having coffee in the town square park, very early, and I happened to sit by a rosebush and after the previous night, there was a bit of tension. I was [hoping] that they weren’t waiting for me in conference about “him” - me - because that’s really going to start to ruin what’s going on again. I don’t want to go through that and why are we resuming this old, persistent thing. All that stuff. So I was pretty weighted, but I was ready. [My friend] Sarah Finn calls me, she’s over in Woodstock, and I said, I’m fine. But I’m not feeling too good. I told her what happened. She said, “Spit roses at them.” I said, “Yeah, that’s great. A great image.” I stuffed my mouth full of rose petals, walked in and, sure enough, there they were. I love them. They’re my brothers. But I’m not taking this. And my advice to anyone is, if someone comes at you with vitriol, hate, whatever, spit at them … but spit roses back at them. It stymies the whole thing.
Peter: It’s a shanty song. It’s a shanty tale. And you can’t mutiny against the sea. You sink your own ship, mate. You know what I mean?