Romance & Power: RÓISÍN MURPHY

For her series Romance and Power, 032c’s Bianca Heuser speaks with influential people from a variety of industries about the politics, potentials, and pitfalls of modern love, and the role romance plays in their work. The conversations are paired with artworks concerned with the same tensions.

Romance lives behind closed doors, and yet we know that private and public are inextricably intertwined. Naturally, our experience of the world shapes our idea of romance, and vice versa. Love is a sociological reality. Your concept of devotion – and who you give it to – reveals more than just personal preferences. It speaks volumes on your political inclinations, and it pervades your creative output.

Róisín MurphyRóisín Murphy embraces this romantic tangle. Her career was ignited by the spark of love. When she met the British music producer Mark Brydon at 18, it was their romance that spawned the band Moloko, and inspired international chart hits like “Sing It Back” and “The Time is Now.”

Two decades later, Murphy’s work, right up to her new record “Take Her Up To Monto,” is as stimulating, complex, and whimsical as ever. It seems like Murphy veers on the analytical side – both as an artist and as a conversationalist. But then again, she seems to simply be following her intuition.

BIANCA HEUSER: Are you in love right now?

RÓISÍN MURPHY: Yes.

Do you and your partner work together?

We have worked together, yes. We did a project called Mi Senti: my partner is Italian, and he’s a music producer, so we made Italian music together – as a kind of love letter to each other, really.

How does romance seep into your work?

It’s all in my work. It’s all over the songwriting, obviously. My love songs have become a bit more twisted as the years have gone by. There’s a lot of irony and humor and wit in the songs that I write about love now. There is a grown-up element to it, and that’s its witty side.

Why is that?

“The more relationships you have, the less seriously you take it – not in a bad way.”

Just experience, you know. The more relationships you have, the less seriously you take it – not in a bad way, but in a way that frees you a little bit in love. A perfect example of a song like that is “Exploitation” from my last record, Hairless Toys. It is a love song, but it’s really wry. It’s joking with you, playing with you. But it loves you, you know? I don’t think I wrote as many love songs back in the day though. I’m writing more love songs than ever.

How much overlap do you allow between work and love?

Quite a lot. My first experience in music, Moloko more than anything else was a love affair. It mixes quite well for me, because I’m quite used to mixing it like that. Even when I’m not working with him, my partner is playing music to me, talking about music to me, and making music in the house himself all the time. He’s a big part of what I have done in the last few years. I have to say, when I met him first, I was doing really well, writing songs… and I met him, and then I was so madly in love that I went into the studio and I couldn’t concentrate. Not with him. I didn’t write again for a little while, because it did floor me, it sort of wiped me. My concentration levels weren’t there. I just constantly couldn’t wait to get out of the studio and go meet him. That can happen for sure. That phase didn’t last forever, though.

Do you think of your work as romantic?

Yeah! It’s a very romantic story, the whole thing: I met this guy, said something really stupid to him, he turned out to be a music producer, he wanted to record that, that night… it’s a really romantic story. Then we got a record deal, and I was very much saying to Mark [Brydon]: “Why do you want to sign this record deal? Are you crazy? You’re a real producer. You have a studio. You’ve worked with real artists. Why do you want to do this with me?” And I think he just wanted to be with me because we were so in love. We were enjoying it so much that he wanted to give it a try. So it’s a very romantic thing that happened to me. He taught me everything I know. Through love, because he loved me.

Ilya Lipkin, Untitled, I Am Vicky, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Lars Friedrich, Berlin.

Do you think of your work as something political?

No. But I do hope that other people recognize some of the obstacles that are quite political. Just being a girl, to start with, and then being in so much control. There’s plenty of girls in total control in the music business, but the idea is that if you are a girl singer out front and you’re visual, you’re quite often seen as a puppet. To fight that is a bit of a political journey, I suppose.

Do you think these power dynamics – which obviously shape many aspects of our lives, including our work – shape our romantic lives as well?

I don’t know, because I’m a woman. I don’t know if I’m any more romantic than the man next to me. I think men can be extremely romantic. They can be submissive in love. They can do all sorts of things that you might think of as feminine traits. I don’t think I’ve been in a relationship that’s not been equal. I really do think there’s been equality. Sometimes there’s so much equality that there’s friction, but I can’t say that I’ve been in a relationship where I’ve felt marginalized or under any kind of control. Thankfully! It just hasn’t happened to me.

Do you think for love to work, it needs equality?

Well, I don’t know because all I’ve ever had is equality, and none of them have lasted forever, so… [laughs] Even my parents had this kind of sparring equality. Whatever else they did or didn’t have, they had equality, you could just sense that. There were two massive characters that were my parents – that’s the archetype that I have.

What idea of romance did you grow up with?

My parents were big romantics. It was big, sweeping. To a child looking up at it, their relationship was a big drama. That’s probably had a massive impact on my songwriting, on who I am, on everything. To me, looking at my parents was like looking at two film stars. They were very good-looking, very dynamic compared to the little world of Ireland that we were in. My parents weren’t religious, didn’t work for anybody. They were very emotional people, dramatic, musical, and romantic people – all of that. I grew up with that legacy, I guess.

That sounds beautiful.

“I’m left with this totally unrealistic romantic idea of what love is.”

It was beautiful, but you know, my parents broke up when I was 15, and I ended up living on my own in Manchester then. It’s weird, because it must’ve given me some weird strength that I can’t even imagine myself having now. I can’t imagine my children having it. The drama of their breakup was off the scale. So I’m left with this totally unrealistic romantic idea of what love is. I have to fight that inside myself day to day, because it’s unrealistic and it’s not healthy. It’s funny when you get older and realize your parents are just children. We’re all just children, we can’t ever grow up.

What’s the best relationship advice you ever got?

I don’t think there is good relationship advice. You can sit down and advise people when they’re in trouble in a relationship, have two-hour long conversations with them, and they just go back and do exactly the same thing they were doing before. I think people have to figure out their romance for themselves. I’m trying to remember getting some amazing advice. I can only think that coming to accept the person for who they are, first of all, and then, don’t get hurt so easily by the things they say or do when they’re upset or hurt. I hate to sound so banal. But when you get to that stage in a relationship, that’s quite good. But then that can just change overnight again, and become something unbearable. [laughs]

Being this accepting takes a lot of self-discipline.

Yes. The problem with relationships, always, is that you don’t know what you’re getting into. You never know the person well until a few years down the line. The motions of falling in love – the oxytocin going around in your body – make you very deluded, and make you fall in love with an idea of a person. A year or two into it, this idea of the person comes crashing down and that can be quite hard to get over. Usually, they’re not a bad person at all and you haven’t made any mistake about how good they are. But you’ve made several mistakes about who they are. That’s tricky, isn’t it? Especially when you’re falling in love with someone from another country! It takes a lot longer to get to that point where you kind of understand who they are. You have these romantic nonsense ideas about, in my case, an “Italian man,” how he is with his parents, his family – you have nonsense ideas about the whole country.

Those might help foster a sense of romance in the early stages, though.

It does, yes.

The interview series 
Romance & Power is published monthly on 032c.com and paired with artwork that concerns itself with corresponding tensions. The above photograph by the Berlin-based artist Ilya Lipkin is taken from his solo exhibition I Am Vicky on view at Berlin’s gallery Lars Friedrich until July 17 that takes the romantically charged, yet intensely regulated relationship between patient and psychoanalyst as its subject.