Peter Murphy premieres new track, talks influence, 'gothlings,' spiritualism, and Bauhaus
Peter Murphy began his career during a volatile moment in British rock. As the brooding, vampiric singer of Bauhaus, he helped define what became known in the late-70s as “postpunk,” and took David Bowie as his model for the perfect front man.
After Bauhaus broke up in 1983, Murphy launched a successful solo career and surprising, occasional reunions with his old band, which announced a permanent breakup with the release of “Go Away White” in 2008. The singer immediately began work on his first solo album since 2004, and one of the strongest of his career. Titled simply “Ninth,” it is released June 7 on Nettwerk Records. Below, Murphy premieres a new track to Pop & Hiss, "Seesaw Sway."
“I'm not ashamed to claim that I'm the last and only star,” says Murphy, now 53, speaking by phone from his adopted home of Istanbul, Turkey. “I totally believe that. That's how I live my life. People should witness it while I'm still gorgeous enough.”
Pop & Hiss: You can hear a lot of energy on “Ninth.”
That's where I come from. The whole intention was to really reference that spark and crackle of people playing together in a room. It's about time I reclaimed my legacy . . . It's going “OK, this is how it's done.” You don't have to spend three years and $4 million on an album. Listen to this. It's full of swagger and immediacy.
Your new album is a mostly dynamic rock recording, but ends on a delicate, wistful note with “Crème de la Crème.”
It talks about eternal life, and was a song that landed perfectly at a time when one of the associates of the album lost their young child at home. It was an illness that took the child away who we loved and knew. That song is really a balm to the parents with whom I'm very close friends.
How did you end up living in Turkey?
My wife's Turkish. We met in London in the early '80s. She's an amazingly talented artist in her own right, being a modern dance choreographer and director of the national contemporary dance company in Turkey. On a person level, I was attracted to what I understood to be Sufism, or the mystical half of Islamic tradition. Little did I know what I was really getting into.
I'm very reluctant to say I “converted” to Islam, because that somehow creates a me-you or us-them notion. I'm a rock star. I don't talk about my personal spiritualism. If it's anywhere, it's in my work . . . If you ask me, I am a Muslim, totally committed. But from a universal perspective, I am a perfect Jew, I am a perfect Christian, I am completely Buddhist. In the end, there are no divisive lines drawn.
Why did the album “Go Away White” lead to Bauhaus breaking up for good?
We've got too much love and respect for each other to go into too many details. It's about psychology . . . I was the biggest advocate of them. But it was a repeat of some old unresolved personal issues. We had to end it, but I was intent on getting us into the studio for one last thing, because I felt that band wasn't really resolved. We split up very prematurely back in the '80s.
You deal with the conflicts with “I Spit Roses” on “Ninth.”
That is an account of an incident. I walked into the studio one day, and there they were again in conference about the singer. And rather than argue with them and respond, I stuffed my mouth with rose petals and at the moment any one of them started to patronize me in any way, I would spit roses back at them.
You've been quoted lamenting how music fans don't enjoy the same connection to a library of songs on their iTunes as they might have had with individual albums in the past.
It's recognition of a reality. My son and I have many, many songs in our library that I downloaded. When you've got 50,000 audio files, it's almost becoming like Muzak. There's no cover, the smell of the vinyl, the identifications of an artist. With the Internet, everything is totally accessible. How do we now discern and define what is really good?
Do you accept credit for helping create the Goth movement as a member of Bauhaus?
I don't think we consciously created gothlings. We know for sure we were seminal in many ways. You can hear our pure influence in Radiohead's work, U2 ripped us off on that, Nine Inch Nails, Bjork, so many people other than the Goth movement. That's not to say I denigrate Goth culture, because I think it's really expanded beyond what we did. It's not purely about Marilyn Manson-esque L.A. Munster rock. At the heart of it is a great culture open to literature, film, fine art. It explores art on many levels in a way that is very interesting.
Have you felt any lasing influences from your visits to the U.S. and Los Angeles?
I feel very comfortable in America. It is still the new world, the world of anything goes . . . It suits an artist for sure. My experience of L.A. is one of being mesmerized by the sparkling jewels, the apparent sheer opulence of opportunity. And that becomes colored by that David Lynch-like realization that it is a den of iniquity. It's a place you've got to be wise to, but also a place of lots of connections which, if you choose wisely, you can make really great things happen.
-- Steve Appleford
Photo: Peter Murphy. Credit: Thomas Tadeus Bak