Interview Date: 06/29/2010
Run Date: 07/02/2010
As the frontman for Bauhaus, Peter Murphy became – not entirely by choice – one of the defining figures of music’s so-called “Gothic rock” movement. Given that part of that recognition came as a result of the band appearing as themselves in the 1983 vampire film, “The Hunger,” it’s perfectly appropriate for Murphy to be making a cameo as a vampire in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” and given the state of the music industry, it’s equally acceptable that he should be using this moment in the spotlight to promote himself, his music, and his upcoming summer tour. I don’t know if it’s because the interview took place while we were both in the comfort of our own homes – from what I could tell of our video chat on Skype, Murphy seemed to be sitting quite comfortably in his home in Istanbul – or because I had an interest in asking him something other than what Robert Pattinson’s really like, but we had a long, loose conversation which lasted for 40 minutes (and, quite possibly, just as many cigarettes) and covered his solo career, his work with Bauhaus and Dalis Car, the two aforementioned film appearances, and much, much more.
Peter Murphy: Let’s start, shall we?
Bullz-Eye: Absolutely. Well, first of all, I actually caught a screening of “Twilight: Eclipse” last night.
PM: Oh, did you? I haven’t! Tell me, what am I like?
BE: I felt that you gave a stirring performance as The Cold One.
PM: So I didn’t just look like a singer desperately trying to act, then? (Laughs)
BE: No, no, you gave it just the right amount of gravitas. (Laughs) No, seriously, both my wife and I thought you definitely did have a presence when you were onscreen.
PM: Okay, thank you. How long was it?
BE: Possibly 15 to 20 seconds, tops. It wasn’t a huge bit.
PM: Is that all? That’s terrible! (Laughs) Ah, well, I’ll squeeze as much blood out of that stone as I can!
BE: You know, people will say that you’re not exactly stretching yourself as a thespian by playing a vampire.
PM: No, I suppose not! Isn’t that funny? There was only one song...I’ve calculated it, and I’ve done about 300 songs in my career, and it’s only just the one that’s about a vampire, and even that one’s not actually about a vampire. It’s about the idea of eternal life and our fascination with it. There was no such thing as gothic music then… (Laughs) …so we wrote a very beautiful European, cinematic song which was kind of ironic. It was about Bela Lugosi, an actor who could barely speak a word of English and spoke his lines from memory. That one song out of several hundred was about a man who played a vampire, and I’ve since been identified with that!
BE: So how did you come to find yourself in “Eclipse,” anyway?
PM: I was talking to the music supervisor to place some of my new work onto the soundtrack album, and I said, “By the way, if anybody should be in this film, I should, so if you could give me the direct contact with whoever has to cast…” You have to spend so long working your way through this wall of bureaucracy, so I just thought, “Well, I’m going to go straight to the director.” So I did, and he got the music under his nose, and I thought, “Oh, that’s good.” And they all responded to my E-mails rather than my manager’s, which was quite great, really. After that, though…this was for “New Moon,” and they said, “No, unfortunately, casting is over.” But the next thing I get is a direct E-mail from David Slade, the director of “Eclipse,” to say, “We’d be honored if you could play a cameo. It’s short, but it’s a very central moment in this film.” So I said, “Yes, please!”
BE: I was wondering if you got to keep your wardrobe or not.
PM: No, but they did make a great, beautiful outfit.
BE: Well, I’ve been following your work ever since I first picked up Love Hysteria in 1989, so I’d been enjoying the series of cover songs that you were releasing as downloads last year, and I think the one that I enjoyed the most was your take on “Transmission.” I know that Bauhaus and Joy Division were active simultaneously, but did the two bands ever cross paths at any point?
PM: Yes, actually, Ian Curtis came down with their manager for a very early four-day stint we were doing at a club called Billy’s, which is now a legendary story amongst hardcore Bauhaus aficionados. (Laughs) This was when we were just…we were from the middle of nowhere in England, and we were just this name spreading around. “Who are these people?” At the time, I was wearing heavy white theatrical pancake make-up and all that stuff, and Ian Curtis came down with the owner of their label, Factory Records, whose name I forget but who very recently died. (Writer’s note: That would be Tony Wilson.) They walked in, and the moment he saw me, he said, “Nah, I don’t like bands with makeup, I’m going,” but Ian said, “Well, I’m staying, because I think they’re great.” I didn’t know that Ian was there, but afterwards, once everything was over, there was this lonely guy sitting there, and I said, “That’s Ian!” So I said, “Hello, how are you?” He said, “I’m all right, mate. That was a great gig.” “Thanks for coming! We’ve heard about you guys…” (Hesitates) Actually, we never would’ve said the word “guys” then. I’ve become very Americanized now. But I said, “Oh, we’ve heard of you lot, and it’s great stuff,” and he was very cool and very English. There was a lot of “alright, yeah, really great band” between us. That was the only contact that we ever had, but I really liked him a lot. I thought he was really cool in the sense that… (Hesitates again) We would never have said “cool,” either. (Laughs) But I did think he had something. But like most English bands in that whole period, we really just ignored each other. We focused on our own world, because that’s what post-punk opened up for us: a true working man’s canvas to paint anything on, with no knowledge of music. It was the end of the dinosaur supergroups, and it was kind of like a renaissance. It was like that. Every band was into their own world, which was very exciting. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I know you, you know me, let’s get some mileage out of this.” There was none of that.
BE: With that being the case, did you even have a perception of who your peers were at the time?
PM: No, because for Bauhaus, there were no peers. For me, certainly, the only peers were David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and they were from an older generation. But I was just three shows in, three weeks after singing a vocal for the first-ever time in my life, when I knew that I was their peer…which is kind of a bit odd, because if you read that in black and white, it looks almost mad, really. (Laughs) But, no, it was a serious understanding that, “Right, that’s it. I’ve got a band, and this is it.” There really were no peers for us, because we were playing with stuff that was heavily taboo for punks at that time, like glam. But it’s almost like I said, “I rescued Ziggy from the prison he’d been placed in by Mr. Bowie,” because we wanted something more. I rescued that element, so there was that in it, and there was true avant-garde-ness, true ineptness, and…it was all very odd. But I feel that people still appreciate it now, which is a validation. If you think about it, that’s quite…it’s where it’s at for bands. You have to get that. You have to know that you are who you are, be confident about what you’re doing, and commit to it. Put all your eggs in one basket!
BE: How did you feel when Bauhaus was invited to record a session with John Peel?
PM: I said, “Yes, of course, now let’s hurry it up.” (Laughs) Other people were going, “Wow,” but I said, “Really? Is that good?” They said, “Yeah, it’s good.” “Okay, so let’s go.” I had no idea.
BE: I wanted to ask you about working on “The Hunger.” I’ve read that the appearance in the film was the first step in splintering the relationships within Bauhaus that eventually led to the break-up of the band. Is that true?
PM: No, it wasn’t that at all. No, “The Hunger” was amazing. That was a great compliment from one of the true influences of the band, who is revered. I’ll protect his name by not even talking about him, but there he was, watching us on a stage, which was…I know that for Daniel Ash and I, it was a beautiful moment. I mean, what a very “whoa!” moment. That was fine, and that wasn’t any cause of the break-up.
BE: What ultimately was the reason, then? Were you all just going in different directions with your art at that point?
PM: No, there was none of that. I mean, I could analyze it in similar terms, but I think it was really just…on an emotional level and on an energy level, the power of the whole experience kind of was a bit overwhelming. We knew what we were, but we had to confront this very intense energy that we were pulling out, because it was so visceral and true. It wasn’t some sort of musical stylistic strategy. It was just what we did when the four of us met, and…I think it just stopped. I mean, I was very frustrated immediately. It was me who called that last thing, not because I wanted to go solo but because I said, “We promised ourselves that when this feeling stops, we have to split, whatever’s happening.” At that moment, I said, “For me, it’s gone,” and we all said, “Yeah, it’s gone.” It hadn’t, but we couldn’t do anything about it at that point. Typically, we just said, “Okay, see ya, then.” (Laughs) It wasn’t, like, “Oh, we have to consider the career move and all the money.” Fuck all that. It wasn’t about that. Yes, we wanted money, but we still just said, “Yeah, well, all right then.” (Laughs) Unfortunately, it doesn’t match the legacy of Ye Olde Goth Archive for it to have been the result of just a momentary spark. I was never a goth, anyway. I was a moth. My spawn…I say to my son, “You are the spawn of goth. You are moth.” My daughter’s now Goth Chick #1… (Laughs) …and she’s beautiful, but it’s kind of like, “What the fuck is going on? This is amazing!” It’s like a Warholian experience, but for the whole of your life! 21 until you pop…
BE: See, I was going to refer to you as the father of Goth, but you really are the father of Goth!
PM: I actually am… (Laughs) …but I have to say yes to those who say… (Affects nasal American accent) “Omigod, you’re the father of Goth!” “Yes, yes, I am the father of Goth, thank you.”
BE: I mentioned earlier that Love Hysteria was the first of your albums that I picked up, but the next one was the record by Dalis Car, which made for a bit of a jarring jump, as you might imagine. What sound were you and Mick Karn going for with that album, and how did you two hook up in the first place?
PM: Oh, I was a fan of his work. But I had no idea that we could ever work together. I was doing a Japanese interview, and they asked me, now that I was out of Bauhaus, who I’d like to work with, and I said, “Well, actually, I’d love to work with Mick Karn from Japan,” not imagining that he would hear about it. But my wife and I were coming into our basement flat in Holland Park, and we were in the habit of seeing whether the message machine had a red light on it or not before we even entered the house, and we saw, “Oh, there’s a red light there!” And it was Mick Karn, saying, “I’ve got some very interesting Arabesque ideas, and I hear you want to work with me, so why don’t we do an album?” And I said, “Absolutely!” So that’s how it started, and there was no idea of me, like, assessing his ideas. I knew they’d be very interesting. It was a great departure from Bauhaus, because, remember, I was in a world that I didn’t really expect. I was who I was. It wasn’t like I had to go in a band and learn anything. I just had to find my spot. So when I went into Bauhaus, it was from a pure space with no understanding of the industry or music, just this expression. So I was out of Bauhaus, and I said, “Well, I could probably do what I want, but…what is it that I want?” I had no idea, because everything was in the Bauhaus experience for me. I had to work out how to make it, to make even a song, without other musicians. So I was kind of, like, “Wow, what’s going on here? Where am I now? Who am I?” All that stuff. So Mick’s work was so intriguing and it had this very massive space that you can’t really locate his bass playing, so I thought that was very interesting. That’s what attracted me. And that it was him was very interesting, because I understood the commercial avenue in terms of us, who were pure…like what The Clash were, or perhaps The Stooges, The Doors, Radiohead…to this very managed English/Greek man who was in this fop, beautiful band who made these very interesting new sounds. It was cool. It worked out. But it could only last for one album.
BE: Your US profile jumped by leaps and bounds with Love Hysteria, at least partially because – unlike Should the World Fail to Fall Apart – it was actually released in the States. (Laughs) I saw you touring behind Love Hysteria when you were the middle act on a bill featuring Tom Verlaine and The Church, and I wondered what that experience was like.
PM: Well, it was one of…no, that was the first of our so-called “double headliner” tours, where we would alternate each night between The Church and I as the headliner. It was…well, like I said, there was no idea that we had to make more of an audience. I was already where I wanted to be. I just felt a little bit sympathetic for The Church and Tom Verlaine, because we were, what they call in the industry, blowing each of them off the stage, and there was some adolescent tension from The Church, who thought it was kind of purposeful. (Laughs) I said, “Well, no, I’m sorry about that, but there’s no bad intention. It’s just how it is. I don’t know why the people are walking out when you walk on. I don’t know!” And it was kind of taken, like, “You arrogant person!” I said, “No, it’s fine.” But, anyway, that’s the kind of experience it was.
BE: Were you surprised when Deep took off so hugely, or did you kind of see it coming? Because, I mean, you must have known that “Cuts You Up” was a heck of a single.
PM: No, I have no idea what makes a hit single. But I think a lot of my songs are hits. Massive hits. But I always count the lack of success as being part my resistance to it and part necessarily keeping me under the surface somehow. That’s a big personal insight. So I felt kind of, like, “Oh, my God, ‘Cuts You Up’ is now at #41, and if we go to #40, we’ll be added to all of the P1 radio stations,” which equated with massive crossover. I was thinking, “Oh, dear…” I was suddenly being recognized in malls and stuff when I walked around during the day, and I was, like, “Oh, no!” (Laughs) I was being interviewed by “Entertainment Tonight” and all sorts of things, and I thought, “Oh, God, I am what I am, and I know I am, but…I may need to take a raincheck, because I’m not sure I know how to talk to these people. They’re aliens from some other planet!” (Affects exaggerated American accent) “Hi, my name’s Julie, and I’m the host of this, that, and dah dah dah, and I hear you’re a legend?” Am I? I don’t know. What the fuck are you on about? (Laughs) It was all very marvelous, but, yeah, that happened. It was very exciting, but when it went to #41 and didn’t move that week, I thought, “Oh, dear, more actual work to do.” (Laughs) But the other half of me went, “Oh, damn, what a shame…” But it’s cool, because there’s something slightly respectful about not crossing over. You remain a marvelous enigma. But unfortunately for your children, you’re not dripping in sacks of dollars like, y’know, U2 are, who own half of bloody Limerick. It’s kind of, like, “C’mon, guys. Go to a U2 island with the U2 hardcore fanbase and just play every day if you want. Just leave us alone!” (Laughs) It’s, like, “C’mon, it’s brilliant, now shut up and go away! Go give somebody else a chance!” I mean, 80 million dollars a tour…? What the fuck is that, you Irish…no, wait, I’m Irish, too. (Laughs) It is funny, though…
BE: I also saw you when you toured with Nine Inch Nails opening for you. Did you and Trent have a bond from the get-go?
PM: Not at all. (Laughs) I mean, he was very intense and I was intense. I was fairly, “What the fuck is this? This is awesome!” I chose them from their album, and I heard the songs and I kind of went, “Oh, my God! What the FUCK?” And then this skinny Goth kid came with it. He was so respectful and very intelligent, you could tell, but kind of, like, mad. And I thought, “God, is this what we’ve spawned?” And it was! (Laughs) It was true! I said, “What a sweetheart,” but I thought, “Fuck this, this isn’t heavy. Is this because of what I did? Yes, it is. Of course, it must be.” So there was that experience with him. And we didn’t talk, because he was in awe and I was, like, “You cheeky young thing…” But we liked each other a lot…and he obviously adored me. (Laughs) But I knew that he would be big, and he actually worked for what he achieved, because he toured for two years after that, and he’s earned every cent that he’s gotten, because he’s fantastic. Years later, I’m ignoring him and have no idea what’s happened, but when he invites us on tour, I have to catch up and go through YouTube and see what’s gone on. Apparently, they’d gotten massive, so I was, like, “Oh, good, well done! A young gothic thing making all this money off what we are…” But he proved himself. I thought he was…and is…really fucking good. So, anyway, he calls us, and the next time we met was on the 2005 tour.
BE: Our music editor, David Medsker, wanted me to mention that he saw one of your shows where you opened by playing your student film, “The Grid,” and that he thought it took a huge amount of balls to put something out there that you’d made back when you were in art school.
PM: Thank you very much! I want to release that, because it was very important. I mean, I wasn’t just this newborn singer. Suddenly, I was catapulted into what I was, from an artistic life into a job of five years at sixteen years of age. It was an interesting start, you know, going in with no idea what I was doing. (Laughs) But when I first got into Bauhaus, my first-ever arty girlfriend…and, actually, my second-ever girlfriend…was a wonderful artist. She was brilliant, and we made that. It was her film for her final thesis, and we were in the midst of the hubbub of Bauhaus starting, and I looked like I looked… (Laughs) …and we made this film by stealing out every day to a local motorway construction site. “The Grid” was to look like a Martian landscape, very unearthly. It truly was a student film, and I thought it was actually great, because we were being heralded as the new Bowie, and we were, like, “What’s going on here? What’s this?” In fact, once I made it, I showed it to the band, and I said, “I want this as the opening act.” They loved it, so we showed that on a very, very early tour, and it was very small venues. The whole experience was amazing, because the whole post-punk culture, with The Cure, Joy Division, and everybody else, we’d turn up, and they’d go, “Well, this isn’t quite it, isn’t it? What the fuck is this?” We showed them this art film that we’d made…that I’d made…and I appeared in it as who I was, as me. So it was cool. And that’s why I decided to reprise that for the hardcore audience, who really knew what happened, in…when was that? In 2000? Or 2003?
BE: He said it was an acoustic tour.
PM: Oh, yes, then that must’ve been 2004. Well researched! Thank you!
PM: I would like to put that out…and I will soon, I think. I’m thinking of releasing it as sort of a free download to people.
BE: I was wondering about your move to Istanbul and when that took place. I’m not really sure about the timeline, but I would’ve thought it was around the time you recorded Dust, given how Turkish that album sounds.
PM: Oh, no, we moved to Turkey in 1992.
BE: Wow, so long before that, then.
PM: Yes, it was after the Holy Smoke tour. We lived not in Istanbul but Ankara, in the middle of the Anatolian plateau, which is not at all Western culture. It’s very conservative, but it’s very beautiful. Turkey is all very beautiful. But, yeah, we moved there in ’92, the reason why being that my wife was commissioned to start the first ever modern dance company in Turkey, which was a momentous moment for Turkey. She’s introduced a true Western sensibility into a culture that is very enamored with the classical. So for me, it was quite a switch. I had to suddenly be a father in a foreign land, but I also had to manage my career and work in a way that required me to write alone and then to work without being in the environment of my colleagues. So that spawned Cascade, Dust, Just for Love, and Unshattered. We’ve only moved to Istanbul four years ago. To answer the question that you were more or less asking, though…and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get there…Dust was the album that people wanted from me, but I said, “I’m not going to make a Turkish album, even though I live there, simply because I’m not a Turk and I’m not a world musician. I’m not a musical tourist.” Only Turks can make Turkish music. I said, “If I ever do it, it’s got to be a Peter Murphy album, but with true respect with what is here musically, and to work whatever it is that I like into this concept. It’s not going to be a proper world music record.” So that’s how that worked out. Dust came out as a result of a lot of synchronicitous and intuitive moves. That’s how I work, basically: I plan, but I wait for the right person or moment to make a move. That’s the process of making albums. Everything kind of happens in its own place, and I know that it sounds very self-help, but I think that’s how the best music, conversations, and relationships are made. (Pauses) You know, I’ve gotten used to answering just one question in interviews. I just try to put all the pertinent information that I think they’ll want to know into my first answer and get it out of the way, so the journalist will go, “Wow, you’ve answered everything I was going to ask! Thank you, goodbye!”
BE: Well, I’ve been known to throw people by actually doing my research… (Laughs) …so if nothing else, I’m keeping you on your toes!
PM: No, no, I’m locked in with you. It’s great! What’s next? (Laughs)
BE: Well, you may feel free to sidestep this one, but since we’re talking about your move to Turkey, I’m legitimately curious about how one makes the jump from being an Irish Catholic to being Muslim.
PM: Well, after really boiling it down, I think it’s understanding that, for a Catholic and a Christian, the Devil is equal to God. It’s kind of expressed in the story of when Jesus…who, in the Christian model, is God…was able to be tempted by the Devil, which infers an equality. So the Christian is very afraid of the Devil, as if he’s an equal to God, which is actually against the monotheistic idea of Christianity, which means that there is no other. So that’s a duality in and of itself, and…well, anyway, all of that stuff aside, I think that, as a Muslim or as somebody very attracted to Islam by Sikhism, the notion of the Devil is not this evil horned thing. It’s just what they refer to as the Slinking Whisperer, who is just very smart and was actually in myth a fallen angel. So in Islam, the Devil is very dangerous and has very distracting aspects, but he’s very easily put away by a smile. He’s cosmologically not that important or scary. So looking at it from that point of view, that’s why being a Catholic is not for me.
BE: Fair enough. Well, to get back to music, when you released the follow-up, Unshattered, it felt very much like a return to form…although, in fairness, that could be because my perception of your sound is what you were doing on Love Hysteria and Deep.
PM: It was kind of like that, but it was…I wasn’t doing it consciously, but I wasn’t worried that it wasn’t a second Dust, either. I made the songs in the process of making the album, which I suppose was a bit of a risk, because I personally think it sounds a bit light. But it worked. I didn’t notice, though, that people were saying, “Oh, what an interesting, brave move from Dust to Unshattered!” But in a way, it could be called a return to form. I want to say to the fans, though, that I’m not disappearing into some world music thing…which Dust wasn’t, anyway. But, nonetheless, here I am again. You’re not getting rid of me so quickly. (Laughs)
BE: I was wondering if you were as surprised by the reuniting of Bauhaus as everyone else was.
PM: No, I actually worked at making that happen, so I was relieved.
BE: Did the reunion live up to your expectations? And I know you didn’t go into the Go Away White album with intentions of having it serve as an epitaph, but do you think it could serve as one?
PM: It worked out as what it is. In fact, the Go Away White title is gleaned from the outro to that song. There was no idea that that process was happening, that it was our last album. We would’ve wanted to go on. And when we did finally part again in the typical manner that we have in the past, it all added it up. It all seemed to, anyway. And the fact that it was entitled Go Away White seemed poetic, didn’t it?
BE: What would you say is your most underrated solo album?
PM: Oh, I don’t know. From what I read, there’s a lot of good reviews of a lot of my things. Underrated…? Dust, I think, because I think it’s going to have a long shelf life, and people will discover it. Many people I’ve spoken to about have been very attuned to it, and they think it’s my best work. It’s interesting to hear that.
BE: I’ve always been a fan of Holy Smoke. I never felt it got the love it deserved.
PM: That, actually, was the other album on the tip of my tongue. It got kind of slammed, in a way. It didn’t achieve the follow-up that people expected from Deep, but I must admit that the production that we did was very digitized and separated, so there’s a lot of great vibes going on between the band…and it works. “Hit Song,” “Let Me Love You”…
BE: …and “Sweetest Drop.” That’s always been one of my favorites.
PM: Ah, yes. Thank you!
BE: Lastly, what’s the status of your new album? I understand that it’s set to come out sometime in the fall, but I don’t know if you’re still recording or if it’s long since finished.
PM: No, the album was all finished something like a year ago, and it’s mixed, but the issue has been proffering it to labels that are really going to give it its worth in terms of some marketing, at least, and distribution that’s meaningful. Because there’s a real problem now, because we’re all independent artists, except maybe the top 5% of the business…like, say, U2. (Laughs) So I just wanted to make sure that…the previous management didn’t really get any action out there, and there were labels wanting inappropriate income and all that stuff, so now I think I’m close to getting it its right home. It should be out…I don’t know, but hopefully by the autumn.
BE: Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Peter.PM: Thank you very much…and I apologize as well. I’m very tired. I hope I haven’t rambled too much! (Laughs)