The Bauhaus frontman and Godfather Of Goth on the creative process, the future of music, and that inevitable acting bug
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Peter Murphy is not dead. He is very much alive and enjoying touring, including a stop at the Trocadero this Saturday, Nov. 19. This time around, he’s promoting Ninth, his first solo album – due out this June – since the 2008 release of Bauhaus’ farewell album, Go Away White.
The A.V. Club caught up with the pleasantly polite Godfather Of Goth to chat about the creative process, the future of music, and that inevitable acting bug.
The A.V. Club: The lead single off of Ninth, “I Spit Roses,” is reportedly in reference to an incident with the Bauhaus band mates. Do you feel the recent Bauhaus reunion inspired the overall sound of Ninth in addition to lyrics?
Peter Murphy: Only one song was inspired by what I’ll call a shanty tale or the “interaction between us four Bauhauses.” Rather than arguing, I stuffed rose petals in my mouth and spat roses at them all—a lovely gesture. Kind of a shock, though. Then a negative spiral. But in essence, it needed to be captured—us playing together. I wrote that as a reminder of how important it is to bring people into the same space to capture a performance. I was writing a lot during Go Away White, which was very freeing. But the rest of the lyrics [on the album] were inspired after having met Sarah Fimm in 2005. She invited me to appear on her songs and I met David Baron. This is two years before we actually started to work together.
AVC: This is when you met David Baron, the producer you chose for Ninth?
PM: I met him through Sarah during that time, but then I lived three months in the Catskills because we’re up in Woodstock, you know. And these months living in the Catskills was me living in America for the first time, not just lying about in a hotel while on tour relying on movies and the TV in America—not to mention the news. Fox News is completely obscured and should be banned to another planet. Scripts manipulated and everything. I mean, I’m not one for conspiracy but…you know that’s not America. But the Catskills, Sara Fimm put me up in a house with a lake 30 yards away, a mountain view, and there were opossums, bears. Totally unreal. And then go down to New York in an hour and half. The East Coast is really wonderful. That’s what America is.
AVC: The creative process can often be a struggle between trying to make a record and trying to sell a record. How much of creativity at this point in your career is impulse and how much is calculated?
PM: I tend to always be uncalculated, but that’s why it is important for choosing the right producer. They can see what you can’t in your blind spot. They bring in that type of strategy. I like to keep myself completely off of that commercialized idea. The work is your work. I believe in eclecticism. You can have a 3-minute, beautiful, classic radio song, but four songs later, you have an epic, railing anthem. It can all work on one album. But you need the right producer to bring it together.
I think I’m more in a free area. And I’ve always been. My old record label, Beggars Banquet, allowed us to be ourselves. Whatever we wanted. They were chasing us cause we were causing the storm and not the other way around.
Not many producers are what one needs. It’s all about context and what you as an artist need. My process is also very much about producing as much as the writer. I am quite involved in the producing, but I like to be removed from it a bit, too. Consistent rule in my creative process: I wanted him (Baron) to get to know me as a writer and not just a person he has heard about.
AVC: You’ve collaborated with a wide range of artists. Any new artists you find inspiring and may be interested in teaming up with?
PM: Radiohead and Muse are brilliant, but in terms of working with other people, I’ve championed unknown artists and brought them out with me. There is music out there that isn’t being exposed. I’ve been having Jessie Mayer open up for me. Found her on a social network. She caught my eye. I loved her music—simple acoustic music—and I loved her voice. Like authentic, Joni Mitchell-type. I’ve been introducing her around to mixers and Yoko Ono’s manager, who I’m working with on doing a remix of “Beautiful Boy.”
AVC: Did you just say that you’re going to be working with Yoko on a remix of “Beautiful Boy?”
PM: Oh yeah. Isn’t that incredible? She’s nearly 80 and is so involved and still really very creative. And not just in music, but in all forms of art.
AVC: Speaking of prolific careers, throughout your career, you’ve seen what technology has offered music, from synthesizers and music videos to the internet and the decline of radio. Based on your experience, what’s in store for the future of music?
PM: I think people are going to start to thirst for a connection with an artist instead of lists of random songs. People (will be) wanting and yearning for the time when they can live their life with an artist. It’s still there, but it’s got to change, and we need a transition. It’s hard to predict, and one can only have a certain amount of conjecture. Whenever new technology comes in, people tend to become focused on the tools and not the outcome. It’s important not to be addicted to technology, but use it as a tool. Anyone can make a record at home with Protools. You can maintain the consistent output of anything, but there’s got to be quality no matter what it is—quality of chocolate or quality of music—otherwise it’s just rubbish, background noise.
AVC: Going along with quality control, you are known for your stage presence. With your audience becoming more and more diverse, do you feel like it is getting more difficult to find that connection?
PM: No, actually I’m amazed at the diversity of the audience. There’s always a new wave of youth coming out. It’s amazing to see people so young who know those songs. I try a few obscure Bauhaus tracks just to see if they know them, and then they do! It’s my skill, and what I do is about performing, and that’s just as important as making music. Part of what I do is connect with the audience immediately. Whether they know that or not, I take them in and take them with me.
I read a letter than someone handed me out of the audience, and I read it out loud on stage: “Heard that you treat your support bands really badly, and even though you’re in Twilight, please don’t lose your connection with your roots.” I am my root. What are you talking about? If you hear something that’s Hollywood gossip and you believe it, then that’s all that is. That’s not me. One day, I was at my home in Turkey and received a call from some Washington radio station. Called me at my house saying, “We heard you had sex with Daniel Ash (of Bauhaus) and contracted AIDS and were dead, so we’re just checking.”
AVC: How do you respond to something so absurd?
PM: Well, I said, “How did you get my home number? But yes, I’m fine, thank you very much. Just making a cup of tea, thank you very much. I’ve never had sex with Daniel, and I’m well enough alive.”
AVC: Well, back to Twilight—I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure you’re great in it.
PM: Oh, yes. All the hardcore fans are upset about it, but I’m really just kind of playing myself. And I’m good!
AVC: Do you have the acting bug now?
PM: Actually, after the tour, I’m heading out west to Los Angeles to see some casting agents about possible opportunities.
AVC: It doesn’t seem like Hollywood is the greatest place for creativity right now.
PM: Well, there are plenty of great scripts. Get a great script, and it could really be something.
AVC: With your the importance you place on stage presence and your connection with the audience, have you considered theater?
PM: I wouldn’t want to go into theater because it takes up too much time. I want to tour. Maybe an Off-Broadway thing—two months or something. There’s a thing called The Young Picasso being directed in Spain, and the director has already decided that she wants me in the film, but who knows about the film industry. It doesn’t happen until it happens.