It’s been a fruitful year for Peter Murphy — the ex-Bauhaus leader released his strongest album in years, Ninth, plus a follow-up EP of outtakes; he’s about to return to the U.S. for a third round of live dates, following a just-completed run through Europe; and, perhaps most surprisingly, he’s preparing to release a new Dalis Car EP recorded with ailing Japan bassist Mick Karn in the months before his death this past January.
Slicing Up Eyeballs checked in with Murphy on Monday — what better day to interview a big-screen vampire than on Halloween? — as he enjoyed some rare downtime in Toronto before continuing on to Phoenix, where he starts a 30-date co-headlining tour Thursday with She Wants Revenge that will keep him on the road into early December (see full dates here).
Murphy discussed the making of Ninth, how his new record drew inspiration from the Bauhaus reunion album Go Away White and how that group — consisting of Murphy and the three members of Love and Rockets — isn’t sustainable (“We come together, burn up and we leave Bauhaus with fires burning, if you like. But it’s not viable as a band anymore, really”).
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: This isn’t much of a break — you just finished a fairly extensive European tour on Saturday and you start your next U.S. leg on Thursday.
PETER MURPHY: I just arrived yesterday from Denmark. I was held up at the border because my visa hadn’t been completed yet, but it’s on its way. We have three days before the start of the U.S. tour, so I’m just resting my voice, laying about.
EYEBALLS: How are the shows going?
MURPHY: Europe was very good, but it was hard work. Because of the economy, we had to make some cutbacks with comforts. It was really grueling, like a commando course. It was kind of fraught with difficulty. Our bass player, Jeff Schartoff, had to leave the tour early on, so then I had to think on my feet. A friend of mine was earmarked to come into the band as the singing guitarist and electric violinist, Emilio China, but since he’d learned the songs and was to join us on the U.S. leg, I asked him to come over and fill in on bass. As it turns out, I think he’s the bass player now. So he plays bass and electric violin, and that certainly opened up something in the combo, which is really great. We can do more esoteric numbers.
EYEBALLS: Do you feel it’s good to occasionally mix up your players, go for new sounds or textures?
MURPHY: I’ve actually stayed with the same band I’ve worked with since 2005. Of course, when I record, there are other players, but live, it’s been very stable. This is the first time it’s happened, although I did a promo tour this summer when I worked with Emilio and (Ninth producer) David Barron. We did some live radio things and impromptu shows and I had a fresh combo, and that was great to work with. It is good to mix it up.
EYEBALLS: The new album is quite strong and direct. I’d imagine those songs work well in concert. Did they take to the live setting right away?
MURPHY: Oh, immediately. It is what it is, almost, that album. There’s no overproduction. It’s not overproduced in that sense, so it was pretty ready to go, for the band to play it.
Peter Murphy, ‘Ninth’ by nettwerkmusicgroup
EYEBALLS: You’ve described ‘Ninth’ as a continuation of ‘Go Away White.’
MURPHY: In a way, yes, in terms of the kind of energy generated, which was prematurely cut off during the making of Go Away White. The premise was Bauhaus sounds like Bauhaus when we simply plug in and play, and that’s how the album was made. A lot of people missed the fact that the album was basically just the band writing and recording two songs a day, and then we left them up as what we call desk mixes. It wasn’t mixed, it’s as it came out, untouched. It’s a testament to the certain creativity that happens when you spark with the band in one space without overthinking it. What I like to say about Go Away White is that it’s a statement of, a confirmation of, (the fact that) we are still a band. It’s proof we plugged in, wrote it and recorded it in 18 days. But we never got to take it any further. It was good enough. That was us in writing mode.
EYEBALLS: And you went for that with ‘Ninth,’ too?
MURPHY: I’m mindful of what works best. Even though David Barron and I had written all this work for Ninth, we still hadn’t decided which way to approach it in terms of the recording. But it became clear. So we gathered the band members and created a virtual residential studio up in Woodstock. We hired a church, a church that had been converted into a studio of sorts. The equipment was pretty antiquated, but we fixed it up. The recording space was fantastic. I even brought in a friend to do homemade cooking. But as opposed to Go Away White, where David and I had written the songs, I gave them to the band to learn before they came to the place. We all gathered, everybody under one roof — producer, artist, band, everybody. It was a work house, and I think that crackle comes across. That’s the connection I make to the process of how Go Away White was made, and Ninth as well.
EYEBALLS: And you address the recording of that last Bauhaus album, quite literally, on “I Spit Roses.”
MURPHY: That was one incident that was transmitted into a tale of sorts, in song form, which was a very Bauhaus thing to do in itself, thank you. But by no means is it the final word. It was just one slice, one essential moment that describes, I think, some of the reasons why the four of us could never stay together. It’s not so bad, I think. It’s all very positive. But I think we’re not meant to. That’s part of what it is. We come together, burn up and we leave Bauhaus with fires burning, if you like. But it’s not viable as a band anymore, really.
EYEBALLS: Yet it sounds like that dip back into Bauhaus reinvigorated you in terms of you own solo work.
MURPHY: I’m always invigorated. But I don’t think the others could keep up with me, to be honest. I was in very early, writing at 8 o’clock in the morning. Not that the others are lazy at all, it’s just, I think, that their situation is different in that those three, think about it, through Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, they’ve been together for 30 years. There were issues that I wasn’t privy to amongst them that I think may have been half the breakdown. But I don’t think it’s that complicated. It’s like any family that’s got unresolved issues. It came to the point where I said, “That’s enough.” You know, they basically, in 1998, they asked me to come play one show to make them some money, because they were broke. They had their last Love and Rockets album ready to come out, but as it turns out, it was a dud. So I went in covertly with the knowledge, the intent that once we were in the room, we couldn’t resist being together because it was left unresolved in ’83, and it was exciting. So I kind of led that charge and brought us together, and pretty much the same thing happened in 2006. I only said yes, I’ll only come if you consider that we will stay together for this one tour, and that’s what happened.
EYEBALLS: And since then you’ve been pretty active with touring and ‘Ninth,’ and the EP you just released of tracks left over from those sessions.
MURPHY: Dalis Car, too.
EYEBALLS: That must have been pretty special to reconnect with Mick Karn in the months before he died.
MURPHY: It was very potent. I was very, very proactive. I wanted to get him to do some tracks. So often with people who are ill, especially terminally ill people, there’s nothing worse than people crawling around moaning and whining about what’s happening. It kind of reinforces the negative. People come around and say, “Oh, you poor thing.” But with Mick it was a wonderful way to spend his last four or five months — not that we worked together in the flesh that long. I had 10 days put aside in the studio, and as it turns out, he lasted a day before a difficult spell happened. We were only able to get an EP’s worth of songs, but it got him interested in playing and working up ideas, and that’s what satisfies me the most. And what came out of it is pure Dalis Car.
EYEBALLS: Was that a project you’ve always wanted to revisit?
MURPHY: Not at all. Not until I heard Mick was ill — and, worse, broke. I thought that was a travesty, in a way. And I was able to say, “Hey, nobody’s doing much, so let’s try this.” It was a project that was mine and his, and I think it was perfect timing. When you’re patient you wait for something to show itself, and that’s what I’ve followed.
EYEBALLS: When will we hear the EP?
MURPHY: I’ve left that up to Mick’s wife to decide. I did organize everything else, from the artwork to the planning. Steve Jansen from Japan completed it while I was on tour. He added some wonderful drums. I got Thomas Bak to do the artwork. He also did Ninth. Everybody contributed free of charge. All the royalties will go to benefit Mick’s family. So I’m hands off, I’m allowing his wife to handle it. I think it was due to come out on his birthday, but I think it was held up by the artwork. I think they’re probably ready to put it out soon.
EYEBALLS: These upcoming shows mark your third visit to the U.S. this year. Should we expect anything different?
MURPHY: I just want to draw in as many people through that door and get them sorted, basically. I want to play Ninth as much as I can. But all of us, everybody in the music business, probably are fighting against a very difficult economy. But that’s always been there, where you see music can pull us through as long as the artists have prepared for it, like I have, not having all the accoutrements. The show is the show. But you can expect something new with me every night.
EYEBALLS: Sounds like you’re still enjoying this.
MURPHY: I never really enjoyed it. It was always, like, intense. But I get a lot out of it. To me, I’m not happy with it, but nowadays there are moments when you really can enjoy what’s happening. But mostly it’s quite a thing to do, to perform for two hours — not only physically, but creatively. Every night you’re pulling it out, drawing it up again. And it’s not just playing the songs, either. With me, it’s kind of interacting with the audience as a whole. It’s a kind of exchange.
EYEBALLS: Creatively, does this kind of intensive touring kick you right into the next project, or do you need to go and decompress for a while after it’s over?
MURPHY: I already have more than enough for a new album. I want to get at it now. I’d really love to do it with David again, so we’ll see. First chance I get, I’m going into the studio.
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS
- Free MP3: Peter Murphy, ‘Gaslit’ — off new ‘The Secret Bees of Ninth’ digital EP
- Peter Murphy bringing ‘Ninth’ tour back to U.S. for fall dates with She Wants Revenge
- Peter Murphy rolls out 20-date tour of U.K., Europe this fall in support of ‘Ninth’
- Dalis Car releases reworking of ‘Artemis’ off new EP — first new track in 27 years
- Peter Murphy solo debut ‘Should the World Fail to Fall Apart’ to be reissued