Peter Murphy seems like he’d be an elusive guy. As lead singer of early ’80s avant-goth pioneers Bauhaus and a willfully eclectic solo artist, the angular Englishman cuts a striking figure. His gorgeously deep and haunting voice could caress humanity from a vampire.
But talk with Murphy and the brooding artiste becomes a warm, inviting musician still in love with making art. Even after Bauhaus’ 2008 reunion album, “Go Away White,” ended with the band breaking up for good, Murphy has only positive things to say about the experience: “Making the record was a pleasure — I loved every second.”
Bauhaus wrote and recorded the album in 18 days, and Murphy wanted to work in that same fast-paced vein for his next solo LP, “Ninth,” which comes out June 7.
“There was that urge to continue,” said Murphy, 53. “Speed isn’t only hurrying. It’s very much opening those doors of creativity and being very bold.”
Murphy’s post-Bauhaus career has traversed everything from art-rock (1984’s Dali’s Car project) to Sufi-inspired ambiance (2002’s “Dust,” which is a reflection of the singer’s conversion to Islam and move to Turkey). But “Ninth” is a modern rock record, recalling Murphy’s 1990 solo album, “Deep,” whose single “Cuts You Up” was a massive hit.
“I aimed to make a more direct record,” Murphy said. “To come back to playing in a room together, to capturing that on tape.” That return to rock was also influenced by the amount of time Murphy has been spending in the U.S. recently (he splits his time between America and Turkey). “I count America more like my home than England,” he said. “It’s crazy, it’s insane, it’s a commercial hell zone — but I just love it.”
» State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church; Fri., 7 p.m., $30; 703-237-0300.
PM: It’s a pleasure. You sound very Washington, very educated. You sound like a Washington person.
CP: What I’ve heard of the new record reminds me of “Deep.”
PM: I aimed specifically to make a more direct record and to create the environment where it was a played album rather than be pieced together by nebulous ideas … and working with remote musicians. I wanted to bring the musicians together in one space. I wanted to make a direct record. “Deep” was really like that. … To come back to playing in a room together, to capturing that on tape.
CP: It took Bauhaus 18 days to record “Go Away White,” and you made “Ninth” very quickly as well. Were you trying to capture a similar energy and speed with “Ninth”?
PM: That’s really perceptive of you. It’s almost like the momentum had been cut off with “Go Away White,” the swansong Bauhaus album. … That energy and movement was typically cut off with that predictable split of that band again —for the final time, might I say. There was that urge to continue there. Bauhaus reached a point where we were really just warming up. I was writing more, and so there was that need and appreciation and love of capturing something immediate. Sometimes you can be overly analytical, overly microscoped on writing and recording that you often get too self-indulgent and the project becomes more like a weight on your mind rather than a real creative experience. Speed isn’t only hurrying — it’s not hurrying; it’s very much opening those doors of creativity and being very bold and immediate.
A lot of the best songs in rock history were written almost as an afterthought. One example: I was watching the Black Sabbath Story today, and they worked forever on this album. And the record company said, “We need one more song.” They argued, and in the end they said, “OK, we’ll do it.” And they just spontaneously came up with a song in about an hour, recorded it — and it was “Paranoid,” which is their classic.
I work really fast. When I write a song, a vocal melody and lyrics, when I do it, it’s done. … The essence of the vocal comes out in one take — it’s just a question of reinterpreting it … or refining it.
CP: So, despite “Go Away White” being Bauhaus’ final record, you’ve said very positive things about the music and see the experience as a whole as a positive one.
PM: Making the record was a pleasure — I loved every second. I had been the advocate for Bauhaus for many years, while the then Love and Rockets … people, there was always a reticence about it. I always had to drag them to the studio like pulling their teeth. There’s a lot of unresolved backdrop, unspoken from the early years and associations. And I think a real significant factor is that the members of Love and Rockets have been together so long …they obviously have their issues with each other. Plus … This may sound arrogant, but I was the most prominent member [of Bauhaus], so I think that also was one of the essential reasons we split —the us and him.
CP: There was no “one incident,” then, as has been reported based on a quote from Kevin Haskins?
PM: There were always incidents, in any band. Plus, I’m not one to massage egos. I’m quite a direct , outspoken friend — a friend who will tell you that your breath smells. That didn’t always sit well with frustrated ex-Bauhaus members who live in L.A. and get their egos massaged based on the fact that they were in Bauhaus.
CP: You’ve usually worked with one primary collaborator on each solo album, and on “Ninth” the main man was producer David Baron.
PM: He’s very much a brilliant, classically trained musician — but he also likes the Residents, as I do. … It was a great relationship. … He understands who I am.
CP: You’ve frequently worked with bassist who have fat, jazzy styles, such as Mick Karn, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Eddie Branch. Are you a jazz fan?
PM: I love the ECM label. I like Abdullah Ibrahim— I love that music. Not the more classical camp. Jazz is now a very wide spectrum, but if you talk about the classic jazz … I find it, like most music, difficult to find what I like.
One person I came across by accident, while I was down in Atlanta, of all places — while I was walking around on a day off — was Sun Ra. I had no idea who he was. I read the flier: “From Planet X …” And I said, “This is gonna be something.” And it was just a regular Southern audience, it wasn’t any kind of prestigious event— it was kind of like a bar — and I had this experience with Sun Ra. It was just magnificent. … It was really an experience; he really took you as performer. He’s like a master. … It was brilliant. It had the swing — I was sold. At that moment, it wasn’t jazz; it was what I aim to do: to take a listener elsewhere.
CP: I’ve always loved the dub influence in Bauhaus. Were you guys listening to a lot of Jamaican music and was dub an influence on Bauhaus?
PM: Massively, massively so. David J brought a lot of that into Bauhaus, mostly on “Mask,” which is really an album that is bass[-line] led. We were listening to toasting and dub, and in the late ‘70s and in early ’80s London, reggae sound systems were very popular and you could find them in the underground. … Definitely that’s an influence. As early as 1980 we were doing dub remixes.
CP: In that sense, doing trance-inducing, Sufi-inspired music was something of a smooth transition from dub.
PM: Totally. If you listen to “Dust” … that is long-form music — the songs are quite long and the vocals don’t come in until after a great overture or introduction, then really go the whole … spiritual state, or the mood, the ambiance. So, you’re quite right: Even thought it isn’t a bass-guitar-led-focused music — it’s more of a drone music, drifting in a deep atmosphere, that can be likened to dub, definitely.
CP: You’ve spent a lot of time in U.S. recently because of the Bauhaus reunion, making “Ninth” in New York and going on casting calls in Los Angeles. Did living in America influence your return to rock? PM: I count America more like my home than England. The audience here has always been so loyal, so supportive, and there’s always a magic about it. It’s crazy, it’s insane, it’s a commercial hell zone — but I just love it. … Something about liberty. … I think it’s the space. … This kind of free attitude, which could drive someone crazy —it’s almost like a young soul, like an adolescent, in one respect.