Róisín Murphy Tells Us About Coming Together With DJ Koze For A ‘Hit Parade’

Róisín Murphy saved a lot of people during lockdown. Her 2020 disco-pop gem, Róisín Machine, came out at a time when celebrating its merits on the dancefloor just wasn’t possible yet. So, her empowerment and self-discovery anthems had to come across as viscerally as possible and Jesus did they ever.

The Irish pop singer (her name is pronounced “Ro-Sheen” by the way) came to the fore in the late ’90s as the vocal yin to producer Mark Brydon’s yang in the duo Moloko. Their track “Sing It Back” is forever a gushy, melt-on-the-dancefloor staple and Murphy has made a career out of sparkling alongside a range of dance music producers. From Matthew Herbert to Crooked Man and then briefly in 2018 with one of today’s finest-yet-elusive artists, DJ Koze, on his masterpiece knock knock. On the chilled-out thump of “Scratch That” and especially on the driving pulse of “Illumination,” theirs was a collaboration that seemed destined for greater things. And here we are.

Murphy’s upcoming album, Hit Parade, is produced entirely by the German Koze, and it sees two artists at the top of their respective games colliding in style. For fans of both, Hit Parade (out September 8 on Ninja Tune) is a dream scenario; an album that scratches the itch of wanting to hear more — and more and more — of those first two divine collabs, especially considering Koze has never done an entire collaboration album with any vocalist. Early singles like the flowering stringed “CooCool” and the slow-building snazzy “Fader” are bonafide hits, with Murphy at her masterful adaptable self over Koze’s nectar for your ears. It’s different from anything the producer has ever done though, living in an entirely new world spun by the duo. “It blows my mind,” Murphy says. “It blows my mind that I can be prolific at this stage of the game and keep making surprising music.” We caught up with Murphy on Zoom from her home in Ibiza, where she was taking a break from watching episodes of The Bear to talk about the method behind the madness of an entire album of disco pop panache from her and Koze, in what’s sure to go down as one of this year’s best.

This interview has been slightly modified for length and clarity.

The first time I came across you was in 1999 on a track called “The Truth” (with J-Live) off of the first Handsome Boy Modelling School album. ‘twas a lovely introduction.

It was a trip making that track. I wrote it on the 4-track to that sample of the piano in Sheffield. And then I got on a plane and got picked up by Dan The Automator and Prince Paul and they drove me straight to the studio. I was petrified. I mean…Prince Paul was a massive hero of mine and we hardly knew each other at this point. I just thought, “Shit they expect me to be brilliant straight away.” Again, petrified. I went in and sang it like twice and they turned around and were like ‘That’s it. It’s done and it’s superb.’ And then I had three days with them to do nothing, so we bought loads of weird toys and kimonos and laughed a lot. It was pretty much exactly as I put it down. So that was an eye-opener.”

Well I’m glad I asked you about that, even though I wasn’t really planning on talking about this old project as much as the new one.

As much as anything else in my career, I think there’s a thread from “The Truth” through to this record.

How so?

Well, there’s that hip-hop feeling to it, a real soulfulness. There’s a way that the vocal sounds; it’s so prominent. It has a kind of a mood like the vocal that maintains on “The Truth” that has that old-fashioned feel almost. It feels organic, and somehow not digital. Not that the new one doesn’t sound digital. There’s a good connection there.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the songs off the new album. I think it’s brilliant and I hear trap influences on it, beats I hadn’t heard before from Koze and now that you mention the throughline, it kinda makes sense.

I mean, he was a hip-hop DJ and a DMC champion when he was 16 in Germany. They’d be like “Crazy ah! Hip-hop German punks! We fuck you up!” [laughs] He’s as German as the day is long.

It’s funny and sorta perfect that the series that this story is a part of is called Hitmakers and the album is called freakin’ Hit Parade!

I mean…come on!

This is a great match. Were you two trying to consciously make #hits on this album or was it a reference to another train of thought?

Oh no. We weren’t consciously doing anything. If anything was conscious, it would be immediately dismissed by Stefan (Kozalla; DJ Koze.) He really doesn’t want that consciousness. He doesn’t finish a song until it sounds amazing and if you put any pressure on him like, “I just made a dance record, maybe we should make more dance tracks or something?” He’ll be like, ‘First of all don’t compare my music to anything else you’ve ever done before, because I’m genius.” [laughs] and “Just you wait and see,” basically. And I think that’s why he worked with me. Because I can go along with that easily, and I’m very happy to go on an adventure of discovery.

After “Illumination” and “Scratch That,” what made you both decide to collaborate on an entire album?

Well, he offered it. Straightaway afterwards he said, “I wanna make more stuff for you.” And I was like, “Well, I have to make a Róisín Murphy record next” and he just said “Ok, that’s what we’ll do.” And I thought it was wonderful. Just that people would give me their music, that’s incredible. That’s the joy you hear on the record. That’s me speaking to the music.

“CooCool” came out in March and has this song of the summer feel to it with these blooming sounds — the whole persona of the song is this sort of blossoming. What were you thinking about when you wrote and made that song?

I was thinking about what I’m always thinking about when I write love songs: How you have no choice. You have these decisions in your head like “Can I stop thinking about this person? Can I not be in love with them?” It’s absolutely pointless. It really proves to you that you have no free will when you’re in love.

But this one is you getting carried away on the “CooCool”… Carried away, carried away. It’s a very joyful one and hasn’t got an edge. I like the line, “This thing was way beyond any kind of parody.” I was trying to be very earnest in my way without being boringly earnest.

What did Koze bring out of you that you had maybe never imagined was there before?

I definitely think he prioritized the vocal…In a way that maybe only Matthew Herbert had done before. The vocal was put onto a velvet cushion. It was a total priority to both of those producers to make me sound as compelling and soulful and full as possible. And Koze always said that: “I’m gonna make you sound fucking great”

That’s interesting because do you think other producers prioritize the beat over the vocals? Is that the counterpoint to that?

A lot of things can get in the way of that…a lot of little ego things. Not necessarily negative things, but other areas can be concentrated on. This was obsessive, you can hear the things he [Koze] did to my vocal in order to satisfy his ear, in order to make sure that it was sounding incredible. He’d speed it up, he’d switch the key, he’d switch it up, turn it upside down — not really on “CooCool” though. That’s the least changed of all the tracks really. The backing track is very close to what he sent me to sing on and singing it very close to the arrangement that the key and tempo I put it down on.

Does Ibiza as a locale inspire you?

Well I wrote my bit of ‘The Universe’ with Koze in Ibiza. That’s the only song we did together. He stayed with us for a couple days in Ibiza and we set up a studio there for him and I still didn’t see him work, just saw him record me on that session. But he took sound from around the space. There are sounds from the ambiance like crickets and stuff. He loves our house. It was in between the lockdown and Ibiza was really quiet and magical in some ways. And as you can hear there are these incessant, narcissistic voices on the record, which you can find quite a bit of on Ibiza — especially in the summertime.

Maybe my weed is too good when I’m listening to it all, but I hear subtle brushstrokes of the island in parts of the record. Not sonically per se, but I try to place myself where your head is.

Well, our compound is heaven. But there is the rest of the world going on, just outside the frame and that’s the feeling that you have across the record. That’s how the world kinda is still…

Why Koze? Why was this the move for you?

I love to surprise people. It’s my favorite thing. If I’m surprising, then I’m alive. If I’m changing, I’m alive. As you get older, it’s funny…I thought you’d become more of a stick in the mud, you’d become less flexible. But the truth is, you go the other way. Because you see the changes. You live through so many changes that it becomes something. When you’re younger, you don’t expect to change and now, I expect to be in flux and I think that’s a good place to be creatively.