Peter Murphy, with his 2000 release, aLive Just for love still smouldering sweetly, has touched down in Montreal for three months of writing, recording, and mixing. We were lucky enough to pin him down for a cappuccino one afternoon.
P.M. = Peter Murphy
P.M: When you're working like this, you lose a sense of natural rhythm. You're in the studio all the time, and when you try to sleep, you're always going over what you've done that day. We have eight tracks mixed for the next album, due out next February. I've been working with a Turkish musician, Mercan Dede, also known as Arkin Allen, the DJ. Mercan is more of a Sufi music personality. Consequently, he's really well known in Turkey. I met him in Istanbul through my wife. I heard his album called Sufi Dreams. He's more known here as Arkin Allen, and he was part of the Groove Alla Turka that performed in the Jazz Festival last summer.
Cat: aLive Just for love is your most recent album. Where did you record it and why did you choose that location?
P.M.: It was done in Los Angeles. I had just completed a tour, and the people with whom I chose to work were there.So was the studio. I mixed it here in Montreal.
Cat: What role does Sufism play in your creative growth?
P.M.: It's not really clear what Sufism is, but it's almost like the inner – or the esoteric – aspects of Islam. There's a famous saying that I like a lot, by Idries Shah, a Sufi writer of the West: "If you find somebody that calls themselves a Sufi, they're not." I'm really wary about talking about Sufism because it's more of a Western label. In Turkey, there are people whom I imagine are extremely wonderful Sufis. Yet you would never recognize them. It's just in the air in Turkey. I am a kind of a guest, if you like, and it would be an honour if I were to be counted as a Sufi. To be honest, I'm nowhere near that. What I have gathered from Arkin, is having heard lots of Turkish music – religious music, classical music, Arabic music. The Turkish experience is all over my music.
Cat: Do you feel that listeners are looking for certain stereotypical sounds and instruments before they recognize the Turkish influences in your music?
P.M.:Yes, they're looking mostly for the Turkish traditional instruments. But I am not a Turk. I'm not a world music tourist. I'm honest about being a British artist. In my work, rather than taking it on as a formal sonic layer or style, I try to imbue my work on experience rather than just on flags. Music brings you to a certain state of being, taking you to a space that's yours, that is also informed with the energy of the music. When I heard some of the devotional music in Turkey, I found that it really does place you in a personal space. Like classical music, it has its own particular energy, but is always traditionally bound. I was always looking for somebody in Turkey that would capture something urban, Western. When I put on Mercan's album, Sufi Dreams, I thought, "The title really sucks," but it really hit the spot. It was the first album that I felt had a completely Western cool about it. Yet, whatever Mercan was trying to say religiously was not at all compromised. As I was listening to it, something very typical happened: he called, to speak with my wife. She had bought the album and was researching the music in order to invite him to write the soundtrack for her one-act dance piece, which eventually became his latest album. Consequently, he became really well known in Turkey, which is great. That really informs the album I'm working on now. I went on the Wild Birds tour in June 2000, then I decided to do this project, and the person that came to mind was Hugh Marsh.
Cat: So, you two have a sort of alchemy?
P.M.: He and I have this brotherhood in that he is the perfect musician for my voice. He also sings with me. He is more than just a backing track. It's exciting.
Cat: I personally hold you responsible for the corruption of an entire generation – including myself and my buddies – (so I thank you and we love you for it)… [laughter]
P.M.: What is the nature of that corruption?
Cat: The nature is that it turns us inside ourselves, you know?
P.M.: That's beautiful! Opening doors inwards.
Cat: Yep, but it's scary as hell for an adolescent girl! Worth it though.
P.M.: But was it towards decadence? What was the nature of that experience?
Cat: Well, it starts off looking that way. My face is ten thousand shades darker today than it was ten years ago.
P.M.: Mine too. [laughter]
Cat: Why did you make us wait so long to hear your own music under your voice and your lyrics?
P.M.: You mean aLive Justforlove? I think that I had been partly acting on rote. Going out [onstage], I need to rearrange these songs to have live versions. I go on the premise that the spectacle must be big, not only performance-wise, but also in terms of the band. It used to be as though I was just some singer extraordinaire, rather than just part of the band. When I started playing some acoustic numbers at the end of the Wild Birds tour in early 2000, we ran out of encore songs, and I realized, "Oh, bugger, I'm just going to go on and play them."
Cat: What do you feel are your greatest attributes as an artist? What keeps us hooked?
P.M.: The eyes! [laughter] I'll be completely honest. The voice. I told my daughter the other day, "Listen, sweetheart, I can't talk very well, and that's why I can sing really well. When I sing, I can talk." She understood that. We were talking about her difficulties with exams and the rational aspect of dealing with a structured institution whereby you're judged by your exam results. At thirteen, it's very heavy. I talk to her about other things that are much more intuitive and how they're not related to the presupposition of knowledge as intelligence. Even though I can't speak well, I have found my way.
Cat: When do we next see you onstage in Montreal?
P.M.: on the last couple of tours, I've been really frustrated. Even with Bauhaus, we couldn't find a promoter who would make it feasible to come here. on the last tour, the guarantee didn't make it possible to come here. That doesn't seem right, because there is an audience here.
Cat: Indeed, and Montreal has some wonderful concert venues too!
P.M.: There's a converted church that has opened up. [Referring to Rachel street's Eglise St-Jean Baptiste, which has hosted numerous classical and other concerts, including Dead Can Dance]
Cat: You've been to Montreal before. What concert halls have you played?
P.M.: Metro and the Spectrum. Unfortunately, it's always been in and out. As usual, when you're touring, you don't really get a feeling for the places. I remember going down to Musique Plus, but I can't honestly claim to know Montreal. The impression you get is that Canada, in general, is like an island – Montreal especially – that is similar to Europe. After the Wild Birds tour, I started experimenting with Arkin here in Montreal, and he introduced me to Old Montreal as well as the whole scene here. I really love it. It's an anomaly even within Canada, and I guess Quebec City has that, too, although I've never been there. There are great cultural happenings here, such as the festivals in the summer!
Cat: What festival would you like to play in Montreal?
P.M.: You're exposing my ignorance there, because I just get a list of dates from my agent. But, having been here, I think I would like to play the Jazz Festival. It's not strictly a jazz festival. All jazz festivals around the world are opening up. I'd like to play in the converted church or an outdoor venue in the dark.
Cat: Canada Day, Jazz Fest main stage, up to the stroke of midnight…I can just see it… So why did you choose Montreal to record your upcoming album?
P.M.: It's actually quite a Canadian album.I'm working with Arkin, and with Planet Studios. They have a brilliant engineer whom I think I've discovered for the world in the same way that Brian Eno discovered Daniel Lanois. Not that I'm like Brian Eno in any way, but the studio has been a major part of this in terms of engineering and sonic direction. I've also got Hugh Marsh, who plays with Loreena McKennitt, Bruce Cockburn, Michael Brooks… there are a host of Montreal street musicians playing on it, like Scott Russell a Montreal busker, Matthew on Dijeridoo, and Shankar on tabla. Arkin recommended Planet Studios, so I came here and mixed the live album by myself, and checked out Montreal.
Cat: Any favourite haunts in town?
P.M.: I've been in the studio most of the time, but there's a beautiful breakfast place in Old Montreal, called Titanic, which I really like. I'm still a stranger in Quebec.
P.S.: Having had the chance to taste his work in progress, I am counting the days until Peter's next release! only 106 days until the end of January…hmmm!