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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Peter Murphy on what makes Bauhaus' music so transcendent

Peter Murphy
  • Thomas Tadeus Bak
  • Peter Murphy
For former Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy, 2013 has been an eventful year. After being detained in Glendale, Calif., last month on charges of meth possession and an alleged hit-and-run, Murphy pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance on the condition that he does not drive a car. His court date is set for May 17. In the meantime, Murphy has embarked on the Mr. Moonlight tour, playing the music of Bauhaus. Tonight (Thurs., May 2), Murphy and Co. make their way to Atlanta for a show at Terminal West. Earlier this week, he took a few minutes to talk about his current band, and what makes Bauhaus' music so transcendent.

Peter Murphy's Mr. Moonlight tour comes to Terminal West tonight (Thurs., May 2). My Jerusalem opens. $25-$50. 9 p.m. 887 West Marietta, Studio C. 404-876-5566).

So just to clarify, you're playing all Bauhaus songs on the Mr. Moonlight tour, correct? Nothing from your solo albums?

Yeah, I had been touring with my Ninth album for two years when I decided to put on two surprise shows in L.A. I wanted to play an intimate show for the fans, the hardcores who've always supported us. So the first night I played my whole album Deep, and then I thought of putting on a night of all Bauhaus songs. It was a pilot, and a test to see how well it worked musically, and if we would have the quality that I would expect it must have. It worked out really well. I was there just a couple of months ago, just about to start my album, which I imagined would take up a period of three months whilst I toured here and there, but I went to London with Youth, who's a really well-known producer and a very old friend from Killing Joke in the early '80s, and we basically did the album in four-and-a-half days. So this tour, as you say, is a tip of the hat to those very hardcore Bauhaus audiences around the world, which are also my own as well.

Did you approach your former band mates for this tour?

No. The band is over and it has been since 2006. That was the final curtain for the band - there were internal issues that spelled out once and for all. There was a decision made that it would never happen again. So I, for the first time, was left with the slack in my hand. I've always been the biggest advocate for that band, but things happen and it really is gone. So, I introduced a couple of Bauhaus songs into my sets, because they are my songs, and they fit well. In retrospect it didn't feel like a look back in any way at all. That's the spirit in which we're playing this. It's very much now, but as you can imagine I am kicking to play my own new album. I won't do that until it's ready, though. It just has to be mixed and then hopefully ... So to flag my new album, it's called Lion, I'm gonna be pulling out one track at some point, just for the purposes of previewing it.

You said that these songs are yours, which is an intriguing take on material that you wrote with Bauhaus.

Yes, well ... They were written by Bauhaus, and they are Bauhaus creations, but in effect a lot of the lyrics and things like that are mine, so there's no real schism in my mind about playing them now. Especially now, as I do regard this as an exclusive treasure box, and I did try to get the other band members together, and we did twice in 1998 and in 2005, and it is not tenable, nor will it ever be. I think it's done in a good spirit, and enough time has gone by since the last time it happened in 2006, and I'm the one who can play them now, and I am playing them now, and they're very good songs.

Did you experience any opposition or criticism over taking these songs out on the road with your current band and not the other members of Bauhaus?

No, and I don't think there will be any opposition, they're probably kicking themselves over what I thought was a golden goose. But that's why I call it the Mr. Moonlight tour. That's a song that David J penned the lyrics to. It's a song called "Who Killed Mr. Moonlight," and it was almost like a fugue for the death of the band. It was written at a point when we were making our last album. And I remember thinking whilst he was writing it, that he really doesn't get it. "Mr. Moonlight." I'm right here, and there is no death of it, this is more about spirit, and my own investment in this. So I would say there can be no opposition to it. It's a moot point. Anybody can play Bauhaus songs, even with another voice you can do covers of it.

And you will be touching on everything from In The Flat Field to the most recent album, Go Away White?

I have got a whole mix that covers all of the albums, including Go Away White, and I can chop and change every night. The band and I have rehearsed many, many songs, so we're just now settling into a set list that really works. So I've got lots of repertoire to pull from.

This band has been with me for eight years, so Mark Gemini Thwaite is on the guitar, and he's playing the work of Danny Ash very brilliantly. And Emilio China, who's from New York, is playing bass and electric violin arrangements, and Nick Lucero is on the drums, and we've been playing together for a long time, so it's a great band.

So there's chemistry with this band, but does it feel different to play Bauhaus songs with these players?

These are songs that are very sparse in their creation - they were consciously not over-produced when they were written - which was one of our ethics. It's a set that has nothing overdubbed, and no backing track, nothing other than the band playing, and there were only some minor tweaks that I know of. I know the subtleties of every one of the songs, and there's not much shoved into place at all. I'm the biggest critic of that, and of myself, so very little has changed, just a couple tweaks on this moment or that moment and that intensity, and that dynamic. So it really is authentic, and often they play it better than we could because we were non-musicians, which was kind of an irony in a way.

All of England in the 1970s was a rich musical environment, especially for non-musicians, or musicians who were outside of typical pop music. There was Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, David Bowie, Nick Lowe, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie - all creating sparse music in their own right, and Bauhaus was there in the midst of it all.

Absolutely. It was a great time, and we came in right at the end of the punk period, in the inception of the post-punk period. But in a sense we benefited from that sudden total explosion of freedom and liberty where anybody could take it up and make a band. There were labels and outlets for it. There was radio open to us. So we were definitely a result of that take in 1977. We got together in 1978, and like many of the bands out there, it was very unique. But something else happened with us. It was very much made in a vacuum of the small industrial town where we lived, Northampton. We were never really connected to a scene, we never were posing to be more than what we were, and what we became was pure self-expression; the kind of expression that comes from a very insulated space, and of our own style. If you listen to the work, it's influenced by a lot of interesting things like dub, dance, minimalist art rock, in a way.

I'm a poet, undiscovered. I got into art school, but I didn't want to go to art school. So I was like a renaissance-type personality. The moment I walked in, having never actually written a song, and being with Daniel, we wrote the first half of the first album in a weekend. The lyrics just poured out of me; it was a very visceral poetic part of who I am. And of course, coupled with the sort of performer that I am, was just a very unique mix. The band itself would write things on the spot. It was very creative, and even the bass player David would take a lead role with his very dance/dub bass-led songs. Danny was always a brilliant orchestrator and colorist with the guitar. It was very exciting.

Have you found that you perform the songs differently now?

Bauhaus' music never needed to have a version of what it is. It is what it is, and of course feeling is important. So I'm basing it on the emotions that I feel, which were always very improvised. There is one thing - we're just now getting the balance of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" right. Because that's like an improvised set of moods and atmospheres in a long-form piece of music - as a drama piece it is almost a soundtrack to a performance. There are certain songs like "Spy In the Cab" where the bass player only plays one note all the way through. We're very grateful to have that, and to bring the band into that space, that approach, and, to me, it's a volatile, meaningful pulse to put on. It's very interesting music, and I don't feel any retrospection, I don't miss any member of the band, and I don't think of it as looking back. But like I said earlier, I've got my new music waiting to burst out, and I'm so excited about that, but I'm being patient.

And your new solo album will be called Lion?

Yes, and I'm playing a medley of three or four songs between my opening act, and my show, just to give a flag of what's coming. I've prepared a video montage for it, too so, it'll be kind of like a commercial break: We'll be right back after this message!

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