Peter Murphy

by Carl Wiser

Don't mention the G-word (sounds like moth) to Peter Murphy. Invoke it, and he may ask you to define the term, which is appropriately applied to architecture or culture, but not to music. And putting his audience in that rubric does them a disservice, implying they are dour vampires hiding in the shadows, waiting to strike.

It all started in 1979 with "Bela Lugosi's Dead," the first single from Peter's band, Bauhaus. The song is about Dracula, and the actor who played him. When Murphy performed it, he seemed to come undead, captivating the audience. The group earned a reputation for inventive, dark rock with dazzling soundscapes, but also took on that G-word label.

Bauhaus split in 1983 after four albums. Murphy went solo, releasing nine albums on his own, his latest, Lion, in 2014. His bandmates formed Love and Rockets, scoring a huge American hit with "So Alive" in 1989. Bauhaus regrouped for a tour in 1998 and again in 2005, when Murphy sang "Bela" upside down (like a bat) at Coachella. They released an album in 2008, but haven't worked together since.

In January 2018, Murphy will play the first of 16 shows at The Chapel in San Francisco, with each show devoted to a full performance of each album. For the last three "Mr. Moonlight" shows, he'll team up with Bauhaus bass player David J to play classics from the band. The residency was scheduled for June 2017, but postponed when doctors discovered nodules on his vocal chords requiring surgery and rest.

Murphy takes pride in his songwriting, but isn't big on discussing the songs themselves for fear of altering the feelings the listener has already ascribed to them. Since we at Songfacts are dedicated to the stories behind the songs, that posed a challenge. At one point we were flatly rebuffed, but Murphy offered up an unusual amount of insight into some of his most popular recordings, including his biggest American hit, "Cuts You Up."
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): You use many different styles and arrangements in your performances. How do you plan to present your songs during your residency at The Chapel?

Peter Murphy: As you know, I will play my albums from beginning to end in chronological order, and also in the song order on the albums. I would like to present a unique element stage-wise and performance-wise, including a unique moment for each album.

Songfacts: Which songs will be the most challenging to perform?

Murphy: Only Lion songs, as I somehow reach high peaks. I have no days planed for Lion yet but may add them.

It is a great genius work made in the spirit that I began with as a member of the four in the magical collective Bauhaus. Youth [the album's producer, aka Martin Glover] matched my own natural songwriting process. That is, fast and immediate. We wrote, recorded, and mixed Lion in 10 days.

Bauhaus open the 1983 David Bowie movie The Hunger with a mesmerizing performance of "Bela." They got the gig after the director saw the Maxell "Break The Sound Barrier" commercial, which starred Murphy as the guy getting blown away by the sonics.

Songfacts: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" was written and recorded in a rush of inspiration. Which of your solo tracks has a similar origin story?

Murphy: We were in no special rush at all. We as a band were creating songs every time we met. We forged and made songs each time, never demoing them – playing them live. "Bela" was the same except an early result of the four members having newly come together with Dany [Daniel Ash, guitarist] and I. We demoed it alongside three other songs for 11 pounds. It was the first song that we recorded. I'd never sang into a professional microphone, never been in a studio.

Had written most of In the Flat Field [debut album] with Dany in my first two days ever singing, writing lyrics. We recorded "Bela" in one take – the vocal being my first ever recording. It felt quite certainly to me - and we all felt it - magical and quite "us" – natural and, as for all our songs and performances and attitude, a genuine original, whole event as a band never before seen or heard of, I as lead frontman a rare natural and effortless star. An unmissable "got to see this guy" one off. Yet I was in fact a part of a group of four crucial members of a final group identity. All very cool.

Songfacts: The formidable David J will be joining you for the Mr. Moonlight shows. What Bauhaus songs do you consider his best work as a songwriter and as a bass player?

Murphy: "In Fear of Fear," "Silent Hedges."

Songfacts: What songs do you consider your best work as a songwriter and as a vocalist?

Murphy: "Your Face," "Subway," "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything," "A Strange Kind Of Love."

Songfacts: What song by another artist has had the most influence on you?

Murphy: "Green Green Grass of Home"

Songfacts: What is it that "takes you in and spits you out" in "Cuts You Up"?

Murphy: The path of discovery, self-knowledge, wisdom... once you feel you have it. Then the path will spit you out or off the way and ruin your assumptions of this path. In fact, a great mighty necessity for those spiritual seekers or so-called "holy state" desires when getting arrogant.

Songfacts: Which of the albums that you'll be performing fills you with the fondest memories?

Murphy: All have connections to their own time. All a rigor as a solo artist newly learning how to be a one-man, non-group member. Talented yet seeking technique.

Songfacts: What's going on in the French (I think it's French) section of "All Night Long"?

Murphy: From the film La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau.

Songfacts: Has a song ever revealed it's meaning to you long after you wrote it?

Murphy: Yes, many are often prescient accounts and subconscious expressions of a desire. Later ones, life has led to such consequences.

All natural.

Yet songs have a separate life for all others.

Songfacts: What have been the biggest sources of inspiration for your lyrics?

Murphy: I don't know until I write them and a story or subject finds its place to express.

Songfacts: You've talked about the importance of voicing in the words you write. "Seesaw Sway" seems like a good example. Can you discuss that song?

Murphy: No - discussion of songs is tiresome. I can't remember or wish to. But that song is an unusual, for me, account of a relationship. A friend at the time.

Songfacts: Where did the title "I'll Fall With Your Knife" come from?

Murphy: From an attempt to describe or evoke a conditional commitment to one partner.

Songfacts: How has your songwriting evolved over the years?

Murphy: Not much. I don't believe in the idea of a special talent that's practiced that evolves. Not my own in any case.

October 24, 2017
More at
Bauhaus Songfacts

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Robert from CaMurphy seemed to really close up towards the end of the interview. He clearly wasn't volunteering much info. Good job getting him to talk as much as he did.
  • Jim from Mobile, AlBoy that was tough, You did make the best of it though.
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