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Peter Murphy Cuts It Up

Dark crooner readies solo tour, Bauhaus reunion

April 13, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Peter Murphy, the gaunt frontman of Eighties goth-rock pioneers Bauhaus, is readying an international tour in support of his eighth solo album, Unshattered. The jaunt kicks off just days after a Bauhaus reunion concert on April 30th at the Coachella music festival in California.

"It came up as a sort of radical offer," Murphy says of the reunion gig. "So I thought, 'Why not?'" This will be the second reunion stint for Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins, who embarked on a full-fledged Bauhaus international tour in 1998. But Murphy is skeptical of new material coming of this one-off show. "We're not in touch a lot, really," he admits, "but we'll always be friends. We were childhood friends, you know."

With evocative singles such as "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and "She's in Parties," Bauhaus lasted a mere four years, but became the stuff of cult legend. After their 1983 breakup, the members (minus Murphy) went on to form pop outfit Love and Rockets, scoring a 1989 hit with "So Alive." Murphy, however, spun his dark vocals into a solo career that is now entering its third decade and includes the 1990 modern rock chart-topper "Cuts You Up" and the 1992 hit "The Sweetest Drop."

"Mine hasn't been a designer career," he says. "First off, Bauhaus doesn't fit in anywhere -- and I think of myself as a wanderer, or maybe a novelist. I go away and do my work in my own downtime and space." From his childhood, Murphy imagined himself a singer, learning hymns at Catholic school and Irish rebel songs from his father. But, surprisingly, his first obsession (at five years old) was Doris Day. "I loved her!" he gushes. "She was this mythical, perfect, wonderful lady who lived in America. I sang along to her record all the time."

It was the glam rock of T. Rex and David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" persona that eventually paved the way to Bauhaus' look, inspiring Murphy's first fashion-victim haircuts as a pre-teen. But by the early Eighties, when magazines were labeling the band's sound "goth," Murphy insists he had already moved on. "'Goth' seemed like a media event," he says, "just early attempts to take the most obvious elements of what we were doing and run with that. I don't really understand it. I'm almost more like a -- I dread to say it -- a religious seeker, an existentialist. There are so many bands now that are casualties of a designer attitude, and it just makes them safe. You have to somehow leave all that and go out to the desert in order to be open and naive and creative."

In recording Unshattered, Murphy worked quickly, recording all over the map, in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Phoenix, London and Istanbul, where he's lived for thirteen years with his Turkish wife. "It's a travelogue in that way." Murphy's many stops picked up guests such as drummer Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction), guitarist Peter DiStefano (Porno for Pyros) and his Bauhaus mate Haskins, who also co-wrote the track "Blinded Like Saul."

The record is lighter than Murphy's typically moody material -- something Murphy attributes to Gardner Cole, who, oddly enough, produced Eighties hits by Madonna, Tina Turner and Chaka Khan. "He wouldn't get into the layers that I would have automatically added," Murphy explains. "He spent three weeks with the recordings, added live drummers and a couple of guitars and made the vocals really loud. He said he really wanted to let my voice show."

In an approach that Murphy has held to since his Bauhaus days, Unshattered was written, recorded and mixed in just eight weeks. "I've always loved spontaneity, writing from an improvisational approach -- especially since I'm untrained," he says. "A lot of the Bauhaus albums were recorded with a brilliant spirit, and we'd give ourselves two weeks to do everything."

Looking forward to performing the new songs on tour (in front of a Dada-esque backdrop made from "found objects"), Murphy admits that there's a diva within the goth. "Just to be able to sing live is something else. And lots of people will be looking at me, and I like that," he says with a laugh. "No, I really like that! For God's sake, I should have been playing in stadiums by now!"

He'll be drawing upon material from throughout his solo career, while steering clear of his beginnings. "I've never played Bauhaus songs, because there's a distinction: that's the band," he says. But the statement comes with a proviso. "Of course, there's an audience there. And, well, within the next several years I might just do a Bauhaus cover tour -- make it a real event."

As for Coachella, what Murphy is perhaps looking forward to most is seeing earnest Brit pop band Coldplay perform. "I just love that first album!" he says, confessing a bit of a crush on frontman Chris Martin. "He's so good-looking, isn't he? But, apparently, he hides himself onstage behind a piano. I'll hold his hand when I see him and give him some tips. Like, 'I know it's hard, but if you get even twenty percent of what I do down, you'll be fine.'"

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