Peter Murphy interview
Exquisite Corpses: Joining the blackened dots of goth

Clash tracks the winding path of goth through the eyes of the genre’s ‘marvelous’ and genius godfather, Peter Murphy. The bats have left the bell tower…


‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ - August 1979.
The Bauhaus debut single and first ever ‘Goth’ song is set upon the world. Straight from Northampton.

“It made me an icon, not like Muhammed Ali or one of those! But yes, an icon. ‘Bela Lugosi’ was a set of four demos we were knocking out in rehearsals. It was the first ever vocal I had done live, it just had this thing…we all had it. All the other bands around were just doing bad covers but we were these 17th century things, truly a band of equal measures.”


The baritone vocal style becomes a standard of the movement, remaining an influence on many today. The wail of the crypt is defined.

“If there is one singer I don’t mind being compared to it’s Ian Curtis. Joy Division and the Bauhaus were parallel bands - we had this Midlands/northern thing; we ignored each other but were conscious of one another also. We were more art house, beautiful monsters.”


Not to be pigeonholed by their origins, goth becomes eager to strike out in their own unusual way.

“Bowie was brilliant. He captured a whole generation, even those in small towns, the androgyny and asexuality he had. He looked the part, he walked around and you just went, ‘what the fuck was that?’ Yet we covered the uncoverable song, the sacrosanct song, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and we fucking bettered it. We were the band, we WERE the fans; it was controversial and I bet he hated it. It was too close.”


1983; goth had become a fully-fledged subculture. Bands like Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Cure cemented the look. A thousand hair spray cans meet their demise.

“Once we had been and gone I certainly noticed this bloke [Robert Smith] in this pale and interesting band, no image thing, have high black hair and lippy smeared on his face. I was like, ‘oh yeah?’; a wink in my eye. Bands took one aspect of what we did and just helped cement that into the consciousness and that made you a bit egocentric.”


The darkness spreads Stateside, with Nine Inch Nails and co. popularising the genre in the ’90s. Goth becomes a more visceral affair.

“I first met Trent [Reznor, NIN] back in 1990 around the time of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. He is a man of few words - laser focused but always courteous and a gentleman. He was using machines and drum loops and live it was like a hammer blow. I thought Marilyn Manson was a bit too kitsch to capture the mood. What was that all about? It is a bit Hollywood. I think Trent stands alone. I love Trent, he worked very hard and got big. Now I’m like, ‘Hello Trent, how are you doing? Look at your hair, aren’t you lovely!’ You have to be marvelous for them.”


Nearly thirty years from ‘Bela Lugosi’’s release and The Horrors gain attention with tracks such as ‘Jack The Ripper’. The horror imagery in an indie-dominated scene turned heads.

“They’re kind of cashing in a bit. Like that Sweeney Todd director [Tim Burton]. Readying to go on stage with NIN in 2009 I was doing a sound check with Trent while these black spider kids, The Horrors, were hanging around backstage. Afterwards the singer came over and asked if I was Trent’s warm-up vocalist! I told him I was a bum Trent knows, the guy walked away nonplussed. After the show he came up and said, ‘I really apologise’. It was great!


Goth lives three decades on. Its figureheads continue to rage against the night, now as icons.

“The tags. I think it’s been great but it can be limiting. It doesn’t matter, as long as people turn around and keep looking I’ll take care of it from there on! The Horrors were nice kids and good luck to them. People in the media, can be like, ‘what are you doing now?’ What do you mean, what am I doing now? I’m here!”

Peter Murphy’s new album ‘Ninth’ is out now.

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