Róisín Murphy and Bráulio Amado discuss their collaboration and the relationship between music and design
Róisín and Bráulio have found a symbiotic, organic way of working together over the past few years. We spoke to them about their process and why the album is still the perfect way to support artists you love.
It’s Nice That: How did you guys begin working together?
Róisín Murphy: I had a project on the go with a producer called Maurice Fulton and I was thinking I was making an album. But as I was trying to mix it down with him, he kept saying I couldn’t change anything because he’d played the music in a club the week before and it had worked. And he was right! It was funky, and if I’d dismantled it somehow in the mix, I might have taken something away from it. It made me rethink the project and I thought about putting it out as a set of 12”s and not compromising in any way – on his vision or mine. Even though it’s an old-fashioned format and all that, of just two songs at a time, it was the right format. And that led to us having two sides of a vinyl, four times – four covers, really.
Bráulio Amado: Eight covers!
RM: That’s the maths – eight covers. In terms of how I found Bráulio to work on this project, though, my boyfriend is Italian and has extremely good taste. He’s also quite well-versed in graphic design – he had a graphic design company in Milan in the late 80s and early 90s. So he and I searched for club culture-related graphic design. We were perhaps looking for something a bit more retro initially and even researched some old House labels but we couldn’t find any of the designers’ names. But we found Braulio’s work for The Good Room and were blown away. It was so modern but also encapsulated that raw energy that was in the music too. He’s the perfect graphic designer to work with, he’s so prolific and he’ll work with any kind of form. He’ll sometimes try out three or four ideas in one night – and they’re all brilliant!
BA: Oh stop, I’m going to blush!
INT: What was your reaction when you found out about the project, Bráulio?
BA: I think at first I noticed Róisín started following me on Twitter and I was like, “Oh my god, this is crazy!” and then she reached out to me and told me about the Maurice Fulton 12”s – my initial reaction was awe. I grew up listening to Róisín’s music and I was always a big fan. I was of course really excited but, in a way, working with someone you really like is often harder. You never imagine your work being part of their graphic language. But once we started doing the 12”s, Róisín was so easy to work with. There was a bunch of back and forth on the first cover but after that, I would send ideas and Róisín would react so positively, it all happened in a really smooth way and it was fun!
Róisín Murphy: Can’t Hang On. Design by Bráulio Amado (Copyright © Vinyl Factory, 2018)
Róisín Murphy: All My Dreams. Design by Bráulio Amado (Copyright © Vinyl Factory, 2018)
INT: And what was your jumping-off point when working on the 12”s?
RM: Well, outside of the graphics, the tone of the whole thing was a very earnest look into club cultural artefacts. I just really went into study mode, watching all this VHS footage of my time raving in the north of England. And so there was a great sense that we were the perfect match. It was so much more than I was looking for, you know, when you get that magic thing where one thing rolls into another and you just keep getting much more than you ever expected? You just delivered that and it was so consistent and so varied, it felt a bit rock and roll and felt a bit modern.
BA: I work like that because I’m so bad at talking about what I do. I just sketch. So part of the reason why I sent so many different ideas, different styles, is because I don’t know how to put that stuff in words. It’s almost easier to talk through images.
RM: We did work with lots of styles on Róisín Machine too. There isn’t one style but I still think there’s such a unity in the vision of it. I mean, really, the vision of the album’s design is just me and you, there was no big board table having a meeting about how sexy I should be and that. That’s all down to us! I was going to say as well, god knows what you thought when the photographs came in for Róisín Machine – some mad middle-aged Irish woman over in London rolling around on plastic. They weren’t even retouched! Were you thinking, what have I got involved in here? How am I gonna figure this out!?
BA: No, I loved it. I mean, all of a sudden, when I got sent the photos, I was like, alright, this is gonna be crazy.
INT: Róisín Machine is created as one landscape of sound, how did that translate through to the album’s design?
RM: We didn’t really discuss that.
BA: I think we discussed it but it was more that I got it from the material. It was much rawer, it was just me listening to the record and trying to make it speak to the visuals. It almost felt like I was trying to collage everything together in a smooth way. I don’t think we set a plan to do any of that stuff though, we were just seeing what happened.
“My favourite style to work in is very punk rock, 70s and 80s.”Bráulio Amado
RM: We always wanted it to feel like a fanzine from the 80s or the 90s, like it was Xeroxed – we didn’t want to do a luxury product. I remember when I found online another pop star – not that I’m a pop star – but she was there opening her record, taking all the bits and bobs out and just showing it. I just saw that and said, “I don’t want it to be like that whatever happens. I can’t do one of those videos”. That made us realise that it had to be rawer than that, it’s got to feel like something truly collectable, not just envisaged as collectable but actually by its nature something that you want to collect and love. But not in such a sentimental way.
BA: Yeah, I feel the same way. It’s like a graphic designer’s dream to do all these cute little things but that’s the thing I hate most about graphic design. It’s all so precious and purely decorative, it loses the main essence of the bulk of the object or what it should feel like. So, when you showed me that video Róisín, I was like, yes, great. I don’t want to do that either.
RM: I did send you some 70s and 80s Italian soft porn. Well, it wasn’t that soft, actually.
BA: No, it wasn’t.
RM: Which you got a couple of things out of?
BA: Yeah, my favourite style to work in is very punk rock, 70s and 80s. But that attached with the whole world of erotica just took it to a new level and I love all of that.
RM: It took it to a lower level... But I knew exactly what I wanted.
INT: Do you often have quite a clear image of what you want then, Róisín?
RM: I have mood boards coming out of my ears darling. I cut mood films and do voice overs. I just try my very best to explain to people because there is a dissonance. If a woman comes out, she’s singing, she’s dancing, she’s flailing around and she’s creative directing, it can be hard to process. So I’m very, very, very prepared because I know that it’s hard to process.
INT: Before you were a musician, you wanted to be a visual artist, right? Is that something that impacts your approach?
RM: Yeah, and the more technology develops, the more it sort of feeds that for me and allows me to make reference boards and make little films and describe in other ways. When I started, I wasn’t even doing emails, everything that I did was face to face, trying to explain to people what I wanted to do. And then suddenly, I started to email and even that was a kind of a revolution for me to be able to say, well, it’s in writing: I want, fucking, 80s Italian porn, Bráulio.
BA: I remember when you sent me the first photos, you sent me an iPhone video of you going through the photos with the music playing over it. It was so good. And a lot of the times you would just take photographs with your phone of the actual photos and be like “use this one”! It was a faster way of working, I feel like that helped me to run. A lot of the time, I was looking at or working with frames from the videos you sent me instead of the actual images!
INT: Bráulio, you’ve mentioned before that Róisín is the best art director you’ve ever worked for. Why is that?
BA: So there are a few different ways to look at it. I work with so many different kinds of bands and musicians. Some are really small and some bigger. And usually, when things are on the same level as Róisín, everything is very precious. It’s not that that’s bad, it’s just very organised because there are all these people working on it and rushing. This is gonna sound stupid but Róisín really is like a machine. You’re doing everything alone. You understand that you know what you want, and you know how to do it. And you just fucking do it. It just makes the whole thing more fun, from my side, to see something happening and be adding to it and having a back and forth. That doesn’t happen as much with other bands or other types of work.
Most of the work I do, I send a sketch, or three sketches and they approve one thing and then I make that one super perfect and that’s it. But Róisín Machine had so much back and forth, trying this and then that. It was just more organic. And at the same time, you know, being a fan of everything you do, it’s kind of awesome to see that part of the process.
RM: You need to have a clear vision and execute it. When I say clear vision, I have a clear vision, but also it is a discovery isn’t it, a step by step? It’s lovely to see things fall into place because of the hard work and energy that you put into it, and it does always surprise you in the end.
BA: Yeah, exactly. Like you’re saying, that middle part of trying to figure stuff out – that is, for me, my favourite part. I hate when people are like, “I want this exact thing and this is what you’re gonna do.” And everything follows it.
INT: What were some of the key moments when you were making Róisín Machine where things fell into place?
BA: Once I got all Róisín’s references, I also got the photographs at the same time. So everything just kind of fell into place then. I love the whole aesthetic.
RM: With the references, in some ways, I kind of went a little bit against the music in the sense that it didn’t go full-on disco queen, I went a bit more subversive. So I showed him pieces of Siouxsie Sioux and pop-punk and post-punk women that I’d done loads of research on. There was some vintage S&M and that was really for the photography. And then for the graphics, it was the pornography.
I really felt like it had to have an energy that didn’t feel too packaged. You know, obviously, I want to look pretty, I want to sell records, I want to shift units. But I also want to have a little bit of a subversion about it – the music has a raw Sheffield throb, it’s got a rigorous evil, minimalism at the bottom of it all. It’s just got like this steel grid underneath it, and that steeliness had to come through in the character of the album cover.
When you put as much love into making something like me and you did, the record format itself remains the best way to spend a few quid on your favourite artists. We’ve cared so much about making this thing that it’s actually worth collecting and we underestimated the demand and we ran out of vinyl in the first week.
BA: That’s awesome.
GalleryRóisín Murphy: Róisín Machine, front and back. Design by Bráulio Amado (Copyright © Skint / BMG, 2020)
“You’ve got to pour as much love into a thing as possible, otherwise I’d be embarrassed charging money for it.”Róisín Murphy
RM: The only problem with vinyl is you can’t press it quickly enough but it is such a beautiful format when love is poured into it. It remains a strong format and it’s getting stronger all the time for people because they want a thing, they want a relic of their love for an artist and I’ve always felt you’ve got to pour as much love into a thing as possible, otherwise I’d be embarrassed charging money for it.
BA: Yeah, having a record is the best thing. Róisín Machine, when you open the gatefold and you see the photo, every time I open the record, it’s like wow! It’s so good – you don’t have that on a computer. When it’s well designed and you see there’s a whole world built around it, the object itself complements the music in such a nice way, it is so cool.
RM: Also, it lasts forever! Do you have a sense of that when you’re designing albums? Because, ideally, when anyone writes about this album in 50 years, it will still have that image above it. It will continually be seen any time Róisín Machine is mentioned. And there are people who will love that record for life, the actual object.
BA: I do think about that, but at the same time, my first thought is always that I want to make something that feels fresh, that people haven’t seen before. I want to feel excited about what I’m making.
RM: But there isn’t a sense of it being more precious? Because at the end of the day, a newspaper or whatever comes and goes.
BA: Oh yeah definitely. I put way more work into record covers than other kinds of work – way more! Even if sometimes it doesn’t look like it. Like with the Xerox zine we made. I used to make that kind of thing back in high school when I was in punk bands and I’d do them so quickly and with ours, even though it looks like it was made really quickly, I spent so much time on it.
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Róisín Machine zine. Design by Bráulio Amado (Copyright © Skint / BMG, 2020)
“Music and visual arts are doing a continual dance together really, they intertwine so beautifully.”Róisín Murphy
INT: It’s attached to something in the way that an illustration in a newspaper isn’t. An album cover is so associated with memory for people, they’re evocative.
INT: I feel like visual culture is very much pushed forward by music because it needs to keep up. How important do you feel the relationship between the two is?
BA: I became a designer because I wanted to design record covers but being from Portugal, which is a small country, I knew that it was probably never going to happen, and that I’d probably be working in ad agencies doing boring work. So the fact that now I’m in New York and doing music stuff for a living, it’s crazy and unbelievable. But I don’t know if I’m thinking about that while I’m designing, I’m more like a little kid. And when the record comes out, it’s hard to believe that I did it. I’m on the side of still being excited about everything rather than thinking, “This is going to influence all these young kids for the next few years.” But the music I listen to does influence me, so hopefully, my work does do that too.
RM: Music and visual arts are doing a continual dance together really, they intertwine so beautifully. But I think the thing about music is that it remains the embodiment of what’s core, what’s important in any endeavour and that would be a sense of rhythm – a painting has to have a sense of rhythm, a poem has to have rhythm, an album cover does too. We get that and the purest form of that is in music and that’s in everything that’s creative I think! The most privileged thing in my life is that I get to make music – everyone I know, whether they’re artists, filmmakers or fucking bankers that you meet on a first-class flight and they’ve got a little guitar and that’s how he relaxes in between making millions of quid – which he bores you to tears about, of course – it drives everyone, there’s an elemental factor to it, like the wind or oxygen. I always say that, if you have the right music you can throw any visual at it and it will sing. If you start off with a bad bit of music, it’s very hard for really good, special things to develop out of that.
A limited edited version of Róisín Machine with a transparent vinyl, zine and photo is available from today.
Róisín Murphy: Róisín Machine, front and back. Design by Bráulio Amado (Copyright © Skint / BMG, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.