The last time I saw Tairrie B. Murphy was in August 2014 as she toured the UK with her band My Ruin. In what proved to be a very memorable week, I spent time on the road with the LA metallers taking in several dates during the tour in support of their most recent album The Sacred Mood.
After her show in London we shared a drink and Tairrie revealed that she had been working on a secret project which she was planning to unveil in the New Year. She also invited me to hear a sneak preview and I was sworn to secrecy. Then, this past January, My Ruin’s ever-polarising scream queen took many fans by surprise when she announced that she had a new rap album on the way which she had been recording quietly behind the scenes . The secret was officially out.
Having had the privilege of being sent an advance copy of the new recordings, I recently caught up with Tairrie for a chat about her new single, video and forthcoming album Vintage Curses, scheduled for release on the 14th of August.
SBA: “Beware The Crone” is the first single from your new album Vintage Curses and you’re giving the track away as a free download. The song has a dark, doom-laden vibe, yet there is an up tempo groove to it and a distinct seventies influence. Can you shed some light on the inspiration behind the track and why you chose it to re-introduce yourself to the hip hop world in such an unapologetic way? Why this particular phrase knowing the image it may conjure to some?
Tairrie B: The dictionary definition of “Crone” is an old woman. A hag archetype. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with supernatural associations. In others she is magical and symbolizes the last aspect of the Triple Goddess and the end of a cycle. She represents a rite of passage into an era of wisdom, strength, freedom and personal power. This is how I define it. Her colour is black and she is associated with the waning or the dark of the new moon. Having spent the past 20 years in underground metal, I can relate.
I chose to release “Beware The Crone” as the first single because it felt like the perfect transition and a very unforced, natural progression. As Goddess of Death, the Crone breaks down our old forms to make change and rebirth possible. She represents secrets revealed and embraces transformation as a process of growth and continual regeneration. Ageism is as real as sexism and racism. It’s no secret that I turned 50 this year. I’m proud of it so I am embracing it rather than hiding it. That would be silly at this point. I’m not new to hip hop. I’ve been here before but it would also be silly to pretend I am the same young, blonde girl I was back in 1990. I look and feel completely different. While some will remember my name, there are many who won’t and they may be discovering my music for the first time. I can only hope people on both sides will listen to my new album with an open mind rather than a pre-conceived notion of what they think I should sound like based on my age or dare I say skin color. Both of which are irrelevant when it comes to making music in my opinion.
I co-produced and mixed the track with my husband Mick Murphy and Josh Lynch from Weapons of Mass Production. Josh worked with us on My Ruin’s album Ghosts and Good Stories in 2010 and was also a part of my Death Work Professionals project which we recorded for fun after Ghosts and Good Stories. Mick played live drums on the track and I had Wiley Hodgden from The Birds of Satan & John Lousteau of Teenage Time Killers sing the hook I wrote. Both guys are in side bands with Mick and are rad singers. I had a great time creating this song and the videos that accompany it.
Speaking of the videos, there are two for “Beware The Crone” along with an album teaser. All are beautifully shot in black & white with bewitching, esoteric visuals. Who directed them and what is the connecting theme behind each?
It’s been a while since I recorded a hip hop album, let alone a video with me rapping. Like the songs themselves, I didn’t want to mimic what so many other women in music seem to be doing at the moment. I’m not a fan of bright colourful imagery or over-the- top sexuality. I wanted there to be a strong and empowering, yet darkly visceral and magical sensibility to the visuals. I directed the videos and Mick & I edited them together. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted going in and it all became what it did naturally, much like the recordings. There is a haunting and somewhat otherworldly feel to all three which I love.
The lyric video is being released first to go with the free download and the launch of my new website at www.HouseOfCapricorn.com which will serve as an online home to my new album and all my projects past to present day. It represents my taking a new path and has a bit of mystery to it. The official video will debut the following week as the moon begins to wane.
I shot many of the scenes myself and others were filmed by my good friends Jill & Gary Bandfield from Tour Bus Live who are talented husband & wife photographers. They have worked with My Ruin many times in the past and understood where I wanted to go visually so I asked them to collaborate with me in bringing a few songs on my new album to life. We shot the cover art and all nature scenes in the back woods of Griffith Park which is one of my favourite places to hike in Los Angeles and somewhere I have loved since I was a child. The rest of the video was filmed in Hollywood, in our studio and home.
There’s an overall witchy theme to the album as a whole which I want to represent within the various videos and photographs that accompany it. I’ve been getting more into photography and digital editing which I really enjoy. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years on my own but it’s also great to work with creative people who are open to your ideas and excited to be a part of your team artistically. We are filming my second video in 2 weeks. It’s called “BTCHCRVFT”.
Essentially Vintage Curses is a return to your music roots as a rap artist. What drove that decision, why now and where do things currently stand with My Ruin?
There were several factors. The first being that I have wanted to write a book for a while now; a memoir about my experiences in the hip hop world which I think are very unique and have an interesting perspective being that I was the first white female rapper and signed to Eazy E’s Comptown Records label via MCA back in the early 90’s. I’ve touched on a few things in interviews here and there over the years when rock magazines have asked me about my past, but never really told the stories in-depth or shared much of my history behind certain now infamous events. There is a lot of misinformation and rumours on the internet as well as quotes about me in books such as Ruthless – A Memoir by former NWA manager Jerry Heller, which are factually untrue. It’s time to set the record straight for many reasons.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for hip hop because I’ve stayed a fan of the music and in tune with the culture even while having my feet firmly planted in the rock world for so many years. However, as I began to revisit that chapter of my life on paper, I soon realised that in order for me to write this book I needed to resurrect my past on another level. This is where the idea was born to record a new rap album. Fans of my band have asked me to do this for years and although I have thought about it a lot, I never felt the timing was right until now. Writing and recording Vintage Curses not only helped to invoke many memories for me as an author but it has also re-birthed me as an artist. I feel a new sense of self and much more confident rhyming on the microphone these days because I’ve experienced so much since I released my first album The Power of a Woman. I’ve fronted heavy metal bands, recorded spoken-word albums and toured the world.
I founded my first band, Manhole in 1993. This is where I cut my teeth, learned to scream and developed my voice and myself as a performer on stage. Manhole eventually morphed into Tura Satana and this ultimately lead me to My Ruin which I started in 1999. I have been playing heavy music for over 20 years. Not for the money but for the love of the art. These last few years I began to feel burnt out and in need of a change. Not from just the band, but from the business side of things. Unfortunately, they have gone hand in hand. Especially when you are the one managing your band. Along with the sacred comes the profane. As an artist, you need to feel a fire and passion for your art. I thrive on it. It’s what drives me in the studio when I am writing and recording. When you are touring and playing shows nightly, this needs to transcend into your live performance and overall vibe. I just wasn’t feeling it on stage because of the things I was having to deal with off stage before and after the shows as well as leading up to and after each tour.
Our last few tours drained me in many ways. The stress involved with the business behind the scenes and what was going on off stage began to outweigh the joy and the love I felt for the music while on stage. As long as Mick and I are together, My Ruin will always be a band. Whether we decide to tour or record another album in the future, who knows? I love making music with my husband and that is why I asked him to be a part of my new project. Recording a hip hop album was a new experience for him and he enjoyed it as much as I did. At the moment, My Ruin is on hiatus and it’s been healthy for both of us. Mick is busy working on several projects and I am focusing on my new album along with writing my first book which is a huge undertaking and also part of the reason I needed a break from the band.
The new album has a strong, old-school West Coast sound and yet it is unlike anything I have heard before including your own previous rap recordings. Why did you pursue a more classic vibe as opposed to a more contemporary, mainstream style in your songs?
Mainstream hip hop doesn’t interest or excite me. I grew up in Los Angeles. I am a West Coast woman at heart and I respect the architects such as Ice T, Ice Cube, MC Ren, WC, Mack 10, King T, Low Profile, The D.O.C. and NWA. I wanted my album to reflect what I love and have listened to since the mid 80’s as well as who I am today as an artist. It has an old school feel to it because I’m old school. The influence is honest. Just like I don’t listen to much modern metal, I don’t really listen to much modern hip hop except for a few. I prefer the classics and that goes for rock as well. I can’t stand auto tune. It makes me cringe whenever I hear someone using it. I’d rather sound like myself and have some raw grit and natural texture to my voice as I rap over beats that are heavy with real drums instead of the over-processed, watered down lightweight crap being played on the radio most of the time.
Throughout your rock career you have been known for your DIY approach when it comes to your music and art. Are you continuing to work this way with your new album and videos?
Always! I am a devout creatrix. You don’t need a big budget and expensive studio to make a great album or video in this day and age, especially because so much can be done on computers at home, in the mix and in post. With the music industry the way it is and the state of record sales, more and more artists are becoming independent and doing it for themselves, which I admire in many of the artists (musicians, photographers and poets) who have inspired me. More power to them! When you don’t have a lot of money, you are forced to be creative and great art is often born from great struggle and sacrifice.
Would you say that “Beware The Crone” is representative of the material that makes up the rest of Vintage Curses? What inspired the title and what can we expect from the rest of the album?
Yes, I think it is a good representation and hopefully it will get those who hear it excited about what’s to come. Some of the tracks are reflective of my past, my path and self-referential, while others are more metaphorical and pay homage while waxing nostalgic with my wordplay. As far as the title goes, it was taken from a lyric in one of the songs called “Carpe Noctem” which was written about nyctophilia, meaning a preference for night and darkness. The word “Vintage” is a nod to the classic feel of the music while “Curses” represents the duality of the lyrical side and myself as a woman: the witch persona (cursing with spells) and the bitch persona (cursing with words).
You’ve not been scared of expressing your thoughts and opinions throughout your music career. Indeed you styled yourself as the original “Ruthless Bitch” in your early hip hop years, taking the negative power from the term and redefining it as “Being In Total Control of Herself.” This was all happening long before it was deemed acceptable for a woman to do so on record. What do you make of how the term “bitch” has been appropriated and used by some of the newer contemporary female rappers?
“Bitch” like “Witch” is just a word. I think one of the reasons people tend to fear both of these so much is that they bring up certain ideas of women’s power. They are powerful words that can easily evoke a variety of emotions, good and bad, depending on the context in which they are used. When a woman is assertive and outspoken, she is often labelled as a bitch but when a man displays these same attributes and attitudes, he’s seen as a boss.
Back in the day, my calling myself a bitch on record freaked a few people out. I had feminists in the UK defacing the street posters for my album which said “THIS BITCH RAPS” in big bold letters because they were so offended by me referring to myself this way when in actuality, I was taking the negative association which had been put upon the word for women and attempting to re-brand it in a more positive way. Certain men in my camp at that time would have preferred to call me a bitch in a song forcing me to defend myself from their misogynistic attacks on my gender and womanhood in general to prove how tough I was, rather than use it as a moniker to empower myself by myself and eviscerate them in the process.
Let’s be honest, calling yourself a bitch on record isn’t as shocking as it was 20 years ago but I’m sure it still has the ability to make people uncomfortable depending on its frame of reference. I think the main difference between myself and some of the women saying it today is that I wasn’t half naked, twerkin’ in a g-string like a stripper when I said it. I was in a suit, fully clothed and I meant it.
Pop, rock, metal, rap: all music scenes have their negative elements and people who vocally criticise the musicians within them. As a white, female artist who celebrated her 50th birthday this year and is now returning to the world of rap, what are your expectations in terms of how Vintage Curses will be received by the different sides of the music spectrum, in terms of fans, artists and industry?
My age has nothing to do with my ability and I have never felt my art came with an expiration date. I really have no expectations when it comes to how others may or may not react to my new recordings. Some may love it while others hate it, and there will also be those who don’t give a shit either way. Music is universal, subjective and subversive. What one critic thinks sucks another might feel is a work of art. I’m really proud of my new album and excited to share it with lovers and haters alike. I made this record for myself first and foremost. It was a long time coming. I don’t regret a moment and I certainly don’t plan on apologising for it or defending it to those who dislike it. The internet is filled with opinions and people who love to rip you apart anonymously and openly. It’s the chance you have to take as an artist when you put yourself out there. Not everyone is going to get it or me but hopefully a few will dig it.
What do you make of the likes of Iggy Azalea, Kraeyshawn and Brooke Candy et. al. who are currently making names for themselves in the mainstream as white female rappers? Are you familiar with their music and do you think they are aware of you and the doors you opened for women in rap?
I’m sure they are as aware of me as I am of them but I don’t listen to their music. Not really my taste.
Critics of your work over the years often like to dig up your very early days as part of dance act Bardeux to raise questions of authenticity and your crossing between genres. How do you feel about that period in your life looking back on it from your current perspective and what do you say to those critics?
There will always be critics, but there are many more artists in both hip hop and rock to question the legitimacy or intentions of before me. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done in my past. In 1987 I recorded a dance song that made it to #10 on Billboard’s “Hot Dance Singles Chart” and I performed the song live a few times. Bardeux was fun for a minute. Then it wasn’t so I moved on. I quit the group to pursue a different path. My own path. I wanted to rap and wasn’t really feeling the vibe of that type of music or situation. It just wasn’t me. We’ve all had to start somewhere but it’s what you’ve done by the end of your career that matters the most.
Throughout all my projects I am the driving force and the visionary. I start them and I finish them on my terms. My passion is the common thread and I have always remained true to myself. I don’t restrict my creativity with guidelines or labels that other people feel the need to try and put on me in order to define me. Those who know me know that I am a fan of many different styles and genres of music from heavy stoner doom, to low rider oldies to classic seventies rock & disco, gangster rap and g-funk. I love Nick Cave but I also dig Mickey Avalon. These two artists couldn’t be more different and that’s the beauty of music. At this point in my career, I don’t feel the need to validate my authenticity based on a group I was a part of for 15 minutes over 20 years ago. My body of work speaks for itself. Authenticity is knowing who you are, and I do.
It’s now 20 years since Eazy E passed away and there is a new NWA biopic coming out in August. If Eazy were alive today, what do you think he would make of the new album and do you plan on seeing the movie?
I think Eazy would love it and yes, I plan to see the film. It comes out the same day I am releasing my new album. I’m looking forward to it.
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