Murphy was brought up in Arklow, County Wicklow, Ireland. When she was twelve, her family moved to Manchester, England, UK. Murphy embraced 1960s fashions from going with her mother, an antique dealer, to car boot sales and charity shops. She concealed her singing voice, not wanting other people to know she "sounded like Elaine Paige" when she herself enjoyed listening to the likes of Sonic Youth and Pixies instead.
After three years of living in Manchester, her parents divorced and moved back to Ireland. Murphy insisted on remaining alone in the UK because she did not think that her mother had the strength to continue taking care of her. Murphy lived with her best friend for a year, until she could receive Housing Benefit and live in a nearby flat. She was bullied at school and befriended a group of "weird boys who wore black" and who listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Murphy joined a post-punk band that split after a handful of performances. She enrolled in a sixth form college at seventeen and later considered going to art school. She moved to Sheffield where she began going to nightclubs and was inspired by the Vivienne Westwood designs she saw at Trash.
Murphy met Mark Brydon in 1994 at a party, using the chat-up line "Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body." Brydon brought Murphy to his Fon Studios, where he auditioned her voice on tape, and liked Murphy's theatrical delivery. They began dating, and the newly formed Moloko were signed to Echo Records, releasing their debut album Do You Like My Tight Sweater? the following year. The album was described by Heather Phares of AllMusic as combining elements of trip hop and funk with electronic dance music, using a more humorous approach than some of their contemporaries. The follow-up I Am Not a Doctor covered similar musical ground, and a remix by Boris Dlugosch of "Sing It Back" enjoyed international success, and would go on to be featured on more than 110 compilation albums. In place of paying Dlugosch, Murphy helped write "Never Enough", which reached number sixteen on the UK Singles Chart in June 2001.
October 2000 saw the release of Moloko's third album Things to Make and Do, for which they employed more live instrumentation, and more multifaceted arrangements by keyboardist Eddie Stevens. The album reached number three on the UK Albums Chart, and "The Time Is Now" became their most successful British single, reaching number two. Murphy and Brydon broke up but were contractually obligated to deliver further albums. After the 2003 release of Statues, Brydon backed out of much of the album's promotion, so Murphy handled most of it herself. Although no official statement was issued pertaining to Moloko's future, Murphy had this to say in an interview with Q magazine in May 2005 (which was reiterated in the review of Ruby Blue in July 2005):
We left it on good terms after a very successful tour. We shook hands, said, "See you later", and haven't spoken since. I don't know what Mark thinks of this record or what he's doing. I don't know if we will or we won't reunite. Myself, I don't not want to.
Murphy began doing solo work while still in Moloko, which included her contributions to the works of other artists including Handsome Boy Modeling School and Boris Dlugosch, for whom she sang on the track "Never Enough", which became a huge club hit, hitting the top three of the US Hot Dance Club Play chart.
Murphy recorded her first official solo material in 2004 with producer Matthew Herbert, who had previously done remixes for Moloko. She had wanted to work with him again, commenting that "it felt very natural... because Matthew makes things seem quicker and easier." After the pair had recorded a few songs, Murphy found that she enjoyed working with Herbert, and her label Echo Records let her work freely without any deadline. When she presented them the album, they found it odd and did not hear any songs that would make successful singles. The A&R division suggested that Murphy make some changes to make it more radio-friendly. Murphy refused, stating that she "wanted it to be as pure as possible." The label later came to support her.
Murphy released her debut album Ruby Blue in June 2005. Prior to this, tracks from the album were made available on three limited edition, vinyl-only releases: Sequins #1, Sequins #2 and Sequins #3. The release of the EP's was to precede a London exhibition by artist Simon Henwood, featuring paintings of Murphy in various sequined outfits (some of Henwood's paintings are used as cover images for the record jackets). The titling is also a pun on "sequins" and the related word "sequence". Henwood also directed the two video clips for the album's singles ("If We're in Love" and "Sow into You").
Ruby Blue samples sounds made by everyday objects and actions, including cosmetics, brass mice, dancing and ornaments. It mixes the electronic music for which Moloko was known with jazz and pop styles. Although the album was a commercial failure, it drew mainly positive reviews; Pitchfork Media called it "perfect, the ultimate combination of human warmth and technological know-how."
In May 2006, Murphy announced on her website forum that she had signed with EMI and was working on new material. The first single, "Overpowered", was released on 2 July 2007. "Overpowered" was written by Murphy and Paul Dolby (Seiji) of Bugz in the Attic and mixed by Tom Elmhirst (Amy Winehouse, Röyksopp, Grace Jones). The single is accompanied by a series of remixes from the likes of Seamus Haji, Kris Menace, Hervé and Loose Cannons. The second single "Let Me Know" (a collaboration with Andy Cato), was released in September and the album, named Overpowered, was released soon after.
In September 2007, Murphy received a pre-nomination for the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Inter Act, but did not make it to the final list. She performed "Let Me Know" on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on 5 October 2007.
Murphy sustained an eye injury on 27 October 2007, while on tour in Russia to promote Overpowered. She was forced to cancel several subsequent dates on the tour.
Despite well-known troubles at EMI, Murphy said in an interview in August 2008 that she was working on her third studio solo album. She said she was working with the producer from Overpowered, Seiji, to give the third album the "sleepy, synthesized vibe" that Overpowered has. In 2008 she recorded a cover of the Bryan Ferry song "Slave to Love" that featured in a campaign for Gucci, and released on the promo-only "Movie Star" single.
On 17 July 2009 BBC 6 Music revealed Murphy would release a new single, "Demon Lover", by the end of the summer. The singer describes the song as "a big funky house track. It's a souped-up full on garage tune". About her third album she says: "It is quite gritty, it has a slightly London sound to it, it's a bit more urban and bass-ey than Overpowered". On the same day, a Murphy news blog also revealed that she was pregnant with her first child.
Murphy previewed material at the SEone club in London, performing "Momma's Place" and "Hold up Your Hands". She also said on her official forum that she has written some new songs including "Leviathan (Do It Yourself)", among others, with producer Apollo Andel. On 2 November, she premiered the single "Orally Fixated" on her Myspace page. The song was released 16 November. The Guardian offered a free download of the song for 48 hours beginning on 12 November.
In a January 2010 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Murphy said, "First of all, I haven't recorded a new album as such. I've recorded a lot of songs, but I haven't planned beyond just putting the songs out there and letting them have their own life, and see how the music lives on its own, without videos, without a big promotion. It's more just about getting songs out there and letting them have their own life."
On 8 March 2010, production duo Crookers released their new album Tons of Friends which features Murphy on the tracks "Royal T" and "Hold Up Your Hand".
On 6 April 2010 David Byrne and Fatboy Slim released their project Here Lies Love, which features Murphy on the track "Don't You Agree?".
Murphy has collaborated with Dutch DJ Mason on the track "Boadicea". It was released in the UK and the US as a single on 21 March 2011. She collaborated with Tony Christie on "7 Hills" (released in December 2010) and with The Feeling on "Dance for the Lights" (released in June 2011). Also in 2011 she revealed to XOXO magazine that she has been working on new music and is ready to release an album sometime in the near future. She also added that her new music is coming from "a deeper place" than her last album Overpowered. A collaboration with a "well-respected producer from Northern England" titled "Simulation" surfaced online in December 2011. Murphy released "Golden Era" with David Morales in May 2012, "Simulation" in August 2012, "Flash of Light" with Luca C & Brigante in October 2012, "Look Around You" with Boris Dlugosch in April 2013, "Alternate State" with Hot Natured in August 2013, "Leviathan" with Freeform Five in February 2014, "Invisions" with Luca C & Brigante in December 2014, "Jealousy" 2 versions : House Mix and Disco Mix in May 2015, "In My Garden" with Invisible Cities in November 2015, "Discomfort of Strangers" (B-side Whatever) in September 2016 and "Narcissus"(Original song is 11 minutes long only available on the Lives Through Magic cassette) in March 2017.
In 2014, it was revealed in an interview with Irish radio presenter and music producer Rory Hall aka Proper Micro NV that she was set to release a new project:
"I have been incredibly productive as late. I've got a finished product, which is called Mi Senti, it's an Italian language project where I'm singing Italian. That'll come out in May. I'm working on an album – a Róisín Murphy album, which is going really well. I've got a single coming out on Eskimo Records soon, called 'Leviathan,' which is a collaboration with Freeform Five. I'm doing another house music EP. So, yes. I've been lazy for a long time. I have two children. But it's all starting to converge at one time."
In May 2014, Murphy released a six-track EP in the Italian language titled Mi Senti, featuring previous Italian pop hits. The EP was released in Ireland on 24 May before its wider release on 28 May in Italy.
On 16 February 2015, she revealed on her SoundCloud page the first track from her third studio album, titled Hairless Toys, her first in eight years. The album was released in May to positive reviews. Of the record, Murphy wrote:
"There was a desire to make an unquestionably refined record. It’s multi layered, electronic and live instrumentation, musically it goes to places most pop music never does. It’s emotionally bare and laced with irony. I definitely didn’t set out to make something unique per-se but [...] it really is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. So it’s impossible to describe except to say..it’s heartfelt."
On March 1, 2016, it was announced via her Facebook page that the mastering for a new album was finished in a studio suite in Amsterdam. The album, titled Take Her Up to Monto, was released on 8 July 2016. It was recorded during the same sessions as Murphy's 2015 album Hairless Toys, and included long-time collaborator and producer Eddie Stevens. The title is derived from an Irish folk song of the same name, popularised by The Dubliners in the 1960s, which Murphy's father sang to her as a child. It was followed by a number of European festival dates and a number of North American shows.
Electronic Beats described Murphy as "this adolescent century’s true art-pop queen," writing that "her sensuous and ominous output is scattered across various genres and moods." AllMusic described her as "a purveyor of adventurous, omnivorous pop that blended influences as far-flung as disco and hot jazz." Australian publication OutInPerth called her "Ireland's queen of the avant-garde." Drowned in Sound's Giuseppe Zevolli wrote that "she’s merged pop, house, and disco with an avant-garde sensibility and a stunning, shape-shifting visual output that never ceases to provoke." Critic Mark Fisher located her music in a glam lineage that includes Roxy Music, Grace Jones, and the New Romantics, noting Murphy's attention to the cultivation of artifice and persona.
The sound of Moloko's early work drew on electronic and trip hop influences before transitioning to a more organic sound. Her diverse solo work has included collaborations with experimental jazz composer Matthew Herbert and electronic producer Eddie Stevens, drawing variously on house music, ballroom culture, and avant-garde electronica. Murphy has a contralto vocal range, which has been described as jazzy and spans 3 octaves and 1 note, from G2 to B♭5. Heather Phares described it as "combin[ining] a wild variety of voices and textures, from impassively chilly to gorgeously lilting to gleefully offbeat." As major influences Murphy has cited Sonic Youth (especially Kim Gordon), the Pixies, Talking Heads and Grace Jones.
Murphy has drawn considerable attention and praise for her eccentric and imaginative fashion style. Electronic Beats noted "her reputation for sporting avant-garde couture into a place among fashion’s elite."
Murphy had a relationship with fellow Moloko band member Mark Brydon. She has a child with artist Simon Henwood, Clodagh, born on 15 December 2009. Murphy is currently in a relationship with Sebastiano Properzi, with whom she had her second child, Tadhg, born in September 2012.
She lives in north London.Ruby Blue (2005)
Hairless Toys (2015)
Take Her Up to Monto (2016)