One More Song: James Murphy Of LCD Soundsystem Interviewed
, August 27th, 2010 06:26
"We might even make another album," says James Murphy, as The Quietus rejoices. Plus - studio nightmares, death threats and working with Arcade Fire. Murphy image by Maria Jefferis of Shot2Bits
"We've got to bring our results"... "I wanna play it 'til the time comes" ... "But there's a string of divorces"... "You go and throw your little hands up"... 'Dance Yrself Clean' LCD Soundsystem
Much to the dismay of pretty much everyone with a working pair of ears, the time for James Murphy to stop playing under the name LCD Soundsystem seemed as if it would be this year. Long before the release of his third album This Is Happening, he'd announced it would be the final release. He'd offered similar suggestions before, of course, prior to the release of the fantastic Sound Of Silver, but this time his convictions sounded even deeper. "It seems simple to me," he told The Guardian earlier this year. "It just feels like this should be the last one."
Speaking to The Quietus yesterday, though, Murphy dangled the most tantalising of prospects in front of us. "We might even still do another album," he said casually as our heartbeats quickened. "We're not ruling anything out."
He also discussed the state of DFA Records, turning down the chance to write for Seinfeld, and receiving death threats from angry Miles Davis fans...
So I guess we're coming to the end of LCD Soundsystem...
James Murphy: It's coming to the end of a bit of it, yeah.
Do you feel a sense of relief or regret about that?
JM: Well, I don't feel anything yet because I still have a year of tour left, so I'm in the middle of it. And there'd be no reason for me to ever feel regret, because if I regretted it and wanted to start the band up again, I'd just start the band up. I mean, I'm not signing contracts. I don't owe anybody anything. But for me, it's not the end of the band, it's the end of the band being a professional entity - like a professional rock band that makes albums and videos and tours and all that stuff. We'll still make some music, but playing together is such a Herculean thing because everyone lives in different parts of the world and has lives. But we'll still be making LCD Soundsystem music and stuff; we just need to go back and have it be a part of our lives rather than our whole lives.
So you'll still release things as LCD?
JM: Yeah sure, we'll do some 12"s and things like that. I just need to get away from it being a big thing.
Has being on tour and doing This Is Happening made you rethink your decision, or just cemented what you were saying - that it's become such a big thing you want a break from it?
JM: It's not something I want a break from - it's something I love. The problem is… when it started, I was producing and running a label, doing remixes and Djing and running events. But the band takes up so much time, I've not been able to spend any focused time on DFA records; I haven't done a remix in two years; I've had to turn down production jobs with bands I'd really love to have worked with, both on DFA and not on DFA; I haven't done a regularly party in New York in a long time. It's kind of crippled me from being able to do a bunch of the other things I love to do. I've done this [LCD] at the exclusion of other things for a long time, so it's time for me to put it in a smaller jar so I can get back to doing some of the other things I'm supposed to. It's not a hugely dramatic thing, you know?
Do you ever regret taking such a prominent or starring role in the band?
JM: Not really, because it wouldn't work otherwise. I make most of the records myself - when it started off, it was just me. The first three releases there was no band. It was only when we decided we were going to play live I needed my friends to come play with me. And when we play live, I think we are a band. There's a bunch of different things the band is to me.
What kind of things?
JM: Well, going in and making a record needs to be my problem. I've been in bands before which are like pretend democracies, when in fact it's not a democracy and someone's in charge, and they use passive-aggression to control it. I see what I do in the band as my responsibility - not like I'm important, but no-one else wants to spend three months making a record and then five months chasing down the details. That's just what I do. We're people in a village working, and I guess I'm the cobbler or something making the shoe record. It just feels very natural in that way.
I guess I meant did you regret taking a role that's largely in the limelight, because you've often said you're uncomfortable in that frontman position.
JM: Good God, if you think I'm uncomfortable try asking the rest of the people in the band! It's what I have to do - it's my responsibility. Nobody else will do it. Like holy shit, just asking those guys to do an interview… they just hate it. It's a total bummer for them.
One of the reasons I asked is because my editor told me the original concept of LCD was to be a live touring band with a revolving cast of famous singers…
JM: I have never in my life considered doing anything remotely like that.
Really? [That's right, blame me Hewitt, Ed]
JM: I would shoot myself before doing something like that. That sounds terrible. A revolving cast of famous singers? That's like what trip-hop producers do.
I don't know where that information came from then.
Have you given any thought as to what you'll do next?
JM: Yes and no. On the one hand I've still got a year to go and if I get too far ahead of myself I get very depressed. It sounds silly or like I'm being wilfully difficult, but really what I'm looking forward to the most is not having a devesating schedule - being able to come up with an idea and pursue it rather than put it in a notebook and not look at that notebook for four years, or ever again, which is kind of where I'm at now. Like, LCD started with me saying 'I've got an idea' and then just doing it.
I'm lucky I've been able to get time to make records and make them the way I want to without having to compromise. But I like doing other things. One day I'm going to be dead and the variety of things I've done will make me feel better, I'm hoping.
The hilarity of this is I might spend a lot of time on things that could be, or would be, called LCD once I have a break, but it would just not be doing the whole check list. I have a huge check list every time I want to breathe. 'I want to put a record out. OK, well we gotta go to the studio, check; make album, check; finish album, check; get remixes, check; get artwork, check'. By the time I've done everything I'm supposed to that's pre-determined by the checklist, I have no energy or time to do other things.
So it would be nice for someone else to pick up the slack for a bit?
JM: No, I don't want someone else to pick up the slack. That's the problem. I think bands have too much done for them and it makes them packaged and very boring. What I'd rather do is not do any of that shit, and just do the other things I'm not able to do anymore. So instead of making videos I could make a little movie that I make music to, and that will just be the LCD thing, rather than being an ancillary promotional item. Why don't I get down to doing just the creative things I want to do?
I start complaining about all the things I have to do, and I'm like, I'm complaining about being in my dream band. I have the power, and authority, and right, to change it if I don't want to do it the way I'm doing it. And I have to wrestle with that. I do feel like I made commitments and agreements to DFA and EMI to make a record, and there's understandings that I entered into that mean I'm going to finish the album and go on tour. I'm not even against those things. But I'm going to go back to just being impulsive, and doing what I like.
With This Is Happening, did you feel a lot of pressure in writing a follow-up to _Sound Of Silver?
JM: Oh, of course - but then, I always find it difficult. I found it difficult to write a follow up to 'Losing My Edge'. I've been blessed/cursed in going from a total fucking loser who never had anybody really like anything much of what he did to making a 12" that got a lot of attention for me. It still wasn't a big record, but in my mind it changed my life around a lot. And after that, people said 'This is a bunch of really smart lyrics, what's the next one going to be about'? So I made a song called 'Yeah' which had the dumbest lyrics I could come up - with just to get over the fear of it [following up 'Losing My Edge'], quite frankly. If you look at the 12" of 'Yeah', it says etched in the run-out groove: “Not as good as 'Losing My Edge'". So, as far as I'm concerned, 12" single number two was much harder than This Is Happening.
Obviously in the bigger picture it was a bigger deal to follow up Sound Of Silver, but in my mind [following up 'Losing My Edge'] was already the hump, you know?
Well, it's probably easier to make your third album because you have a track record behind you; following up your debut single, you don't know if that Midas touch will strike again.
JM: That's true. I had a much harder time making Sound Of Silver than I did This Is Happening. The first album I had a bunch of songs that we were already playing live so to put them together wasn't that much of a big deal. It was pretty easy. When I went to make Sound Of Silver I had nothing. I got in the studio and I was just lying under the piano for three days with a coat over my head, insisting that nobody talked to me. I was so bummed out. I was like, 'Why am I doing this? I hate this. Why would I ever choose to do this?'
By the time this record came, I had some tough times. It's natural, I think - making things depressing. It pushes open any insecurities you've got and makes them scream at you. But I know if I just calm down and get back to work, and have a mechanical message to get me through the tough times, I'll get back on track and it'll be OK. So I do feel better now.
I guess 'Losing My Edge' is a song about perception, and your standing with other people. Is that something you've become less concerned about as LCD has gone on?
JM: ]Pause] Yes and no. 'Losing My Edge' isn't really about how people perceive me, but about not being perceived at all - I mean, nobody cares about me [laughs]. I'd love to say I don't care. It would make me seem really, really cool. Although of course, by saying I'm not caring that it would be me making an effort to be seen that way, so that would be self-ironic. Is that a contradiction? An oxymoron? But of course I care, I just don't know how to care the way I used to because I've kind of destroyed my ability to believe in a lot of that stuff. I can't really care the way I did when I was young I guess, if that makes any sense.
I wanted to talk to you about DFA if that's OK?
OK, it seemed…
JM: Absolutely not.
JM: [Laughs] I'm kidding.
Ah, good! It seemed as if the set up DFA worked really well, with Tim Goldsworthy the sort of boffin-in-the-back and you as more of the public face. So what was the story behind Tim's departure?
JM: Well, as far as I'm concerned I can only go on what Tim told me, which is that he has kids and he's living in New York, and I think the idea of them growing up as Americans when he was English was kind of freaking him out. He was missing home. And because I'd been touring so much, our ability to work together had almost vanished. I was never home. He built a studio in his house because he wasn't working with me - I was on tour - so he'd rather be home working when he's around his kids. It seemed like we weren't using the studio, we weren't working together - we were just as likely to work together in England as we are in New York. I mean, I just left in April and I'm not going to be back until September next year. We hadn't been working together for a while; I think the last remixes we'd done we did separately, because we just didn't have enough time. It wasn't a big crazy deal. When things like that get rumour-milled, we never really care that much [laughs].
You said the idea of the touring disco made you want to shoot yourself, but is there anyone you would like to work with right now?
JM: I'd love to… I sat with Arcade Fire before around the time of Neon Bible and talked about making that record with them, but then I had to make Sound Of Silver at the same time. And then we got on the phone to talk about making The Suburbs together, or at least some of it, but of course I was making This Is Happening. I would love to do something with them. I like them as people and I think they're a band that still has their best record in them. I think The Suburbs proved that. I think it's great, I'm really proud of them.
I had an opportunity to work with John Cale and I couldn't, I had an opportunity to work with Devo and I couldn't. There's a lot of things I'd like to do really. And work more on the DFA stuff - that's really the main thing.
I never knew you were approached to be a writer for Seinfeld in 1992. Why did you turn that down?
JM: I took my first trip to visit my friend in LA. He was getting married and his fiancée was away so he asked me to go and hang out with him so he didn't freak out, which I think is a normal thing when you're about to get married. So I went and stayed with him in LA, and we went to see his Aunt - although she wasn't his Aunt, she was actually his agent when he was an actor as a kid and his sister was still an actor so she was her agent. Anyway, she was complaining about this television show she had where the main actor and the producer were the only two writers and they both lived to New York, and they had to move to LA, but were concerned about having a writer who still lived in New York because it was such a big part of the show.
My friend said 'Well, James is a writer', and I gave them writing samples and stuff. I'd never done any screenwriting but apparently they liked the stories and thought they were funny, and wanted me to write test scripts. I didn't do it, so they sent me another package of scripts saying, you know, 'We're just checking in… 35, 40 grand if we use a script'. But I was playing guitar, and going to school, and smoking pot, and doing dumb shit, so I never did it. I thought it was actually The Gary Shandling Show. If I'd got hired I would have been the first staff writer - it would have been Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and me. I didn't realise it was Seinfeld until 2001, when I went through my papers and that it wasn't The Gary Shandling Show but it was, in fact, he most popular show on television.
Now I have an image in my head of Curb Your Enthusiasm being based around you.
JM: [Laughs]. Ha ha! No! But I do think I made the right decision by not doing it. Well, not decision, but I'm glad I didn't do it.
We're doing a feature on Miles Davis. What's your favourite album of his?
JM: Oh! So you don't know my Miles Davis history? When Miles Davis died, Rolling Stone put out a big article looking back at his work, and I kept dodging them - I told them, 'I don't like Miles Davis. I don't think you want to ask me questions'. And the guy was like, 'No, I think we should. That's even better'. So I said if it's going to be smooth I'd rather listen to Chet Baker, if it's going to be funky I'd rather listen to Sly Stone. He does a bunch of things all of which I think are done better by somebody else. They printed it, and people wanted me dead.
Did you get hate mail?
JM: I got a LOT of hate mail. People were literally like, "You fucking insignificant piss ant. You nobody. You fuckwit. You absolutely talentless hack. You're talking about a God here." I don't know, I'm not trying to say I'm better. That's just my opinion on Miles Davis.
Final question. You said you may still do music with LCD…
JM: Yeah, I'll still do music. We might even make an album. I'm just getting off of the professional album making train.
But you might still make an album as LCD?
JM: Yeah. I'm not counting anything out other than touring professionalism.