Shootin' it with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy

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Murph, murph, murph, murph, murph. Yeah, me and the infamously curmudgeonly James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem are tight li’ dat. No, actually I joke – we’ve only been in touch twice, including the time I corresponded with him on the Rapture in 2003, but I do confess, that the man is a bundle o’ fun - if you like your artist-producer-label-honcho types witty, down-to-earth, relatively unpretentious and workman, and nimble with the gray matter. For the first snatch of this interview, see Sonic Reducer; for the rest, keep on keepin’ on.

Bay Guardian: So what’s this about a Fabriclive mix CD with your drummer Pat?

James Murphy: Yeah, we’ve been DJing together in the last year and in New York together a bunch, but it’s really fun on tour when we have a night off or at an afterparty or something. I don’t do anything before my show - just sit back stage and wonder if I’m going to remember the lyrics.

BG: No group hugs or prayers?

JM: No, we don’t any of that stuff. I think the more befuddled and unprepared we are the better the show, often. It’s just such a weird situation that if you overthink it beforehand you’re just like, ah, “I’ll just check out…”

BG: You’ve only been performing live since…

JM: 2002. I was a drummer for years. When I was a kid I was the singer-guitar player in bands - I was that kid. Then when I moved to New York when I was 19, I started recording people and doing live sound for bands. I designed sound systems, I built studios, I worked in my own studio and designed studios for other people, and when we started DFA, I wasn’t going to be an artist at all.

BG: So what is going on with DFA?

JM: Oh! We just bought EMI. No. I flipped it. No, we’re putting out a bunch of new stuff. This is kind of the most prolific year, if we can distribution to work as fast as we can. That’s always the problem, because we work really fast. Everything else, the industry, works glacially. So we’ll see. So this year, we just put out a Hercules and Love Affair 12-inch. There’s Holy Ghost! - which is two of our friends - we just work with a lot of friends, basically - two guys who play with the Juan MacLean; the new Juan MacLean 12, the new Shit Robot 12, Shocking Pinks from New Zealand, Hockey Night from Michigan. Am I forgetting anything? I don’t think so.

The problem we have is, in the UK, manufacturing and distribution is fast - you can say, “I want to put out a 12-inch,” and then five or six weeks later, it’s out. In the US, it takes three months to gear up, because it’s such a bigger market. So its frustrating because we’ll want to put something out and it’ll come out in the UK and a month and a half later in the US. I’m trying to find a way to make that work faster.

BG: Do you find that your attention is torn between DFA and LCD?

JM: Not really, because LCD takes up so much of my attention that it’s not really a fair fight, which is very frustrating because I miss DFA a lot. I’m not here to do a lot of the…I’m a good logistical person and I’m stuck being, like, a creative goofball, listening to demos rather than on deals and stuff that I like doing.

BG: Still shocked that LCD has taken off as it has?

JM: Well, I don’t really experience it. No, actually I’m always experiencing, like, “We got a broken piece of gear!” But, um, I’m not awash in the surprise of it. It all seems about the same to me as it’s been for the past couple years. The big change was 2002, 2003, but since then it’s been, like, whatever! Where we went from putting out a 12-inch and nobody absolutely giving a shit, to somebody wanting us to go play a festival, that was a big change. Zero to 600 people is a big deal - 600 to 2,000 is not. If that makes any sense.

BG: The huge stages don’t daunt you?

JM: Not at all. We tend to play last at main stages at festivals. We play after whoever the headliner is, often - Bjork plays and then we play.

BG: Bjork warms them up for you.

JM: That’s what we always say, “Man, she did a really good job opening - we should take her out next time we go out on tour.”

BG: LCD has a bunch of releases coming out?

JM: There’s a bunch of crap coming out. I mean, I did this Nike thing, 45:33, earlier in the year, and it never saw the proper release on vinyl or CD – it was just a download thing, which infuriates me because MP3s sound like shit! So we’re putting it out for real, and I got almost everything remixed, so there’s a compilation of a bunch of music, which is called A Bunch of Stuff EP.

BG: You’re a vinyl fan?

JM: Well, I mean, yes - I don’t think of it as being a fan. I don’t think about it a lot. I have records, and I buy records, y’know. It’s not like a stand – it’s what I’m used to. I don’t feel like I own something unless I own the vinyl.

BG: Have you been recording the next LCD studio album?

JM: No, I’m on tour! I’ve been on tour for months - I go away for five weeks and come home for a week. And then that week, I gotta do a 12-inch for Shit Robot or a 12-inch for the Juan MacLean - I got work to do. I don’t work on tour. I don’t work on a laptop - I need a break. That’s what I do when I get home - quickly do some stuff that’s been piled up for me. This week, I’m doing a remix for Arcade Fire.

BG: Any vague ideas of what the next album is going to sound like?

JM: It’s difficult to say, but at the moment, I feel like I want to make something smaller - maybe more electronic. I don’t know. I have to see what I’m in the mood to do. I wanna do something different, for sure.

BG: What is the “sound of silver” by the way? [My computer boots up with a symphonic clang]

JM: That - you just made it, kind of! Well, talking about the first record, I said I thought it was too beige and I felt like I had left the woody, natural sounds alone too much and I was being too precious about them. So when I made this record, I was thinking a lot about Bowie, Hawkwind, Chrome, and Suicide, and things that were just a little bit more remorseless about sound. I made the studio similar - covered it in tin foil and silver lame so I was working in a space ship. I was just trying to make it more silvery.

BG: Heard anything good while out there Djing or on tour?

JM: Hmm, well, I don’t really pay attention to stuff pretty much when I’m on tour. I have a little tunnel vision - and we got croquet to play. I kinda tune out. I don’t listen to the radio and I don’t watch MTV, and when we go to festivals, I don’t really go watch bands very much. I usually find out about bands like years later. Like, this year, I saw the Gossip, and it was like, “Wow, these guys are awesome,” like everybody else in the world.

BG: Incidentally, who’s on the Fabric CD?

JM: Mostly old disco. Of the new stuff, there’s Baby Oliver, which is a record on Environ, which is Morgan Geist’s label and Morgan’s an old friend. Mudd, which is on Rong Records, on Jason’s label, which is another friend. [Laughs] Um, Still Going, which is my friends Eric and Oliver, who are on DFA. City of Women is the only new thing that’s not by a friend. Babytalk is new but that’s Eric - he works for me at DFA. Yeah, everything else is old. Danny Wang, but that’s an older track.

BG: Well, what about your favorite Smiths song?

JM: Aaah, it really depends. I go through a lot of them. At the moment, I dunno, maybe “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out.” But… it’s really difficult to say.

BG: Any recent encounters with “North American Scum”?

JM: Always. Every morning! Just looking in the mirror, getting up to brush the old teeth.

BG: You do have a knack for producing manifestos for our era…

JM: Uh oh.

BG: Do you feel like there’s a lack of slogans out there?

JM: I feel like a superior rock aphorist. It’s my duty. I don’t mean to - I just think that stuff is really funny. I think jingoism is really funny - that’s just the kind of thing that gives me a giggle!

[When the last CD came out,] Dream Girls sold 60,000 and was number one. I got really excited because that was slightly less of everything we sold in the states, total. It seemed like a sheer numbers game.

BG: What did you think of Dream Girls anyway?

JM: I haven’t seen it on a plane yet. It doesn’t draw me in. It’s about aspiring, the American dream, and the trials and tribulations along the way. I can’t watch that stuff. Hokey aspirant Orah movies. I’ll watch most anything, but yeah, I just can’t watch hokey aspirant Oprah movies.

When I’m on the airplane I’ll watch anything, so I saw that thing, The Astronaut Farmer. Billy Bob Thornton builds a rocket. That movie made me want to kill myself. That movie made me want to take over the cabin and crash the plane into the ground. The worst thing I’ve ever seen. Stuff like that is a bummer.

But I watched Surf’s Up, which is an animated feature about a penguin who’s a surfer, and I was fucking completely content. No problems with Surfs Up - because it’s a stupid cartoon so it’s always going to better than you think, rather than some sort of Hallmark stuff that makes me want to jump into the river. Or inspires me to jump off a building with my hands tied around my back, head first. I’m not into it. [Laughs] That movie really, really brought me down.

Domino - ever saw Domino? That’s one of the worst movies on the planet! It’s Keira Knightley posing a bunch of times. I was watching that with my wife, and she just started punching me in the arm. She said, “Dude, if you were watching what I was watching, you’d need to punch somebody too.”

BG: Watch the VMAs?

JM: No, the only things I watch on TV are fashion and fighting. My wife and I watch The Fashionista Diaries, which is amazing. It’s incredible. Its about startup assistant interns who work at fashion companies. And we watch America’s Next Top Model when it’s on and Project Runway when it’s on, and then we watch Ultimate Fighting. There’s no middle ground.

BG: Anything else I gotta know?

JM: We’ll never tour again - this is your last chance!

Actually this is an exciting tour for us - and I don’t get excited often. I’m just excited to go on tour with Arcade Fire – I’m excited to go on tour with a band I like. And I’m excited to not have all the pressure on our shoulders. We’re the warm-up crew. We set up on a separate stage with a tiny PA and one lamp, and they come riding out on white stallions with beauty lights above them - and we’re all underlit awkwardly.

BG: On a completely different note, what would you want your legacy with LCD to be?

JM: I don’t want to totally embarrass myself. “He didn’t totally embarrass himself” – I’d like that on my gravestone.