James Murphy: Schlub, schlenuek and all-around musical genius
Wed 30th Dec, 2009 Featuresin
James Murphy is a schlub. He is also the founder of DFA Records and, most notably, the man behind the highly-praised LCD Soundsystem, a musical project Murphy created in the early naughties that has since gone on to win friends and awards across the globe. His first album, self-titled LCD Soundsystem, gained the former punk-rocker a 2005 Grammy nomination for ‘Best Electronic/Dance Album’, as did his second critically acclaimed album Sound of Silver in 2007.
That was 2 years ago; a long wait for fans and music media who are itching to see what LCD Soundsystem will do next. Will it be another concept album? Which of life’s ironies will Murphy highlight this time? Will it be a ‘dance’ album, or will Murphy rebel against the genre that made his success? Can it be better than Sound of Silver? Better not ask Murphy that last one – he might throw up. In an endeavour to get some answers, ITM got the low down from James on the soon to be finished third album, and his upcoming Australian tour.
James, your latest single is a cover of the Alan Vega track Bye Bye Bayou, and is the first LCD Soundsystem release since 2007’s Sound of Silver. What have you been doing for the past 2 years?
Working, touring, DJing, producing the Free Energy LP for DFA, producing singles for DFA, having a bit of a life, reeling from said life, recovering from reeling, drinking, hanging out with friends, losing friends, hanging out with friends more, trying to think, reading, etc etc.
Bye Bye Bayou was released as part of Record Store Day, an event aimed at supporting independent music artists and retailers. Do you think record stores and vinyl will survive alongside digital music?
Some will, but most won’t, frankly. I love record stores, and I don’t like to buy music digitally, really. ‘Files’ to me seem more like convenient lifestyle accessories, which makes sense, clearly, to the vast majority of the planet, but music isn’t really a lifestyle accessory for me – it’s essential, and sounds and feels best on vinyl. So, some vinyl stores will survive – some even on the internet – but mostly it seems it’ll just be sponsored music for a while – and weird stuff; this is interesting.
What happened to the ‘classic rock record’ you were doing with Pat Mahoney?
That was a mistaken report, which was corrected quickly afterwards. It was a misquote about the Free Energy record (a band on DFA) that I was producing. Pat and I were standing in as musicians, along with my favourite old-school outer-space bass player named Kenny Space because the 2 main guys in the band were in, let’s say, transition with band membership. It was just sensible for us to ‘be the band’ in the studio, and that was mistakenly taken as Pat and I had a new rock band.
As for what happened to it, they’re playing shows and getting the record out next year. I love this record, I hope they save it until the summer; it’s a real summer record.
Your highly anticipated third album is due for release in February/March next year. What stage is it at? Any hints on a title?
It’s in the unfinished state, which is all I can really say. It’s not done, but I’m really happy. I just want more time, but that’s just it; one day you die, or your wife leaves you, or your kid moves away, and that’s that, so why should making a record be any different? I always have the worst working title I can think of until I name the record. The first LP was Eclectic Warrior, for which I’d imagined a horrifying T-rex cover, but with a Rasta guy’s silhouette in Jamaican flag colours. The second was Vanity, Thy Name is Sophomore Effort, and this one’s Internet Sensation! The imaginary cover has the band jumping up on a shitty old computer screen while a kid looks on in delighted surprise. I like to work from career- ending titles, then get around to naming the LP something that makes sense to me right at the end.
There are a lot of people hanging out for this album. How do you feel or care about the pressure?
Mostly it makes me want to throw up.
You’ve said that you are pretty bored with the dance music scene of late. Do you desire to change this and if so, are you trying to achieve change with your new album?
Certainly not with the album, no. Albums to me are different; they’re about albums. Dance music is never something I think about when making an LCD LP. I’m just a little bored with how homogeneous the leftfield dance planet seems to have become. Boring and meandering nu-disco or digitally distorted sub-anthems, etc., etc. I’d just like to be surprised by optimism rather than repelled by cynicism and hubris. Bring it, 20-somethings, bring it.
When was the last time you were happy and excited about the dance music scene?
I’ve never been very happy about it – that’s why I made dance music in the first place – but I was pretty excited when I found all these people doing different things all over the world. The internet was weaker and slower, so things grew at weird paces – bursts and trudges…
When asked about which benchmarks and influences help you determine how dynamic the record needs to sound and feel, you said that it is based upon what you think your job in music is ‘right now.’ How do you perceive your job? For example, is it to make your fans happy, or to make you happy, or to change the direction of music?
The answer is yes – or, in short, to make myself happy – but I’m not happy unless I feel like I’ve successfully communicated, which requires the other two, to a greater and lesser degree, respectively.
This year has also seen you produce the score for Noah Baumbach’s new film, Greenburg. For those of us out there who have never written a score for a film, how does the process compare to that of producing an album?
I don’t know. I only know what it’s like to do that with Noah, which is awesome. It’s more like playing a game, and less like facing your angry dad.
In 2004 you told The Guardian that, “I’m basically a schlub,” – would you still describe yourself this way?
Sure. I’m male. We hate change. Let’s stick with schlub. I could go with ‘schlemiel’ as well. Or, ‘nebbish’. Most Yiddish words work. On a good day, I’ve got menschy aspects, too. It’s not all self-hate over here.
You’re coming to Australia early next year to do some DJ shows. Seeing as you’re bored with dance music at the moment, what will you be playing?
Free jazz; of course I’ll be playing dance music! I love dance music. I’m not bored with dance music; I’m bored with the dance music scene such as I experience it. I’ll be doing my wee best with Pat to make people happy and move around rhythmically to music that I think is not lazy or shitty. There’s my formula. Don’t tell anybody. It’s a secret.
Can crowds expect to get a preview of some of your yet-to-be-released material during your trip to Australia?
You’ve said that LCD Soundsystem’s full band will also be touring next year, visiting “as many places as we can”. Will that include Australia?
Of course! I really like it there – you have so many interesting ways to die!
Catch James Murphy on tour with Pat Mahoney over New Years:
Wed 30th Dec – Rhythm & Vines, Gisborne
Thur 31st Dec – Pyramid Rock Festival, Victoria
Fri 1st Jan – Summerdayze, Melbourne
Fri 1st Jan – Field Day, Sydney
Sun 3rd Jan – Summerdayze, Perth
Sat 9th Jan – Summerfielddayze, Gold Coast