James Murphy's Pitchfork appearance may be his last.
Led by music’s own wise old man of the hills, James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem defined the hipster agenda of the aughts. Now the punk-funk pioneer is bowing out after touring its third album, This Is Happening. From Bowie-esque glam stomp to heartbreaking electro-ballads, the new-wave disco workout is LCD’s most ambitious outing yet. However, it’s also the last possible opportunity for a critical backlash against the band. (Or not—we were among the few critics to bash the new album.) That’s okay, Murphy gives it as good as he takes it. Which we learn when we catch up with the gregarious mastermind, possibly—sniff!—for the last time.
The new album is a real progression. It sounds much more lush and epic, certainly a lot more funk than punk.
I always set out to make music as an example of something I think is missing in music. There’s almost an argument with how contemporary music is made. But I felt like, a lot of the things I wanted to do, I did them. So what’s left? Well, I’ve always tried to risk embarrassment or humiliation, and the thing that’s always been beyond the pale to a certain degree has been letting myself be a little more generous with melody, and a little more inviting with production. These are things that I don’t do, because I’ve always tried to be very spartan.
It’s quite rare to hear a musician admitting he thinks about the writing process so consciously.
I think one of the reasons we’ve possibly done well with critics is I approach music largely from a critical point of view. Instead of writing an op-ed piece, I have a band that’s an op-ed piece. There’s always an element of: This is what I think a band should be. Rather than: This is my vision. I don’t fuckin’ have a vision. I’m a trench fighter, you know what I mean?
So what are you aiming your mortar at this time?
I thought, I’ve been so obsessed with erasing the fake emotive nature of the rock I see around me—what we used to joke was called I Feel You Feel music, which is where you just say something vague but with a ton of intensity, so that a big room full of people can just feel like you and they are in sync, and it’s utter garbage.
There must be some emotional music you like.
I like stuff from my childhood, either early OMD or Bronski Beat or the Smiths, which was the kind of music you loved in your room, but the minute someone else walked in who didn’t like that kind of music, you suddenly realized how fey and absurd it was. You’re like, This is so great! Oh, my brother’s here—this is the faggiest music I’ve ever heard.
“I Can Change” is along those lines.
I kicked everyone out so I could do the vocals. I started pushing it and I kept getting very self-conscious about them. When I finished I was deeply terrified. I had Pat [Mahoney], the drummer, come over and I told him, “I’m gonna leave the room. Play this and tell me if I’ve lost my mind.” I came back and he gave me a hug.
But it’s made by people who genuinely didn’t care if people thought they were being pretentious.
I was arguing this, as there are people who have no pretension and they don’t read. I read these serious books and I was a pretentious fuck and I wanted to be walking about with Gravity’s Rainbow. But I’ve since read Gravity’s Rainbow seven times out of enjoyment. Once you stop using it as an amulet to show how cool you are, some of that stuff is great. But why would you suffer though it unless you’re a little bit pretentious?
You don’t seem to mince words.
I’m surprised at how many people put a little asterisk in words like fuck online. I’m astonished. The man’s in your head that hard? Fucking Jesus. Grown people, some 28-year-old will be like “F--K.” I have nieces and nephews who I know look at my Facebook and I’m still like, ‘Fuck you! Give me drugs.’… I’m an irresponsible uncle. But I’m not running for office. I’m not trying to please parents’ groups. I’d love to be run out of town for that. Fine. I’m done anyway, what do I care?
You don’t seem to view yourself as part of any particular scene or generation.
That’s been a bit of an overarching tone to doing this record. From the very beginning I’ve felt like an anachronism and that I had a weird moment, where hilariously we were young and new, which was deeply disconcerting, since record one was about being old and out of the loop. Ha! I was 32 years old and making a song that was specifically about being fuckin’ way too old and eight years later I have a “hotly anticipated” new LP. It’s hilarious.
Your live band is notoriously tight.
This is why I love my band, they’re the fucking nicest people on the planet, because they tolerate me. I will force them to stand differently. The fact that Pat hasn’t killed me is why we’re best friends forever. I would be, No, you have to sit on the front edge of your seat; you need to sit up like a robot. Miraculously, they haven’t killed me yet. That’s a good sign, right?
You’ve added techno-genius Gavin Russom.
He’s been blowing my mind with the shit he can do. We had to do something because we lost [Hot Chip’s] Al Doyle to this little something-or-other band who had the audacity to put out a record at the same time. I love that Alexis [Taylor of Hot Chip] wrote a song [“Wrestlers”] about fighting me for Al. In the video he has a text from me that’s an actual text. That’s why he wrote the song; I texted that I’d wrestle him for Al—and I was bigger and trained. Alexis is at the disadvantage in this battle now, because he has a child. He’ll have to go home at some point. All I have is a dog, so I’ll stay out longer in the field.
From the looks of your tour schedule, you’re going to be out in the field for a long time.
This is it for me, man. I gotta get out of here. I gotta make a life change after this. It’s gonna be a lo-o-ong tour, and I’ll only get through it if I really think it’s my last tour.
Why are you getting out of the game?
That’s easy, man! I didn’t start doing LCD until I was 32. I was a grown man. Win Butler from Arcade Fire isn’t even that old now. I don’t understand people who say, “I don’t know what else I would do”; these guys who continue to tour and make shitty records, and you know they’re just terrified. I don’t give a shit, man. This wasn’t my plan. I gave up on music and I’ve done better than I have any right to have done. I don’t expect to get rich, I don’t expect to never have to work again. I expect to work until I can’t work anymore. That’s what you do.
What kind of work do you see yourself doing?
I’d like to do some journalism. Not music journalism. That would be very strange. I read [David Foster Wallace’s] Infinite Jest when it came out and I didn’t love it. I looked down on it. I was like, Oh, he’s using things from Gaddis’s Recognitions; he stole that. What a fucking shit I was. Then I reread it and started watching interviews with the guy. He looked exactly like me, the old back-flipped hair, like pictures of me in the ’90s. I thought, Man, I want to interview this guy. I’ll call Rolling Stone and ask, “I would like to interview David Foster Wallace.” That was my big plan. Then he went and selfishly killed himself. It devastated me, it really did.
Catch LCD Soundsystem at Pitchfork at 8:30pm on Saturday 17. See photos of LCD Soundsystem live at Metro.