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15 September 2008, 3:20 pm 3 Comments

Music: LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy: The New Gay Interview.

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen

James Murphy has lost his edge and his comb. (Photo from MySpace.)

My first introduction to electronic dance/rock masters LCD Soundsystem came last May when several friends goaded me to see them play on a Sunday night. I had never heard any of their songs before, but was floored by what I saw on the stage of the 9:30 Club. What looked like 7 or 8 people played every note analogue, on actual instruments, in front of my very eyes. Producing the closest thing I would ever see to a Talking Heads or New Order concert. And leading all of this was a slightly doughy, majorly sweaty James Murphy, screaming himself hoarse in the name of making his DC show something utterly memorable for everyone who attended. I still count it as the best concert I’ve ever seen.

James is currently touring with “Special Disco Version,” a DJ night who put on with bandmate Pat Mahoney. Though the show will not be coming through DC anytime soon, I thought it could be as good a chance as any to pick his brain. And lemme tell you: if I didn’t have a crush on this man before, I certainly do now. This mostly has to do with his willingness to make interested small talk with me while his coffee finished brewing. Who knew that the man behind Tribulations was also capable of being articulate and interesting at 10 in the morning?

Of course, once the coffee finished James was able to share his thoughts on gay music fans, overuse of the term “hipster” and what effect his record label DFA has had on dance music as a whole. You can check it all out below the fold.

The New Gay Zack: You’re touring a DJ night called Special Disco Version. Why disco? Why now?

James Murphy: Gas prices are high and the last time that happened was the gas crisis of the 70′s… Actually, I think things go in funny cycles where people turn against things. It leaves a hole for people. You can smell when things are cool and things are not cool, and disco was not cool for a long time. That becomes attractive for some people, me included. I was a punk rock kid. I had nothing to do with disco my whole life, and then I read “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.” It blew my mind. I didn’t know how dedicated people really were to disco. It was the most educated listening scene in history, outside of classical music. It’s also really earnest, joyful music. Plus you can dance to it.

TNG: Hercules and Love Affair, who are getting a lot of attention for the record they just put out on your label, also borrow really heavily from the genre. Is disco going to become the dominant sound of DFA Records?

JM: For years we’ve been talking about disco. It’s super infused in every record we make. The difference is that people seem more ready and we see more influences. For my money Hercules is house music, which I think is a pretty great thing… I’m at a loss, my coffee hasn’t really hit me. I want to have good thoughts but sometimes it’s just terrible, bad, boring thoughts.

TNG: I think you’re doing fine.

JM: Thank you.

TNG: Now, there is a historic connection between disco and the gay community, and Hercules’ has at least three queer members in it. Is DFA making more of an effort to reach out to its gay fanbase and to support gay artists?

JM: That’s something we’re trying to figure out. Music has gotten so wildly segregated. Our typical fanbase is nerdy and male and white and straight. I’ve been part of that rank, its not necessarily the most fun group of people. In New York gay and straight stuff has gotten really segregated. When we started throwing parties it was to mix everybody up so nobody felt like it was their place only. There was no excluding anybody. Since we’ve been traveling and not throwing parties it seems like it’s back.

Then we met Andy [Butler, Hercules’ gay frontman] and spent all this time being blown away. This is a guy with massive musical knowledge, it was obvious we wanted to work with him. He was telling me his parties play music we were playing but in a alternate universe. It’s been refreshing to get that back. It’s a lot of the older gay dudes that we have the best connection with. We’re playing music that is really resonant for them. It’s something they remember distinctly. Those are the guys we’re trying to get because they’re the most knowledgeable music fans.

TNG: Also on the subject of your fan base: Your first single was “Losing My Edge,” which seemed to be about the never-ending pissing contest that goes on between indie folk about who has the most obscure music knowledge. Do you think the people that song was mocking are now the majority of your fans?

JM: “Losing My Edge” was never meant to mock. I love and hate human beings a lot and if anyone was getting made fun of in that song it was me. All the things in “Edge” are about me first and foremost. It’s really about human insecurity. I like humans and you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

TNG: So you don’t think that the DFA engine has spawned anything regrettable?

JM: The monster that I regret is that there are way too many shitty dance remixes of rock songs. People thought it was a good idea to remix every shitty rock band. You don’t need to do that. Please. The cliquey kind of DFA stuff has faded away because we’ve been around for so long. People have moved on to [Justice’s label] Ed Banger. There’s always something new. If you’re trying to find the new we’re not new anymore. It’s been eight years now, we tried to slip into being old and respectable as quickly as possible.

TNG: But “DFA” has pretty much become an adjective for a certain kind of dance-rock. Do you think that’s a problem?

JM: I don’t think it’s too bad. If we keep doing our work and complicating what the definition is I’m happy. People have an image in their head about what DFA is, since in the beginning it was about Juan McLean and The Rapture. And then LCD, and people got a clear specific idea because of “Losing My Edge.” But the first album we put out was by The Black Dice, which was very abstract, experimental music. I feel like there’s always been an effort to complicate things but people see what
they want to see. I don’t worry too much. I save my worries for less important stuff.

TNG: Like what?

JM: Like ‘Am I out of coffee?’

TNG: God forbid. What do you think about the term “hipster?”

JM: Oh, I don’t mind it, but I don’t talk to enough people to know if it’s overused. I’m not that social. People like to hate hipsters, but I’ve always thought that I’m a hipster. You can make it a negative sounding word, but it doesn’t stop it from being who you are. People that talk about hipsters are hipsters; no one else is. Inner city high school teachers aren’t [using that term,] it’s just hipsters saying it because they want to be individuals. I mean, I like new things. I like clothes, I like hip stuff. I’m a DJ, for chrissakes. I’m a DJ married to an ex-model who designs clothing. Jesus, you could put my picture in the dictionary.

TNG: What’s the status of a new LCD album? Is there one in the works?

JM: I’m not working on it at all. I work on albums in funny ways. I don’t record them and I don’t write anything down, and then one day when I’m really ready I go ‘Oh shit I’m going to make a record,’ then I book a studio and make it. And I really haven’t planned on doing that yet. Maybe in the fall? There’s a corporatization of being in a rock band that find difficult. You’re supposed to be on a cycle and I don’t think I need to be on that cycle. I’m grounded in New York. I take care of my city, I take care of my life here, and the rest of the world is extra.

TNG: Is your new album going to sound like Hercules and Love Affair?

JM: Probably not, but I don’t know. It’s literally as random as what’s going on in my head, plus what happens in the first song. The first song I wrote for the last record was “Get Innocuous” and that dictated the color of the record. It had to do with going into the studio in the spring of that year when I was in a certain mood for a certain thing. I have my goals set for the next record, which is to make it better.

I actually woke up in the middle of the night and said ‘I know what I need to do,’ and my wife asked “what?’ I said “It needs to be really good,” and she said “That’s not an idea!” I said it was a valid idea, but now I realize that when I’m awake it’s not a valid idea. In my head it sounds like one.

TNG: Sorry to dwell on this, but was “Get Innocuous” a comment about the DFA clones who listen to your music? The lyrics say alot about people normalizing and, obviously, getting innocuous.

JM: That line about normalizing has some of that of adherence in it. There is always a nasty touch to whatever I’m writing. It’s actually more about myself, if I remember the rest of the lyrics and put that line back in context. It’s about myself trying not to be on tour and trying to go home.

TNG: What about “Someone Great?” Your fans love to speculate on that one.

JM: That’s something I don’t really talk about.

TNG: Ok. I figured that, but thought it couldn’t hurt to try.

JM: That actually really hurt. This interview is over! Just kidding.

TNG: But to back up, do you just look at touring as something you have to do instead of something you like to do?

JM: I don’t like it. I like traveling, I like seeing cities, but it’s truly grueling. It takes way too much out of me. I’m a pretty intense control freak and that doesn’t bode so well for touring. It meant that I’m stressing out about the equipment, the band, the bus, the driver. I’m wondering if ticket prices are too high. It takes a toll on your personal life. You don’t get to see the cities that you’re in. You don’t get to see anything. You arrive in a bus, you wake up, you go inside try to find a bathroom. You do sound check, do interviews, after that maybe go backstage and do dinner and then its time for the opening bands. Then you play.

I’d say about 80% of the time I don’t go anywhere but from the bus to the to the venue. I don’t get to go out on the town at all, it’s just not that awesome a sociological experience. You stop caring where you are, it’s not very exciting. The shows are great, but thats 45 minutes to an hour. When you’re you’re DJing you get to hang out with people. They treat you differently, you can talk to them. You can go do the local record store, you can go eat dinner someplace. It’s much more interesting.

TNG: Would you prefer to keep doing that, or will you go back to LCD?

JM: If I could just do what I want to do right now I’d never go back on the road with LCD, but that’ll oscillate. I’ve quit touring like 20 times. I’ve played my last show 20 times. I’ll totally sincerely say I’ll never do it again and then I get the itch to go do something. I feel like were a good live band and I’ll want to go flex that muscle, then I find myself in a bus again. So who knows.

I envy Daft Punk desperately. First off, they don’t have to play instruments. If they wanted to they could get two dudes in helmets to do it for them, but they make it special event. They can play Coachella and nothing else. They do these special things that I would much prefer, but we’re just not big enough. And we don’t have a pyramid. But I could buy their pyramid! I know some of the people. TNG

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  • Philip said:

    Oh, is disco now considered indie? Does this mean that, with my long-time love of disco, I’ve now gained street cred with hipsters?

    Just what I always wanted.

  • Rob said:

    LCD Soundsystem is great… I do think they’re like the Talking Heads of this era. I hope the tour comes to DC. Thanks for the great interview!

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    [...] about myself trying not to be on tour and trying to go home,” Murphy told The New Gay. “I don’t like it. I like traveling, I like seeing cities, but it’s truly [...]