Part three of our interview with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy sees him talk about what’s changed on new album ‘This Is Happening’ including rediscovering his love of playing the guitar and it’s Los Angeles recording location.
He also revisits the message of ‘North American Scum’, talks about being an American abroad and his pride in electing the first black president in Barack Obama.
Do you still write lyrics on the day of recording?
Yeah. I mean, I’ve lived with the lyrics slightly longer than you. I don’t know. I have to look at it again. I forget things. I forget what the lyrics are because also I write so many lyrics for the song then whittle it down.
OK, so what is the biggest difference with the actual music?
Erm… LA. I played more guitar. I self consciously decided because I hate guitar in a way. This was the first thing that was more solipsistic, more in my own head, about my own space was that I gave up on playing guitar. Because guitar’s my first instrument and I really gave up on it because I was an atrocious guitar player. And I would try to hide guitar and use it as minimally as possible and Pat kind of pushed me. He was like “I like your guitar playing. You should play a little more guitar”. Because I played guitar all over this soundtrack thing that I did. But I was like “Guitar’s so embarrassing”. And saying it is the problem. Once I’ve said that some thing’s embarrassing I have to do it because otherwise you’re just being cool. So I played a little more guitar on this album. That feels different. Like an actual, guitar guitar. Not just a wonky, No-Wave guitar. And the synths to bass guitar ratio and the melody ratio I think is higher.
Thirdly, there are more elements on some of these songs that I normally allow. I’ve tried to mix everything, to make every element really important but sometimes that’s hard. I failed on some of the mixes but …
Well, it does sound distinctively different to how records are mixed.
Well, I think records are often mixed to be shiny, the vocals on top, a bunch of stuff in here, and then some bottom and I don’t really like that. I like things to struggle with each other a lot more.
Last time we were talking about your song ‘North American Scum’ and about the shame of being an American abroad.
But also, that song’s double edged.
A bit of belligerent love as well….
Yeah and also I just think that people know. Well, this is something I realised. Americans don’t know anything about other places very much. And they either are the kind that think they know, but then as soon as you push them a little bit they’re like “I don’t know”. Like “Oh! French people” Well, do you know the who the president of France is? Then shut up. It’s easy to pick through. But because the rest of the world knows a lot of facts about America I think they know what America’s like from television. Well, that’s not America, that’s American television.
That’s why people didn’t understand that ‘North American Scum’ had an element, that I take for granted that Americans are insecure and embarrassed. And people are like “what? Americans are overconfident” Well, you just never lived in the suburbs of America. People on television are overconfident because they’re on fucking television! So that element’s always there. Being baffled that people don’t know that Americans feel insecure or inferior or nervous. That’s my America I guess. Not ‘The real America’ as Sarah Palin would say.
How are you feeling about it now three years on? Same rules apply?
No. I think it’s funny that like you know, first of all before Obama won everybody said every time I get off the plane in another country I get the taxi and they’re like: “Oh! Obama can’t win America’s too racist they’d never have a black president”. And I kept being like, “Maybe that’s a projection? Maybe you’re too racist!”
It was kind of an incredible election because race was so little of it. And it wasn’t until he won that we were like: “We won”. We were all in a room together and it’s like: “Holy shit. We have a black president”. So much about it had been about what the debates were. Like what were the contrary arguments between the two candidates. And it was really all down to: “Well, he’s a better speaker and he’s really good” and you know: “That’s part of the job”. And some people are like: “All he knows is how to wrangle support and speak and get good advisers” and you’re like: “That’s the fucking job!” Like being the president means you have to wrangle support, you have to be able to communicate your ideas and you have to pick the right advisers. That’s the job. Like, that’s fucking fantastic. So anyway, It was kind of amazing that people started treating America like it was a different country all of a sudden. Like before, it was this backward, aggro, Bush country and now it’s this forward thinking, liberal country and you’re like: ‘”It’s the same fucking place!”
Like these people only win by tiny margins and the loudest voices are the craziest so like it’s hyper liberals and hyper conservatives so we’re kind of in the middle, so the flip-flopping of votes is small. Bush didn’t win by the popular vote. Even when there’s a technical landslide, like Clinton won by a ton, by popular vote he didn’t win by that much. Obama didn’t win by that much but because of the way the electoral college works it looks like a bigger landslide win then it really is. It was kind of exciting when that happened. We made T-shirts that said: “My country has a black president. How about yours?”
Words by Matthew Bennett
Clash Magazine Issue 50