Whilst he is about to kill off his own band, James Murphy is trying to tell us how we can save the music industry. So you should probably sit up and listen.
James Murphy is talking quickly. His polished discourse is ranging widely, as it prefers to do. His one-man band, LCD Soundsystem, an existential experiment of “a band about bands” is finished as we know it. “I think it’s more about trying to figure out how to transition to whatever LCD becomes,” Murphy teases. “I feel like this is a good stop for those three records. The only thing that would be a continued goal would be to be bigger. But the price in time is too high.”
Time plays heavily on Murphy’s mind. After being a self-confessed “fucking idiot” throughout his twenties he discovered a way to expel all his frustrations as a thirty-year-old: “Me finding dance music for myself was like a supernova; it was a big explosion that gave me eight years of creative thrust,” confesses the now forty-year-old. “It’s a pretty long time to basically have a single idea of ‘how do we relate to the records on my shelf that I love – [Lou Reed’s] ‘Transformer’, or [Bowie’s] ‘Low’, or Suicide, or Can – then how do I make it a party?’”
The short answer is fucking quickly. Angling to make a strain of stripped-back, danceable punk funk that no-one else was, Murphy launched LCD Soundsystem as a personal crusade. Discovering this channel cast him on a singular path as a unique musician who was obsessed with his own music, himself as a person, a ruthlessly creative vision, and his record label DFA, but delivered through an outrageously good live band populated by his oldest friends.
And this is exactly how LCD was born then grew under his egotistical, self-aware gaze into a bizarre abstract laboratory that deconstructed the theories of cool whilst the multi-instrumentalist and self-effacing singer deftly feinted into being one of the most well adjusted and normal rock stars ever. But time is now running out for the New Yorker.
As Clash’s year ends and our decade ends Murphy finds himself at the end of his last tour with the band, and possibly the end of LCD’s existence – we gleefully discover one of our favourite interviewees is as bullish and ready for a dangerously reductive and deconstructive scrap as ever.
In a warehouse studio in Glasgow’s desolate Tradeston area this protagonist reveals why globalised trends are killing rock and roll, why he’s the worst team player ever, and even though Obama needs a lesson in pop, how the E-munching Murphy may not be the man to teach him…
What was the most significant thing you’ve learned in the last ten years with your band?
This might sound stupid, but probably just that we knew what we were talking about in the beginning. We were like, ‘No! This is a fully functioning idea’, and that we stuck with it, with a mentality of ‘Well fuck everybody! This is the way it should be done!’ and then it kind of works and people enjoy it. That’s validating.
What are you going to miss the most?
Probably touring. Being around people. I love the bus, I like being in different cities, I love being around the band and the crew; people that I like. I have friends all over the world.
What would be your biggest regret?
Not making more music. Not really putting time aside to generate more recording material. Or not putting enough new production into live. Not being able to do weird, funny things that we come up with as ideas. Like funny sets and lights and costumes. We have so many ideas that we joke about but it’s so hard to just get the show together. You never have time to be like, ‘Well, let’s fly in on a space ship!’
What’s been the most pleasurable experience with LCD?
I was thinking more of a singular experience.
I don’t think the singular experiences can even come close to the general feeling. I make music with my friends, I get to travel with them, they know me really well and make fun of me, we make fun of each other, they put up with absolutely no shit from me. These are my friends from before we had a band, but I feel respected. I can’t express how big of a deal that is to have Pat [Mahoney, Murphy’s LCD cohort], who just rolls his eyes and mercilessly makes fun of me, all the time; he gives me a really hard time. I feel very vulnerable to that. To have him say ‘It’s a really good record’, to really be proud of me and have my friends be proud of me, I think is so far above any great tour or we’re all together surfing in Australia.
Are you going to miss the relentless deconstruction of your music?
Sure. I think the cool thing to say, not to get on cool again, would be no, but I’ll be glad to have it done. I don’t make music so that I can live in a vacuum. Part of the reason I make music is a primal desire to not feel alone that comes with making music. So people putting effort into figuring out what you mean or why you do things, even if it’s frustrating, if it’s wrong, it can’t help but feel kind of…nice.
Words by Matthew Bennett
Read the full interview with James Murphy in the latest issue of Clash Magazine.