James Murphy na Red Bull Music Academy
A Babee havia comentado sobre a entrevista que James Murphy deu à Music Academy da Red Bull em Nova York e eu encontrei a transcrição para a conversa abaixo, um bom papo sobre música e comportamento vindo de um dos caras mais importantes nesta seara hoje em dia.
Abaixo, a transcrição:
RBMA: I’m sitting next to…
James Murphy: A pitcher of water.
RBMA: Yeah, it’s kind of wonderful actually. On my other side there’s a man, and his name is James Murphy, but you may know him as the, the head of LCD Soundsystem, DFA Records and other assorted things. Please welcome him.
James Murphy: Thanks.
RBMA: In lieu of doing a sort of normal career spanning interview, I thought it might be interesting to play some of your favorite songs and have you talk about them.
James Murphy: Just in their entirety and not say anything.
RBMA: There’s going to be no talking whatsoever.
James Murphy: Just play the whole thing and we can sit here and look at them, in an awkward [situation].
RBMA: Yeah, that’s going to be super awkward.
James Murphy: And in film you just delete. When you watch the video you can just take the music out and it will look like we’re just all…
RBMA: Just a lot of us…
James Murphy: …sitting in silence.
RBMA: Why don’t we start with Yes, “Heart Of The Sunrise”?
James Murphy: Sure.
RBMA: Is there a portion of this song that I should play?
James Murphy: Luckily, it’s the very beginning. I mean, you wanna just jump in and play some songs? I’m with you. It’s gonna be loud, be careful. You know, no reason to scare people first thing in the morning, we’re murmuring.
If you want to be a real nerd, you can go online and watch people play the drum parts with headphones on electronic pads to that on YouTube. There’s a lot of drummers who do that. They show themselves in their closets with headphones on, playing the beginning of that along to the song.
RBMA: Were you doing that with guitar when you started out?
James Murphy: No, I could never play any Yes guitar, ‘cause it’s really complicated, but the band did play that beginning chunk of this at the end of one of the sets of our last show. Which caused the people who made the film of our last show to have a heart attack ‘cause they didn’t know that we did that ‘cause we didn’t think about it, we just played what we played. Then afterwards they had to make a movie and they had to like call the singer from Yes and get permission, which is even more complicated because we changed it. We did that a lot, there’s like little bits of songs live that we never thought twice about ‘cause we just did it. Then when you make a film about it, it becomes a licensing curiosity.
RBMA: You were playing the “Twin Peaks Theme” as well.
James Murphy: Yeah, that made them really happy too. Luckily, we didn’t also play “New York” by Jay-Z, which is what we had been doing. Just people would just launch into things in between songs, sort of, “It’s jazz, man!”
RBMA: I don’t think people would necessarily immediately connect you with Yes.
James Murphy: Well, no.
RBMA: Good one.
James Murphy: I didn’t mean that one but I said it and I figured I’d let it hang there on the rim and see if it goes in but the… I’m a little older, and I grew up and Yes was one of my brother’s favorite bands. He’s ten years older than me, so therefore, de facto, my cool ten year older than me brother’s favorite band became one of my favorite bands. And I still have like a Yes section about this big. And I’ve actually been working on making a mixtape of beats from Yes to try and give to various rappers, because I actually think there’s great beats in there. I guess it’s funny because it’s at times really considered not cool by some people, but it’s really loved by other people. But we have Yes parties sometimes at my house. Where people will come over and we’ll just eat food and I’ll just play nothing but Yes all day. If you just listen to it, when you listen to it out of nowhere it’s like, “What? What? Dude, what are you listening to? This is crazy.” Nothing ever sits in one time signature, but after a while when you get into the mode of it, it’s pretty awesome. Full disclosure, he found things to play, that was just the first thing.
RBMA: I guess, I want to use it as an idea to talk about kind of technique and style because I think, obviously, technique is what they’re all about. But I don’t know if that’s exactly so important to you and what you’ve done.
James Murphy: Well, with them, it’s like, you might want to make a dogma movie, but if you watch Kubrick movies, you have to talk about classic cinematography. So it’s like, yes, I’m not necessarily in my own band that is obsessed with technique as Bill Bruford, because I don’t think anybody is as… Bill Bruford’s the drummer of that band. If you ever want to watch a really weird video, he made a VHS, in I think 1980 that’s like, Inside The Beat or something. It was like, just him hitting wood blocks and looking really serious. With like video effects like it would look like in 1980, around the time when he was with King Crimson. But, of course, that’s what we’re talking about. But no, it was a big part of my life. I love how strivey and weird it is.
James Murphy: Strivey. I made up a verb. I mean, I made up a word. It’s strive. It’s got strive all over it. It’s covered in strive. It’s steeped in strive.
RBMA: I think I know what you mean.
James Murphy: They were not as technical when they started off and they got really technical because it seemed like the thing to do, which I find really funny.
RBMA: Let’s play a track from your early life. I think there’s a story attached to this around Halloween?
James Murphy: Oh, yeah.
Speaking of making beats and getting sued. This guy sampled it and got sued.
RBMA: So this is one of the first records you bought.
James Murphy: This, this one of the two first 7″s I bought was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s, “Alone Again, Naturally,” and “Fame,” by David Bowie. And I’ve said before that the joke is that my life has been an argument between those two things ever since. No, this was like there’s that whole thing in the ’70s like, there was all that soft rock with like Bread and stuff that was more about getting laid. But then there was all this really incredibly sad [music], like that song, I said, what a lonely boy. Do you know the song, “Oh What a Lonely Boy”? About a kid who’s an only child and then his parents have another kid and then he’s like, “I thought, you know, when you said I was your only son, I thought I was the only one.” He’s angry at his parents for having another child, which kind of sums up a big segment of the ’70s mentality, of really feeling bad for yourself about shit that was just normal and fine.
And this is “Alone Again, Naturally.” And I remember, really, I had very serious parents and one Halloween, I was so much younger than my siblings, I had to do things all by myself, whereas they always had each other kind of. I was the Catholic surprise, I think. Like, “Oh, we’re having a kid.” So my father was late from a meeting and I sat dressed as Darth Vader in my room crying and listening to this song over and over ‘till he finally came home. My mother is like, “I’m not going to go up and look at him, you have to go get him and take him trick or treating, ‘cause I won’t even look at him ‘cause it is infuriating.”
RBMA: Did you have the mask on?
James Murphy: I had the mask on.
RBMA: While you were crying?
James Murphy: I may have had the mask up at times, but I think when he came in, I did the… (gestures putting on a mask). Tears running under the like, clearly, carcinogenic plastic mask. (laughs) Running down my face, and I was eight, so that was the really cool thing to deal with as a parent, I’m sure.
RBMA: So when do we play…?
James Murphy: I think you, as a parent you wonder if you wanna give the child a hug or just beat them, just beat them mercilessly to show them what a bad day is like.
RBMA: Let’s play the other song that you are having the argument about.
James Murphy: There is no graceful way to stop things like that, I think. I recently met David Bowie, which was one of the most [star-struck] meetings that I’ve had. It was at Electric Ladyland, which is where he recorded that, in the basement of Electric Ladyland. His vocal where he does the diving, and it dives, “Fame, fame, fame, fame,” really scared me as a kid. I was eight and David Bowie really scared me. My brother had David Live, which had a cover of him looking all angular, and like super pale and skinny and creepy. I remember asking my brother, “What’s that?” And he’s like, “You know about punk rock?” It was 1977, so it was current, and I was 7. I was like, “Yeah, man!” And I had no idea. He was like, “That is the first punk rocker, man.” And my brother was not into punk rock, he was into David Bowie. Therefore, I was into David Bowie.
RBMA: But he was right.
James Murphy: Well, I mean, one of the first, yes. But, I was very obsessed with David Bowie all my life. No matter what I was listening to, he was always current. Meeting him was pretty amazing. He is very sweet, a very nice man.
RBMA: What did you guys talk about?
James Murphy: Recording “Fame” downstairs at Electric Ladyland (laughs), to a certain degree. I did my best not to ask too many questions. I could feel my mouth opening. I could hear what I was going to say. Luckily, the little empathy monster floated out of my head and landed in what I imagined to be his head, while I was saying things like, “The snare sound on Low, on the third…” I was like, “OK, I don’t want to go down this road, because this is where I would go.” And so I didn’t do any of that. I just said stuff like, “Hahahaaahaha, yeah…” “No, no, I know, I know, yeah!” Tried to stay out of the way.
RBMA: Is there anyone else, that would put you in that state, do you think these days?
James Murphy: Lou Reed would put me in that state, but I think Lou Reed would put people who don’t know who Lou Reed in that state, though.
RBMA: Why don’t we play a track from an album that you quite like.
James Murphy: I think this is something that people… Let it play and talk. For me, this is really interesting because this was a time when I was…
RBMA: This is The Violent Femmes, by the way.
James Murphy: And there’s a lot of songs on this record that I like more.
RBMA: I went for the easy one.
James Murphy: Yeah, you went for the easy one.
RBMA: I apologize.
James Murphy: But when I was kid, this record every year you’d hit an age where this became your record. It came out a certain year, I was going to say, what? In ’84, ’83 or ’84 maybe. Maybe ’83. But you found this record, kids found this record every year. It didn’t matter. The Dead Kennedys, The Violent Femmes and The Clash, you just hit an age where those became your record. It didn’t matter that it was 8-years-old, or 6-years-old, or 12-years-old, it was one of those rites of passage albums, that, I guess, sounded like being a suburban kids who’d get himself punched in the face just by being annoying and feel outside. It just sounded like being that age to me.
RBMA: Where you a suburban kid that got punched in the face?
James Murphy: Well, I’m the same size I was when I was 15, so I didn’t get punched in the face that much. I was a big kid, so I didn’t get beat up too much. But most of my friends where the suburban kids who mouthed off and got punched in the face. (laughs) But no, I missed this length when records hung out. This to me is when records really hung out. I think it’s funny now, I think The Smiths is one of those bands now that once they kind of came back into people’s consciousness. I’m going to say 2003, 2002, because for the late ’90s, you didn’t say you liked The Smiths. People don’t remember that, because they were like nuts. People don’t remember that. ‘Cause they were like, “Oh, of course, they’re cool.” No, but they weren’t, you just didn’t go for it. But now that they came back I think people hit an age and a certain type of kid just finds The Smiths and that’s part of their rite of passage. Metal’s always worked like that for me. Like, you get to a certain age and a certain type of kid just finds early Black Sabbath. And then there’s, you know, James Brown and Funkadelic. There’s only some music that just at a certain age you just find The Meters and they become your band for a while. And I do hope that people are making music that becomes that, going forward. That has its moment in time, but also becomes that people can self identify with. It translates enough that in the future people can find it again.
RBMA: Is that kind of a secret aim of the band, LCD Soundsystem, in a way? To make music that people can find it down the road?
James Murphy: Well, I think indirectly, because I think for me, I hated bands that didn’t meet me as I grew up. I didn’t like it when you liked something and then you felt later on when you got a little bit smarter, you’re like, “Aw, this is bullshit! I was totally suckered in by this. I was completely betrayed, this sucks. Damn it!” But, there were always people…
RBMA: Sorry, but what bands where like that for you?
James Murphy: I’ve met too many people to say what bands were like that. Because, I mean, I’ll just say it off the cuff now. I’ll be like, “That band sucks,” and then I’ll get on a plane and some guy will just be glaring at me and then: “I heard what you said.” “Sorry, I didn’t know that you had terrible tragedies in your band. Your best friend killed himself, I’m sorry.” It happens. I kind of liked things that meet you as you changed your taste and changed and grew up. Yeah, I think David Bowie’s good at that. I think The Smiths are really good at that. You’re a kid and you’re like, “This music is so sad.” And then you get older and you’re like, “This music is hilarious.” Like, I just didn’t know it was hilarious when I was a kid because it seemed so sad and then I realized he’s really funny. Like, it would just keep refinding you and refinding you. You know, I remember as a kid, when Public Enemy came out, it was so incredibily agressive, didn’t sound like anything else and was really scary. But I can put on Public Enemy now and I’m like, “I love this song, it’s funny, it’s great, it’s warm.” Like, it keeps growing and changing with me, rather than being, “Oh, that was funny but it kind of sucks now.” So that for me, I was always trying to make it so if you scraped through a layer, there was hopefully another layer that was interesting behind it. I’m going to make a really weird reference. When I was a kid I really liked The Lord Of The Rings. I read those books every year from when I was six on. Like from six, seven, eight, nine, ten, during those formative years of being a total nerd. And, I hated other fantasy books, because they always seemed really transparent. You’d be like, “That guys name sounds like a dumb word, I hate this.” And The Lord Of The Rings books always had sounded like there was something behind them, like, if you poked through, there’s another layer and another story. So, I don’t think I consciously tried to think of the band in terms of the fictional fantasy work of JRR Tolkien, but I do like to not feel like you’re pulling a fast one on people. And if they see through that first layer, there’s nothing there. Which is why, whenever there was ever a direct influence for something, I never hid it. I never wanted a song to be based on ripping something off from a band that you like and then later on, you’re like, “Oh, that sucks, it’s a copy.” No, I’m telling you it’s a copy right out of the gate, really loudly. And it’s not my fault if you’ve never heard that song before but your friend is going to be like, “Dude, that’s a copy of that.” It’s fine. I want you to know that now so that we can then get on with the rest of what’s happening.
RBMA: Let’s play Can, maybe?
James Murphy: I feel like I’m rambling.
James Murphy: What are you going to play?
RBMA: Do you remember when you first ran into them?
James Murphy: When I first heard Can?
James Murphy: I’m a little torn as to when it happened, but pretty young. And it would have been through one of two things: an interview with John Lydon, an interview with Mark E Smith of The Fall. Both of them were big Can fans. Also, just googling “Can,” not that effective, it’s a pretty common word. Try being The The. You kinda screwed yourself for being searched on the Internet. Chk Chk Chk, you know, also. People didn’t think of that at the time.
RBMA: I think every band should be thinking about that probably.
James Murphy: Exactly, at all times. (laughs) “Are we searchable?” But Can was not searchable at the time with the lack of Internet. And it was hard to find the music. So a lot of things I would tape off the college radio station, or I sometimes DJed at a college radio station when I was 16 or 17, so I could go in and I could make cassettes, and you couldn’t tell anybody, because technically you weren’t allowed to do that. ‘Cause home taping was killing music.
RBMA: Well, how did you get this job at college radio at 16, 17?
James Murphy: A lot of my friends were older than me, and one of them had a radio show called The Youth Brigade on Trenton State Radio, so I would just go in with them and hang out and feel cool.
RBMA: So, I guess, that was where you were getting the crazy bands and getting deeper and deeper into stuff, then.
James Murphy: Actually, just the Princeton Record Exchange was the record store near where I grew up. I grew up in a town just outside of Princeton, which is not nearly as nice of a town as [the one] called Princeton Junction, which at the time was the town named after the nice town. Which didn’t feel so great. But the Princeton Record Exchange was an amazing record store that started off as classical and jazz collectors store. And they had a tiny little front office on the main street in Princeton and in the back a big warehouse with like really rare pressings of classical and jazz for proper collectors. And they would send out these blue mimeographed, purple mimeographed, lists to Japan and people would send in orders and buy them. When people were traveling to New York, if they were real record nerds, they would get on a train, go down Princeton and go to the Record Exchange. There were people who would be buying, you know, 150 records at once. They’re very expensive. And that was the record store. But in the very front there were these kids who seemed like very adult, wise, grown men, they were probably like 19, who were at the university or DJing at the station, and they started buying punk rock records for crates in the front. So this record store had avantgarde, classical and jazz, collectible, beautiful vinyl in the back, like operas, and punk rock. There was no middle, like, you couldn’t get a Bruce Springsteen record in there. Like, you couldn’t. It wasn’t their business. And it was only because the clerks wouldlike listening to weird records that you get like Dvorak and like The Surf Punks, that’s all you could get.
RBMA: Were you ever going back further into jazz and classical back then?
James Murphy: Nope.
RBMA: I guess, there was no crossover between…
James Murphy: No, yeah, there wasn’t that many crossover artists for…
RBMA: Or even buyers.
James Murphy: Yeah, although I was in a choir, as a youth. So I sang classical music through high school and was very into that. Like, opera and classical music style, stuff. But it was about as relevant as playing a sport. Like, it felt completely unrelated, that’s the thing to me.
RBMA: Why don’t we play another tune? You started out playing guitar, right?
James Murphy: Yes, I was a guitarist. Terrible guitarist.
RBMA: So there’s a particular track that you always seem to mention the guitar playing.
James Murphy: Yeah.
(music: The B-52’s – Rock Lobster)
It’s at the very end, some of the toughest guitar playing in the world. That is actually one of the most influential guitar parts to me in my life.
James Murphy: Yes.
James Murphy: Well, because when later on I got into like Gang Of Four and stuff like that and I forgot about the B-52’s. The B-52’s were a huge influence, were hugely important to me as a kid. And they were part of what defined punk rock for me as a kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends who were like punk rock kids. We didn’t have a bunch of kids with skinheads, we were just like weird kids, you know? It’s just like, you were totally normal to listen to that music that in other towns. Like, I would tell kids later, when I moved to New York I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, really like Sisters Of Mercy and B-52’s.” And they’d be like, “What?”
“You don’t like just every band from D.C. on Discord?” And I’m like, “No, really never got that stuff.” It’s like, “You don’t get that stuff at all?” “No. Just like The Clash and maybe like Nitzer Ebb.” You know, just like weird, unrelated bands that didn’t seem… so a part of what defined punk rock for me was outsiderness. And the B-52’s were like this incredibly camp, Southern gay rock band with a guitar player who had four strings. I mean, to me that’s this really physical and visceral playing. And sometimes you’ll forget that, ‘cause you’ll hear it’s funny and you just forget that they’re a really awesome band with a really great guitar player. And so, that constellation of punk rock to me was always this kind of like outsiderness. And when I first saw large group seeing punk rock I was completely repelled by it. ‘Cause I was like, “There are way too many of you people who agree with one another in this room for this to feel like punk rock to me.” It was like a football game. It’s just like dudes, that dressed the same, that totally agreed with the singer who is yelling aggressive stuff to a bunch of people already agreed with him. So it’s meaningless to me, whereas Suicide to me was awesome. Everybody hated them, people threw stuff at them.
They all were like. Now they’re like, “Oh, I loved Suicide.” I’m like, “No, you didn’t. ‘Cause they know the name of every person who liked them when they started.”
RBMA: Yeah, yeah.
James Murphy: My other project is I desperately wanna recreate the early Public Enemy catalogue with Fred Schneider. It sounds funny but if you think about early Chuck and early Fred, think, “Bass, how low can you go? Death row. What a brother know,” by Fred. It’s really easy to see.
James Murphy: I think their voices have this weird roundness to them that I think is more similar than one would think.
RBMA: You mentioned the physicality.
James Murphy: I don’t think it’ll happen so I can just say it.
James Murphy: I don’t see that happening, soon.
RBMA: You mentioned the physicality of the playing. So you said you almost gave up the guitar because when you saw the drums you felt like that was an easier way to kind of…
James Murphy: Well, I also saw a good guitar player. I played guitar in a band with a really good guitar player named Bill Yokiama or Yutaka. Yokiama.
RBMA: He could play Yes songs.
James Murphy: He could. He was a classical violinist in a totally smart, interesting, creative guy and we really bonded over, like, Captain Beefheart, and P.I.L., and Sly Stone. It was this kind of obsession with James Brown, Sly Stone, like, really simple. Like James Brown guitar playing is some of my favorite guitar playing. ‘Cause it plays in that world, where there’s a guy and his job is to go like, ‘Dunununununununununununununununun… dun-un-nun’. ‘Dunununununununununununununununun…’ And if he fucks with that at all, James Brown is like “Ugh” and it’s like, “That’s 50 bucks.”
RBMA: It’s a tough one to aspire to in a way.
James Murphy: It’s amazing to aspire to, ‘cause it’s like, “Shut up and do that.” Like, that rules. You do that and do that well. And if you can’t do that, you can’t do that. That’s a big part of when we started our band. I’m like a pretty primitive player of everything, but I’m obsessed with that kind of physicality, and with it being everything snapping a certain way, quite on top, which is kinda counter to how a lot of rock is. And so people would join our band to play live, and it was a nightmare. Rehearsals for the first month or two would be playing a groove from a song for a day and just until everything felt like it was clicking. It’s all easy music to play, but it’s really hard music to play well. I think people when you listen to it don’t know. Very few people are like, “Guitar player puts too much weight on his up strokes, making it feel backwards,” or, “That guy is a little sloppy, doesn’t do thirds well.” Like, people very seldom feel that, but when it’s right then The J.B.’s are kind of like the best at that sense of top feel, rather than behind feel. And that’s a feel that is gone, because everyone got into behind the beat, everyone got really excited about that idea of funk where the beat is behind the one, like it’s a little late and it’s a little heavy. But James Brown stuff it just sits like, it’s clockwork. Like The Meters (click sound), where it’s like clockwork, where things are right on top, and I really like that. And that’s what I liked about James Chance, it’s what I liked about a lot of no wave was that stuff was like clicky and on top and the B-52’s did it quite well.
RBMA: We’ll play a…
James Murphy: I just brought it back to the B-52’s back. It’s called a callback.
RBMA: Speaking of sounds of the band and the label itself, let’s play a track that you mentioned, it’s kind of influential in the snare sound of DFA.
James Murphy: I could let that play on. We could just let that play and be fine.
RBMA: That was Metro Area, “Atmospheric.”
James Murphy: “Atmosphrique,” I think.
RBMA: Yeah, exactly. Thank you.
James Murphy: Metro Area is this guy Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani and they were New Yorkers and I didn’t know them from New York. I found about them through a London guy Paul Mogg, he was in the Psychonauts. Tim and I at DFA were working on these kind of disco sounds, good kind of synth bases and claps and people kind of thinking we were out of our minds.
James Murphy: Because history is funny. It sounded like a terrible idea, and we knew it was a terrible idea. We laughed. We loved it, but we knew what it sounded like. I remember Paul Mogg was one of the guys we were writing with, we were talking back and forth and he was like, “I want to make, like Human League and disco.” And we were like, “Yes, that’s kind of what we want to do.” But it’s a nightmare to try and explain to people that because they just laugh at you. But Morgan, and Darshan were killing it, I heard this and lost my mind because it was really like “Is It All Over My Face,” the Arthur Russell sound? And I just made this song “Beat Connection,” which sat on a shelf for a year and a half. But it had that similar closed disco drum sound, low ambience, not a ton of low, low, low end. Sort of like this kind of punctuated, tactile hi-hat sound that I’ve always really liked. But they worked with space in a different way which I thought was really beautiful. It was like a really gentle space to all of the early Metro Area singles. And you can get them combined in an album, and they were an absolute revelation at the time. Like, you could play them, they sounded so gentle and then you’d go out and play them and they’re massive. Like they pound and they just kill dancefloors. I feel stupid now because I wish I had played “Miura” or something like that the other night, just ‘cause they sound incredible. They’d come on and you’d be like, “This party just got so much better.” Even though it’s kind of like a cerebral feeling in a way and melancholy in a way, it’s still like those guys are proper dance music dudes who just made floor killers. They sounded like something else, too.
RBMA: There was a moment in the DFA documentary that just came out. The drummer is talking about putting mousepads on the drums.
James Murphy: Oh no, that’s Matt Thornley, he’s not the drummer. Yeah, Matt who works in the studio. Yeah, we cut up neoprene, the really heavy rubbery ones. Not like those floaty, foamy mouse-pads but the ones that like go ‘pllt’, and stick and feel like a wetsuit. Yeah, we cut those, the kind of gel-y mouse-pads and we put them on the toms. Like, little squares of them.
RBMA: Where did you come up with that sort of idea that that was exactly the material?
James Murphy: When I was really young in my first band, which was called Great, so that we could go on stage and say, “Hi, we’re Great.”
And then we changed it to the Mystery Meats at some point, I don’t remember when that was. And on the power of this successful ensemble in 8th grade I was able to play with older kids in 9th grade. And there was a guy named Arthur Owens, who was the drummer, and he was really into Gang Of Four. And he had this drum set that he’d like, “I never changed the heads, man. Never changed ‘em.” And they were the deadest. It sounded like he was playing cardboard boxes. But it sounded so tough to me. It was like this really tough sound. So I’ve always done that. Like, when I went and recorded a record in ’86 or ’87 in a real studio, I saved up my [money]. I was a roofer. In the summer and spring I worked, like everyone would go to the beach and I would climb scaffolding with roof slates ‘cause I was dumb and unskilled but could totally climb ladders and scaffolding carrying heavy things because I was a big kid. So I would just make as much money as I could and try and buy equipment. And I finally saved enough money to go to a studio and they had this really fancy drum set. I’m sure it wasn’t that fancy but to me it seemed like a Lamborghini of drum sets. I’m sure it was just like some Tama, off the shelf drum set, but to us, we were like, “Check this out, man. This drum set’s crazy!” But my drummer hit it and was like ‘thooon, thuuun, duuun’. And we were just like, so we took all the bottom heads off of the drums. The guy that ran the studio was just horrified. And then we just found stuff to tape to it. So we’re just this, four of us idiots, taping all of this stuff. But they did sound tough. It’s just been part of what I do all the time. In the ’90s I got into really resonant drums, really natural drums because I started learning from Steve Albini and Bob Weston, how to record. So I learned how to record these resonant drums. But after the ’90s, I just remembered what it was like. And I saw a video of Jaki Liebezeit from Can, the drummer from Can playing with no bottom heads. And then I started looking at all these photographs and all these drummers, like, Bonham, didn’t have bottom heads. They just had top heads and so I started experimenting, I was, “What if we just get rid of them? We go back to what I did when I was a kid?” Top heads with mutes on them. And if you tune them right they just turn into these, like, turning the decay down on a 808 or a 909 and they have like a little ‘Umph!’ Rather than all this ringing, extra tonal information. And then start listening to James Brown again, there’s no ring. Start listening to Sly Stone, there’s no ring. Like, I can listen to “In Time,” the snare drum, by Sly Stone, a song called “In Time,” some of the best drumming, ever. The snare turnarounds are like, I still, I just can’t do it. Look, I’ve tried and I can’t get my head around the turnarounds. And the snare drum is just like popcorn. It’s just like this really short crack. I think “In Time” it’s the wallet. I started reading about Motown and a lot of people putting the wallets in the snares. But the wallet always would buzz. It would allow a buzz through. ‘Cause the wallet would leap when you hit it. So, like, ‘bzzit’, and shutdown. So we started taping the Neoprene ‘cause it felt like a dead enough material. And you could make smaller and bigger pieces of it and kind of slide it around the kit, to find out where the notes that you didn’t like where. So, it’s a long story for how to make things go, ‘Umph!’’
RBMA: This is Heaven 17.
So the singer on that, if you listen to the song “Sound Of Silver,” on the LCD Soundsystem album, very similar in a way.
James Murphy: Yeah. That, that was on purpose for the Heaven 17 stroke, more Heaven 17 than Human League. That kind of voice that went away, I sort of thinking about the way people sang and I was like, “They sing totally differently.” And it’s not that their natural voice box. It’s just like what’s expected of a singer. And there was that period in the ’80s where people always sang like that. And I really loved it. It was a part of, you have a guy that’s like, “Oh yeah, how’s it going? Are you going to sing a song? Cool.” And they suddenly turn into this other person. It was sort of like, if you ever want to test that theory, listen to a female, a vocalist who sings, like listen to Nina Simone. Or listen to like early Roberta Flack and then listen to a modern singer. And the way they use their voices, it’s like radically different. It’s what’s expected in terms of how many notes per second. It’s radically different. And so, anyway, I was very obsessed with this type of singing as a kid. And since this song is about a certain nostalgia of, for me being at that age at that time, I thought I would sing in that mode.. My friends always have a mixture of like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Or, “No, that’s terrible. You can’t do that.” And that one was, the music I thought was very strong in that song so I got away with like, my friends were like, “I really like the music. Singing’s a little weird, but it seemed OK.” But that’s actually a song also that, “Sound Of Silver” is a song, that’s the most careful tom recording I’ve ever done. That’s like me trying to make a tom sound like a 909 live toms. So, they’re not drummachines that are live. Sorry.
James Murphy: Nerd stuff.
RBMA: The singing, though, is interesting. Yeah, let’s nerd out. The singing, you hadn’t done any singing before you started LCD Soundsystem. Is that right?
James Murphy: No, that’s not true. I was the, I was the singing guitar player.
James Murphy: Which is another word for saying I was a terrible egomaniac jerk as a youth. I was the singing guitar player.
RBMA: It had been a long time though.
James Murphy: Yes, and I stopped. I became a drumming engineer, which was sort of like this weird, self-imposed penance, I guess, for making terrible music in my childhood. And also for being like, “I’m awesome. Things are going to work out so great for me. So I don’t need to go to college or really take anything seriously. It’s just a matter of time.” And then I was like, “Oh!”
It really is a matter of time in a totally different way. So my first life as a singing guitar player ended in tears and started with my 22-year-old life of being a drumming engineer which ended in quitting. Which started with my early thirties life of going like, “OK, just get your head out of your ass and you don’t have a college degree and you don’t have much of a good job because you make music, and yet, you’re not making music.”
RBMA: You said for a long time though, that the fact that it took you so long was probably the most helpful.
James Murphy: It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, one of the best things that ever happened to me, for sure. Because I don’t think I would have been a very happy person if I had been successful when I was young. I know a lot of people who were successful when they were young, and some of them are happy, and some of them are really, really, really not happy. I think it’s hard. I think life is really hard. I think happiness is really hard. I think satisfaction is really hard. And, if you get all the things that you’re supposed to look forward to, and that make you feel great really early, you might not work out a lot of other stuff. You might not work out some things that are maybe a little more fundamental than having people like you. And that’s why you meet crazy musicians. Musicians aren’t crazy because crazy people make music, musicians are often crazy because making music makes you crazy. And certainly, being very successful at it can make you totally crazy. I’ve met so many people that just have these far away, like, “Oh, that guys really successful. Oh, he’s fuckin’ crazy,” and his eyes are just a million miles away.
Like, they’re still carrying on a grudge from some other [time], “Yeah, I remember in ’96, that other band, Pearl Jam said we sucked, so fuck those guys.” I was like, “Didn’t you just buy an island?” Relax! So, you know, I feel like it makes people crazy because you aren’t suddenly happy, and so, I think people look at like, “Well, if I’m not happy, something must be wrong.” So you start finding problems when there really aren’t any. Whereas, if you just learn that you’re not happy and that’s part of being a human…
…and then you just appreciate it when good things happen to you, and you can enjoy them and laugh at them. I think I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on a bunch of that stuff before, getting the great niceness of having people like the thing that I do. So now I can enjoy it and have some perspective on it. Like, it’s not something I deserve. Like, “Where’s the guys that’s supposed to tell me I’m awesome and give me a bunch of money?”
“Where’s that guy?” If somebody had done that, when I was a kid, and then, when I was 24, they weren’t doing it anymore, I would just be so angry. I would be the worst guy. Maybe not.
RBMA: You mentioned Roberta Flack.
James Murphy: Yes.
RBMA: Why don’t we play a song by her?
James Murphy: It’s a little sacrilegious to stop that, but I’ll let it go again because I wanted to mention something about her singing in this while you’re listening. This is somebody with an incredibly powerful voice, undersinging so hard, that when she opens up a tiny bit on the higher notes, I remember as a kid, just getting all the goosebumps, the hair standing up on the back of my neck, because this is like somebody with an army of a voice just giving you a bit of a look. And it’s so powerful. I think it’s an incredibly powerful song, sorry. It just takes her a second to get to it. That’s a relatively sacrilegious song to fade out.
RBMA: Yeah, I realized when I started playing it, we might be here for the entire thing. I guess, I wanted to ask about the power of restraint with that one. I mean, it’s tough to hold back.
James Murphy: It’s a lost art at the moment. Especially with singers who feel like they have to be gymnasts and I find it exhausting. Especially now, our ears are so trained for autotuning, that even people who are really skilled singers, have no like religious problem with autotune as a tool. There are people who use it really interestingly.
RBMA: Like who?
James Murphy: Well, I think Daft Punk have used it really interestingly, Kanye has used it really interestingly, I think. But when it’s used to sanitize something, we all get super-addicted to everything sounding like an ELO record. I like ELO. But ELO is different because very few people could layer vocals that way and very few people were that nerdy. But now it’s just like everybody can be that. So everything becomes quite tonally sanitized and we’re not used to quarter-tones and we’re not used to people moving around the note very much. We’re instead used to somebody just doing a bunch of gymnastics and you could edit it. Again, I don’t have no thing against that, I just wish that there was more room for this. I think Adele was really interesting, because I feel like she sings with a certain sense of restraint sometimes. But a lot of people who want to pat themselves on the back for being awesome singers sometimes I think would do well to sit down and listen to something like this. Or listen to “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Nina Simone. Songs that just are held back in such a way, like she shows when she goes to that, “Felt the earth”-part, it just like opens a tiny bit and it’s just like ‘Whoaaaoooo!’ It’s like steering a very big boat and everything kind goes to one side and I just love that. I think that’s one of the best sounding songs of all time. And she’s a piano player too. Similar to Nina Simone, she was a great piano player before she became a singer. And last night I did play a Roberta Flack song, but I played “Uh-Uh Ohh-Ooh [Look Out (Here Comes)],” the Steve Hurley mix. Which is a house song, that late Roberta Flack. (laughs)
RBMA: Let’s go in a completely different direction.
James Murphy: I was gonna wait ‘till it went to the change but it takes a long time.
RBMA: That was The Fall, “Paint Work.”
James Murphy: “Paint Work,” yeah.
RBMA: I guess, I played it for that…
James Murphy: For that part.
James Murphy: I was a big Fall fan, and when I first found this record I was listening to a lot of what one would call new wave, which was pretty sanitized to a certain degree, most of it, a lot of it. Especially the radio new wave, and then The Fall came around and I heard and I was just sitting in my room listening to that and I was just like, “Who sits in a control room of a professional studio, does that and then goes ‘Yup!’?”
RBMA: “We got it!”
James Murphy: “Print!” “That’s mixed! So I guess we send this over to the mastering lab.” Like, it’s just so unconcerned with what everything that I’d listened to was concerned with. But really, the whole record is like this. “This Nation’s Saving Grace.” It’s like ’85. It’s the Rick Smith-era Fall, which is one of my favorite eras. And they have, I think, something like 60 albums.
RBMA: No joke there.
James Murphy: With only one continuous member, which is the singer Mark Smith, who’s just talking in the background. And he has a tape recorder that he’ll just tape stuff and just talk into it, and then replace the song with the stuff that he’s talking into. A tape recorder or something on the TV or just an organ in the background. I think he would do that in the control room sometimes because the music would play and he would just record stuff when they are soloing things and try to fit it back into the song.
RBMA: Where can we hear moments over like that influence on LCD?
James Murphy: I don’t think I ever got my head around that. I try not to be a perfectionist. I try to leave a lot of stuff in, but I think that’s a singular. I think you hear as many moments of that as you hear me singing like Roberta Flack. It’s just like, “No, that’s not me.” And it’s a thing that always reminded me to take more chances, and the thing that always reminded me to relax. And I think I did, for me, I took chances in exposing myself or embarrassing myself, rather than that kind of totally… it’s like abstract painting. You know, it’s a lot more abstract than I would usually let myself do. ‘Cause I felt like, that would feel so far away from me that I would feel like I was aping that gesture. Whereas I could usually find a way to make the gesture mine, but that was a gesture that was really hard. I think in the beginning of “Yr City’s A Sucker” is as close as, ‘cause I use the hand-held cassette recorder that I was demoing the acoustic part for for the beginning of it, but other than that it’s very, very alien to me.
RBMA: We hear just the beginning of a certain tune.
You once sit and listen to that intro for about an hour.
James Murphy: I was a very trancy kid.
RBMA: That was The Beatles.
James Murphy: Yeah.
RBMA: “Tomorrow Never Knows,” by the way.
James Murphy: Little known band called The Beatles. I was a really psychedelic little kid. I didn’t know that, I didn’t know what that meant.
RBMA: So how did you find out later on?
James Murphy: Well, I was really into the physicality of music and that, to me, was my favorite Beatles song, always, because it wasn’t cerebral, it wasn’t like… (singing) And here’s another core change, that is clever.
It was just like this relentless kind of nodding thing, like this hypnotizing thing. I was always really entranced when things were really hypnotizing. I used to listen to humming machines, anything that was kind of repetitive and loopy, like Chopin’s Berceuse, things that are like the lullabies and stuff like that. The things that are just like monotonous. When I found Can I was in heaven ‘cause they were just like, “Here’s this for 30 minutes.” But that is the first song that I heard, that’s a story.
RBMA: Did you ever find yourself looping things up? Like, you know, taking tapes and looping them up so you could listen to them actually on repeat?
James Murphy: Well, I only had a cassette recorder, and cutting, looping cassettes, I’ve done it and it’s really hard work and I usually screw it up. And then it usually gets eaten by the car stereo. So once you splice a cassette it’s just like, ‘bluuh’, and then you’re like pulling them out of the car dash with a bunch of sadness. It wasn’t the regular cassette decks that did that, it was the car ones. I know, but my friend Brad, got an Emax, Emulator Emax sampler, and we would make things with that. And I just had a drum machine as a kid and one synthesizer.
RBMA: What was the drum machine?
James Murphy: Drum machine was a Roland 767, I think.
RBMA: Do you still have it?
James Murphy: No, I always would give things to people to get them to make music too. And then I would forget who I gave it to. And I can remember the moment of giving it to people and there was, there was like a blurry thing around their face. I could see myself being like, “Yeah, you could totally make a song, and then it’s like ‘brlbrlbrl.'” The voices change like on a TV interview.
RBMA: Like Charlie Brown.
James Murphy: Yeah, ‘wawawawawa’, and I’m like, ”Oh, I can’t, I don’t even know what gender that is.” So it went somewhere. This guy Dan, who’s in a band of mine, has my Korg. Which is it? The Korg D800 or…?
RBMA: Well, now you can’t remember who it is but not what it was.
James Murphy: Dan, that’s the one, I don’t know about the drum machine.
James Murphy: Damnit! But I make loopy things on that.
RBMA: Do you have a favourite drum machine?
James Murphy: I mean, probably the 808 or the 606, two different, for different reasons. And the Wurlitzer Sideman.
RBMA: Why the Wurlitzer Sideman?
James Murphy: The Wurlitzer Sideman has this incredibly deep kick drum that I use the sample of all the time. And when you need something underneath it doesn’t take up any space, it just make you feel like the bottom dropped out. It’s like adding subwoofers to something and I really like that, rather than making a big, too big of a kick drum, I can just slide the Sideman underneath.
RBMA: Just play one more and then open it up to questions.
James Murphy: Sure, I’ll do what you tell me.
James Murphy: Sweet, sweet fader work.
RBMA: That was “Jump Into The Fire” by Harry Nilsson.
James Murphy: Harry Nilsson.
RBMA: The, was that the first record you guys covered as LCD?
James Murphy: It may very well be, I’m not a 100% sure, it was either that or the Joy Division, the “Warsaw.”
RBMA: It’s an amazing song in the sense, to me, that it basically everything about it captures, what LCD in my mind became.
James Murphy: Yes, and it is a monotonous, relentless song. Harry Nelson might be a better singer. He is one of my old time favourite singers, it’s one of the most incredible voices, ‘till John Lennon made him scream it out. True story. And it’s so dumb and so good and so physical, yeah, it’s a blueprint. And I wasn’t thinking about that at all when we started, and then I kind of refound the song. Because a friend of mine’s band, this band Dung Beetle, was getting ready to perform at a wedding. Again, they’ve been one of the most influential bands on me ever, and they couldn’t find the drummer, he was working for FEMA or something. And so I sat in and we were gonna cover “Jump Into The Fire,” and I was just like, “Oh, that song’s so good.” So they did their song and they covered it and then I was like, “I’m gonna do that too with my band.” So yeah, I think it’s a superpowerful, super simple song. I mean, it works like a Stooges song in a way, it’s like the same loop riff over and over.
RBMA: Was it tough as a band to keep things simple, to not over-egg things when you were in the studio, or writing songs, or did it come naturally?
James Murphy: It was tougher for me to add things. I have a real hard time with too many elements. I really love sounds, and I think it’s actually a weakness. I really do love individual sounds and I fall in love with drum sounds, and bass sounds, and then I get really annoyed when I finally mix a record. I’m like, “This is really the last time I’m gonna hear this bass by itself and there’s so much in it.” And I get really sad. I have to cover because there’s a piano now. Anyway, it’s all over the place. It’s in the way. You know, the bass and the piano’s great but why not just have the piano? I like individual sounds a lot, so I always get a little bit stressed out when I cover things. So it’s usually not a fear of you know, it’s more that I have to let myself just put stuff in when it needs to be in there sometimes and I have a harder time doing that than keeping it simple.
RBMA: Let’s open up to questions from the audience.
James Murphy: Sure, you were asking me questions already, this is just opening it up to public.
RBMA: Yeah, basically.
James Murphy: Hi everybody.
RBMA: Does anyone have any questions for James Murphy?
James Murphy: If you don’t, that’s OK too. I don’t have any questions for me.
Participant: Hi, thank you so much for being here and talking with all of us. So, it seems that most moments in your day-to-day life, they appear to have no consequence on the rest of your life. But every now and then, there’s a moment that seems to change everything, so I was wondering, what’s that moment, for you, that changed your musical life?
James Murphy: There’s a lot of them, to be honest, dating back, earlier. There’s people too. There’s moments and there’s people. I was working with a guy, who was making this music, I was just like sitting in on a session and he was taking all these chances and it wasn’t very good, and I was really complaining about it a lot, you know, doing all this, “Dude, this guy thinks he’s so great.” And I then I realized, what was I doing? And I was like, “OK I’m that guy, and I don’t like this guy. If I make a movie, and the me character doesn’t make music, and sits around and listens to records all the time and complains about other people, I’m not gonna like that guy.” (laughs) That guy sucks! So, I think it was a moment where I realized like, “Maybe I can just make things as opposed to just shutting up.” I didn’t effectively shut up, but I did at least start making things, which was better. But there’s a lot of things. I mean, there’s a lot of nights out where my life was changed, there’s a lot of waking up in the middle of the night, where I woke up in the middle of the night with the least interesting revelation, which was after making the first record. The first LCD record, where I woke up three months before going to make the second record, Sound Of Silver, and I said, “I got it! I just have to make the next record so much better!”
And when I said it, it didn’t mean anything, but to me, it meant a lot. I’d really figured out something, like that I could try and make things better, rather than settling on an idea or something like that. I read Outliers, sometimes people don’t like Malcolm Gladwell, but it’s a really good book because it kinda woke me up to how many different people and how many different very, very lucky circumstances changed my life into making music. Whereas before you can believe this self hype that if you work really hard and you made this for yourself. But I’m very aware that that’s not the whole truth. It’s more other people than moments, I think.
RBMA: Any other questions?
James Murphy: You don’t have to ask me a questions, but you can. There are no stupid questions, there are only stupid people. There’s no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Don’t be shy!
Participant: Hello, hello! You were saying that you really didn’t get your success until a bit later in life and I was wondering what kept you hanging in there throughout that period.
James Murphy: Limited options. No, I mean I dropped out of college, I was in a shitty band, and what I knew how to do was run sound. I knew how to build sound systems and fix sound systems and I was a live engineer for bands; that’s how I made my money, how I made all the big money in the ’90s. You know, working for 80 bucks a night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken or Brownie’s on Avenue Way. And then sometimes I’d go on tour with the band and so that’s what I did. I was just around music all the time and I had a studio in Dumbo, which I paid 375 bucks a month for. In that really fancy building where everything in Dumbo is. In Dumbo in Brooklyn there’s a building on water front; White Church is like this huge building and I was the only tenant and I had a little studio there so I could make music and any money I earned, anything I earned went into equipment so I was kind of stuck. I didn’t know what else I could do and you know, that was it.
Participant: Thanks. And was there particular moment or some kind of changing factor that you noticed?
James Murphy: I did this guy a favor in like ’93, and he moved to New York, and had a bunch of studio equipment, and didn’t have anyplace to put it, so I let him store it in my studio and he could use my studio once in awhile if he wanted to and kind of forgot about it. And then when I got kicked out of my studio so they could build luxury high rises, I had to tell him that he got to take his stuff back and he is like, “Well, I just got this space.” I was like, “Can I store my stuff in your space temporarily?” I always joke it’s like this idea, you’re chocolate on my peanut butter or peanut butter on my chocolate. I was carrying all our equipment in there and I was like, “If you know a space where I can build a studio let me know.” He was like, “Totally, but if you know somebody who could design a studio, ‘cause I want to build one here.” And I was like, well, “I’m like…”
“I mean, I could do that here.” And so that became DFA’s studios. There’s a guy named Tyler Brody who is one of those people without whom my whole situation doesn’t exist. Because he helped build the label, and he helped build the studio and gave me a place to work. And then, David Holmes, that artist from Northern Ireland came and brought Tim Goldsworthy with him and that was one of the first sessions I did. And so I met Tim, who was my musical partner at the beginning of DFA and I saw a whole different world that I never had any peek into, which was dance music. And that changed my life because I realized that making people dance had a point that had nothing to do with art. And I mean that in the most positive way. Meaning that it’s like food, if they’re not eating it, you’ve screwed it up. And if they’re not dancing, you’re just not doing a very good job. So it made a very simple set of goals for me which allowed me to calm down and stop wondering if what I was doing was good or worthwhile. I was like, “I can figure this out and make people dance. Make people have fun.” And that was a great weight off your back after years of self mythologizing of like, “Am I good? I could never be like David Bowie, I can never be like all these people. I’m never gonna be in Velvet Underground. What am I? Who am I?” Just silence that voice for long enough for me to make some songs.
RBMA: Were there any places in New York around that time you were going to? I know you DJed at Plant Bar.
James Murphy: Yeah.
RBMA: Of course.
James Murphy: Mostly just Plant Bar. You know, before Plant Bar opened I was just going around with Marcus Lamkin who is Shit Robot on DFA. He was the DJ, he used to be at Save the Robots which was like a legendary after hours downtown club. And just going out and having fun which was really anathematic to my like indie rock ’90s which was going out and being judgmental. It’s like I paid like six bucks so I could stand here and be like “Mehuhhhhh. I prefer the Melvins.” And then suddenly people were hooking up with people and going home with people and having fun. And I was like, “Oohh, oohh. Pretty sure I’m supposed to talk about Pavement by myself over here.” And so I started loosening up a little bit and it was the best, especially since I was 29. It’s a little late for loosening up, but it was alright.
RBMA: There’s hope for us all.
James Murphy: Get my dance on.
RBMA: Are there any other questions?
James Murphy: Feel free. I can vent them. Yes.
James Murphy: Hi.
Participant: So, you’re talking about how you like listening to individual sounds, and you appreciate individual sounds and then when you put them together, sometimes you feel sad because they lose something. So I’m wondering how do you mix songs or create songs so you could still appreciate the individual characteristics of the sounds, or is that really just for you, and not so much for the listeners?
James Murphy: Well, good query. I try to not put too much stuff in, and I try also to leave gaps. Like, usually in songs that’s one of the reasons I like intros and outros of songs. My songs are not very short, typically. I don’t get in and get out. I’m not nearly as obsessed with melodies and hooks and things that you’re supposed to be thinking about. So a lot of times it’ll be little elements in the beginning, or breakdowns where things can feature, so that I can feel satisfied that there’s something to dig into and look at. I mean, as a remixer, which is what I have done a lot, in the past, I would sometimes get files and I would be stunned sometimes at what the individual sounds sounded like. Sometimes they’re awful like, “That’s out of phase, and it’s clicking where all the edits are, and this just sounds like shit. And you can hear the aliasing ‘cause you pitched it.” But then I listen to the record and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a good record and people like it, it really jumps out at you,” and that’s just not me. I’m jealous sometimes of people who can do that. People who just like throw shit together, and then the amalgam sounds good. I can’t do that, or at least I can’t do that now. So I try instead to let things have their little lives, ‘cause intimacy is what gets me. Physicality and intimacy is what gets me. There’s a Sly Stone song called “Just Like A Baby,” and he’s singing really, really close to the microphone and it’s that intimacy that really grabs me. More so than like an epic structure just leaves me cold sometimes, ‘cause I feel a little bit manipulated in a different way. I feel like someone from way up here is small, and they’re manipulating me with something giant, rather than someone coming close enough to me that they’re at risk. and that’s where that vulnerability and that intimacy comes from, which I find in weird things like The Stooges. I feel The Stooges are really vulnerable and intimate, which isn’t necessarily the first thing you think about, but if you listen to “Penetration,” some of the vocals are so close and so weird. Or “Pop Tones” by Public Image Limited when he’s singing, “Drive through the forest in a Japanese car,” so small that it sounds like he’s in your ear. These are things that just always give me chills. So I try to work from that place, I guess, as often as possible. A very long-winded, nerdy answer.
RBMA: You’ve come to the right place.
James Murphy: Dot com.
Participant: Do you like everything on your label?
James Murphy: Well, I guess it depends. I mean, at times, at some point yes. But I also don’t make all the decisions at my label and I don’t think every song that I’ve put out is successful as a creative endeavor. And I don’t think every song by the Beatles is a successful creative endeavor, but I also think what I like changes over time. There are songs I hated growing up that wind up being my favorite song on a record 20 years later. So, my job is to support artists that I think do good work. And, if sometimes what they do is not what I like, it’s not my job. I’m not like an overlord. You know, it’s not our job to think that we’re right all the time. ‘Cause I think I’m wrong a lot of the time. Some things I like, I wind up looking back and thinking they weren’t so good, and some things I was kind of bored by and tossed off, come back to me later as stronger bits. It’s my job to like all the people that we put out, but it’s not my job to go in and be like, “Gotta say, man, chorus on that… little shaky.”
‘Cause I would expect them to listen to me about as much as I would listen to someone else, which is none.
RBMA: You know, it’s a tough question, but was there anything in particular that you were excited to see as a live performance at the DFA show this past weekend?
James Murphy: There’s almost nobody that I haven’t seen. So I was in such a state of panic about really small things most of the night. Like, “Oh, I didn’t bring the person that I told you I was going to bring. It’s their name at the door so they can’t get in. Can you just change it to a plus? Can you come down, ‘cause they can’t get in.” Type texts. And, “Ah, the sound check didn’t go well for this band so I have to stand there and make sure it’s OK”-type stuff. I was excited to get to see the Black Dice and I didn’t. I’ll say what I was excited to see and didn’t see, which is a bunch of stuff, because I was running around, trying to be like Julie McCoy on Love Boat. “Hey everybody. Is everybody OK over here? Cool. You can’t get drinks? Hold on, let me try and figure that out.” Which is a lot of what happens when we have events. There’s a lot of me just kind of feeling like the mother of the bride at a wedding when you try to get everybody sitting at the right table. So, the band that I got to see the most of were Planningtotock and Prince Horn and I haven’t seen either one in a very long time. So I was really excited to see them and they were great, but everybody else I see all the time. Like Marcus, I don’t need to see him. He’s staying at my house. I don’t care.
RBMA: That’s fair. Any other questions?
Participant: What’s the thing with Black Dice? I love ‘em, I don’t know who to make the question, but it’s like they are different from a bunch of other…
James Murphy: Yes.
Participant: Well, you can answer now, I think.
James Murphy: What’s the deal with Black Dice?
RBMA: What is the deal with Black Dice?
James Murphy: Well, when we started off the label… we’re pretty excited about music. We liked the history of downtown art music and didn’t necessarily want to just only do what people had associated us with. And one of the first bands, I went and saw was Black Dice. My friend Justin Chernow, who was the guy who brought me to see The Rapture, also brought me to see the Black Dice and I freaked out. I thought they were awesome and John Galkin became completely obsessed with the album they were working on.
RBMA: What was their live show like? I mean, why was it so…?
James Murphy: When I first saw them?
James Murphy: It was like a fist fight. It was pure adrenaline and aggression and people were getting their heads cut open and it was just crazy. But it was really physical and I’m a physical music person. And then they changed dramatically. They started making Quite Beautiful.
RBMA: That was the first album, right?
James Murphy: But before the first album, they were like…
RBMA: What I’m saying, on DFA.
James Murphy: Well, then we had a big show with Black Dice and The Rapture and a partially formed Juan Maclean at this place called Warsaw in Brooklyn in April 2000, I think. Maybe 2001? I’m not exactly sure. Maybe 2000, 2001. And Black Dice played and we were all out of our minds and we had this video projector that had insanely slow motion skier going down a mountain, just like, frame… frame. And they would played it for like an hour, to thousands of people. At least 600 people over capacity in this room. And I called this PA company and I said, “There’s a place that holds 800 people and it has a PA in it already.” They said, “For that size we would suggest two of these columns.” And I was like, “We’ll take four.” So we made a surround sound system and it was just the most insanely punishing, but beautiful, like orchestral [sound]. They were just a different side of our taste. When we like something we want to put it out rather than try and find a niche market and exploit that market. In fact, we didn’t put out a lot of music that was sent to us that fit. Because you could feel people were trying to be like, “Well, here’s what they make. Let’s send them that.” We weren’t that interested. I mean, Planningtorock is pretty unrelated. Prince Horn Dance School is pretty different.
RBMA: Larry Gus, Shocking Pink.
James Murphy: Larry Gus and Shocking Pink is the same, Invisible Conga People. There’s, I think, some diversity, but we’re quite known for a certain thing, and certainly, a Black Dice show at times would be very far from what we’d be assumed to be about. I don’t know, we liked it, I don’t care. (laughs) It was just fun, it was funny that was our first full length album which was very confusing for dance stores. Beaches & Canyons by Black Dice was our first full-length album and we had been doing well with 12″s and a lot of dance stores were late to buying DFA Records so they were like, “Here’s an album, we’ll take that.”
RBMA: Well, then it’s also if you knew Black Dice back then you were like, “What the hell is this?”
James Murphy: Yeah, well, it was a big change for them too. Like, their sound changed dramatically so people who were really to Black Dice were…
RBMA: So you really marketed that well.
James Murphy: Oh yeah, well, that’s you know…
RBMA: …giving it to dance stores.
James Murphy: That’s how we made the big money.
RBMA: Black Dice fans were confused.
James Murphy: Well, we purposely didn’t tell people what it was going to be like, we thought that was funny. Most of our decisions were based on, “That’d be funny.” I’m a very big fan of the aesthetic value of a small personal joke brought writ large. I really am, some of my favorite things are like, “Oh, let’s just do that. OK, let’s genuinely do that.”
RBMA: This was you, when you were recording “This Is Happening,” deciding to wear all white all the time.
James Murphy: Yeah, or anything like that. Or even just DFA, sitting and being like, “What if I made a little shitty lightning bolt? Alright, well, let’s just use that.” “We could hire a company to like make it look nice.” Like, “Nah, the first time I scribbled it, that’s the lightening bolt for DFA forever.” In a meeting with Tim being like, “Why does it look like that? It says DFA.” “There’s no cross on the A because the ballpoint didn’t work, and that’s just it forever.” And I love that stuff, and we have that framed. That’s framed it’s on a scribbled piece of paper. And I remember John got it scanned, drum scanned really high quality by a fancy art scanner they cut off a piece of tape and John was like, “Are you out of your mind? This is a piece of art. You destroyed it.! And they felt really terrible and gave it to us for free. We were really broke then so it worked out.
RBMA: Are there any other questions?
James Murphy: Oh, just fight it out.
RBMA: Starting to pick up.
James Murphy: Death match.
Participant: Hi there.
James Murphy: Hi.
Participant: Yeah, it seems like kind of a really tough time for a larger indie label like DFA to kind of survive in the music industry in the moment?
James Murphy: I will take the compliment of larger indie label, thank you.
Participant: That may be mostly smaller boutique labels are kind of thriving and I’m just curious what your plan is to survive going forward?
James Murphy: We’re diversifying in a global patter… no, we have no… We have no plan. I mean, there’s two people that work there, John who’s one of the partners and Chris, and interns. There’s no plan, it’s barely guerrilla warfare. The plan is to keep putting out records until someone shows up and says that we can’t. I know, I mean, to a certain degree it is. We’ve had interesting experiences working with major labels and stuff. The Black Dice album was a major label release. That was on EMI Worldwide, which I think was a part of the joke. John and I were like, “Check this out. Ah-mazing.” Like, that was a major label album. I don’t know what our plan is. Our plan is to not spend a lot of money, keep it cheap. Not have an expensive overhead and put out records we like any whatever way we can. And Chris Peterson, in the documentary he says, “I think I’m the system label manager?” He’s really young, he’s younger than John and I and less grumpy. So he does things, like, put things on the Internet to sell. Because we just have rooms full of shit, like there’s 300 boxes of mugs, that we made. Then John and I would be like, “Yeah, we’ll totally get on that at some point.” Chris will be like, “I’ll put them on the internet and sell them.” So I think Chris keeps us alive by selling mugs. It’s not a good business. I’m just going to tell you right now, it’s not a good business. If you’d like to make a lot of money, do something else. You may make a lot of money, but if you’d to make a lot of money get into financial management. Money makes money. But we’ve always just done this because we really liked it so, and all of us tried to figure out ways make money, make a living outside of the label so we’re not a burden on the label. Except for poor John because he works like 20 hours a day. (laughs) So he’s stuck in the office. Sorry, John.
RBMA: I’m sure he won’t have time to see this, so…
James Murphy: I thought I would have a better .
RBMA: Yeah, that was really not inspiring.
James Murphy: I thought I would have a more positive answer. Sorry, I realize that’s truly shitty.
James Murphy: Hi.
Participant: You said you like intimacy and physicality in music and you both do DJ sets and perform with a band. I want to know what do you think or feel, from the performance point of view, and also from the spectator point of view of different type of shows? If you feel more connected to some or…?
James Murphy: Well, I’d argue that one’s a show and one’s not a show. I think the band is a show, and the DJ gig is not a show, and I dislike it when it is a show. I don’t like DJing as a show. For me it’s, I’m a DJ. I’m at the party. I’m playing music, but the people dancing is the kind of primary function, the people in the crowd. When I go see a band, I want the band to be there in a completely different way than a DJ. I’ve had great experiences in both. I think the assumption would be that the band is much more satisfying, but that’s not necessarily true for me. I’ve had an equal number of really, kind of heartfelt, really personal and really great experiences DJing. And I’ve had a ton of soul-crushing, why-am-I-doing-this live gigs in contrast. They’re so different that I have a difficult time, actually, comparing them. They’re as different as being in the studio, which is not performing at all, is from either one. They form a triangle to me. I loved being in a band, I loved the people that I played with. I hated the monstrous weight of everything, physical and emotional. I hated having trucks and buses and a large staff. I mean, I liked all the people, but there’s a lot about not making music that goes into being in a band, unless you have a management team that takes that away from you, but I feel the way I am is not well designed for that. I feel I have to be engaged in everything, otherwise it gets away from me, it becomes something else, which is no judgement to people who do that, but it’s just not my way. I don’t like DJing on a stage, I like to DJ in a booth. I like to just provide a good party for people and I’ve seriously had times where like I’m like as happy as I can be DJing. But it’s a different kind of intimacy. It’s up to the crowd to a certain degree as well, whether they’ll let the weight of their expectation of what the event is supposed to be like interfere with their experience. If I have a long DJ set, if I do big festivals and there’s a long DJ set, it’s a lot of like banging electronic dance music, I tend to be very boring for a little while, ‘cause I want people to just stop looking at me, to stop waiting for the thing to do this to. Because I feel like a certain amount of excitement becomes tedious. It’s like spice. If it’s just everything’s got a million chilies in it, you just get numb. And I feel people sometimes follow into their expectations, like, “I’m supposed to do this now. I’m supposed to look at this guy, who’s gonna put his arms up, and I’m gonna put my arms up. And then he’s gonna drop everything out, and it’s gonna rumble along, then he’s gonna put it all back in. It’s gonna be incredible.” But they don’t feel like it’s incredible, necessarily. They sometime just disconnect and they go through the motions, so I try to be boring enough that they realize that I’m not going to be trying to make them do that and then hopefully start playing some stuff that feels really good and maybe people will have a different kind of time. But that’s a whole ‘nother endless subject, I guess.
RBMA: Thanks. Cool. Well, James will be around a little bit over here. So feel free to ask a question, but for now…
James Murphy: I will? I’ll be here? Right here? Over here?
RBMA: Well, you know, around.
James Murphy: I’m open to this, I just didn’t know if it was on this couch or…
RBMA: You can do whatever you want to do.
James Murphy: That’s not really true.
RBMA: It’s your world, James. Within reason.
James Murphy: Yeah, it’s a police state.
RBMA: On that inspiring note, James Murphy.Tags: babee, james murphy