Interview with LCD Soundsystem
Words: John Balfe | Tuesday April 20th - 2pm. LCD Soundsystem are supposed to be in Dublin ahead of the first of two shows in Tripod. That was, of course, until Eyjafjallajokull had her say. The Icelandic volcano's eruption and resulting ash cloud had stranded James Murphy and co. on mainland Europe, forcing the cancellation of the Dublin shows and crushing the dreams of disco-punk fans all over the country. This was supposed to be the first date on LCD Soundsystem's European tour ahead of the release of 'This Is Happening', the follow-up to the Grammy Award nominated 'Sound of Silver' and James Murphy seemed to be just as disappointed as everyone else.
You're on a bus in Spain when you're supposed to be in Dublin..
I know, it's heartbreaking.
How much has the volcano disrupted your tour?
So far it's just the Dublin gigs. Murphy's Law!
That's quite appropriate!
Luck of the Irish, right?
What have you been doing with the extra time you have off?
We're in a bus driving towards London because those are the next gigs we can get to. The only gigs we lost are the Dublin gigs. We're just hurtling through the countryside trying to catch up with the tour. There was no way we could get to Dublin unfortunately.
At this point in the interview, James' phone begins to cut-out and break up rendering every second word almost inaudible. This is a sign of things to come. Soon, though, we're back in business.
How do you compare 'This Is Happening' to the previous record?
I don't know, I've always had a hard time with that right after making a record. It usually takes about 6 months to a year to have an opinion. The opinion comes from a couple of things, one is the record that I make as it exists and I know how I made it. The other is how the record lives in the world, and that take me a while to really get a sense of.
I've always thought that there are two very different phases when making a record. I think there's the idea that you have when you're constructing it and there's the whole life it takes on when it's finished.
Right, and I'm interested in that life. I'm not just interested in my idea. I'm pretty compelled by the life a record takes and how it communicates with people. Because, in the end, it's not a free-standing object; it's a communication device. How successful it is as a 'thing' has a lot to do with how it's received. I don't mean just (adopts funny voice) "if people like it it's good!" It's more how it communicates. That's what's important to me.
Before this album came out you were quoted as saying that album was going to be "definitely better than the other two". Do you stand by that?
(Laughs) I don't know! That's just a goal. I know it seems like a weird thing to say, but otherwise why would you do it? There are things about this record that I think are definitely better, but how it is as a whole album is something that'll take some time to discover.
Silence. The phone connection drops completely. I silently curse the volcano, choosing that as the most appropriate scapegoat for which to vent my anger. An EMI representative called Diego comes on the line and apologises profusely. James' tour bus is driving through a valley making the phone signal weak he explains. Nature has something against LCD Soundsystem, it would seem. Before too long, James comes back on the line.
Sorry about that John, this is like a re-representation of losing the Dublin gigs.
Your last album, 'Sound of Silver', was very well received both critically and by fans. Does that put an added pressure on you when you're releasing the follow-up?
Not really, I don't think there can be any more pressure. I feel tonnes of pressure just in general. So it's not like there can be any more.
Do things like sales figures and chart positions concern you?
(Emphatically) NO! Well, it doesn't concern me when making a record at all. I'm a human being though, I would love to do better than worse but outside of that, that's where my care stops.
So you don't think there's all that much common ground between the business of making music and the business of selling music, it's just two different things?
Well yeah, there are certain things of course. I do make records. I'd make them differently if I was trying to make a commercial album, or just make something weird for myself - I do think about the format of what I'm making. I don't think about what should be a single, or what can go on the radio.
That's someone else's decision.
Yeah. I usually have an idea of what songs will be considered for singles after I listen to them.
Was that the thinking behind 'Drunk Girls' as the first single?
I thought 'I Can Change' would be a more interesting first single because it's more different than what we normally do. I was okay with either one though really.
How do your songs usually take shape? What process do you undertake?
For me "process" is a good word because I tend to think of things as processes really clearly. There are different processes for different types of songs. Meaning that there are songs that I have in my head, complete songs, and I try and execute them, and then there are songs that actually start with a working methodology.
'Get Innocuous' would be a working methodology song where you make a beat to play drums to and then a synthesiser pattern to play drums to and then work from that. Where there are songs that are more like 'ideas'. Different types of songs have different types of processes, there's really not one way - there's probably about four different ways.
Taking one song in particular for example, when I listened to the album for the first time it was the first track 'Dance Yrself Clean' which really stood out to me. How does that one work, there really is a lot of stuff going on in that song.
Well technically there are actually very few things going on in that song.
But there's a definitive cutting point about three minutes in where it gets turned on its head.
Yeah, it's basically two songs. There's an intro, a little conga pattern. I wanted to make something really simple and tiny because I was really listening to a lot of very small music. I wanted to make something tiny but I couldn't help myself after a certain point to make something larger. The only sounds that come in in the second half and the live drums and a single mono synth - that's it - there are just two elements that are added but they're just obviously so loud and big that they are big elements. I was really obsessed with making sure that the vocals were really quiet in the first half, so you really had to strain and the effect of them coming in later would be better.
Pitchfork named 'All My Friends' as the second best song of the last decade. Accolades like that are largely unquantifiable, but how does that make you feel?
I think that's nice. That song has been a surprise for me and it's been nice that people have responded to it pretty strongly. For me, it's a pretty personal song. I have a lot of really close friends in New York for whom that's a really important song. It's weird when it's appreciated by a larger audience. I think I've been lucky to have a song connect with people in a way for them. But it's a weird one, I never really knew how to feel about that. I'm not good at Top 10 lists.
But it's nice to be in the conversation.
I heard a rumour that this might be your last tour. Is there any truth to that?
I think forever, yeah. It'll be a year and a half though. I'm 40, we all have lives. I love this band and I wouldn't want to be in another band at all. I wouldn't want to stop and form another band, or something stupid like that. I love it. But the problem is you shouldn't do it if you're not going to do it well. To do it well, to do it in a dignified way requires it to be almost your entire life. This is all I do. I used to be able to do this, plus a label, plus DJing, plus remixes, plus producing. I can't do those things anymore.
I figured that, rather than feeling compromised, I'd prefer to dedicate the next year and a half to make this record the best I can and do the tour the best I can and then just stop being this kind of a band that makes an album and goes on tour and does videos and things. I'm not going to make a new band. I'll probably still make music with LCD Soundsystem, but I'll probably just make singles and go back to it being a 'project' which is a part of my life, rather than a job that demands a year of Pat's life and Nancy's life. It's a big commitment. I'd rather go back to it being a part of my life instead of all of my life.
Has being in LCD Soundsystem become less fun for you?
No, that's the thing. The band itself is incredibly fun. If anything, it's become more fun. We had an amazing time making this record. I probably had the most fun making this record than any other and I'm already having the most fun playing with this band now than any other time we've played together.
I'm burned out by some of the business of it but I'm not burned out on being in the band. It's just that it stops me from doing other things that I'd like to do. That's the only drawback, I'm not complaining at all - this has been a dream band to be in. At a certain point the only reason to not stop doing it would be financial and that's just not a good enough reason to be in a band.
So it just becomes more and more difficult to juggle everything the longer it goes on?
It becomes impossible, not even difficult. Just straight impossible. I can't continue doing the kind of work that I should be doing for the label and I find that very frustrating. When I have people put their careers in our hands to help, that's a big responsibility. I can't be like 'sorry dude, I have to tour.' It's not right. I feel it's come to the point where I have to stop doing the thing where I'm the singer and start doing the other jobs.
I wanted to ask you a little about file-sharing because I noticed on your website that you have a stream of the new album there for free...
Yeah, because it leaked. I was heartbroken. I'm kind of agnostic about file-sharing in general. I think there are really great things that come from it. If radio's not doing its f*cking job then it's up to the Internet to give you music to find. On the other hand, I don't think people use it the way I use it. If I'm curious about something I might go listen to it. I won't download it and consider that I have it. I would do it for old disco songs, I'll find it and then if I like it I'll go look for the record. But that's because I'm 40. Most people use it to actually get their music and I find that a little disconcerting.
More importantly than that, I don't like the early leaking of records. I find it incredibly arrogant. I want to find the people that upload records before they come out and punch them in the face. It's not f*ucking yours, it's mine! I worked on it and I wanted to put it out the way I wanted to put it out, when I wanted to put it out. I get these arrogant emails that are like "you can't stop progress, dude. This is how the world is, get over it." The world is also f*cking fat and racist, it doesn't mean I'm going to get over it. Just because people do it doesn't mean it's not f*cked up. I find that really frustrating.
So it does have a direct impact on you? Like you said, you were planning on putting this album out in your own way and now you don't have that option anymore.
Yeah exactly, because my whole idea was that because we haven't toured in two years so this first tour ends right before the record comes out so I had an opportunity to just play one or two new songs. I don't like it when you go see a band and all they do is play the new songs, especially if the record is not out. My thought was that I would go and play mostly new songs and maybe one or two, maybe three new songs maximum. Then when we come back after the album is out we'll play a new set.
I feel like we've done our job and that we're doing the right thing by people who come to see us. They pay money and that's their money that they work for, so we just want to do a good job. Now by leaking it there will be people who really like our band who have downloaded the record, and I have no blame for them, then they might be frustrated that we're not playing more new songs.
Do you know where the leak came from?
I do know where it came from but I don't know why. It's almost always carelessness, leaving your watermarked CD on your desk, or putting it on your computer. When I get a watermarked CD I destroy them almost immediately. I almost don't even want to listen to them because I don't want to deal with it. If I ever do put the music on my computer to listen to I will do it once, destroy the CD and change the names of all the songs and the band. I don't understand people who don't do that. If you work in this business you can't be sloppy with something like this. I knew it was going to leak, I could feel it. I told my manager that it was going to leak early. With us touring before the record is out there was too much pressure, it was almost inevitable.
It's becoming more and more prevalent. These days people expect albums to leak. It's almost like a new CD will have its official release date and then its leak release date.
Some people also think it's a PR move. It's made people very jaded.
Lastly, any words for Irish fans who were disappointed with the cancellation?
All I can say is I'm really, really sorry. We did everything we could to get there and it just wasn't possible and it was killing us. We tried not to cancel anything until the last possible minute. We'll make it up. Hopefully we'll figure out a good solution so it'll be more than just playing. Obviously, Dublin is where we were going to start our European tour so we care a lot about playing there. It just sucks that those were the gigs that got cancelled.
A volcano is a pretty epic reason to cancel though. It's not like that happens very often.
Yeah, it's not like it's an inner-ear infection or a lost passport...
An apocalyptic volcano sounds much better.
(Laughs) Yeah exactly, the world was just like "YOU WILL NOT PLAY!"
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Thursday 13th May 2010 | Music
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