LCD Soundsystem on Hot Chip, Glasgow Barrowland and breaking the cycle - James Murphy interview
'I don’t know what’s going to happen, for the first time in five years. It’s exciting to be confused.'
As LCD Soundsystem gear up for a concert at the Barrowlands, frontman James Murphy talks to David Pollock about touring with Hot Chip, gigging in Glasgow, and those persistent rumours of their demise
‘There’s a right way and a wrong way to play Glasgow,’ says LCD Soundsystem founder and frontman James Murphy. And he should know. His band’s excursions to the Barrowlands (‘my favourite venue in my favourite city in the world’, the New Yorker assures us) have become annual events of late, and each time they come back a heroic reception is assured.
‘Why is it my favourite venue? Because the crowd is really committed, one way or the other. I’ve seen that crowd not like people before and they aren’t like, “Ah I dunno, I think I might just go home.” They’re like, “Fuck off!” The level of willingness to go for it means you play for them and they’re your friend or your enemy, there’s no grey area. And Glasgow crowds have been really generous to us, really going for it and giving us as much energy as they can, and we play better then.’
So what’s the secret? What’s the right way to play Glasgow? ‘The way we did it,’ he confirms with a laugh down the phone from his tour bus in Detroit, where the band are finishing a joint tour of the States with Hot Chip before returning to Britain. ‘It worked for us really beautifully because our first show in Glasgow was at Optimo. It was one of our first five shows in the UK, in fact. It wasn’t that we had a big record in the NME and suddenly we were there: we were there from the start, we were there before we had any singles out or anything. That was the start of a long relationship with the city.’
Ah, Optimo. It was maybe inevitable that the seminal Glasgow club night’s closure earlier this year coincided with persistent rumours and half-statements from the LCD Soundsystem camp that the band might be coming to an end soon (more of which later). Both parties more or less defined the 00s with their contributions to what might be narrowly defined as the dance-funk-disco-punk scene – in reality an omnivorous and furiously dancefloor-dedicated style with one foot in the moody no wave aesthetic of late 70s and early 80s New York City. One obvious point in common was that era’s Liquid Liquid. ‘They’re one of my favourite groups and a huge influence on my own band,’ says Murphy. Optimo loved them so much they named their club after one of their songs.
‘Keith and Jonny (Optimo’s Twitch and Wilkes) brought The Rapture to play their place in 2001 or ‘02, that’s how I met them,’ says Murphy, who also heads the DFA Records label to whom The Rapture are signed. ‘I came with the band to do the sound, and I still hadn’t met anyone else who DJed the same kind of music I played at that point. Then I arrived at Optimo and thought, “Holy crap, this is like a fuckin’ dream!” It’s been a really long, comfortable relationship ever since. We share a lot of feelings about music and about how to do things the right way, how to throw parties and how to treat people with respect. Basically they’re people who like to sublimate grumpiness into a beautiful artform, just like me.’
It makes sense, then, that both would take the decision to get out while their careers were still riding high and before the new decade’s tastes allowed even the possibility of their going stale. While Twitch and Wilkes brought their night to a final and certain close while still continuing to DJ under the name, however, LCD Soundsystem’s mooted end has been a more drawn out affair. Rumours of their demise started as far back as 2008, when the band’s Al Doyle (also of Hot Chip, and commendably playing with both bands on this tour) suggested in a radio interview that their time would soon be up. Both Doyle and Murphy soon quashed the whispers, though, and LCD’s excellent third album This is Happening was finally released earlier this year.
Recently, however, the rumour mill has ground back into life, and Murphy would like to clarify things: it’s all true, kind of. ‘I want this to be the end of the professional band,’ he says ‘We make albums, we go on tour, we make videos and this is the end of that, we’re not gonna be a band band. I guess I don’t wanna be the kind of guy who’s in a band and just expects it to get bigger, to me that’s not that interesting. I want to figure out a way of being in a band that doesn’t involve just making a record and going on tour. I might go back to the way it was in the beginning, just make some 12-inches, make some EPs, do more of what I feel like rather than just feeling like I’m doing a job.’
Does he have a plan for what comes next? ‘Man, my plan is to get through this tour and then to actually stop,’ he laughs. ‘I’m just going to do things for a while rather than constantly planning for the future. I like my privacy, I like real life, I like riding the subway. I like all the normal stuff, and if we got much bigger I think that would all change. Luckily the world has a short attention span. Right now we’re bigger than we’ve ever been, but if we stop for six or nine months, for the most part people will just move on to something else.’
So the official line is: no more albums (probably), some more EPs (maybe), no more gigs (almost certainly). But what if he gets a really good offer to play? ‘The trouble is with this band, it’s so time-consuming to actually play. We have to get together and figure it out and rehearse it and then do it, we can’t just jump together in a room and play. So that’s something we’d have to cross if we got there, if we find ourselves making the decision to play in some weird space or a week in a pub or whatever. What’s exciting to me right now is that I don’t know what’s going to happen, for the first time in five years. It’s exciting to be confused.’
Won’t he miss it? ‘A little, but not much,’ says the 43-year-old. ‘If I had done this since I was 22 then maybe, because I wouldn’t have known a life without it. But our first record came out when I was 35 so I’d had a life, and I’d rather miss touring than miss every other element of that life. Miss running my label, miss DJing, miss making 12-inches, miss eating food and sleeping in my bed. It’s great that there’s expectation on us, but we did it to ourselves by touring and putting out records, and I’d like to break that cycle now.’
Which sounds a little like burnout and a little like boredom, and a lot like Murphy just wants to maintain control of his own life and art. One day soon he’ll deliver on his promise and then LCD Soundsystem won’t be back at the Barrowlands again. How would he like to go out when the projected final gig comes next year? ‘Maybe a couple of dates in New York, because that’s our home,’ he says. ‘But then I’m not that big on goodbyes, so I’ve never really thought about it.’ He’s kidding, right?
LCD Soundsystem and Shit Robot play the Barrowland, Glasgow, Wed 17 Nov. Tickets for the cancelled Thu 18 Nov show are valid for this date.