All sorts of things come in threes; good things, bad things and buses, to name but three. And LCD Soundsystem albums. Since the May release of third studio album This Is Happening, front man and all round head honcho James Murphy has made a series of comments suggesting that it was time to take down that disco ball that adorned their self-titled debut and hang it somewhere else. The months that followed saw them headline London’s Wireless, and play Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds and Bestival festivals.
We caught up with Murphy during this whirlwind to talk to him about LCD Soundsystem’s achievements and what, indeed, was happening.
One thing noticeable about the tour in April that welcomed the band back to the UK was the proliferation of older tracks, seeing those gigs play out like greatest hits sets, rather than promotional tools for the current album. Has the newer material managed to settle in the months that followed? “We planned not to play too many (newer songs) at the beginning of the tour but will play more as it goes on. In terms of This Is Happening it doesn’t feel much different to the previous records, and a lot of people had never seen us. It seemed like a good thing to play a set like that. The problem has been that we’ve been touring so intensely we haven’t had time to book a rehearsal room. I’m looking forward to taking a break and working out the songs. We’ll have a couple of weeks to rehearse before the gigs with Hot Chip.”
He talks of these gigs as if there’s still a long way to go. How long does he expect that this already lengthy tour will go for? “Another year – we’ll probably be done by about August or September 2011. But it’ll be different types of touring. The idea is that this is the last tour so we want to take breaks and work out new things and try out things and go to places that we wish we’d done historically but never got round to.”
Like what? “Well, like China. We’ve never been to China. Never been to Rome. Never played in Greece. We’re gonna play Mexico. I think also we want to find a way to just stay in a city for a while – like set up shop in an opera house for a week or two rather than driving around so much. We’ll see what’s up.” Do you have fanbases in all these places? “I have no idea – I just wanna go.”
When This Is Happening was released, a lot of attention focused on it being the last LCD Soundsystem album. Does Murphy look back at the trilogy and see them as a complete set? “Well, I think, no matter what I do, these three records are a trilogy along with 45:33 and the single (presumably referring to 2002’s Losing My Edge). But I’m not saying this is definitely the last album. It’s the end of the band being a professional band on the trajectory. It’s the end of this ‘making an album, going on tour, making videos, putting out singles’ – all that sort of stuff.” After all the speculation, he’s fairly clear in that he’s not entirely clear about what he wants next. Once This Is Happening is done with, he wants new challenges and new priorities, but gives the impression that he doesn’t want to box his future into a corner.
“I let myself sing more. But I kind of think that’s stuff that I wanted to do on the first record – it just took three records to get the things done that I wanted to get done” – James Murphy
“My favourite question is when people are like ‘what’s the next project – a supergroup?’ and I’m like ‘Oh God’ – I’d kill myself. There’s nothing wrong with LCD Soundsystem. There’s nothing wrong with the name, it’s more that it started as a thing that I thought ‘I wanna try this’ and then I did it and then I just put it out. It was a part of my life, along with running the (DFA) label.”
Does he think the sound has developed since the first album? “Not too much. I like the initial idea with the sounds being kind of wonky. I do think that the new record is a little more musical; a little more melodic. I let myself sing more. But I kind of think that’s stuff that I wanted to do on the first record – it just took three records to get the things done that I wanted to get done.”
His theory that the three albums could all have been imagined from the outset, and it just took time to put them on record, is supported by certain recurrences. “Well they all have nine songs,” he states factually. “There’s always a first single,” he says, referring to the lead tracks on each release, Daft Punk Is Playing At My House in 2005, North American Scum in 2007, and this year’s Drunk Girls. “I don’t do that on purpose necessarily, but I’ll listen to the album and think it’s too serious and we need something dumb. That happened on this record. I’d listen to the whole album and be like ‘these songs are all so long and I just need something dumb that will make me happy’. So I made Drunk Girls to be like three and a half minutes. That’s usually what the label finds makes sense to make the first single. And I don’t mind singles. I like the format – as long as I don’t feel like the song’s bad.”
What other songs does he look back on with fondness? “I don’t know. I can’t think about the new one enough because it just hasn’t lived long enough. I think of music as a communication device largely, so I like how much All My Friends has appealed to people. I like that other people like it and I’m proud of the song, so I’m not weird about it.” Thinking for a second, he adds “It’s a good thing for me because I was afraid of it. I was like ‘this is too poppy’ and I was embarrassed by it. It was a big stretch for me when I did it.”
“I remember trying to explain to my friend how easy it is to write pop songs. I was like, ‘well, watch’ and I wrote it…” – James Murphy on Tribulations
It’s not the first time in the interview that he’s indicated that he struggles with his pop tendencies. Questioned further, he reveals that there’s an element of self-doubt that creeps into his own musical barometer. “I don’t have good pop tendencies. What I mean is that if an album comes out, and someone says ‘this is the hit’ I’ll be like ‘no, this is the hit’. And I’m always wrong.”
“I remember when the Killing Joke record, Night Time, came out. Everyone was like ‘this song Eighties is really great’ and I was like ‘yeah, but Love Like Blood – that’s the hit’. And I’m a fucking idiot. Eighties was the only hit they ever had. And it’s so obviously the hit. It jumps out, and I’m like ‘what’s wrong with me’. It’s just not what I listen for.” If in 2002, he was worried about losing his edge, now he fears he’s lost his centre as well. In fact, he was right all along. Love Like Blood got to Number 16 in the charts here, compared to Eighties’ placing at 60. If his judgment was never flawed after all, it makes you wonder whether the hits he rallies against on This Is Happening’s You Wanted A Hit are closer to home than he thinks they are.
He certainly knew what he was doing when he wrote Tribulations, a single from the debut album, full of addictive, commercial hooks. “I wrote that as kind of a laugh. I remember trying to explain to my friend how easy it is to write pop songs. I was like, ‘well, watch’ and I wrote it and just made it up and then later I was like ‘I kind of like this – I’ll get back to it and finish it off’.” Perhaps Murphy has a more ingrained sense of pop music than he lets on.
LCD Soundsystem haven’t finished yet. It’s wrong to talk about their legacy while Murphy maintains they’ll probably still be around in one form or another – just not as a “professional band on the trajectory”. But it’s fair to say that what they’ve achieved in their current incarnation has been pretty special. Murphy took a variety of genres and musical influences that shaped his own taste and fused them together into a sound that will, to some extent, define the music of the first 10 years of this millennium. On being asked whether he’s able to analyse what made them stand out and connect with so many people he takes his time before responding. “I have no idea how people experience us. For obvious reasons, I’m on the inside. But I don’t see us as a dance band or a punk band. We try to make songs as complete and as good as possible I guess. Dance, rock – it all seems arbitrary. I don’t make dance albums. Albums are albums. I guess we’re kind of an energy band. After this, I’m looking forward to getting back to DFA and just thinking again, and producing again and re-thinking what I do. Looking forward to getting back to that, which is how the band was originally formed. And something I don’t think I should be cavalier about throwing away.”
LCD Soundsystem’s third studio album This Is Happening is out now through Parlophone. LCD Soundsystem begin their UK tour at Alexandra Palace, London on 10 November 2010. More at lcdsoundsystem.com