Musician James Murphy talks about breaking up LCD Soundsystem, selling out MSG and making a movie about it.
LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy retired the beloved New York dance outfit last year, and chose to bow out with an almighty party at Madison Square Garden—documented in a brand new movie, Shut Up and Play the Hits. In this week’s Hot Seat interview, the NYC music hero opens up about quitting the band, and why he’s still hard at work.
TONY: LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” was the No. 4 pick in our 100 Best NYC Songs issue.
James Murphy: Well that’s just…that’s just stupid. That’s not right. There are more than three superior New York songs. “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed?
TONY: You beat him.
James Murphy: Yeah, that immediately means that the list is completely stupid.
TONY: How do you feel about being important to so many people? There are kids in tears at the end of your bow-out show in Shut Up and Play the Hits, the movie about the band’s demise.
James Murphy: I mean, to risk sounding like a terrible person that I don’t like, that’s genuinely humbling. I remember how important bands were to me, and that has massively informed how I operate as a musical person. I want [us] to handle ourselves in such a way that we’re not betraying that kind of trust.
TONY: Did you feel uncomfortable with the fact that you became a rock star?
James Murphy: I never felt like I was changing my behavior. But there were a few times in the band’s history when something had changed in how the rest of the world dealt with me. [I thought,] It’ll be fine when I get back to New York, because New York just doesn’t care. And then I came back, and people were talking to me in the subway and stopping me all the time—and that was never the life I wanted.
TONY: Was that why you broke up LCD?
James Murphy: That was definitely part of it. I don’t want to be a famous person. I’m sure there are lots of perks that are very obvious to people, but the drawback just seems like fucking hell—that infinitely outweighs the positive. We were at that spot where it was either [breaking up], or failure next. The third choice didn’t really interest me, which was to become, like, a dignified artist. The scariest thing to do—and the most interesting thing to me—was to blow the band up.
TONY: Do you like it when people make a fuss over you?
James Murphy: I don’t know that many people who don’t like any fuss—there’s always a limit, but it’s super wonderful to sell your show out.
TONY: How did you cope with having cameras in your house the morning after your last show?
James Murphy: Oh, I don’t mind them. It’s not like a nature documentary—you know, nobody is going to walk into my house and risking me getting up and clobbering them.
TONY: Do you have any regrets about ending the band?
James Murphy: Of course. I mean, I don’t regret it enough that I wish I didn’t, but it’s hard. I’m sad. You know, it’s about time to go make a record, normally. I’m going to make another record probably in the same way that I always have, I just don’t get to be LCD Soundsystem. I was never trying to end LCD Soundsystem in its entirety. I was just trying to stop us [from] being a Professional Rock Band.
TONY: What’s your take on electronic dance music? I assumed you’d hate it, but you’re playing festivals with Skrillex and DeadMau5.…
James Murphy: That’s like asking me if I approve of a genre because I’m on a festival bill. My band played a million festivals with a million shitty acts, I can’t control that stuff. I mean, I don’t fully get it. I don’t get dubstep, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad—any more than someone slightly too old for hardcore and punk rock would necessarily get punk rock. It wasn’t necessarily created because it was great music—it meant a lot to a lot of people at a time in their life. And I think some of that stuff is just about the people that go and experience it. It’s not for me. I’m 42 years old, it’s not for me. You know what I mean? The big difference where it separates from punk rock is that a lot of the people making it are terrible hacks, making acres of money. So that’s a big difference, the money involved changes everything. But there are people like Skrillex, who is the fucking nicest kid on the planet, who’s making what he likes—there’s nothing sell-outty about it.
TONY: You’ve talked about wanting your DJ sets to have a block-party vibe.
James Murphy: Yeah, I like that. I don’t wanna be part of an arms race of DJs. Like, I don’t want visuals. I wanna have a good time and make a party that I would like. I don’t like to stand facing a DJ and screaming and jumping up and down. That is the least interesting thing to me. It’s anathematic to my tastes and interests. So I don’t wanna play a gig where I’m encouraging dudes to take off their shirts and face you and yell. But I also don’t wanna hide my head in the sand and preach to the converted in some little warehouse [In faux prissy voice] “Don’t we all hate EDM?”
TONY: When I saw you deejay at GoogaMooga, I met a couple who had got engaged at the MSG show.
James Murphy: Oh nice! Yeah! Yeah, things like that are why you don’t wanna be a hack. The only thing that makes me sad sometimes is when people wilfully misunderstand your songs. There’s one girl who was like, “I Can Change” is my boyfriend’s and my song! I was like, “Don’t do that, that’s a terrible song to have as your song; that is a really sad song.” [Laughs] I just feel bad. “I don’t know what to tell you, but cease and desist at making that your song.”