STRAIGHT SHOOTER

James Murphy just might hold the key for igniting another dancefloor revolution. While the previous dance-music explosion was largely associated with
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James Murphy just might hold the key for igniting another dancefloor revolution. While the previous dance-music explosion was largely associated with superstar trance DJs, drug culture and glow stick-bearing ravers, the new dance movement is based on more of a punk-rock ideal. Those who previously shut out dance-music DJs and clubs from their weekend activities now find themselves dancing to the beats of James Murphy's stable of DFA artists and his own live act, LCD Soundsystem.

LCD Soundsystem initially caught fire in 2002 with hot underground 12-inch releases “Give It Up” and the genre-defining “Losing My Edge.” Subsequent releases “Yeah” and “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” led to a record deal with Capitol Records and LCD Soundsystem's 2005 self-titled debut album. Beyond LCD Soundsystem, DFA has also flourished as a record label and moniker for production and remix collaborations between Murphy and co-founder Tim Goldsworthy. The label has released music from artists including the Juan MacLean, The Rapture and Black Dice, and it has dropped two volumes of DFA remixes through a relationship with Astralwerks.

Ironically, while DFA and LCD Soundsystem might be two of dance music's most promising entities, Murphy isn't all that much of a dance-music fan. Rather, Murphy grew up on punk rock, played in rock bands his entire life and cites Brian Eno, The Fall, The Velvet Underground, Richard McGuire from Liquid Liquid, Holger Czukay from Can and Jah Wobble from Public Image Ltd. as some of his primary influences. “I thought dance music was all about C+C Music Factory,” he says, “and when I heard a piano stab or a 909, I immediately tuned out and stopped listening to it. Although, I do like old disco, Chicago house and that classic stuff from Detroit — you know, something seminal.”

Murphy looked to his rock influences and to the finer side of dance music for the creation of his new LCD Soundsystem record, Sound of Silver (Capitol, 2007). The record was created almost entirely using analog gear, and it's filled with the raw, edgy sound often missing in today's computer-aided dance music. Lyrically, Murphy opens up with songs that will get people talking, especially on “North American Scum” and “New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down.” One thing that can't be conveyed through the album alone is Murphy's true passion for the craft of making and presenting his music. He's extremely opinionated about how music should be produced, played live and marketed, and he loathes producers who take the easy way out. While some might find Murphy's outspokenness to be a bit arrogant or boorish, his high standards for everything that bears his name have paid off — Sound of Silver is downright nasty and already one of 2007's finest releases.

RIDING THE SILVER BULLET

Sound of Silver was recorded in spurts between April and November 2006. Rather than devote his full attention to recording the album, Murphy also worked on a piece of music for Nike's workout series titled 45:33 and embarked on a DJ tour. “I prefer to put things down and pick them up again because you forget what you were previously worrying about,” he says. “You'll start hearing the track with fresh ears again if you put things to the side and pick them up later.” Murphy drew on classic rock, techno and disco for the new album and brought in a bunch of records for sonic reference and to prevent him from getting mired in what the studio speakers sounded like. He also felt that his first album was “wood-toned and a bit too comfortable” and sought to make an album that was more awkward and with more elements of glam rock. “I wanted it to be shinier and spacey and not so homey,” Murphy says.

Murphy's working style isn't so much structured as it is constant. “I like to work really fast and do a lot of detail work. Rather than paint a small perfect picture, I like to work roughly and as quickly as possible. I put as much detail into a huge mural knowing that some things won't be photo-realistic, but it's better to keep pushing forward.” By focusing on the rough elements of his tracks and not the detail work, Murphy often ends up releasing unfinished rough mixes of his tracks. “I typically never know when one of our tracks is done because almost everything we release is a rough mix,” he says. “I just figure that whatever else I do to a track is taking it away from what I already like, so I just leave it.” Lead single “North American Scum” went through many permutations, and the version that appears on Sound of Silver is actually the rough mix. As he does with some of his poppier songs, Murphy originally wrote a framework for the track on Propellerhead Reason and quickly composed the changes with really dinky phone-ring sounds so that he wouldn't be tempted to keep them for the final mix. “It's like a Kraftwerk version of what the song is supposed to sound like,” he says. Once the Propellerhead Reason sketch of the track was written, Murphy and his team added additional instrumentation and worked toward completing the track.

On the previous LCD Soundsystem album, Murphy created the tracks “Tribulations” and “On Repeat” by himself and was disappointed that they didn't have the natural lift that's achieved when several musicians play together. For Sound of Silver, he wanted to record a song by himself that sounded like a band and had that natural lift. For the track “All My Friends,” Murphy developed a technique whereby he first recorded scratch drums and then went back and played bass over the top of the drum track. Then he went back again and replayed the drums listening only to the recorded bass, and then he again played the bass listening only to the recorded drums. He went back and forth with this pattern about five or six times, and together, they sounded like a band because each take responded to the next. “It was a really good experiment for me because it was nice to arrange a song without cutting and moving things. Even a song as linear as this moved the way it was supposed to move because it sounded right.”

IT'S AN ANALOG WORLD AFTER ALL

Murphy is adamant about not using the computer as a key piece of production equipment and works almost entirely with analog gear. He recorded and edited Sound of Silver with Apple Logic but will not use any soft synths or plug-ins and won't mix on the computer. All mixing and EQing is done on a desk, and all the effects are outboard. He views the computer as a great storage and editing device but claims that this is where it should stop. “Computer mixing sounds abysmal to me,” Murphy insists. “In the computer domain, you get people putting fake tape hiss on things or buying tube emulators, and I think that's a really undignified way of doing things.”

Rather than using tape, Murphy records everything into the computer, runs it through the desk and processes the tracks differently to make each of them musical and unique. Murphy's key to getting his music to sit right in the mix is harmonic distortion and placement in tandem with nice monitors and a balanced control room. He also uses a dbx 162SL stereo compressor/limiter strapped across the mix in order to pump things up or use subtly as a limiting amplifier. Lastly, he tries to keep his tracks as thin as possible — but without sounding too thin. “I try not to put too much bass in things,” Murphy says. “Everyone loves putting lots of bass in things, but I think it winds up sounding like there's no bass at all — it just cancels out. When we get to the end of a track, and something needs bass, then it kind of feels gratifying.”

The one exception to Murphy's bass rule is the title track. Murphy sought out to make a “5 a.m. Balearic jam” with a modular synth, live drums, live bass and piano. He wanted the toms to sound like electronic 909 toms, so he recorded them really dead and thick so they would cut through the listener's chest. “The low end between the drums, toms and the modular synth is pounding, and it's all about bass,” Murphy says. “I knew when I put this on the record that a lot of people were going to hear this on a laptop or an iPod, and it's not going to make sense. But if you ever get the chance to turn it up really loud, it's pretty thunderous. I'm most proud of the low end on this song more than any other song on the album.”

While he does champion analog over digital production methods, Murphy isn't into collecting the newest and most updated gear nor does he believe that it makes music any better. In fact, his band plays $100 Squier Telecasters and 1960s-era Epiphone basses that were purchased from eBay for around $150. Murphy also usually plays the same drum set, bass, bass amp and same guitars on every track. “I'm really into the technology, but I'm more of a customizer rather than a consumer,” he says. “Our console is not that old, not that new and not that fancy, but we rebuilt it. We gutted it and put in a master bus, new ground bus, power distribution and new master section.” Thus, Murphy subscribes to the principle of modifying older and cheaper gear rather than buying expensive gear full of needless bells and whistles. “I was looking to buy a guitar. They make expensive Epiphone Les Paul Juniors, and they also make these cheap ones. I bought the $70 model and then thought about what I wanted from it. I'd rather have this type of pickup, this type of nut; I want these types of tuning pegs and this type of bridge. So I had someone modify it, and it still cost me less than the fancy one and has exactly what I wanted. The fancy one has things that this doesn't have, but [it also] doesn't have things that I care about.”

Murphy also had a friend modify his Fun Machine (an old organ with a filter setting in it) to help him figure out a way to play a live version of the track “Disco Infiltrator” from the last album and for use on Sound of Silver track “Us V. Them.” “We have knobs that have been modified all over this light-up home organ from the '70s,” he says. “You can tap into time where it can receive a pulse and stay in time, and you can also attack the filters. It sounds amazing, and we now use it on a lot of stuff.”

DEATH OF THE LIVE SHOW

In the dance genre, it's possible to count on one hand the amount of live shows that are truly worth the price of admission. While advancements in technology are often a really good thing, it has actually hurt the development of the live dance show. One of the biggest culprits is the use of laptops for live performances. All too often there is a disconnect between fans and the performing artist who gets lost behind the keystrokes and mouse clicks of a laptop. When Murphy and his LCD Soundsystem band members Nancy Whang, Pat Mahoney, Al Doyle (on loan from Hot Chip) and Phillip Skarich hit the road this March, you can expect a show that's performed completely live with wondrous analog gear and void of laptops and soft synths. It's all about delivering a raw sound and creating a moment for the audience. Through the duration of Remix's hour-long interview with Murphy, nothing seemed to get him going more than the opportunity to speak frankly about the topic of live music.

“I don't think that many people understand the experience of live music,” he says. “The momentousness of live music is so incredible and powerful. When you see a band with a laptop, you realize that it's such a low-quality experience. The stage is interchangeable, the lights are interchangeable, the audience is interchangeable and the music is interchangeable. If you bought a record, you don't go and see the band live to re-experience the record. You might as well cut out the middleman and have a record-listening party instead of defrauding people out of the experience and numbing them to the low-quality live-music experience they are getting used to.

“When people see us live, they were coming up to me saying that this was the best show they had seen in, like, five years. I was like, “What the fuck is going on?” I'm not trying to be self-deprecating, because we work well as a band and try hard. We have good nights and bad nights. I think [music fans] are so used to atrocious live bands: supercareful, horrible bands with in-ear monitors who tune guitars between songs and sound like the record but never sound loud or powerful or wrong. There are just no moments, and if we get off stage, and there are no moments, I'm depressed, even if it's a good show. It's not what I want to give people. I want to reach people with a sense of momentousness. I don't have the kind of charisma that someone like Nina Simone had or David Bowie has. It's a massively uphill battle for me. I'm a worker bee and a Luddite, and I'm working as hard as I can to achieve that momentousness. It's sad to me that momentousness doesn't seem to be a requirement for bands or audiences anymore. It's bad.”

Murphy also takes no prisoners when it comes to the DJ lifestyle and why he believes so many electronic acts refuse to put money into upgrading their live shows or even travel to the U.S. anymore. “Electronica artists bitch about the costs of live shows because of how spoiled they are from being DJs,” he says. “I'm a DJ, and it's a fucking ridiculous life. You go out, and someone pays for your flight, picks you up at the airport, pays for your four-star hotel, pays for your dinner, and you go and play fucking records for a few hours. They take you back to the hotel, you stay there for a few days and go to the beach and enjoy the city, and then they take you back to the airport and fly home with fucking thousands of dollars in your pocket. I'm sorry, I played in rock bands my entire life, and I never made any money. I lost money. If you are willing to waste my fucking two hours and take my $20, and you aren't willing to lose money to do it — if you aren't going to try — then fuck off. I think that's an abominable excuse, and they all fucking suck. Time will prove these acts to be pieces of shit. If your show sucks, then don't play a show. Go DJ. To go out on a regular basis and know that your show is garbage is disgusting. It's a betrayal of making art. The right to voice this on people is deplorable. I'm not saying to burn money and rent a light truck. We did it really cheap and cheerful for a long time. We would put down a piece of plywood with Casios taped to it. Now it's more expensive because now I'm old, and it hurts and I can't carry anything anymore. I don't see touring as an income, especially when I can stay home and mix people's records. I can make a lot more money if I'm not on tour.”

There's more to Murphy than being the co-owner of a cool record label and an in-demand producer/remixer. Murphy is also heavily involved in the design of his album artwork and the direction of his music videos. He also likes to question authority, challenge people and disprove popular beliefs. If his earlier challenge to dance DJs and producers to shape up isn't proof enough, look no further than his quest to be a top-40 charting artist. (Murphy is asking all his fans to purchase the new record — out on March 20 — in the first week of release in the hopes of selling 38,000 copies and charting top 40.) Then there's the controversy that is sure to come over the title of his track, “North American Scum.” “People love to be retarded,” Murphy asserts. “It's like the same morons that asked me crap about ‘Losing My Edge'' are going to ask questions about ‘North American Scum.'' I'm not looking forward to the American jackasses and the European jackasses who will have very different questions, but I'm sure it's going to be a world of jackassery.”

MURPHY'S SOUNDSYSTEM

Computer, DAW, recording hardware
Apple Mac G5 running Logic Pro 7
Apogee AD-8000 A/D converter

Console
Purple Audio console with custom-designed moving-fader automation

Samplers, drum machines
Roland MC-909 Sampling
Groovebox, SP-606 Sampling Workstation, TR-33 and TR-808 drum machines
Simmons SD8, SDSV drum machines
Various organ beat boxes

Synths, software, instruments, amps
Ampeg Portaflex B-15N bass amp
Baldwin Fun Machine organ
Bradley Jazz Guitar
Congas and percussion
Custom modular synth
EML Electrocomp 100 synth
EMS Synthi A synth
Epiphone P-Bass copy bass guitar
Farfisa Professional Duo organ
Fender 1961 Jazzmaster guitar
Hohner Clavinet D6 piano
Korg SQ-10 analog sequencer
Moog CDX organ, Rogue synth, Taurus II pedal synth
Propellerhead Reason soft synth
Roland Juno-60, SH-101 synths
Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 synth
Silvertone guitar, practice amp
Squier Telecaster guitar
Vox AC30 guitar amp
Wurlitzer 200A electric piano, Spinet piano
Yamaha CP-60 electric grand piano, CS-50 synth


AKG BX 10 Reverberation Unit
Akai MFC42 analog filter
Altec Salt Shaker mics, Tube Mixer rackmount mixer
Beyer M160, M201 ribbon mics
Coles 4033 ribbon mic
dbx 161, 162SL, 165A compressor/limiters
Electro-Voice RE2000 condenser mic
Lexicon Prime Time, Prime Time II and Super Prime Time delay processors
Manley Reference Cardioid mic
Neumann TLM 193 condenser mic
Pendulum Tube Limiter
RCA BK5 ribbon mic
Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A leveling amplifier
Ursa Major Space Station effects unit
Various Tape Delays

Monitors
Radio Shack Minimus 7s
SA M44s
Yamaha NS10s