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James Murphy: Cracked LCD

Since ditching punk rock in favor of dance music about five years ago, James Murphy’s done his damnedest to help indie kids get reacquainted with their backsides. In addition to comprising the American half of New York’s lauded production group-cum-label DFA (with Brit Tim Goldsworthy), he’s also the brains behind the celebrated LCD Soundsystem, whose vinyl singles “Yeah” and “Beat Connection” have enjoyed residencies on many a dancefloor. When it came to LCD’s long-awaited self-titled debut, Murphy’s always had something specific in mind. Below, he details the method behind the madness of eight tracks from LCD’s debut.

“Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”
“When I was in punk rock bands, houses were my favorite places to play. If you went from one town to another, like Chicago to Seattle, that’d be a huge drive, so you’d play in people’s houses along the way to get across. You probably wouldn’t make any money but they’d be amazing shows, and you might make something selling shirts or CDs or whatever because a lot of these towns didn’t have good record stores. As a grown married man, I’m not looking to haul ass around in a van and sleep on people’s floors again any time soon, but that was something beautiful and I really cherished that time.”

“Then I realized that a lot of people in dance music totally missed [house shows], and I got this notion that if I was ever going to throw another house party, it would’ve been great to save money for years and years and hire Daft Punk. We’d do it through their main agent and not let them know what kind of show it was and then put them in a basement with, like, 60 kids! I wanted to have a video where we actually did that and make a live DVD, but they’re in the middle of making their record so it became too cumbersome and impossible.”

“Too Much Love”
“This is disco and Bowie and [Can’s] Damo Suzuki. I like building loops, not necessarily for making songs, but just in general. I like programming without a grid and just making things that feel nice. I like using odd things to generate notes, whether they’re drum patterns or basslines, rather than using synths.

“The vocals are by far and away the most painful thing to do, they drive me totally insane. I throw everybody out and I get really angry. I always write vocals in the studio the day that I record them–it’s kind of a rule. It has to start from zero and go to recorded finished vocal by the end of the day or else I’m a disaster. I don’t like vocals that sit around; I think they get stale and lose their meaning.

“All the harmonies on this record were sung separately, meaning I don’t listen to the other ones when I sing them. I’ll play a loop, sing the lowest part, then I’ll sing the part above that, then the next part, but I’m not monitoring them. I like a lot of Eastern singing where there’s no vibrato and the microtonal stuff is a lot more square; depending on the chord, the oscillation won’t always be harmonic and so pretty. They’re more unsettling that way, so I use the track as a reference instead of the vocals. When you listen to another singer and you sing along, even if it’s just yourself recorded, you start making these adjustments that I find really gross and singer-y.”

“Tribulations”
“This was another song that was a total challenge. It was written in about 40 minutes. I was trying to work with someone and I was like ‘Okay, just write a pop song.’ They said, ‘It’s not that easy’ and I’m like ‘No, it actually is.’ So I made it as a challenge on my desktop on Reason. I was just trying to show my friend how to arrange, so I brought the loop downstairs and said ‘Play it, I’ll tell you when to turn things on and off, and I’ll hook up a guitar and sing.’ I never intended for it to be an LCD song, so I gave it away on disc to friends for shits and giggles and it started getting played a lot by people and getting shared online. So we started playing it live and I started really liking it and it became more of our song.”

“Movement”
“That was written in the shower, specifically for a show. I just really wanted a song that was a strict and silly electro song that could be done identically as a rock song, so it’s basically the song twice. It was supposed to stop there but I had fun layering ridiculous solos over it in the studio–we ended up going with the most retarded one. That was only after we were done doing all these grandiose, really disgusting, ‘American Woman,’ triple-tracked solos.”

“I was getting kind of bored of all the [music press’s] gabber-gabber about the new rock. ‘The new rock is back!’ And I’m listening to most of the bands and thinking rock is tired. I’m a huge rock fan, but wearing an MC5 shirt is not being in the MC5. For me, rock is not an outfit or a pose. I just thought ‘If I’m gonna complain about rock, I should make some.’”

“Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up”
“For about two and a half years I didn’t have a home, so I lived in the studio. We were working on The Rapture record, and I would stay up at night and play the piano in the elevator, ‘cause that’s where the piano is. You could ride the elevator down to the basement and get lots of echo because it’s open-topped or you could ride it up top and it’s not that echo-y. I just wrote this song for myself at night; I write songs all the time and don’t release them. We had recorded a song called ‘Open Up Your Heart’ for the Rapture LP and we worked really hard on the drum sound, bass sound, and vocal sound, and I was really excited about the way they sounded. So after they left at midnight, I made this song. After, I realized there was this big descending line that sounded like ‘Dear Prudence’: I thought it was funny and did a George Harrison guitar solo and then did a Paul McCartney bit–it was like putting a big X through something that you’ve drawn. I had it on CD for friends, like, ‘Here, this is what I made yesterday,’ and Tim was kind of insistent; he said it was cowardly not to put it out. I realized it would be a good challenge to see if I could make an album that it fits on, so that became another challenge, especially to see if it could go with ‘Movement.’ And I kind of like the way they go together.”

“On Repeat”
“This was purposely pulled back; it doesn’t explode like most of the things I wind up doing for dancefloors. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff that I really love that doesn’t go so hard, like a lot of disco, I don’t like when I go out and buy a dance record and put the song on, listen to the beginning and think ‘This is pretty cool’ then put the needle at the end of the record and it’s still the fucking same thing! You’ve just been turning shit on and off for seven minutes! What the fuck have you been doing?! Just go do something, grab an instrument, make it change. That’s why I love something like Vitalic’s ‘Le Rock’ or [Josh Wink’s] ‘Higher State Of Consciousness’ where you feel someone’s intent, even their mistakes, you hear it.”

“Disco Infiltrator”
“That’s one of the oldest songs. It was written long before ‘Losing My Edge.’ The beat is totally inspired by BS2000, by working with Adam [‘Adrock’ Horovitz from The Beastie Boys] and seeing how much fun he has. It only has one note, it’s just switching octaves [and] the whole bassline never changes a note. I wanted to see if I could make a song where you could do that to do the bassline and no one would really pick up on it. It’s fun; it’s a game.”

“I don’t use Eno’s Oblique Strategies. I’ve looked at them before. They’re built for a more optimistic rock world, which is not the world I inhabit. I inhabit a far more pessimistic rock world and for that, I just talk to Tim, who used to run Mo’Wax and hates everything…and I hate everything, but we love music a lot so we sit there and find a little sliver that we don’t loathe, and move forward on that.”

“Great Release”
“I was obsessed with making a last song. I wanted to make something that kind of erased the record. I like songs that erase the record and make it acceptable to start the CD over again at the beginning; where you kind of forget how everything went and you feel a little refreshed.”

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