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James Murphy: The Man Behind LCD Soundsystem.

The pop-dance-electronic group's founder tells Terry Gross why he stopped complaining about other bands and decided to start making his own music instead. LCD Soundsystem's latest album is called This Is Happening.

42:56

Other segments from the episode on June 21, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 21, 2010: Interview with James Murphy; Commentary on Afrobeat music.

Transcript

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James Murphy: The Man Behind LCD Soundsystem

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, James Murphy, is the leader of the band LCD Soundsystem, a
band which sometimes is really just Murphy in his studio using
instruments, electronics and overdubbing. LCD Soundsystem plays dance
music and Murphy used to be a club DJ, but the lyrics of his songs are
often ironic and funny, and the music that inspires him goes way beyond
dance music. He's been embraced by indie rock fans, who are not known
for their dancing.

LCD Soundsystem's 2007 album, "Sound of Silver," was voted number one in
the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Music Critics' Poll and was on NPR's list
of the top albums of the decade.

The band has a new album called "This is Happening," which Murphy says
will be his final album under that name. Let's hear the track "Drunk
Girls," co-written by Murphy and featuring him on vocals, drums,
synthesizers, guitar, bass, Wurlitzer, tambourine and hand-claps.

(Soundbite of song, "Drunk Girls")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (Music group): (Singing) Drunk girls, drunk girls, drunk
girls, drunk girls. Drunk girls cause a couple of heart attacks. Drunk
girls are unusually mild. Drunk boys keep in pace with the pedophiles.
Drunk girls are boringly wild.

Drunk girls get invitations from nations. They got the patience of a
million saints. Drunk boys, they steal, they steal from the cupboards.
Drunk girls like to file complaints.

Drunk girls are like a night of simplicity. They need a lover who is
smarter than me. Drunk boys, we walk like pedestrians. Drunk girls wait
an hour to pee.

Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut. It comes back, but it's
never the same. Drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boys. Drunk
girls can be just as insane.

Oh, oh, oh, I believe in waking up together. So, oh, oh, that means
making eyes across the room.

GROSS: That's "Drunk Girls" from LCD Soundsystem's new album "This is
Happening." My guest is James Murphy, who is not only the founder of the
band, he is most of the band. James Murphy, welcome to FRESH AIR.

So in a recent article about you in The New Yorker, you said that LCD
Soundsystem is set up to be an argument about what's wrong with bands
and why they should be better. I would like you to explain what you mean
by that.

Mr. JAMES MURPHY (Musician): Well, I'm by nature, to a certain degree, I
feel like I'm a healthy – or unhealthy, depending on your perspective –
combination of optimist and curmudgeon. Like, and I would go to shows,
and I've seen a lot of really what I thought to be great bands, of great
live bands in my life.

And when I would start going to see shows and see bands kind of
prioritize things wrong, to my mind, not prioritize the momentness of a
show or not prioritize the physical experience of a show, instead
prioritize making sure they don't make mistakes or prioritize trying to
faithfully represent a pre-recorded piece of material, I felt like that
was just wrong.

And I – when I hit my early-30s, I decided to do something, which to my
mind was radical, which was to stop complaining about things, which I
did wonderfully. I was a very good complainer. I could sit – I could go
after a show and sit outside on the steps with a beer, with a friend and
just complain endlessly. And I decided that was not a healthy way of
life.

And instead, I would – maybe I should make an argument with actually
doing things because it seemed like that would knock some of the
silliness out of my argument. So we started to make a band that was just
about, like, well, I don't like the way these types of sounds sound at
shows. I'm going to try to change that.

Or I don't like it when I see someone with an in-ear monitor that's not
experiencing the actual entirety of the band, they have a separate mix
for their head, and I feel like it changes the way you play. So we're
not going to do that. You know, it's just creating, you know, little
arguments about what being a band is.

GROSS: You worked as a DJ for how long?

Mr. MURPHY: I guess I started DJing, worked as, you know, I started
DJing for, you know, no money when I was 29 and around the same time as
starting my – I have a label called DFA Records in New York.

So DFA was a party, and I started DJing just at my own party. And I
didn't do it at other places. Nobody hired me. I hired myself and around
29, around the same time as starting the band, loosely.

GROSS: So how did DJing at your own parties contribute to your approach
as a composer because certainly when you're DJing, you're looking for a
groove also.

Mr. MURPHY: Well, yeah, I mean, I think – there's – after being in, you
know, like self - selfish – I don't mean self-important in a really
particularly derogatory way, but, like, self-involved punk bands my
whole life, you were thinking about what it is you want to make, who it
is you want to be.

But DJing and finding dance music was much more about – it was much more
of a communication device. It was, like, very blatant. It's like, if
people aren't dancing, you're not doing a good job. You can't make any
other argument about it.

There's something simple and workmanly about it that I really liked. And
it changed making music for me because suddenly I wanted to make music.
I wanted to make songs after having given up. I stopped being in bands
when I was 26, so I took three years off and I wanted to do it again
because suddenly there was an actual quantifiable way of measuring if
you were doing your job. People danced or they didn't. And if they did,
you know, you're doing your job. And if you like it and they did, then
you're doing your job in an uncompromised way, which was a really nice
thing to finally be able to learn.

GROSS: So the band is called LCD Soundsystem, and you used to create
sound systems.

Mr. MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: And your record label was called, or is still called – was
called, is called, DFA.

Mr. MURPHY: DFA Records.

GROSS: Which stands for Death From Above, which is also what you called
your sound system because it was all about loud.

Mr. MURPHY: Yes, (unintelligible)...

GROSS: Really loud. And why does really loud appeal to you, and how loud
are we talking?

Mr. MURPHY: Okay, and this is another thing that I'm pretty specific
about and have very strong feelings about.

I don't like hurting ears. I don't like hurting people's ears. I don't
like hurting my own ears. And there are frequencies that I find that I
am hypersensitized to, and I think people normally are.

The human voice, like, likes to hover around 1,000 hertz. That's sort of
at the center of our hearing. And, you know, you can go up to 20,000 and
go down to 20 hertz and, you know, that's kind of the range of human –
that's kind of the area where we listen.

So I like to make sure we're not punishing anybody on these frequencies
that hurt your ears, but I do like the visceral, physical experience of
bass when it's attached to the rest of the sounds. I think it's –
bodily, I had my – the first shows I saw were really bodily loud, and it
was a really incredible experience for me.

Like, your adrenaline goes up. You kind of have a fight or flight
experience that can be maintained in a nice way by volume. And I think,
like, a certain type of airy treble, a certain type of airy space, that
doesn't hurt your ears again, is kind of wonderful and magical and for
lack of a less hackneyed and overused term, psychedelic. Volume is a big
part of that.

I think people have – a lot of people have lost the art of using volume
in a way that isn't just harsh and painful, but it's something that I'm
really into. Like, our band is – our band on stage is typically
illegally loud in a lot of countries. Like in France, I think you can't
be above 97 dB, and where I stand on stage can be about 120 decibels.

GROSS: And you don't think you're hurting your ears?

Mr. MURPHY: I still test better than average. I still test really high
frequency. I mean, it can be fatiguing. You know, we shouldn't do more
than five shows in a row. And we used to do shows that were about an
hour, and now they're about an hour and 40 minutes. So, you know, we've
knocked there where I stand down to about 114, 115 decibels.

But if I don't – if it doesn't feel right physically, I would just be
thinking constantly on stage. I would just be constantly thinking, and
then I'd forget the lyrics, and I'd forget the arrangements, and it
wouldn't be very good show.

GROSS: You'd be thinking, oh, it's not loud enough, it's not loud
enough?

Mr. MURPHY: I would just be thinking. I would just turn my brain back
on. I need the – for me, I need a certain amount of volume to turn the
brain off.

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. MURPHY: Turn the rattling monkey in my head off.

GROSS: I'm glad you say you're not interested in hurting people's ears.
There was this, like, one concert that I went to in a small venue, where
it was so loud, so intentionally loud, that I moved way back because I
thought, like, this is really egotistical on the performer's part. If he
thinks his music is worth damaging my hearing, he's crazy.

Mr. MURPHY: I think it's also, I mean, you know, the band is typically
mixed by engineer, too. So it's – you know, it's kind of a combo of
who's really trying to hurt you.

GROSS: Oh, I think he was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: The system was designed by someone.

GROSS: In this case, I think he was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: And also, the system is designed by somebody typically who
doesn't know how to design sound systems. People – it's a lost art now
because everything is pre-packaged. Like, sound systems come pre-
packaged now. People used to design them.

I used to design boxes and design the amplifiers and the crossovers, and
you could, you could make them specific to rooms, but now they're mostly
cookie cutters, and someone comes in with a mystical computer and sets
it up, and then they go away. And then they get messed with a little bit
every night until they sound bad again. Then they have the mystery man
come in with his computer and fix it.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: It's kind of – I don't know, I'm an anachronism, I would
say, in that I like to control these things as much as possible in a
more-old-fashioned way.

GROSS: My guest is James Murphy, founder of the band LCD Soundsystem.
Their new album is called "This is Happening." More after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is James Murphy, founder of the band LCD Soundsystem,
which combines dance music with an indie rock sensibility.

Well, I thought we'd hear another LCD Soundsystem recording, and this is
from earlier. This is called "Losing my Edge," and it's one of the most
famous things that you've done.

Mr. MURPHY: It's the first one.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, and let's hear it. I think it's like a really funny
song, and I'll just say it's about somebody who thinks he's losing his
edge to the kids who are coming up behind him. And so let's hear it, and
then we'll talk about it. So this is LCD Soundsystem.

(Soundbite of song, "Losing My Edge")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) I'm losing my edge. I heard you have a
compilation of every good song ever done by anybody, every great song by
the Beach Boys, all the underground hits, all the Modern Lovers tracks.
I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagra record on German import. I
heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit,
1985, '86, '87. I heard that you have a CD compilation of every good
'60s cut and another box set from the '70s.

I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing
your computer out the window because you want to make something real.
You want to make a Yaz record.

I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought
turntables. I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and
bought guitars. I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than
everybody that I know. But have you seen my records?

GROSS: So that's the first single by LCD Soundsystem, and my guest,
James Murphy, is the creator of LCD Soundsystem. And I think that's just
so funny. And when I listen to it, I can't help but wonder how much of
this is about you and how much of it is older people who you met coming
up through the ranks who were afraid that they were losing their edge to
people like you.

Mr. MURPHY: It's a little bit both. It's really from a specific position
and time in my life more than it is about it, where I had started DJing,
and I hadn't released any music yet. We had DFA Records, and I started
having – there was parties that I was throwing, and I was DJing, and for
the first time in my life, I was almost cool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But not quite?

Mr. MURPHY: At almost, like, 29 years old, I had my first taste of,
like, wait, people want me to come to this party and DJ. This is very
exciting for me.

And then I went to – I remember I went to a punk show, and between the
bands, somebody was DJing. Now, that wasn't done. And I was like, wait,
that's my thing. Like, I play records, you know.

And they were playing some of the records I played, and I got really
upset. I looked, and they were like 24, 23, and I was really mad. And
then I started getting very embarrassed that I was getting mad because I
remembered being in a young band when I was 23 or 24 and talking to this
guy who was like ancient - I think he may have been 28 or 29, you know,
practically in his grave - and he was talking about how kids now, they
don't know, you know, the guitar sounds aren't good and things like
that. And I remember just being, like, oh, man, you never say that.
That's just, that's such a lame thing to say.

And then I caught myself doing it, and I'm, like, oh, I'm saying it, but
at the same time, it's true, but it's so pathetic. And it made for the
easiest song I've ever written. It was the easiest song to write.

The whole lyric with a couple of – I punched it in a couple of times,
but I played drums and sang that song in just one take, just without
writing anything beforehand. The only thing that I wrote was the list of
songs that I yell at the end, I mean the list of artists I yell at the
end. The whole thing was just made up because it was such a fertile and
embarrassing and circular set of feelings.

Like, it was so easy to know what I was mad about and so easy to be
embarrassed by it, and so – you know, it was just, like, endlessly, oh-
but, oh-but, you know, type of emotion that I had. So it was a really –
and after that, I was overconfident. I was like, I can write songs all
the time. This is easy. Just have an experience that typifies your life
at that moment and then go yell about it.

GROSS: It's funny because I kind of half-imagined you taking – like,
having this secret notebook in which you wrote down all the things that
people said to you about why they were worried about younger people
coming up and replacing them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And why they were losing their edge because it's all so perfect.

Mr. MURPHY: It was so simple to me. It seemed like such a good – and at
the end, the reason I yell all the band names was I suddenly realized,
like, I'm one of these – I suddenly realized, I was, like, this is what
you do when you know things. Knowing things, knowledge, or like your
attachment to them or your self-association with other bands or with
books or whatever is usually like this, often this weird amulet that
protects you. Like, you're, like, no, I am serious. Look at my library.
Listen to this. Like, I'm going to list all the books I've read, and now
you know I'm a serious person.

And so it was just supposed to be like this amulet swinging around me to
protect me from being seen as anything that I didn't want to be seen as.

GROSS: Yeah, I think a lot of people have experienced that, you know,
what you read, what you listen to, that's who you are.

Mr. MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: I think my favorite line in "Losing My Edge" is: I hear you've
done a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really great.

Mr. MURPHY: It just – yeah, which is, you know, of course, now that's
just the Internet, isn't it?

GROSS: Well, yeah, but that's not any one, single person.

Mr. MURPHY: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah. And then you say: I've never been wrong. I used to work in
a record store.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: You had everything before anyone.

GROSS: Yeah. So did you used to work in a record store?

Mr. MURPHY: I actually didn't. That's the only typical rock-nerd job I
did not have. I had every other typical rock-nerd job. At the time when
I could have worked in a record store, it was very hard to get those
jobs because they were the most desirable. So I worked in a bookstore
instead, which is the second-most-desirable job.

GROSS: But you probably frequented record stores a lot.

Mr. MURPHY: Oh boy, yeah. I, like, basically lived in them.

GROSS: So let's play another track from your new CD, "This is
Happening," and I thought we'd play something that's kind of different
in tone from what we just heard. And this is called "Home," and it's
more emotional, and I thought we'd quote a couple of lines from it and
see how this connects to your life, if at all, if this song grew out of
your life or is just a song.

So the lines are: So grab your things and stumble into the night so we
can shut the door on terrible times. And then a little later, you say:
This is the trick. Forget a terrible year so we can break the laws until
it gets weird. So did you write this after a terrible year?

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, it was a pretty bad year last year for a lot of my
friends. A friend of – a very, very close friend of ours passed away.
And there – it was somebody that a lot of people were very, very close
to, like genuinely a big part of the music scene in New York and
separate from the music scene, just a very good friend, named Jerry
Fuchs(ph), who's a drummer, who had played in LCD, he played in The Juan
Maclean and Holy Ghost! He played in, like, a ton of bands that we were
all involved with, and I've known him for a really long time.

So it kind of just took a big bite out of everybody in New York, and it
was the biggest – it was sort of like an unfortunate mark on that year.
So that year, 2009, kind of is kind of always to me that year. So yeah.

GROSS: Okay, so why don't we hear "Home," and this is LCD Soundsystem.
My guest is James Murphy, who is the founder of the band, and the band
is more or less him. So here it is. This is "Home."

(Soundbite of song, "Home")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Home, home, home, home, home, home, take me
home. Just do it right. Make it perfect and real because it's
everything, no everything was never the deal.

So grab your things, and stumble into the night so we can shut the door,
oh, shut the door on terrible times.

GROSS: That's "Home," from the new LCD Soundsystem CD, "This is
Happening." My guest, James Murphy, is the founder of the band, and the
band is kind of him with other people helping out.

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, it depends on how it's divided. It's a very hard one.
It's definitely a band. Like, we're on tour, there's six or seven of us,
depending on the song. And we are really a band.

But in the studio, I think – and I do work with some of the people in
the band in the studio. But I've come up with – the best description
I've come up with is – if the band was a movie, I would – I'd be the
director, like the writer-director. But I work very closely with – like,
it would be like if Martin Scorsese had, you know, like, Robert De Niro,
like, Robert would be involved in the writing. You know, like, he would
be involved in a deeper way than just like being cast and given the
script.

So we do all work together, but it's like, I think in the end, the
responsibility of dealing with it winds up being mine.

GROSS: My guest, James Murphy, the founder of LCD Soundsystem, will be
back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with James Murphy,
founder of the band LCD Soundsystem. In the New Yorker, music critic
Sasha Frere-Jones wrote that the band helped reintroduce dance music
into indie rock, bridging the divide between fans who probably don't
otherwise like dance music, and those who put on LCD records only to
dance to.

Murphy got his start as a DJ and sound engineer. LCD Soundsystem's new
album is called "This is Happening."

You have these really even in a more emotional song like "Home," you
have these really catchy grooves. And I'm wondering if that's - if
you're composing revolves around finding the groove first.

Mr. MURPHY: A lot of times it does. I always - I'm not a big songwriter
guy. People that were really good singer-songwriters I never - they
usually left me kind of cold. I've always been more of a physical music
person even when I didn't listen to dance music, I didn't quite realize
it, but like the punk bands I liked to have like a physicality that I
really liked.

Lyrically and vocally, I was never all that interested in melody or
great voices, and musically, I was never that interested in chord
changes. I always just liked to find something that kind of did one
thing for a really long time and did it very well - or just had a
physicalness(ph) to it that I really liked.

GROSS: So rhythm kind of becomes melody for you.

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, to a certain degree. Just repetition and rhythm. Yeah.

GROSS: So the tracks on the new CD are approximately under eight minutes
each.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah.

GROSS: And, you know, on the dance floor people tend to play long
tracks.

Mr. MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: But what, does about eight minutes seem like the right amount for
like a listening experience?

Mr. MURPHY: I don't know. I have a - I'm always wrong about these
things. Like, you know, whenever I listened to a record growing up and
somebody would, I'd be like oh, this is the hit. And then, of course,
I'd be completely wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MURPHY: So I have this - I don't have the ear for that. I know for
me, I like, you know, for me a pop song is about five minutes 40.

GROSS: Oh, you got it down exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah. Like no, I kept noticing, I'm like oh the pop song on
this record, it's like oh, it's like five and a half minutes. You still
have to cut two minutes off of it to make a radio single out of it. And
it's like, oh. And this record doesn't - although, "Drunk Girls" is
almost three and a half minutes. It's under four minutes, which is a
real shocker for me. The only songs that I ever write that are under
four minutes are just like kind of barnstorming punk songs.

But for me, I think a good pop song is like five minutes long because I
like intros and outtros. I like to let things develop before you stop to
start putting melodies on them.

GROSS: Yeah. You sometimes have long instrumental sections before the
vocal starts.

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah. I like that. I mean I like, when we play live it's
nice for me because I can like let things settle. I can make sure I can
hear everything the way I want to and then we can then start singing. I
find it more fun. I always have though. I've always like these kind of
things that just go on for a while. I loved the Talking Heads because
they would have these sort of mesmerizing kind of like hypnotic things.
I always loved "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles because of how you
could listen to the intro before the vocals come in for an hour.

It's just kind of - it's hypnotizing. I like that. It gives me - I'm a
self-conscious person, I think. I'm a shy person and a self-conscious
person, and things being hypnotizing a little bit I think is healthy for
me - let's me like let my guard down and try and just sing the song or
whatever. Rather than be like what, are they looking at me? Are they
looking at me? I don't know. That what I would otherwise do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You go through that on stage? Because you know people are looking
at you when you're on stage. That's one thing you can be sure of.

Mr. MURPHY: Of course. It's the worst. Yeah. I think it's very funny
when people discover that when you watch a show from the audience you
never think of that. And so someone will jump on the stage and, you
know, want to dance around. And they suddenly jump there and you see
that look pass over their face that they've stepped through the
television and it's not what they thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: And they turn around and everyone's starring at them. And
they get very self-conscious and then they kind of do a little dance
that makes them really shy and then they jump back down. It's a pretty
funny experience. And I'm always when that happens, in the back of my
mind, I'm like, you didn't think it was going to be like this. I know
you didn't. But it's really strange up here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you've mentioned several times that you like really physical
music. You like to feel it in your body. So I guess it's no surprise
that your first instrument was drums.

Mr. MURPHY: My first instrument was guitar.

GROSS: Oh. So it is a surprise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah. No. But I learn - yeah, I was a singer-guitar player
as a kid. AKA, I was a self-important pretentious jerk as a kid and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: ...a controlling, you know, teenager. I started playing
guitar when I was - I started my first band when I was 12. I was in a
new wave band. I like to date myself by saying I was in a new wave band
when it wasn't ironic. It was actually called new wave because it was
new. And, but yeah, so 12, 13, all through high school I played guitar.
And I moved to New York when I was 19 and started feeling like maybe the
guitar wasn't for me. I met a guy who was a really great guitar player.
He was a natural guitar player. This guy name Yotaka Yokoyama(ph) who
was a violinist, who picked up guitar and we liked a lot of the same
music. And we played together.

And watching him play guitar made me realize that maybe I'm not playing
the right instrument for me because he was just so natural and physical.
And I was always trying to struggle to get the guitar to give me more of
something. And then I started playing drums. I was like oh, these are
great. You hit them harder and they get louder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: This is all - this all really makes sense. And so I started
being drummer in bands. I think now I've settled on that the instrument
that's most appropriate for me is the bass guitar, because it's
somewhere between the two. It's like the workhorse and you can play it
very physically and it delivers a lot more like punch in the stomach.
But it also can drive the song around. It's a rhythmic instrument, but
it's also a melodic instrument or at least a tonal instrument.

GROSS: And speaking of like physicality, you studied kickboxing after
high school, which is certainly...

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah.

GROSS: Was that just because you like physical things or did you need to
defend yourself?

Mr. MURPHY: Oh, I didn't need to defend myself. I was a big - I was a
very big young kid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: When I was like 15 I was about six feet 210 pounds, so I was
fine. I just think I did it because my friend did it and it was at the
local mall and I didn't go to college after high school, so my parents
were like what are you doing with yourself? So I worked at a bookstore
and I kickboxed, basically having this very late '80s kind of rebellion.
And I finally did go to college after a year and a half of kickboxing
and working in bookstores, which was probably the best thing for me
because it wasn't that great, living at my parents' house, kickboxing
and working in a bookstore. You would think it would be great but it
wasn't. And I decided I did want to move. I moved to New York and
started playing more music and quit kickboxing. But I did love it. I
really do. I do. I still love it. I train Brazilian Jujitsu now, which
is a different kind of fighting art. But I really do, it never left me.
I really do enjoy it.

GROSS: Have you ever needed to use martial arts?

Mr. MURPHY: No. No. I mean I think usually with a couple of exceptions,
usually you don't have to do any - you don't have to defend yourself.
You can just walk away or say something. I'm not a - I've learned to not
be as antagonistic as I was as a kid. I got in fights a ton when I was a
kid. But that's because I was the weird kid and a loud mouth.

GROSS: My guest is James Murphy, founder of the band LCD Soundsystem.
Their new album is called "This is Happening." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is James Murphy, founder of the band LCD Soundsystem,
which combines dance music with an indie rock sensibility.

I want to play another song. And this is also an earlier LCD Soundsystem
track, and it's the title track of your album "Sound Of Silver." And I
just think the lyric's really interesting about being nostalgic for
being a teenager until you remember what it was really like to be a
teenager. So why don't we hear it and then we'll talk about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Sound Of Silver")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to
feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live
emotional teenager. Then you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager.
Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then
you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager.
Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then
you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager.
Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then
you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager.
Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then
you think again.

GROSS: That's LCD Soundsystem. My guest is James Murphy, who's the
creator of the band and plays most of the instruments on the records and
does the vocals and writes the songs.

So is this a kind of personal song for you?

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah. But in more ways than one, possibly. The type of
singing is the most personal embarrassing part of that song. I was
really into Heaven 17 as a kid too, like new wave stuff and the singing
is kind of like arch. People don't sing like that anymore, kind of this
kind of like '80s new romantic baritone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: And I really love it. And I'd been on a quest for almost the
length of this band to just trust my taste even when it's pretty
embarrassing, because embarrassment's kind of are an untapped rock
emotion, usually. People don't get too into embarrassment. They get into
heartbreak and cool but they don't get in too much into just being
embarrassing. So yeah, I just wanted to belt it out in this kind of
weird. And it was pretty funny to make the lyrics because I was like oh,
I don't really need any more lyrics. It's just a one line song, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And what was your real live emotional life as a teenager?

Mr. MURPHY: I led a pretty okay school time. I was just a - I kind of
made things difficult for myself. Like when I was younger I fit in a lot
better. I was an athletic kid and I was a pretty big kid. But then when
we got about 13, you know, certain types of - I had much older brothers
and sisters and certain types of like hyper self-aware stuff happened to
me pretty young. My voice changed when I was in fourth grade. I was 10.
I looked bigger. You know, and something happened where I was not kind
of on the same page as a lot of my peers. And watching the cruelty
develop around 12, 13 was super psychically like traumatic for me.

Of course, now it's like oh yeah, people are kind of crappy to each
other sometimes. You can live with that. It's okay. You know, I also
learned that people are capable of great insensitivity and horror and
also capable of, you know, great optimism and kindness and it's - a lot
of times it's how you treat them that they can, you know, become the
best parts of themselves or the worst parts of themselves.

But at that time I had no experience of this. So watching suddenly two
friends that were best friends the year before turn into cliques and,
you know, the more popular of those two would be taunting the less
popular of his ex-best friend and just - all that stuff was just like,
you know, I felt like I was in some sort of horrifying, you know,
psychedelic nightmare that I couldn't wake up from.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURPHY: And it really, really traumatized me in a way that I find
kind of embarrassing. But, of course, it's all this predictable stuff
that everybody goes through. But I think you're supposed to be - I think
the blessing is at that age you're pretty oblivious to a lot of it and
so wrapped up in it that you don't, you know, like you're kind of
missing the horror. And I didn't have that luxury and it was not nice to
watch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you've said that the current CD, "This is Happening," might be
the final LCD Soundsystem CD? Why is that? By CD I mean album.

Mr. MURPHY: I know. I always have a hard time. I'm an album person. It's
not that it'll be the last album. What it is to me is like, it's become
my whole life, which I'm very happy about. It's a wonderful life. I love
being in this band. But to do a band properly does kind of mean you
don't really get to do anything else.

Now I also have a record label - DFA. I'm a producer. I design
equipment. I like to write. There's a lot of things I'd like to do that
I can't really do because I'm doing this job. So I thought like three
albums, a nice trilogy, a decade. I started when I was about 30. I'm 40
now. It feels like a good time to stop being a professional band. That
doesn't mean LCD will stop. It just means I'll go back to more the
beginning, like doing what in my head, just doing a song here and there
or being more fluid about my decision-making, rather than album, videos,
singles, tour.

You know, like rather than this kind of professional arc of being in a
band, I'd get to go - I would like to go back to being just a person who
gets to decide what he likes to do and pursues something new once in a
while, rather than just being like I wish I could pursue something new,
but it's going to take me nine months to make the record and then
there's going to be four months of promotion, then I'm going to tour for
a year - which is kind of, when you put it together, that's two years of
your life every time.

GROSS: Now, your music is so much about being loud, so that you can
physically feel the music. Yet, the first track on your new album, the
vocal on it is really quiet. And then the instrumental comes on much
louder, deeper into the track. But why start the album off at such a
relatively low level?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, because I thought it would be funny. Again, I like to
play games and I like - I started - well, I wanted the beginning to be
very quiet. And I thought I'd mix the vocals even quiet for the
beginning, so that you'd naturally turn up the stereo...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MURPHY: ...so that the impact of when the drums and the synthesizer
kick in is much stronger. Because when I would listen to it and I'd turn
everything up and I'd sit there with my eyes closed and it would start,
and I'd play it for people who hadn't heard it before, they'd just like
- we'd look at each and be like wow, that's - it really hit. It felt
really good. But then when I was, you know, mixing it later on, it was
like losing some of that impact, and it was like you really just have to
turn it up. You really have to turn it up to get the effect. So the only
way I could guarantee that people would turn it up is by recording the
vocals very quietly under a quiet percussion line in the beginning so
that, you know, so that you'd settle into that as the medium volume of
the music.

I mean, if you listen to classical music, people do it all the time. You
know, you start very quietly, very quietly, and something dramatic
happens - not that we're making classical music. I mean, it's dumb music
with drums and synthesizers, but it's just a physical thing that I like.
In fact, that's why it started so quiet, so that that sense of
physicality could happen.

GROSS: Very clever. Very devious.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: James Murphy, really a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so
much.

Mr. MURPHY: My pleasure. It's really nice to talk to you. It's the first
time I've heard your voice and you're actually talking back to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, it's a pleasure to do it. Thank you so much.

James Murphy is the founder of LCD Soundsystem. The band's new album is
called "This is Happening." You can hear LCD Soundsystem's full set from
this month's Bonnaroo Festival on our website, freshair.npr.org.
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Beyond Fela Kuti, The Enduring Appeal Of Afrobeat

TERRY GROSS, host:

Afrobeat has proven to be the most durable and appealing fusion of
African and American pop styles. Its late creator, Fela Kuti, is the
subject of a current hit Broadway show called "Fela."

Music critic Milo Miles reviews new albums from Afrobeat inheritors he
says both sustain and build upon the style's foundations.

MILO MILES: By now, a fairly wide swatch of pop-music fans would know
what I was talking about if I noted that, in the late 1960s, bandleader
Fela Kuti invented a style called Afrobeat with the key collaboration of
his drummer, Tony Allen.

That I wouldn't have to explain more about who Fela Kuti was or what
Afrobeat sounds like is a testament to the remarkable, accelerating rise
of Fela's fame since his death in 1997. Large record stores, what's left
of them, often have whole Afrobeat sections in world-music departments,
and more major cities are home to local Afrobeat bands than ever before.

The prime living player to thank for this is Allen, who has been in
there keeping up the good work habits all along. His newest solo album
is called "Secret Agent," and it sounds like the most fully rounded
version of Tony Allen Afrobeat he's ever made.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: Allen has gone through three phases in his career of more than 30
years. His first solo albums in the '70s were sturdy extensions of
Fela's work - long, long workouts without Fela's outsized personality to
drive them forward. In the '80s and for a long time afterward, Allen
switched to a stripped-down type of Afrobeat, influenced by dub reggae,
spacey Nigerian juju and electronica. This mode is best sampled on the
fine anthology "Eager Hands and Restless Feet."

Now Allen has completed the circle, and "Secret Agent" gives us compact
cuts driven by his personality - or at least his polyrhythms. Allen says
in the liner notes: Fela wrote like a singer. I write like a drummer.
That's a way of saying the multilingual lyrics shouldn't be a primary
concern here. But it's refreshing to hear a wider variety of voices
deliver them.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) It's so hard to repeat. It's so hard to
forget. Afrobeat, the rhythm of home. Afrobeat, the rhythm of fly.
Afrobeat, the rhythm of pleasure, for the pity(ph) of the world. Oh, I
love my people, my people love me. Hey. I love stories(ph) with passion.
Do you love your afro? Oh, yeah, I do. I do. I do. I do-do-do-do-do-do-
do-do-do-do. Everybody say yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Group: Yeah-yeah.

MILO: These days, listeners can decide what variety of Afrobeat they
want to hear. There are groups that stick to Fela's basics without
sucking the vitality out of them. One of the best of these is the French
group Fanga, with particularly tangy horn charts. But if you want to
delve into Afrobeat stretched out and put into a lively mix, the
Washington, D.C.-based group Elikeh does a clever and sure-footed job on
their album "Adje! Adje!"

(Soundbite of song, "Adje! Adje!")

ELIKEH (Afrobeat Band): (Singing) Adje. Adje. Adje. Here they coming
again. This time, I wonder and think about my place. Ajero, here they
coming again. This time I wonder and think about my place.

(Singing in foreign language) Adje. Adje.

MILES: There's as much reggae as Afrobeat in the music of Elikeh, and
the folk forms of leader Massama Dogo's native country Togo play a
strong role. But it is the attitude of the group, the confident way to
make an American-African album, that would be unimaginable without the
influence of Fela. Except that, while Fela's bands always suggested a
gang with a big-time, bad-boy leader, Elikeh is more like a seductive
collective, forever inviting you to dance or fight the power, or both at
the same time.

(Soundbite of music)

ELIKEH: (Singing) Let's join hands together. Let's go. Let's march in
the sprit. Let's go. Let's join hands together. Let's march. Let's move
on today. Let's march.

MILO: Varied and strong as the current Afrobeat scene is, no performers
so far are going to take the style away from Fela Kuti. And that's good.
But it would be even better if there was a sudden new star powerful
enough to do it.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed new albums by Tony Allen
and Elikeh. You can hear the title track from Tony Allen's new album on
our website: freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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