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Q+A: James Murphy

October 10, 2007

Pat Mahoney and James Murphy

James Murphy is, to put it lightly, busy. From recording and touring with the unstoppably awesome LCD Soundsystem, co-running DFA Records with LCD studio partner Tim Goldsworthy, and maintaining his rep as one of the more talented and tastemaking DJs to emerge from New York in…well…ever, dude definitely deserves some vacation time. So we felt a little bad when, amidst a 10-day break in touring commitments, we got him on the horn early in the morning (OK, it was actually 11:00) to talk about he and good bud/LCD drummer Pat Mahoney’s upcoming contribution to Fabric’s seminal mix series, FABRICLIVE.36. The two have put together a tracklist for the crate diggers, drawing (unsurprisingly) from rare classic disco LPs that labels like Vanguard and Island were putting out in the late 70s and early 80s. And it rules. Murphy talked about how assembling the mix is like playing video games, his desires away from all the obligations listed above, gear, and even what it’s like to feel like a tortoise. Or a dinosaur. There were also some nerd call-outs.

So whose initial idea was it to do the mix? Did Fabric approach you guys or had the idea been in the pipeline for awhile?

Now that you ask me, I don’t remember. Hmm…my memory can be really, really foggy on a good day. But on a bad day it’s terrible. It’s kind of overcast so this could be of no help. I have a feeling that I was asked once awhile back and couldn’t, and then maybe we reached out with like, “Hey, we can do it now.”

Had you been into any of the previous mixes they’ve put out?

Yeah, the Michael Mayer one, the Carl Craig one, the Rub-N-Tug one. A bunch of them I really liked. Wow, I never think of anything off the top of my head. Whenever I get asked a question and they’re like “Well, what records did you like?” I’m just…I freeze without saying anything.

Have you ever wanted to release a DJ mix properly? Did you ever do them before when you were DJ’ing a lot?

I’ve done them before. I hate doing them usually. They’re really stressful. For me, they’re really difficult to get my head wrapped around often because it’s like you’re doing this thing that’s supposed to be…it’s like acting into a telephone, with no one on the other line. So you’re supposed to be acting and you just say things like “I know what you mean” then silence, silence, silence. The main thing about DJ’ing for me is playing to people. Playing the room. Without that, it’s really difficult. So we just did a bunch of DJ sets – and we don’t have any pre-programmed stuff, it depends on what the room is like, what the person before you is playing – and finally recorded a bunch of long ones, much longer than the 72 minutes or whatever it winds up being. Then we picked the sequence of the records based on the long set and just made it shorter. So it was a little less stressful. Normally I don’t like doing them, but this was really fun.

So how did you guys put it to tape?

I have a really nice set-up at home. A couple turntables and a mixer, and we just did it a bunch of times at home and then did one more carefully and got a sense of how many songs we could get into one. Because I wanted to do as many songs as I could. I never do that, I mix longer tracks typically. But I wanted to get more tracks into one mix and make it a little more complete. So we just came over to my house and started playing records really. It wasn’t too complicated. We’d do like three songs in a row, four songs in a row. I think we did it in like four chunks, the whole thing. You know, mix the first into the second, second into the third, third into the fourth, fourth to the fifth and then let the fifth play out. Take a breath. It’s like playing in a video game when you get to the stage where you can save and you’re safe. Where you kill a big boss and no matter what you won’t go back to the beginning. So in case you screw up you don’t screw up the whole mix.

When you were selecting tracks, was there any improvisation?

We had to plan it out. We basically just grabbed a big chunk of tracks that we play typically, what we’ve been playing the most of. We sent that list in to see what could get cleared, because a lot of that old stuff is harder to find. They did an astonishing job of clearing everything but a few tracks. Once we knew what we could play, then it was a matter of just seeing what fit together.

So a lot of tracks were stuff from that you guys play out a lot, but were there any recent acquisitions in there?

Well, the Love Of Life Orchestra stuff we’ve never played out before. Because it’s more of something that we wanted to put on. The Baby Oliver was pretty new to us because it’s a white label from Environ. Still Going and the Babytalk tracks were new to us. But most of that was what we’d been DJ’ing on the live tour. We had spent a lot of time spinning records on this live tour and had a really good time. Instead of just making a disc of all new stuff that’s supposed to be for later, it’s more like a document of this time. And I don’t think either of us is into just having a lot of new stuff. We’re more interested in what we like to play, what sort of cuts are timeless. It’s more about documenting the tour that we’ve just been on with the band and the DJ sets that we’ve been playing. In that context.

Are you trying to go out and DJ more now that the touring cycle for
Sound Of Silver is winding down?

Yes. I want it to wind down faster, but yes. Can you call somebody? Can you wind it down more? [Laughs]. But yeah, that’s what I really want to do. I miss my party. I used to have a bi-weekly party in New York for a long, long time. I miss it. I want to try and get something else going on again. There are some new places that I could play. Most places kind of infuriate me but I think there might be some new places to play that I’m looking into. Trying to throw a monthly or weekly or bi-weekly or something.

There’s a lot of DJ nights going on in New York these days.
Are you into any of those nights or are you still hankering for the good old days of your parties?

Well, I’m always hankering for the days. Always. I feel like kind of a weird dinosaur to a certain degree. I feel like a tortoise. But, I can still go see alligators and sharks and stuff. I can always go see Rub-N-Tug. There’s a skill level to all these vestige old creatures around that makes me feel really good.

I do think the DFA Parties were a different animal. When we first started out and we made certain friends and they had all these different things going on, everyone had a different spot, which I really liked. Things were complimentary and everybody kind of had a different way of doing things. Our way of doing things is a little bit dismissing, so I felt like we tried to draw some sort of continuum from like Eric Duncan at Gavin Brown’s [Passerby Bar/Gallery] to like a Motherfucker party, which on paper seem wildly different. I always really liked that we tried to get in the middle there. It was fun, I miss it. We’ll try and get back to it. All I want to do really is DJ, I want to throw parties, I want to design some more soundsystems like I used to. I want to design a mixer. I’m working on a DJ mixer design.


Yeah. Because I love this Bozak [the first DJ mixer ever built, handmade in the early 70s] that I bought with these old, old, old Stanton isolators for this mix. [I love] everything about it. I normally have a Rane, a 2016 nice big mixer and the difference between that and other linear mixers is so amazing. So once I got the Bozak I was like, “Holy Crap.” It was again another layer of detail. I also just bought a really nice old stereo house/club PA compressor. But I want to integrate. I want to make a little four channel version of the Bozak with isolators and built-in VCA limiters that I can carry around and I can install in some places just so things sound good. That’s my goal: make things sound good. I don’t wanna tour anymore.

You were talking about the Peter Gordon & Love Of Life Parade stuff that you guys never play out and you book ended the mix with the two b-sides from the Extended Niceties EP…

Whoa, what’s up nerd? [Laughs] I’m just siked that you know that stuff.

Well, was there any motivation to bookend the mix with two tracks from the same record?

It really was never intended to be a statement of any kind, although I really like how it happened. Because “Beginning Of The Heartache” just seems like the best opening. Also, where else are you gonna put that? It’s just needs to open it. Just because of the way that it cruises into it. It cruises in perfectly and I have a nice chunk of music that I think of as pretty slow that fits in there. The “Don’t Don’t” just seems saddest, most pathetic, most beautiful way to end it. Other than that, there was no great scheme other than how siked I was there were those things to begin and end with.

Why did you choose to only throw in one of your own tracks?

Well, I really never DJ my own music unless it’s unreleased. But that one, that track’s got no vocals on it so I don’t feel as bad about it really. Again, It’s a b-side and people don’t know it. When I DJ and I fall in love with the way certain things sound, I want to work with those sounds. And there are like certain mixes of old disco instrumentals and stuff like that have that super gritty, over-compressed, bass too loud, these little elements that I wanted to try. Like a long percussion break. And basically what that song is, I did a twenty minute long percussion break of track after track after track of separate percussion instruments that I had when I made the album that were just sitting around. Then it kind of built into a song. So it was just something that I wanted to finish. It wound up being a b-side but it really seems more suited for this.

Well I think we’re getting cut off.
Thanks for chatting.

Thanks for knowing that Love of Life Orchestra stuff!

It’s great dude, I love it.

I know it’s incredible. There are like some moments where you’re like “Wow. No, really?” But it’s amazing. And Peter Gordon wrote an e-mail to me! He reached out to us and was like, “Hey, thanks dude.” Because of course he owns the copyright so when they licensed they just kind of called the dude. And he was psyched. So I think he’s gonna come down to the Hiro gig. I get to meet him, I’m thrilled.

Posted: October 10, 2007
Q+A: James Murphy