Look: Ruvan Wijesooriya’s Seven-Year Portrait of LCD Soundsystem

Photographer Ruvan Wijesooriya
January 29, 2013
    1 / 1

    From 2004 until the day LCD Soundsystem quit being a band, Ruvan Wijesooriya followed the group, first as a fan, and then as their adopted resident photographer. This month, powerHouse Books is releasing a monograph of Wijesooriya’s tireless documentation, from festivals to Rick Rubin’s mansion. Titled LCD, the book is accompanied by an introduction by James Murphy and a series of Q&As Wijesooriya conducted with the band. Here is an abbreviated excerpt of his conversation with keyboardist and backing vocalist Nancy Whang.

    When did you first meet James and when did you first get involved with LCD Soundsystem? I met James in 1999, 2000—I can never remember. I think it was 2000, at a party in the Lower East Side that was being thrown by the place where I worked. I used to work for this artist who also published Index magazine. It was the magazine’s second anniversary and the assistant editor, Steven, had known James from way back. Anyway, he introduced us at the party. After that it was one of those things where you break the meniscus or whatever, so every time I’d go out I would see him. We kept running into each other, and I had simultaneously met The Rapture separately. Coincidently, that’s when James [as part of DFA] and The Rapture started working together—way before LCD Soundsystem.

    What was your role for the first album and how has it changed in terms of your involvement with the most recent album? The whole idea with LCD was that it was just going to be a side project to all of our lives. James was making music and he wanted to make a record, so he put out the first 12-inch—which was “Losing My Edge” with “Beat Connection”—and it did pretty well. Then he had this idea that maybe he’d put a band together, but it was just going to be an excuse for all of us to take a break from our normal lives, like Army National Guard: a couple of weekends a month, a couple of weeks a year. That’s really all it was. Our first show was just…“Do you want to go to London and stay at a fancy hotel and play this weird show for free? You’ll get your airfare and your hotel room paid for and your drinks and maybe a dinner…” and we were like, “Fuck it, why not? I hate my job so let’s go!” For the first year and a half, two years, it was just flying off for the weekend doing these weird random shows just for kicks, and that’s it.

    What was the lineup for the first shows? Who was playing? It was James, Pat on drums, me playing the keyboards, Phil Mossman on guitar, percussion and some keyboards, and then Tyler [Pope] playing bass—just the five of us.

    Who are the other players in LCD now? I think anybody who has ever been involved with the band has been a really integral part. Phil for the guitars. I always think of Tyler as our secret weapon. Actually our real secret weapon is Steve Revitte, our sound guy. He has been with us since
    almost the very, very beginning. He’s known James for a million years. He started doing sound maybe a year, a year and a half into it. Our first sound engineer was Paul Epworth, better known as the producer of Adele’s records, and also Bloc Party’s. Paul used to be the house sound guy for this tiny club in East London called 93 Feet East. He was doing sound there and James was on tour with The Rapture. Paul was doing front of house for them. I guess James saw something in him, realized he was a good engineer. After Paul was on tour with The Rapture, LCD pinched him and he toured with us for about a year or so…more than that. Now, Paul Epworth has won several Grammys, and it is crazy he was our first front of house engineer.

    When did it start to become serious? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It was always serious. Even though we weren’t trying to be anything in particular, we weren’t doing anything with a goal in mind, we had opportunities and we just said yes to them. We weren’t trying to fabricate or strategize or create situations. People reached out to us and we just said yes. Despite that though, in everything we did, we always meant what we were doing and it was always serious. We always tried hard and always tried to be as good as we could to have as much integrity, to have as much passion as possible. It was always meaningful. It was always a big deal, I think especially because every show was like, “This could be the only time we ever do this weird thing so let’s make it fucking count.” I think when it became really serious was when we decided we were going to play our last tour, so 2010. James made the record in 2009 and it came out in 2010. When James decided he was going to make This Is Happening, that’s when it got really serious. The first record was a first record and it seemed like a fluke; the second record was supposed to be the last record, but it was like, “Maybe something else will happen after Sound of Silver, maybe not.”

    What do you think propelled James into doing the third album after the second album? I think there was some closure that needed to happen…musically, personally. On the second record he said a lot of stuff, but I think it was just this idea that there was one more thing left to say. From a musical perspective, the first record was just James by himself in a studio making all this music and it sounds the way that it sounds because of it. The skeleton of the record was made, and he brought it to everybody else. We’d listen to all the songs and learn to play them, but that was basically after the fact; the songs were already written, for the most part. Then we took those songs, went out and played live together as a band, and I think that really informed the way James thought about writing music for the next record. “I have these songs, I have these ideas, but now I also have to think about this live band and how these songs are going to be played live.” I think Sound of Silver was much more focused on the live element in terms of the construction of the songs, the output.

    What projects do you do, other than LCD Soundsystem? What’s the scope of your musical career? I also play with The Juan MacLean. That’s actually what I was doing when James was in LA recording This Is Happening. I was on tour with The Juan MacLean so I didn’t get to spend as much time in LA as I would have liked. Since LCD’s been over, I’ve been DJ-ing. I throw my voice into songs whenever people ask me—Holy Ghost!, Shit Robot, Soulwax, but that’s old news.

    What other New York bands influenced LCD Soundsystem? Everything that we did was kind of, “We don’t want to do that, we don’t want to do this, we don’t want to be like them, we don’t want to do it this way.” On one hand we didn’t want to make a joke out of it or ourselves, or set ourselves up for being made a joke of. On the other hand, because all of this came from indie/punk rock, we were very careful not to be too indie or too hater-y or too cool for school. We always had this arbitrary set of rules and guidelines that we lived by as a band. There were certain things that we had to adhere to. There was no posturing, no hyping up the crowd in the typical way (“Hello city X, you ready to party?”), none of that. No sunglasses on stage unless it was actually unbearably sunny and you actually couldn’t see. If you are playing a nighttime show indoors you’re not going to be wearing fucking sunglasses—you’d look like a fucking asshole. Ultimately, meaningless rules, but because they existed we gave them meaning and they gave us meaning. We were also trying to set ourselves apart. We weren’t trying to be a rock ’n roll band, we were never trying to be rock ’n roll. We were never trying to be anything. At the time there wasn’t really anybody that we were thinking of. I guess there were some bands that other people had toured with, bands like The Jesus Lizard and Six Finger Satellite. Chrome always came up because they were really scary and they didn’t give a fuck about their audience at all. They didn’t want fans. In fact, they hated their fans. They wished that their fans would fucking die. They were all fucking assholes. They were all crazy junkie assholes. There was also this band Dungbeetle, from New York, that James always referenced and idolized.

    What differentiates LCD from other great bands? I honestly think that the most unique thing about LCD Soundsystem is the fact that we all love each other, we all respect each other, and we always have each other’s back. There’s just never been a time when it didn’t feel worth it. We were always together in everything we did. We’re in this together no matter what happens. If it gets too crazy and shitty, and if we’ll end up miserable, we’ll stop.

    No one seemed miserable at the time you guys did stop. Was anyone miserable or possibly hiding any misery? I don’t think so. I was fucking thrilled; not because we were finished, but because [our final] show was such a big deal. Not just in terms of the fact it was at Madison Square Garden, but the scope of it: it was three and a half hours long, we had all these different sets [of songs], we had all these different guests and performers, we had sets built, and we had to learn so many new songs. We learned “45:33” in a matter of two weeks. The last show, more than being the last LCD Soundsystem show, was kind of this culmination, the payoff for all the work we had done. All the rehearsals that we did, the mapping out of each song—we probably spent three days just figuring out the set list, the song order, what songs to play during each portion of the show, when to take breaks and all that stuff. Everything was so much more involved than any other show. We had four shows at Terminal 5—kind of dress rehearsals—so when the final show actually happened it was this joyous occasion of seeing the fruits of our labor. I was really excited to finally put it out there, and I think we all kind of felt the same way. We’d known for over a year that tour was going to be the last tour, and we’d known for a good six months that show was going to be our last show. We had a lot of time to get used to the idea that it was going to be the end. At that point it was a matter of putting on the best send-off we could.

    Are you disappointed that there is no more band? In a way, of course I am. It was such a huge part of my life and it was really fun, really gratifying. I feel like I can say this because it’s not my music but the music is fucking amazing. I was always thrilled and felt privileged to be able to play that music. And play it in front of people. Not even that—that was actually secondary to playing it with the rest of the band. The most exciting part of playing live was being on stage with everybody and playing the music together, making the thing together, or recreating the thing together. So it was extremely gratifying to play live with everybody in front of all these people who are really excited. I can’t really describe that type of energy and I don’t know how I’m ever going to recreate that. Disappointment isn’t the right word. I miss it. I pine for it, you know? I also knew that we weren’t going to be able to keep doing what we were doing, the way we wanted to do it, forever.

    Posted: January 29, 2013
    Look: Ruvan Wijesooriya’s Seven-Year Portrait of LCD Soundsystem