The Rapture’s 2003 Cover Story Is A Lesson In How Artists and Labels Can Actually Help Each Other
Online for the first time, this story from The FADER’s 15th issue explores the explosive yet fruitful relationship between the NYC band and DFA Records.
In 2003, writer Eric Ducker got to know The Rapture for this story for The FADER's 15th issue—the New York band's first ever cover.
It’s a Friday night in early January in New York’s Alphabet City and I’m sitting at one of Plant Bar’s corner tables with The Rapture’s saxophonist/percussionist Gabriel Andruzzi, drummer Vito Roccoforte, and bassist Matt Safer. We’re here to listen to lead singer/guitarist Luke Jenner spin house and disco records to a good-looking, well-dressed crowd. Friends of the band drop by, the guys get free drinks, and a package of Feminax—an English premenstrual cramp medicine containing codeine and caffeine—rests among the pints of Stella and tumblers of whiskey on the tabletop. Sound like the start of another glamorous tale about a young and talented New York band’s debaucherous life? It’s not.
Andruzzi and Safer have a stilted conversation relating to Scientology and Christian Science. Roccoforte just came from a dinner for the staff of the SoHo record store he works at and offers few details about it other than that he ate duck for the first time. And truth be told, the only people dancing to Jenner’s records are the dregs of the crowd—five uptight girls arranged in an impregnable circle linked by leather handbags and two awkward couples in their 30s who probably live in New Jersey. In fact the Rapture spend most of their time at the table whispering to their manager Lauren Podus. When they’ve all wandered away on extended trips to get another drink or go to the bathroom I ask Podus if they are nervous. She says she thinks so, then adds, “I can just see the headline now, ‘The Rapture: The World’s Dullest Band.’” That’s pushing it, though they’re not making this easy for me either. But their job isn’t to keep me entertained, it’s to make music. Luckily they are a hell of a band.
“In a sea of tepid music and a crowd of kids wearing backpacks, The Rapture came out and they were a train wreck. They had a siren light, like a rave was about to start.”—James Murphy
It’s indisputable that the jam of the summer for 2002 was “Hot In Herre” by Nelly, but during those same sticky mid-year months it was the Rapture who had discriminating music listeners on lockdown. On any night in every bar in the enclaves of hipsterdom you were bound to hear their indie rock/house music mutation “House Of Jealous Lovers.” It was one of the first records in decades to not only crossover, but bridge the gap between rock and dance crowds. The song was produced by the DFA, a duo comprised of Englishman Tim Goldsworthy and New Jersey-raised James Murphy (ages 30 and 32 respectively), and was released in the spring of 2002 among a series of 12-inch singles through DFA’s label that shares their name. (The initials stand for Death From Above, a song title from ‘80s band Crispy Ambulance.) The Rapture are DFA’s flagship band and their album Echoes will finally be released this April. In DFA’s West Village office Jonathan Galkin, who runs the business and day-to-day affairs of the label, flips through British music tabloid NME’s “A To Z Guide to 2003” where “D” is for Duran Duran and “Y” is for Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When he gets to the two page spread dedicated to Radiohead and their forthcoming album he stops and says, “What? ‘R’ is for the Rapture motherfucker!” He just might be right.
Luke Jenner and Vito Roccoforte, both 27, grew up in La Mesa, California in San Diego County and have been friends since they were ten. When Roccoforte went north to San Francisco in the mid-‘90s to attend junior college, Jenner followed him and the two started playing in bands. Eventually they formed the Rapture as a trio with various bassists and in 1999 released a mini-album of noisy indie rock called Mirror on Gravity records. They then signed to Seattle label Sub Pop and in late ’99 played a show at New York City rock club Brownies. As Murphy (somewhat lyrically) recalls, “In a sea of tepid music and a crowd of kids wearing backpacks [the Rapture] came out and they were a train wreck. They were really magnetic and really disastrous. They went out of tune and everything broke. They had a siren light, like a rave was about to start.” When Murphy first saw the Rapture, Goldsworthy was stuck in England working out visa issues, but Murphy convinced the band to move to New York and have the DFA produce their album. Jenner crashed on Murphy’s couch and Roccoforte slept in his van underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. But before they could really start work on the album, the Rapture lost their bassist at the time to the west coast and after a six month period of inactivity brought on the new 21-year-old Matt Safer in early 2000, who they had met after one of their shows at the Black Cat in Washington D.C.
“I really didn’t trust Murphy for a long time. There was a long period of time where we had a lot of meetings, like group therapy.”—Luke Jenner, The Rapture
The DFA’s original plan was to produce the Rapture album for Sub Pop and then put out a separate remix album, but it soon became apparent Sub Pop wasn’t willing to spend the money or wait the time for the proposed project. Murphy explains the DFA believed their extended schedule was warranted because “[The Rapture] will err on the side of creative choices rather than cleanliness choices. They’d rather be distorted and raw and have good energy than it be tepid and clean. It just takes time for them to be as free as they want to be and sound good.” In the end Sub Pop released the demos for the potential album as the EP Out Of The Races and Onto The Track and the band and the label parted ways. This was just the beginning of a long and difficult (in a bad way) process of making a short and difficult (in a good way) record. Before they started recording, the Rapture and the DFA spent a month getting drunk every night at DFA’s studio Plantain and listening to records. Both sides agreed that the band should build off some of their pre-existing roots and interests in order to go in a new direction. The starting point for this move was the Rapture’s interest in acid house and late ‘80s Factory Records bands like the Happy Mondays. The DFA started playing the group the music that influenced those bands—like early Detroit and Chicago house records—as well as the music that influenced those influences.
DFA’s recording process is elaborate. First the band writes a song without any input from the producers and records it in a separate studio with an engineer. The original version is then brought to the DFA who create a radically different version that tries to capture the final sound they think the song should take. The DFA then play this version for the band and go over the various references with them. Then working off the original recording with the band present in the studio, both sides try to find the compromise between the energy of the original and the ideas of the DFA edit. During this part of the progression, as Jenner says, “Everyone gets to try anything that they want to.” Understandably this approach takes a lot of time and often results in eight or nine versions of the same song that sound completely different from each other.
The process is further complicated if the direction the music is taking is a huge leap from the way the band used to sound: “I had an emotional breakdown,” says Jenner. “I really didn’t trust [Murphy] for a long time. I think I just got really neurotic and flipped out. At the time I’m sure I could have given you a list of reasons why, but in hindsight I’m not exactly sure… It lasted for a little while and we totally stopped recording. There was a long period of time where we had a lot of meetings, like group therapy, and talked about it.” “We definitely had a lot of long walks during that period,” Safer adds. Jenner continues, “It was also during a really tough period for us. I was unstable. I didn’t have a place to live. We were all poor and we’d be recording in this nice studio all day and we couldn’t afford to eat. We were hungry, and a lot of the times hungover, and it just created this paranoia.” It wasn’t until Safer and Roccoforte convinced Jenner that working with the DFA was their best option that work on the album resumed. It didn’t end until over a year later. Echoes was finished in the spring of 2002 and during its recording the Rapture augmented their line-up with self-taught saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist 23-year-old Gabe Andruzzi, Safer’s cousin. The Rapture’s live show also changed to reflect their development. Now Jenner, Safer, and Andruzzi all play keyboards along with their usual instruments and Roccoforte operates on additional drum machine. “Going through a recording process like that I don’t think we can ever go back to the way we were before,” says Jenner.
Following the interest that “House Of Jealous Lovers” and their second single “Olio” generated, various major labels, particularly Columbia and Virgin, have courted the Rapture. Though they have not ruled out signing to a bigger label, Echoes will at least initially come out through DFA. One blocking point preventing the group from joining a major is that some of the companies object to the DFA keeping the same level of input regarding the group’s direction. This relationship is something that the Rapture are not willing to give up. "I’ve had friendships in the past where I’ve had difficulties and I’ve just walked away," says Jenner. "After what we all went through making this album and working out our problems, we’re not willing to give this up." While the extended negotiations with labels are a large part of why the album’s release has been delayed, the Rapture aren’t that upset. Jenner rationalizes, "It look Pavement two years to put out Slanted And Enchanted."
“After what we all went through making this album and working out our problems, we’re not willing to give this up.”—Luke Jenner, The Rapture
Looking at the tracklisting of Echoes—with song titles like “Heaven," “I Need Your Love,” “Love Is All,” “Open Up Your Heart,” and “Infatuation”—without knowing anything about the Rapture you might think they were lite R&B or new age. These two are actually among the few genres that didn’t seem to influence the album. Though songs like “Olio” and “The Coming Of Spring” feature the rock and dance hybrid that the Rapture are currently known for, the album is far from 10 tracks of “House Of Jealous Lovers.” Jenner says, "I feel like ['Jealous Lovers'] is a really unique song. I wouldn’t say that it’s a fluke that it happened, but I don’t think we’ll ever write another song like that." During Echoes’ 45 minutes the band swings wildly between moods, tempos, and styles. It’s the type of album where your favorite song changes with each listen, depending on the context and your mindset. When asked whether they are happy with how the album turned out, Jenner says, “It’s the only thing that’s really reflective of what we’ve done for a while, except for the singles, and most people don’t have record players.” Goldsworthy puts it more bluntly: "It’s one of the things I’ve worked on that I don’t hate."
Ever since a scene exploded around the new generation of New York bands and magazines started writing about it almost two years ago, it has become a sport to find and champion a new band before anyone else does. We are presently in the third wave of groups being hyped, but some of the groups from the second and even first waves haven’t released full albums yet. Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights hadn’t even been out for a month before people starting talking about what group was “the next Interpol.” That hardly seemed like enough time for Interpol to finish being the first Interpol. By taking their time the Rapture have had a change to explore the possibilities of what it means to be the Rapture. While some of the albums by this generation of New York City bands are good, a lot of them come off as one-trick ponies. Personally, I’m starting to just look forward to the day these groups make their third album (if they last that long) when they grow beards, are strung-out on life, hole up in the studio, and record some seriously fucked up music. The Rapture were just fortunate enough to go through an experience like that their first time out.