With his protruding beer
gut, three days' growth of stubble and auto-mechanic demeanor, 35-year-old
James Murphy is one of the least likely frontmen in rock today. Based on
appearance alone, you'd be even less inclined to peg him as one of the most
innovative forces in the underground dance world.
Appearances can be
deceiving. As co-founder of Brooklyn's DFA (Death From Above) Records and
half of a vaunted production team with Tim Goldsworthy, Murphy has crafted
hits for red-hot dance acts Juan MacLean, the Rapture, UNKLE, Le Tigre and
Radio 4, among others, and those efforts in turn prompted calls from the
likes of Britney Spears (though that track has never been released) and
"That stuff doesn't
happen anymore; we just didn't call back," Murphy says, laughing. "Some of
that heat has dissipated, which makes me very happy -- things have gotten
calmer. I'm working very hard to get to this position that Tim and I talk
about, which artists now don't really get to attain: I want to be like John
Cale or Brian Eno, where people are interested in what I do, but I can
basically do whatever I want because I have a couple of big hits under my
belt, so now there's no pressure."
"No pressure" is
relative, of course -- Murphy is calling from France in the midst of a
much-hyped tour that brings him to Metro next week -- but he is free at the
moment to concentrate on his own labor-of-love side project, LCD Soundsystem,
which finds him singing and claiming a place as one of the most unusual but
wildly entertaining bandleaders since David Thomas of Pere Ubu.
9 p.m. Thursday
Metro, 3730 N.
A native of Princeton
Junction, N.J. -- "The sh---y town whose name is defined by the fact that it
has the train station for the pretty town" -- Murphy played piano as a kid,
consumed music voraciously at one of the world's greatest record stores, the
Princeton Record Exchange, and first made his mark on the music world in the
humblest of ways with the indie rock bands Pony and Speedking.
lampoons the hipper-than-thou indie scene in LCD's single "Losing My Edge,"
ruthlessly parodying the Village Voice/Spin magazine crowd with lines such
as, "I was there in 1968/I was there at the first Can show in Cologne ...
I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band/I told him,
'Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.'"
The producer taught
himself to record on a bedroom four-track, apprenticed under Chicago
recording engineers Bob Weston and Steve Albini, and opened his first studio
in Brooklyn in 1993. The hits started coming a few years later when Murphy
found himself at the center of a revitalized New York music scene that
brought the influence of post-punk bands such as Wire, the Fall and the Gang
of Four into the techno underground.
"I love that stuff, but
I'm really interested in how things were a little before punk," Murphy says.
"I really love abstract modern painting and the middle chunk of the 20th
century, but it was the death throes of art in a certain way, because there
are not many places to go after that. What rules do you play with when there
are no rules? After punk it kind of got a little weird, because in America,
you get this massive chasm between underground and overground. The
underground was amazing and it saved my life as a kid, but it got so set in
With LCD Soundsystem,
Murphy deftly straddles those two worlds. Released through Capitol Records
earlier this year, his self-titled double album rounds up the numerous
12-inch singles he's released since starting the project, tracks such as
"Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "Movement" and "Disco Infiltrator" that
overflow with gorgeous, throbbing bass lines, cowbell- and handclap-heavy
grooves, and anthemic melodies.
"Some of the greatest
music I know was made by 22-year-olds, but the good music now is not being
made by 22-year-olds," Murphy says. "It's so complicated now that you need
all this apparatus to negotiate the bull----, and that apparatus is really
deadening. It will take you three years just to figure the rules out.
"I'm watching it now as
an artist. I've never been an artist on a major label, and I'm working with
the nicest people and I'm insulated because I own my own label that licenses
the music, but still I'm like, 'Holy crap, I don't want to make another
record because I don't want to be in this machine again!'"
Later, Murphy grants
that his pessimism is in part the tour fatigue. Onstage, he leads an
incredibly tight group of friends on bass, drums, guitar and keyboards,
hurling himself about like a madman in an effort to get the party started.
While it's draining, he's having the time of his life, and it isn't long
before he shifts gears and starts talking about the next LCD album.
"I'm going a little
crazy because I really want to make another record," Murphy says. "I'm not
used to having money; I've never had money in my entire life. I've been a
barnacle on the bottom of a crappy boat called indie rock since '91. I would
love to slip into that Cale or Eno position as quickly as possible, where
you're not making tons of money, but you're not spending tons -- you're just
hanging out and making music -- and I'd like to do it now while I'm still
able to be fervent and excited about things."
More power to ya, James.
And I'd say you're already more than halfway there.
REASONS TO LIVE
Horizontal Action fanzine ran into some trouble recently when Chicago's
coolest independent record store refused to stock the snotty, grungy,
sophomoric-in-the-best-way garage-rock rag because of its allegedly
"demeaning" -- I'd use the word "leering" -- attitude toward women. It's the
sort of tempest in a teapot that can only help the mag in the end: Its
editors have been trying hard for several years and 12 issues now to tick
off just about everybody, the politically correct types as well as the
conservative bluenoses, and they wouldn't be succeeding if they weren't
making somebody angry.
Every spring, Horizontal
Action -- its tagline: "Electric Sex Rock 'n' Roll" -- sponsors a
rip-roaring three-day shindig called the Blackout at the Empty Bottle, 1035
N. Western. The fun starts on Thursday with the Fevers, Kajun SS, Human Eye,
Shop Fronts and Busy Signals. It continues on May 20 with Reigning Sound,
Gris Gris, Final Solutions, Blank-Its and local heroes M.O.T.O., and wraps
up on May 21 with the Pagans, Bad Times, the Fatals, River City Tanlines and
VEE DEE. (Showtime each night is 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available
That's a whole lot of
chaotic garage-rock noise in one 72-hour period -- hearty indeed is the soul
who can weather it all -- but Friday's lineup is the must-see if you want to
pick one night. And if your sensibilities aren't easily offended, Horizontal
Action remains an endearingly juvenile guilty-pleasure read, firmly
connecting with the 13-year-old miscreant at the heart of every true
punk-rock fan, man or woman. Check 'em out on the Web at