James Murphy is portly and uncombed, 37 years old, and drives a 1991 Volvo station wagon. But next week his one-man band, LCD Soundsystem, is releasing its second LP, Sound of Silver, the shiniest and most ecstatic album to arrive so far this year.
With his disco-ball beats, hopscotch bass lines and high-serotonin melodies, Mr. Murphy is the king of white-boy New York dance—or, according to the eloquent online encyclopedia All Music, neo-post-punk dance.
“If you’re describing it to a grandmother, that’s perfect,” Mr. Murphy said when asked about that taxonomy: “‘I say, it’s kind of like disco and kind of like punk rock, Grandma.’”
It was noon on Saturday, and Mr. Murphy had just spent a night D.J.-ing in Glasgow when The Observer caught up with him by phone. Besides co-owning (with British producer Tim Goldsworthy) the superb New York–based indie label DFA Records, producing other people’s music, and heading LCD Soundsystem, he is the kind of D.J. who can make a roomful of well-dressed New Yorkers (or Scots) quake.
“I like D.J.-ing—you make people happy,” he said. “It’s a pretty simple pleasure.” He told The Observer that playing punkish disco records—or performing punkish disco music—for people half his age doesn’t discomfort him. “There were no crises that I could pick up on.”
On the other hand, when asked about his age, Mr. Murphy said: “I’m practically dead.” That’s what he chanted back on LCD Soundsystem’s gloriously debonair first hit, “Losing My Edge”: “The kids are coming up from behind …. I’m losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978! I’m losing my edge.”
Addressing those edgy Internet kids, he writes on his MySpace site: “i’ve lived in new york city since the late 80’s when i was still a teenager and most of you were popping screaming out of your mothers’ loins …. new wave was new, and named thusly because of that fact.”
Mr. Murphy moved to Manhattan in 1989, bumping around the East and West Village until he moved to Williamsburg after being priced out of Manhattan. “It’s just a bit boring,” he said about his latest neighborhood. “It’s too many of the same people …. I don’t dislike the people, I just don’t like too many of the same people.”
So it makes sense that the best song on Sound of Silver is “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” the album’s finale. Its heroin-slow piano is as wobbly as John Lennon’s “Mother.” And there’s a last-minute freak-out here, too—primal hometown screams.
“It’s just a love song,” Mr. Murphy said. “I had it in my head for a couple of years, just singing it in my head …. I like love songs; they have so much tragedy in them.” Love songs don’t obviously belong on neo-post-punk dance records, but the track’s strung-out melodrama handsomely crowns the otherwise high-strung album.
Like the Velvet Underground or the Ramones—the first band Mr. Murphy saw live—this music is too caked in New York anxiety (“Losing My Edge”) and wit (the opening track, “Get Innocuous”) and thrash (the end of “Bringing Me Down”) to have been made anywhere else.
“New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent,” Mr. Murphy nasally drawls in “North American Scum.” It’s less pretty than that lovely closer—but it’s also more thunderous and fun: “It’s the furthest you can live from the government!” he hollers. “Some proud American Christians might disagree, but New York’s the only place we’re keeping them off the street.”
Will Mr. Murphy ever be able to pay Manhattan rent? “I make a lot of choices that preclude me from being wealthy,” he said. For example, he is again bringing a full band of musicians on his world tour to help perform the music he mostly records alone.
(A new addition is guitarist Al Doyle, from a peppy DFA-signed band called Hot Chip, who was sleeping in the tour-bus bunk across from Mr. Murphy as we conducted our interview.)
The front man hasn’t had much time to produce other acts, although some serious, no-kidding-around pop stars have asked to work with the DFA team. There was an aborted session with Britney Spears, long before her head was shaved: “It wasn’t super-productive, so we stopped …. It wasn’t a great match that day,” Mr. Murphy said.
Is he too sophisticated for Ms. Spears? After all, he once turned down an offer to write for Seinfeld—though, as slight recompense, he recently accepted an offer to blog for The Guardian’s witty Web site. His three entries so far have focused, kind of like that sitcom, on airplane flying, martial arts and writing.
Second jobs won’t matter if his album, throbbing and catchy and tectonically layered, becomes a hit. “i would like to be a top 40 artist,” he writes on LCD’s Web site, which includes a thermometer charting his sales. Having the No. 2 album is labeled as “the goal,” and No. 1 means “totally famous.”
“Then i could say ‘i am a top 40 artist’ or things like that,” he writes.
In Britain, coincidentally, “North American Scum” has already entered the singles charts.
Indeed, most of the album has a lissome and corny disco sheen that happens to have a lot in common with the sparkle of mainstream radio. (Ms. Spears and Mr. Murphy really should reconnect.) Plus, these songs are trimmer and less droning than the tracks on the band’s two-disc eponymous debut—or the heroic “45:33” single (so named for its length) commissioned by Nike as an exercise mix.
“I thought the previous record was a little beige,” Mr. Murphy said—even though his early music is best described as electric neon—“and wanted this one to be a little silver.”
But until fans fall for his gleam, Mr. Murphy will be stuck in Williamsburg. Take note: His favorite restaurant is Marlow & Sons, the stepchild of next-door hotspot Diner, near the Williamsburg Bridge, although he stays away from local bars.
“I’m not super bar-y. Is that a word?” He also isn’t super stoner-y, despite the drawn-out euphoria of songs like “New York I Love You.” “I don’t smoke pot, for sure …. I smoked pot when I was a kid. I just found it boring,” said Mr. Murphy.
And until LCD Soundsystem returns to New York (for shows on the last two nights of this month at the Bowery Ballroom, and two nights in May at Webster Hall and Williamsburg’s Studio B), Mr. Murphy won’t be drinking or dancing or D.J.-ing in his hometown. “I haven’t been home enough to do it—that’s the problem. We only have parties a couple times of year now.”
He pines for New York, despite the rent and the formidable local hipsters who go out in photogenic stilettos instead of their dancing shoes. (The most famous DFA band, the Rapture, complains on a recent song: “People don’t dance no more, they just stand there like this—they cross their arms and stare you down and drink and moan and diss.”)
But Mr. Murphy doesn’t mind different styles: “I’m surprised people get there and dance, which I can’t really complain about.” When pressed, he affirmed that New Yorkers are indeed good dancers. Does he have advice for them? “I’m out of advice—dance advice. I’ve hit the wall of dance advice. I have a very low threshold for dance advice.”
Follow Max Abelson via RSS.