Home / Arts & Life / James Murphy Wants to Justify LCD Soundsystem’s Existence (Again)

James Murphy Wants to Justify LCD Soundsystem’s Existence (Again)

A furry, substantial teddy bear of a man with a never-ending string of opinions, Mr. Murphy has a reputation for being harsh and disagreeable. But these days, his voluble rants, during which he can sound like an art-school Louis C.K., are generally good-natured and self-effacing. And no one would accuse him of underanalyzing things, which made the undoing of his grand pronouncements about shutting down the band all the more curious.

“It was sincere,” Mr. Murphy insisted. “It wasn’t a ploy.”

But his reasons for doing so range from the conceptual to the pragmatic, none completely satisfying. At first, “LCD was a project,” while DFA was everything, Mr. Murphy explained — “throwing parties, doing sound design, producing, building a recording studio, label.” As the work began to catch on in the worlds of fashion and art, “It felt like we were invading,” he said.

But by 2010, LCD Soundsystem had cemented itself as a reliable critical favorite, and there was a growing sense among the band and its business partners that the next album was going to be huge. “As things mature — whether they be real estate, rock ’n’ roll, politics, festivals, radio — there’s an efficiency that develops and with it, very often, comes some soul-crushing truths,” Mr. Murphy said.


Mr. Murphy said the group booked its April 2011 date at Madison Square Garden before he decided to bill it as the band’s finale.

Oscilloscope Laboratories

“If you keep doing it, you get bigger even if the records get worse,” he continued, invoking U2, the Cure, Talking Heads, R.E.M. and the Pixies. (“‘Trompe le Monde’ isn’t better than ‘Surfer Rosa,’ but it’s bigger.”) “It was our turn,” he said. “And something about that turned my stomach.”

He compared it to how he felt as a student at a good high school in New Jersey, who was expected to go to college after graduation. “The idea of it being ‘next’ was just unappealing,” he said. “I didn’t want to be that band. I liked being the band that was relevant to me. I felt like we were about to be the band that was not relevant to me.”

There were less heady reasons, too. The show at Madison Square Garden had been booked far in advance and the venue “didn’t think we were going to sell well,” Mr. Murphy said. “They were trying to get a big opener for us,” and suggested a nonsensical double bill with Big Boi from Outkast.

“My theory was, if I make it our last show, we’ll sell it out in two weeks,” he said. The show sold out in minutes. “It wasn’t a total lark, but it was a bit larky,” Mr. Murphy admitted. “But I like making decisions. I find it easy.”

Coming back was just another gut-level determination, though he would later agonize over it in a Facebook post aimed at any fans who felt their experience with the band had been “cheapened” by the reunion. (“I just hadn’t considered that,” Mr. Murphy wrote, adding that he was “seriously sorry.”)

Rallying his collaborators was a separate concern. “It definitely was an odd choice to quit at the top of our game,” said Mr. Mahoney, who felt the time was right to return. “Being in your 40s in pop music makes you feel very old, but it’s actually the prime of your career in any other field,” he said.


LCD Soundsystem took the stage for the first time after its Madison Square Garden farewell at Webster Hall in April 2016.

Nicole Fara Silver for The New York Times

Ms. Whang was more ambivalent. Although she “didn’t believe it for a second” when the band ended, she assumed a reunion would come much later. “I certainly had my hesitations,” she said. “But James seemed very excited, so it didn’t seem worth taking a strong stand when I didn’t even really know what I was taking a stand for.”

She added, “It’s crass to say that it was about the money, but it would be insincere to say that wasn’t part of it.”

Mr. Doyle, the guitarist, said the “slightly unsavory tang” to the decision was ultimately a motivating factor. “That was a huge impetus to work as hard as we could, to be so good that people forget.” (Yes, Mr. Murphy “was self-conscious about it,” Mr. Doyle added. “He’s self-conscious about where he puts his glass down on the table.”) To re-emerge at a higher level of notoriety, and on a major label, also meant “resources that we never had,” he said, to record and perform on a “more ambitious scale.”

Mr. Murphy certainly had no shortage of creative outlets during the hiatus. In the last six years, he has opened a Williamsburg wine bar; created a sound system for a traveling dance club; produced an Arcade Fire album; developed a signature coffee (“flavor profile: dried cherry, cocoa, meyer lemon”); scored films and plays; and attempted to make the subway turnstile beep more musical, among other things.

LCD Soundsystem – tonite Video by LCDSoundsystemVEVO

None of that was this. “I love rock. I love the music that was born out of the latter part of the 20th century,” Mr. Murphy said. “It means a lot to me.” So the wave of major musician deaths over the last few years — Lou Reed, Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy Kilmister — proved to be a major preoccupation for him on “American Dream.”

“It’s like when all your light bulbs start going out at the same time because you put them all in at the same time,” Mr. Murphy said. “And there’s no one to replace them. That’s really dark.”

Yet when he addresses death directly, as on “Tonite” from the new album, Mr. Murphy can’t help but smirk. “Yeah, all the hits are saying the same thing,” he sings. “There’s only tonite, man/life is finite/but, [expletive], it feels like forever.”

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