By Steve Weinstein
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Last fall, Jonathan Galkin showed up to work in the West Village when he spotted an old friend in the lobby: Luke Jenner, the singer-guitarist-songwriter of the Rapture.
Jenner and Galkin—who runs DFA Records along with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and label assistant and DJ Justin Miller—went back a decade. The Rapture was DFA's first signing, first success, and first defection: Money squabbles pushed the band from DFA to Universal. The two sides stayed cordial, but when Galkin invited Jenner upstairs, where they sat surrounded by framed copies of DFA's 12-inches—including the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers," the 2002 record that put both sides of the table on the map—they had their first real conversation in seven years.
"We ended up having this amazing heart-to-heart," Galkin says. "We apologized to each other for bad blood and anything that happened when were too young, and too naïve, and too inexperienced."
A lot had occurred. DFA had been releasing consistently great 12-inches and had launched LCD Soundsystem from hometown DJ concern to Madison Square Garden. But Tim Goldsworthy, Murphy's longtime co-producer (as the DFA), had left the U.S. without telling Galkin and Murphy. The two of them found out he was gone when someone asked why Galkin hadn't attended Goldsworthy's going-away party the night before. Neither had been aware of it.
The Rapture had issued Pieces of the People We Love in 2006 and were now without a contract, figuring their way around a system utterly transformed from their DFA days. Jenner had lost his mother to suicide in 2006 and quit the band briefly in 2008. After he returned, bassist Mattie Safer left for good. A year later, Jenner became a Catholic. A lot of turmoil, but the Rapture were always writing, and they had an abundance of strong new material.
"I just went in one day [and said], 'Look, I'm really sorry. Falling out over money is just retarded,'" Jenner says. After a long, healing chat, Galkin's cards were on the table. All of Jenner's were, too, except one:
"Oh, by the way, we have a new album."
"No big deal," laughs Galkin. "He wouldn't play any music." Soon after, Jenner, multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi, and drummer Vito Roccoforte returned and played Galkin the tracks they'd put together with Philippe Zdar of Cassius, who'd produced the last Phoenix album. Galkin was apprehensive at first: "My fear, of course, was, 'What if they play me this record, and it's fucking terrible?'"
He needn't have worried. DFA signed the Rapture again. The new album is called In the Grace of Your Love. It's a homecoming, appropriate for an album whose themes are healing, rebirth, forgiveness, and eternal returns. Or as Andruzzi puts it, simply, "It's our soul record."
Luke Jenner was born in San Diego in 1975. His parents were bohemians: "My dad was kind of the 'cool professor.' He would be like, 'Check this band out—this is what all my students listen to.' My mom listened to '80s college radio all day long. Pop radio was a curiosity to me. I liked some of the songs, but even at the time, it seemed really bland to me."
The cultural upsides masked a darker day-to-day reality. "My dad was this older brother character who was turning me onto stuff, then [would] disappear into the background," Jenner says. "That seemed normal to me until I got older." Meanwhile, his mother battled severe mental illness. "I remember one time in high school going to visit her in a mental institution, the nurse telling me, 'Your mom is on so much drugs, she's not even going to know who you are,'" he says. "My dad just told me, 'If it gets weird, just leave.' So I did. My home wasn't a safe place to be. I spent a lot of time at Vito's house. Vito was my family."
Jenner and Roccoforte had been best friends from age nine. Roccoforte had a more stable family life as well as the groceries Jenner's parents often neglected to buy. When Roccoforte moved to San Francisco for college in the mid-'90s, Jenner followed him. Together, they'd go through Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" (learned from the Backbeat soundtrack) "until we could play together," Jenner says.
The duo formed the Rapture with a revolving door of bassists. (Safer joined in 2000.) "We hit a ceiling fast in San Francisco," Jenner recalls. "Anyone we wanted to like our band liked our band after three shows. A lot of people asked us if we moved to New York to become famous," Jenner says. "No, we moved to Seattle to get famous." They were quickly disillusioned. "You would have thought the Murder City Devils were the biggest band in the world," Roccoforte remembers.
Meanwhile, Jenner was reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me and decided: "If anything like this even remotely exists in New York, I'm going there. It's not like you're going to have the dudes from Pearl Jam say you can't bowl with them. New York was completely not happening. I think that's why I liked it."
A mutual friend, Justin Cherno of Turing Machine, brought James Murphy to a Rapture show at Brownies. "We really weren't into practicing at the time," Roccoforte says. "We thought it would destroy the energy of the show. We fell apart within 20 minutes, but there was something James loved. He was like, 'I have a studio, and we should work together.' We were impressed. He was so in line with what we were into. We spent months just hanging out and listening to records."
Once, Murphy showed the band a piece in i-D magazine about England's then-emerging post-punk resurgence. "He was like, 'We're going to do this, I'm going to produce it, and it's going to take over the world,'" Jenner says. "I was like, 'Yeah, dude, sure,' you know?"
Galkin "persisted and pestered James and Tim" to start a label, Jenner says; DFA Records began in 2001. Galkin was a regular at Murphy's DJ night at the East Village's Plant Bar. A former talent buyer for a corporate-events production company, Galkin's tastes aligned uncannily with the developing sensibility he began noticing via Vice magazine and heard in the duo's production work as the DFA and in Murphy's DJ sets.
Jenner tended bar part-time at Plant Bar and worked at Angelika Kitchen, crashing with a co-worker who took shifts at a dance-record shop. "I would listen to 12-inches all day," says Jenner of the apartment. "He would come home, and I'd be like, 'What else sounds like this?' He'd get really excited." Jenner channeled his own excitement into a new song, "House of Jealous Lovers."
The reasons why differ depending on the teller—Galkin thinks the Rapture were "afraid they were going to alienate their fan base," Jenner claims vexation by delay pedal—but no one disputes that the finished recording of "House of Jealous Lovers" scared the shit out of the band. After several delays, the 12-inch came out in March 2002 and took off like a shot: an actual rock band, complete with Jenner's screamo vocal, making an actual dance record.
Its basic punk-funk groove would hit the charts a couple of years later with Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" and Modest Mouse's "Float On." More subculturally, "House of Jealous Lovers" cannily remixed Brian Eno's famous formulation about Velvet Underground: For a while, it seemed as if the 20,000 people who bought the 12-inch either became DJs or bought drum machines.
"And I'm sorry," says Galkin with a big laugh. "I'm sorry for what we were responsible for."
"To be part of something like that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Jenner says. "It's a stupid thing to chase, but in hindsight, I can see why I would want that to happen again. I remember that was a big part of the confusion of the second album: 'Well, how do we do "House of Jealous Lovers" again?' The answer is, you never do it again."
Echoes, the Rapture's first full album (they'd stuck to singles and EPs before then), had been finished for a year by the time it came out in fall of 2003. DFA had taken a long time to find major-label distribution, and the band became impatient. They signed straight to Universal for their second album—and straight into isolation. "We got lifted off to this land where people didn't care about music," Jenner says. "We were cut off from our roots, our community. It's a really dark place to be."
The biggest tensions were internal. "Pieces was really me and Vito existing in between Luke and Mattie and picking sides at different points," Andruzzi says. "Me usually supporting Mattie but going to him and saying: 'Luke is going to do good work. He's always done good work.' Mattie was really disillusioned with him."
Shortly after finishing Pieces, Jenner's son was born. Two months later, Jenner's mother took her own life. "It wasn't the first time she'd tried," he says. "I didn't really have any time to process it. We were in a tunnel, touring all over the world for a couple years. I didn't know how to be a father, and I didn't know how to come to terms with my mother actually successfully committing suicide. That kind of blew me out of the water."
After Safer's departure, things calmed down within the group. The Universal deal ended amicably, enabling the band to make a third album on its own. And in 2009, Jenner accepted Christ into his life.
"I didn't want to become a Catholic," Jenner says with a laugh. "I thought it would be way cooler to become a Buddhist or something. For me, faith is a very important thing. It influenced the record a lot."
Jenner began to mend fences. "For a long time I had a sort of scorched-earth policy," he says. "Once my mom died, it forced me to open doors and see what was there, if anything. Going back to DFA was a big part of that process."
The new material reflected this mind-set. "I wanted to make something that was resolved," Jenner says. "I started listening to lots of gospel. I joined a church choir for a while." He refers to "How Deep Is Your Love?," In the Grace's first single, as "a prayer. A lot of the songs on this record are attempts at prayers, also. This record is me trying to make something positive very consciously—not to avoid darkness, but to sit with it long enough to try and transform it."
"I never would have put [In the Grace of Your Love] out if I didn't like it," says Galkin. "I wouldn't have put out the second record."
Williamsburg Hall of Music, Saturday, August 20: The Rapture are delivering church to their people. Looking around, I wonder how many here came to New York because of the Rapture—and how many, like me, happened to luck into the right place at the right time.
I arrived in New York in March 2001, and though we travel in some of the same circles, I'd never actually met Galkin until I spoke with him in July. The interview gave me retrospective déjà vu when he suggested I get in touch with someone who'd been around back then: "That girl Tricia"—ex-Voice columnist Tricia Romano, my best friend. She'd taken me to Plant Bar every Friday night in 2001–02, where I'd heard Murphy DJ, sat across the room from Galkin, and been served drinks by Jenner all those years before, without knowing who any of them were. In other words, I was there—and had never realized it.
Looking back, it's amazing how fertile New York was in that period, and how lasting. That's what the Rapture still wants. At the Hall of Music, Jenner begins his encore by dedicating "Sail Away," Grace's opener, to his wife of 10 years, his voice cracking a hair. It was followed by the evening's finale, Grace's closer, "It Takes Time to Be a Man." As the music ended, I realized—for the first time, having played the advance with increasing pleasure for two months—just what the word is that Jenner sings on the coda: "Hallelujah."