Seriously, buy it
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem is one of the great talkers in pop music. He was extremely busy when I interviewed him; he only had a day or two before he had to go tour Europe. So I only got about 45 minutes with him, and I still couldn’t turn that interview into a long-ass 2500-word feature story without omitting a ton of great shit. So consider this mostly-uncut interview the DVD extra of the feature, which is now up. LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver is my favorite album of the year thus far, and it hits stores today. You should maybe go buy it.
You’re a friend of Nick Sylvester, right?
Yes, I am a friend of Nick Sylvester, proud to call myself one.
He wrote this thing on his blog about 45:33 where he was talking about commissioned work. Did you see it?
No, I didn’t. I should pay more attention to my friend.
Well, his idea was that commissioned work is sort of the next frontier.
I think it’s sad. Not necessarily sad, but just because time changing things is sad. But I think it’s probably true. Because you don’t buy music. It’s sort of like how you used to not buy paintings. Paintings as a commodity didn’t exist. So everything people painted was commissioned work. It’s a long history: you painted the duke, you painted the chapel. It seems incredibly likely. It’s a little sad.
Well, how did you feel about taking that on?
I didn’t really think too much. At first, I was just like, “I don’t want to do it.” But then I asked myself, “Well, why don’t I want to do it?” And I realized that the reason I didn’t want to do it, the reason my knee-jerk reaction was no, was a pretty untenable position. It was: it’s not cool. And I have a problem with cool as a means of measuring things. Cool could come in a million forms. It could come in, like, nerd-cool, hip-cool. It’s sort of what is done and what is not done and how you project yourself. I don’t really want to make decisions on that. So I was like, “What am I worried about?” Well, OK, I don’t want a company telling me what to do. I don’t want to make music and then have people have to buy some ancillary product to get the music that I made. There’s a lot of issues like that. So I made a list of what would really make me think that if they did this, this, and this that I’d have no justification, other than it’s not cool, to not do it. So I gave that to my manager, and he gave that to the people at Nike and Cornerstone, who put it together. And they were like, “OK.” So I was like, “OK, well, now I have to do it.” I’ve put out why I don’t want to do it, what actual defendable reasons I have for not wanting to do it. But the product itself was really interesting. Manuel Gottsching made E2-E4, which I was really obsessed with, this whole album with just one track. So I was like, “How do you release something like that?” I would feel like a jerk. I genuinely feel like it would be uncool of me to go to EMI. Because I was signed, and whether they say it or not, I understand that the deal is that they’re signing me as a pop band. Granted, not a pop band like Robbie Williams; they’re not signing me as Kylie Minogue. But they’re singing me to make albums and songs that go on albums and stuff like that. And to turn in something that’s 45 minutes of one track, it’s like I’m not that self-important, really. I don’t think that whether I’m serious or whether I’m good or not is defined on whether I make something difficult. That doesn’t really get my juices flowing. I’m not ashamed that I make pop music. You either make good shit or bad shit; I’m really not concerned about it. So I don’t feel right about muscling them with a 45-minute record, but I’d love to do it. But I wouldn’t do it just for shits and giggles; I need a deadline. So this was a deadline, and I really liked that. And they had rules; they had things they wanted, which really made me happy. I think other artists might get really bummed out about “We want a seven-minute warmup and a seven-minute cooldown,” but I’m not that precious. That’s great. I love having boundaries and rules like that. It gives you something to push against and push into. So it just seemed like a good thing to do. I honestly didn’t think they’d accept it. I was expecting it to just be like, “This is retarded music.” But I thought it was really good. I think they’re mad at me now.
Why is that?
Somebody quoted me out of context, being like, “Yeah, I lied to them! I totally took those guys for a ride!” I don’t feel that way at all. They were actually pretty easy to deal with. Nobody was a jerk to me, and nobody hassled me. I have no beef. But I didn’t think they would put it out, just because I thought it was too gay and campy and weird for them. Not that it’s left-field music; it’s just disco. But a company like that is pretty brand-heavy, and I thought maybe it wouldn’t fit in with that. But they totally put it out, and I’m very, very proud of it. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever made. I’m as proud or more proud of it than anything I’ve ever made. But I got wind of it that they might be mad.
You used parts of it…
One of the songs, one of the pieces of music was pulled out, the instrumental was pulled out to make vocals for the album [for the song “Something Great”].
Did you already have that in mind? Because 45:33 is this continuous track, but there’s definitely movements that could all be developed into their own tracks.
Yeah, they could be. I just kind of liked that they were put together like that. I liked the idea that they were somewhere between this continuous piece of music and a DJ mix but that they were all made with transitions from one another into each other. They were all made in terms of their transitions; they weren’t made separately and put together, and I really liked that they could all be developed into songs, like, “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.” But that one was the first one. It was going to be just that music all the way through for 45 minutes with limited little peaks and stuff.
So it wasn’t like you arrived at that song through the process of putting it together? “Something Great” is my favorite song on the album, and it seems far enough outside other stuff that you’ve done that I had this idea in my head that it was this epiphany you came to from making it into a part of this cohesive whole, that that’s how you arrived at it.
Well, no, it was the first thing; I started with it. It was actually the first thing I started with for the Nike thing. And then I was like, “Well, I don’t want to make this 45 minutes.” It was going to be just that and then grow out, but then I wanted to go to a disco track, and I made the thing before it. And while I was working on it, I kept singing things on the subway home while I was listening to my iPod to check the mixes. And it started turning into a song. And I thought, “Maybe I should do the vocals for the Nike thing,” but it didn’t seem appropriate in that context. So I was like, “I’ll leave it as an instrumental thing because I also like it as an instrumental thing.” And I wasn’t even thinking about it. And when I finished it, I became more and more fixated on doing the vocals for it, completing it as a song. But I didn’t know if I’d be able to because it already exists on there. So we asked [Nike], and they were OK with it. I’m really glad because I really like it as a song. It was a little different of a song than I normally make.
That transition, “Something Great” and “All My Friends” as a one-two thing, totally kills. It totally makes the album for me. I like the whole album, but that’s a great peak.
Thanks! Well, that’s supposed to be the end of side one and the beginning of side two in my head. It ends up being too long for two sides, so it’s a double-record on vinyl, but in my mind I definitely think of every album as a two-sided thing with a side A and a side B. And there’s a side A starter and a side A closer, a side B starter and a side B closer. That’s how I think of records.
In terms of albums that you’ve made, you’ve done all this other stuff with remixes and DJing and producing and everything, but how much of a hand have you had in compiling those things as albums?
What do you mean?
Like sequencing Echoes or like the Radio 4 album.
Well, I don’t really know; I don’t remember. I feel like Echoes was probably sequenced by the band and Tim [Goldsworthy, Murphy’s partner in DFA] more than me because I think Tim likes sequencing and the Rapture had incredibly clear ideas about what they wanted and what they didn’t want. I probably had some suggestions and stuff, but I don’t recall being at the forefront of that sequencing. I have no idea how the Radio 4 album was sequenced. I could very well have sequenced it myself, Tim could’ve done it, or the band could’ve done it; I don’t remember. I don’t really know. I like sequencing my own things; it seems very natural to me. I think of songs in terms of shapes or colors, and you want to stack them in the right way. It always seems relatively obvious to me.
So being the frontman of, like, a band who makes albums: does that feel as natural as…
No, it feels very strange. I mean, I’m not the frontman of a band who makes albums. I’m a guy who makes records. I’m just as much of a drummer, more of a drummer, on record. The vocals are the smallest part in a certain way; they’re almost like a different guy who gets a shot to go in there and do the vocals. But most of my energy is as a producer: setting up rules and situations where I can play physically and think physically and keep things pretty primitive, not get too clever. Being a frontman is a concept that I don’t really ever think about. I feel like there are these bands, like old big bands that would have a bandleader. And he’d play one of the instruments and also probably introduce everybody and sing one line when not playing the trumpet. And that’s what I feel like. Even James Brown makes more sense to me even though he was also a dynamic performer. But that role of the guy who’s trying to get the band to be a piano, trying to get a band to do this weird thing that has nothing to do with playing it right or wrong; it has everything to do with playing it a really specific way: that’s what I like. I have fun like that.
Pop music history, when you think about great leaps forward, James Brown in particular, the role of the very controlling delegator has been a very, very important thing.
But it also helps when one of the people you’re controlling or delegating to is, like, Bootsy Collins. It really makes a difference who you’re playing with. And a good person in that role gets the best out of people, but also great people have to be great people. For our band, we have really good people, and they’ve been really generous to me to let me be, like, “No, you have to feel like you go a little bit ahead of the beat here! It has to be a little neurotic! It has to be like a light robot, not like a heavy person!” I talk about all this esoteric shit, and they roll their eyes at me, but they’ve been really magnanimous in going with it for me. And as far as I’m concerned, it makes for a really interesting band regardless of whether I have a good idea or a bad idea. It’s more interesting to me in 2007 to have a band that pursues an idea like that of any kind that specifically and that doggedly and that relentlessly. I feel like bands’ ideas get become really mushy. They get too democratic; they get watered down. And there’s so much influence from outside: you go onstage, and you have a tour manager, and the tour manager has a new sound guy, sound guy wants to use in-ears, he has sponsorship from this amp company. So much happens with a band in terms of how they play with each other. There’s usually frustrations that never get resolved between like a guitar player and a singer, two guitar players. And we just don’t have any of that. Nobody’s frustrated. I’m not frustrated; they’re not frustrated. No one wishes they could make this record. I make the record, and it’s fine. Nobody seems to care. They show up when they want to show up, play on the record if they feel like it, if they’re around. I don’t have to sit there and pretend it’s a democracy and really be trying to control everything and make people feel bad as a way of controlling them; I don’t have to do any of that. It’s all out on the table: this is how it’s going to work, and I don’t have to subtly browbeat anyone to get them to do what I want them to do. It’s like: “This is how it goes.” And everyone’s like, “OK, I’ll do my best.” They’ll be like, “What about this?” And I’ll be like, “Hmm, it’s not what I want.” And they’ll be like, “OK.” It’s not like, “We did what you wanted on the last song; what about what I want this time?” Nobody’s playing out any psychological bullshit with one another. It’s pretty simple. And it’s not about what’s better; it’s about what I want. And I prefer that as an idea; it’s more interesting to me. Because you don’t have to have these bullshit ideas about what’s better, which are always veiled arguments about what they want.
Were you in bands before DFA?
Oh God yes. I’ve been in bands my whole life. I’ve been in bands since 82. I’ve been in new wave bands when new wave was a new wave. I was in hardcore bands and punk bands and indie-rock bands, and it drove me crazy. My first bands were really simple three-piece new wave bands, and then I started working on four-track. I kept trying to have bands, and they never really worked out. And then I became a drummer because I was sick of being a guitar player. I became a drummer, and it seemed more reasonable and respectable to be a drummer. It’s like being a rock plumber. I made it for me so I didn’t have to negotiate, and I was suddenly really pleased. I was like, “Hey, I don’t have to make anyone feel good or feel bad or play it again because they’re not playing it right.” I just played it the way I wanted, and I didn’t have to worry about it. And that made me really happy. So it’s from years of trying to negotiate in bands that I’ve found this way of doing things.
I wanted to ask you about the way you depict New York in the record’s lyrics. It’s really interesting, like on “North American Scum” even more than on “New York I Love You,” the couple of spare lines where you have this conflicted idea of New York as this vast money pit but also as this weird little American oasis where people aren’t…
Which I don’t think is so weird. I don’t think that’s that weird; it’s just the place where that’s the power. In other words, I think it’s a really diverse, weird country filled with lots of weird people, but New York’s the place where weird people have some actual power. And that’s why I love it. It’s the place where you can piss and moan, but you’re never going to hear “love it or leave it” here because being patriotic doesn’t mean being retarded. It’s just an irrelevance. I love New York. I super love New York. It is expensive and it is retarded and filled with assholes, and so’s everywhere else. I just wouldn’t live anyplace else. I don’t see the need to make New York seem like it doesn’t have things which make me want to shoot myself in the fucking face as a way of explaining that I love it. I don’t see the point. I love it. It’s my home.
Have you always lived here?
I’ve lived here since the 80s, since 89, so since I was a teenager. So no, I grew up in New Jersey, in the suburbs, a really shitty suburb about an hour south of New York. So no, I didn’t, so I can appreciate it. It wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, of course, but it’s still better than everything else. What I wanted was this really juvenile suburban ideal of New York, and what I got was a really complicated, very non-suburban New York, a very real New York. And I fell in love with it.
You talk about the city a lot more on this record than you do on the last one.
I didn’t have a lot to do with New York on the last record. I was on tour so much when we made the last record, traveling around the world. I was enamored of the world; that’s what was new to me. I’d never been able to travel around the world. I’d done a couple of trips, but I suddenly was DJing. I suddenly was cool. I suddenly was able to fly to the south of France and London and DJ. This was totally crazy to me. I was in my thirties. I was a completely failed teenager and twentysomething, deeply failed, deeply deeply failed. Like “live with your rich girlfriend so you don’t have to pay rent” failed, “be homeless in your office on an inflatable bed” failed, like “start going to therapy in your late twenties because you had high hopes for yourself and you realized that you were a complete, total, abject failure at everything” failed. Like proper failure: not just failure financially, but you’re not doing what you set out to do, not making creative work. You don’t have money and you don’t have a job because you’re a musician, but you’re not making music. That kind of failed. And then all of a sudden to be thirtysomething and be flown to all these places to DJ like you’re the next big thing, but you’re way too old to believe any of this… But I’m still super excited about getting on a plane and flying someplace. I think on the first record, that was way more where my head was at, just wrangling with all this new stuff. But on this record, I’ve been on tour for three years, and I’m tired. What I was thinking more about was what I missed about the city when I had time to be here. I’m the same guy, and I’m still making songs with the same sets of intents from the first record to the second record, but I think most of the music and lyrics I make is perspective music. I get this problem where people ask me, “Well, what’s that song about?” That’s not how I write songs. I don’t write songs about something else because then I would just write an essay. I would simply say the thing I wanted to say. If the song was about something, I wouldn’t fucking bother with the song; the lyrics would literally say exactly what I wanted to say. So the songs are perspective songs. The closest thing is “Daft Punk [is Playing at My House]”; that’s more of an about-song. It’s more of a story-song. I thought about how I missed out; I didn’t go to raves or anything like that. But those kids who went to raves, they didn’t get to go to punk rock house parties like I did. And I was thinking how sweet would it have been if someone had saved up money and had flow Daft Punk to play in their punk-rock house in Ohio with, like, opening local band and touring middle-sized band on K or on Kill Rock Stars, and then Daft Punk in the basement. But most of the time, they’re just perspective songs. If it’s about anything, it’s about a thirty-one-year-old douchebag who suddenly finds himself with a job as a DJ and then suddenly finds out that other punk rock kids half his age are doing what he’s doing, getting paranoid that I’m going to lose my job. It’s just totally embarrassing. So they’re just perspective songs from a slightly different perspective because I’m in a slightly different place.
There seems to be a drowsiness on this record, a sort of reaching-for-prettiness. There’s still some of the cold, hard sonics, but it seems to be less about that.
I’ve kind of been thinking about that because I understand why people feel that way. I was surprised that it was continually brought up.
You didn’t think of it that way?
No, because I thought about the first record, too. After that happened, I listened to the first record, and I was like, “Well, there’s ‘Never Tired,’ and there’s ‘Great Release.'” The simple oscillation is down to maybe “Someone Great” vs. “Movement”; just a single one song has flipped. It’s like one of those election years where suddenly Bush gets elected and everyone thinks America is full of Republicans.
But the slower songs seem more central.
Maybe that’s it, but I think that’s more of a perception thing, meaning when the first record came out, what was most noticeable about the record was that we had a new sound. “Daft Punk” was the most noticeable song because it didn’t sound like any other band, and it was a pop song. It was a radio song. And people were like, “You’re the guy who does that song that sounds weird, that stupid song about Daft Punk. My little kid likes that song. It has that weird bass sound.” Whereas people have kind of accustomed themselves to that about us, so it’s not going to be noticeable on this record. What’s going to be noticeable this time around is that there’s these kind of emotive songs that are poppy. If you A-B from song to song between the first record and the second record, I don’t think they’re that wildly different. It’s just a subtle change that makes them seem more weighted. There’s no “Movement,” straight up, but you could take “Tribulations” and say “All My Friends,” “On Repeat” and “Us vs. Them.” “Too Much Love” is pretty sprawling and gentle as well. There’s a lot more of the similarities as I would think, but they’re not as noticeable. I’m not saying they’re not different. But it’s very weird how similar the two records are in a way. I purposefully tried to make a record that was a companion to the first record. Rock is a funny thing. The perception of rock is a very, very funny thing.
Talk about yourself as a pop musician. I don’t know what the first album sold, but…
60,000 in the US, about 60,000 in the UK, maybe 40 outside those two places. So between 100,000 and 200,000 records in the world, which is amazing and great for me, but…
Records aren’t really selling anymore in any genre, and people sort of have to cover their bases more in terms of making livings.
I never made a living making records. And I never expected to. I still don’t expect to. We go on tour and I lose money. But I actually get to make money DJing. I make a living DJing, straight up. My bills are paid by DJing and by production work. But I haven’t made money on production work because all the money just got reinvested in the studio for years. So I make money as a DJ. But I was so broke for so long that not selling a lot of records doesn’t phase me of affect me or bum me out because I never sold a lot of records. And nor am I 23 years old thinking it’s my time. My time was 1993, and I didn’t do anything with it, so this is a fucking bonus. This is a free shot as far as I’m concerned. I prefer to start companies that make money. I prefer to have my own studio and my own record company and my own party and my own soundsystem and my own club. That’s what I think is luxury: I get to make what I want and put it out. Selling 200,000 records is crazy for a guy that was in punk bands. That’s fucking crazy. That’s jack shit for a pop band, but it’s fucking great for me. I don’t expect that to pay my bills. I expect to work for the rest of my life, which is probably the key to happiness if you ask my dad. Expect to work. Get excited when you get a vacation vs. resenting the world not giving you a payday. One of them is a road to disappointment, and it’s not the expect-to-work one.
So you don’t stress job security as a pop musician?
No! I don’t want to do this for very long. I have other things I want to do with my life. We only get one life, and I look with incredible sadness on people like the Rolling Stones. I find them really depressing. Not to make fun of them, but when you look at these musicians, you interview them and they’re on a comeback or something and they’re like, “Well, I just don’t know what else I’d do,” I find that to be the most depressing thing in the world. I can’t think of a worse reason to make a record, just because you don’t know what else to do. It’s like here’s a list of shit I wish I had time to do; go fucking do some of it, you jackass. There’s a million things I want to do. I want to be a teacher; I’d like to eventually teach. I like kids. I like to write; I want to write fiction. I’d like to start a club. I’m training in Brazilian jujitsu; I’d like to do Ultimate Fighting.
You’re training right now?
Yeah! If I didn’t have to go on tour, I’d be training. My wife is laughing at me. She’s like, “You’re a lunatic; you’re 37.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s right; I’m not getting any younger.”
When did you start doing this?
For the past eighteen months. If I didn’t have to go on tour, if I wasn’t wrapped up in the LCD world, I would be training six days a week. That’s all I would do: working on music and learning to fight. Making new music. I’m in a good spot; the Nike thing and the album were done in a very short piece of time. That’s two albums’ worth of music, and I feel like I have tons more stuff to make. So I would just be working on music, DJing, and learning to fight.
Do you think you’re getting pretty good?
No, I’m just starting. But I think I’m naturally pretty good at it. I used to kickbox, and I was a good kickboxer. And I’m really, really flexible for my size. I like jujitsu. I’m a little over-aggressive. I’m a little cocky, and I take chances that I shouldn’t take. I make a lot of mistakes. I don’t like learning the basics; I don’t like being a beginner at things. I want to be good, so I rush ahead. We’re learning move one, and I try to do complicated stuff and failing, and that’s just my nature.
Ultimate Fighting, something like that, that’s a job with significantly less job security than pop stardom.
Well, I wouldn’t do it for a job. The whole thing is I like my freedom, and I do everything in my power to maintain it. It sounds weird because I’m on a major label, but I’m signed to DFA records and I’m licensed to EMI. I have more freedom than almost anybody. I get to do what I want. I own my own studio, I produce the records, I mix them, so I get to do whatever I want. There’s very little for me to complain about. And one of the benefits is I can DJ and make a better living than most Ultimate Fighters. So I can train. I can properly train. I have the money to train; I don’t have to work some other job. These guys have kids. They have limited jobs. Most of them, until they get really big, they can’t train properly. I’m glad the sport’s growing because then more of them can focus and the sport’ll get a lot better. But I can focus. I can train, straight-up train, all the time. And it’s kind of a fantasy; I’m aware how funny it is. But I don’t know how to do things halfway. I don’t like the idea of “I’m just doing a little jujitsu for fitness.” I won’t get out of bed for fitness.
You want to compete?
That’s what drives me. I’m very, very competitive. I need to be good at things. That’s what drives me about everything. I’m not a dabbler.
So you feel competitive about music, too?
Oh my God yes. That’s what keeps me on tour. I don’t like touring.
Who do you think is your competition?
Nobody. Straight-up hands-down nobody. Other people are better at the things that they do, but what we do, nobody can touch us. Nobody can play live like us. Nobody tries. And there are more talented people that should be better; that’s what I take exception to. I think it’s insulting. It’s like coming into the ring out of shape. Don’t fucking come into the right out of shape; that’s disrespectful. Don’t play a show with us and then bring your fucking B-game and phone it in and pose and pull a bunch of rock bullshit moves and emote and shit like that because I’ll punch you in the fucking face. That’s bullshit.
Dude, that’s awesome.
Well, it’s true! I’m killing myself up there! I’m not charismatic or particularly talented. I know what I’m good at. I have good rhythm. I have a good note sense to a certain degree. But I’m not Bowie. I’m not Eno. I’m not Lou Reed reinventing rock. I’m just a fucking dude with a band, but I fucking take it seriously. I’ll go play terrified with anybody. I’ll go onstage with anybody. And when I see bands, they just roll over and think it’s OK, like, “You go, man! You guys are crazy!” And then they go and they play, and I’m just like, “Holy shit, dude, seriously look at yourself! You’re a fucking burlap sack full of somebody else’s gestures!”
Are there any names you would like to name?
No. It’s just like, in general. I like watching Arcade Fire. I think they’re good; I think they do their thing really well. And there are bands that I think are good. I love what Fischerspooner was about, putting on this big show. Fischerspooner could say the same thing. They can say, “Who else is putting this much in? Who the fuck else do we have to compete with?” Fair enough, they’re doing their thing and they’re killing it. But when I see bands that are either doing this traditional rock shit, who cares about this? Or some band who sounds like the Jam, who sounded like mod-rock ten years before them, you’re like, “Dude, am I really supposed to care?” And it’s OK, it’s fine, if you’re a kid. I kind of liked the Arctic Monkeys when they came out. I was like, “This doesn’t really do it for me because I’m old.” But as the options for a 16-year-old English kid, this is good on you. I’m curious to see what the Klaxons are going to be like live. I think they’re trying, but I think the expectations for a band like that live are so low. What they will expect of themselves and what the audience will demand of them are so low that they might not be driven to be as good of a band as they should be. I feel like all bands could be better if the sense of competition was stronger. Imagine if they saw the Jesus Lizard as many times as I did. What if you were playing with the Jesus Lizard? That band was fucking good live! If you don’t like that macho 90s Chicago rock style, fine. But a band like that live, you really had to go sit and look in the mirror backstage. You had to ask yourself if you were willing to go where David Yow was willing to go. My ultimate example is Paul McCartney vs. Coldplay. I’ll make a bold statement that I think Chris Martin is as talented as Paul McCartney.
I agree with that.
Paul McCartney’s a hack. The difference is that Paul McCartney was a pop star in an era when the single would come out and then the Rolling Stones would put one out and you had to step it up. The Who would put one out, and you’d step it up. The Beach Boys would put an album out, and you’d be like, “Oh my God, we gotta take this all seriously.” They wanted to be everything to everybody, and there’s something really beautiful about that. It’s impossible, but there’s something magical about that. Whereas now, Chris Martin by his own admission will be like, “Oh, my lyrics are kind of dumb.” And it’s like no, come on, don’t say that! Fucking go try! Fail! Go face-down! Listen to the Paul McCartney records; he went face-down a lot, but you don’t get “Temporary Secretary” if you’re not willing to go face-down. You don’t get these songs that are above and beyond what that guy is. There’s such low expectations of artists. I’m not trying to say anything bad about Chris Martin; he seems like a totally nice guy, and he has an incredibly good voice, a great melodic sense. But come on! And don’t do the embarrassing thing of trying to be serious. That’s what we do here; we get Radiohead, and they get all serious. It’s either get real serious or you shrug. There’s got to be something else out there. There’s got to be.
What do you think of rap, as far as that goes? I don’t know if you saw this, but Lil Wayne just gave this interview where he said, like, “I’m better than Jay-Z. This guy tried to come back, and we’re all supposed to bow down to him, and he’s supposed to be saving rap, but I’ve been doing it the whole time he was gone and now I’m better.” I think that’s awesome.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t pay super much attention to new rap, which is kind of lame. But a lot of it doesn’t grab me too much. Mostly because most of what I normally get exposed to is really formulaic. The girl sings the hook. It’s always the same beat. I’m waiting for that moment like when Timbaland and the Neptunes first popped on the scene and you were like, “Wow, this shit doesn’t sound like anything else before it.” And then OutKast came out with “Bombs Over Baghdad,” and you were like, “Wow, hip-hop’s going to change.” But instead, because they dressed funny, everyone was like, “Those guys are crazy. Anyway, bitch…” And it’s like, gaah, are you serious? We got five more years? The groundhog saw its hip-hop shadow and now we get five more years of bullshit? I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it. It kind of exists outside of me. I was very excited about it in like 2001, 2002, that era. I was very excited about new hip-hop, but now I’ve drifted off. I hear the same beats too many times, I hear the same rhyme styles too many times. I hear those quick turns too much. I’m very curious to hear a new voice that’s not just a new voice if you’re mired in hip-hop and notice. You didn’t have to know shit about hip-hop when the Neptunes and “Back That Azz Up” and shit like that came out. I’m waiting to feel that again. And that Jay-Z album is terrible, by the way.
Have you seen Justin Timberlake on the tour he’s on now?
The arena tour he’s on now, it’s incredible. And when he’s about to come out, the lights go down, and the Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” comes on, and then “House of Jealous Lovers” comes on.
No way! He comes out to “House of Jealous Lovers?”
That’s bonkers! Whoa. I want to know how. I’m curious about that dude.
Well, Timbaland knows about them, and he’s on this tour.
Timbaland totally knows about them. And Timbaland, I mean, don’t fuck with Timbaland. Justin Timberlake, I find him interesting. I think he’s good for music, and plus he’s everybody’s not-so-guilty pleasure. We did a remix of him. I kind of don’t want to meet him. I hope he’s not just a Mouseketeer. I don’t meet people very much, though I was on the phone with John Cale just the other day. That was very strange; I was very starstruck. But from what little I saw of Timberlake on TV, I wanted the band to be a little less pro. I want bands that play with people like Justin Timberlake to watch old Stevie Wonder footage more closely. I know they watch it, and I know they think they see it, but I want them to notice the drummer and how the shit’s moving around, how the drummer’s 16 and playing with this really raw energy and how the sound is really raw and not, like, wristy. I want them to notice that sound and embrace it a little more, where the tactility of sound was a little more important.
I interviewed John Pugh from !!! a couple of weeks ago, and he was talking about his band, how everyone thought they wanted to be Gang of Four but they really wanted to be like Chic, and how their own ticciness got involved there.
And plus it was the era where people were applying that kind of mentality, like, “Oh, this must be Gang of Four.” But yeah, they’re not session musicians. And it’s a good thing not to be session musicians. But session musicians, it’s only now that they have a bad name. Back in that era, session musicians used to be weirdos. Bootsy Collins was a session musician! These people were fucking weird. These people had more individuality than people who are artists now. You got this guy because of how he played. Look at Mick Fleetwood played drums; what a weird way of playing that instrument. Watch the Eagles play. I don’t like the Eagles, but those guys played weird! Watch Phil Collins fucking play drums; it’s weird. Watch every fucking drummer on Saturday Night Live for a year and you will see the same fucking bullshit over and over. That drives me batshit. I don’t get it. They all talk about how they love all this old music. I don’t want it to sound old, I don’t want a retro thing, but at least something that’s got some strive in it, some lack of perfection.
I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody come out against mediocrity like this.
It’s the worst! There’s way too many of us. I should not be in a band. I should not be on tour. I should be laughable. I’m 37 years old. I’m 220 pounds. I am a producer. I’ve got about as much likelihood of being a producer as Christopher Cross for fuck’s sake. I should have my ass wiped off the stage every night.