In case the fact that he broke up one of the most beloved indie acts of our time for no apparent reason didn't tip you off, you should know that James Murphy likes to be in control. "I'm historically really totalitarian," he told The Huffington Post. "I don't like telling people what I'm doing."
Being in control is easier when you're in charge of an outfit like LCD Soundsystem, the group Murphy put out to pasture with a spectacular going away party at Madison Square Garden (their final concert was the subject of "Shut Up and Play the Hits," a well-received documentary about Murphy and the band's grand finale). It's more difficult, Murphy fears, to maintain a grip on everything when you're working on a new medium with new people. That's exactly what he's doing as part of Canon's Project Imaginat10n, a contest which pits Murphy against the likes of Twitter's Biz Stone, Eva Longoria, Jamie Foxx and Georgina Chapman of Marchesa in a short film contest. Ron Howard plays thesis adviser to the crop, who must use ten user-submitted photos as the storyboard for their respective mini-movies, which will in turn be entered into film festivals.
HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Murphy when he was in New York to select the images that would influence his movie. Our conversation, which spans the project, LCD Soundsystem, his DJ career and "stupid crowds," is available below. (Earlier coverage from the same interview centered on rumors that Murphy was working with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire and is available here.)
Was the process of selecting photos weird?
Super weird. A lot of pressure. Because if I don't pick the right photos then I'm fucked.
In making the film, do you think you're going to be pretty literal with the images?
No. I don't know what that would mean. It's a short film with a lot of pictures. There is more than one picture per minute rate. Even then you'd be just playing a game only. So I picked things I can see already some story that works and hopefully I can have more use of everything as it goes.
I asked Ron Howard if, when he makes a film, the images come first. He told me images come to mind dead last. In this case, you start with images, but do you think you'll immediately go back to story and character and start over?
I think I'm probably a tonal person and that's what's tough, because a lot of the pictures really have a lot of tone, a lot of mood. When you have a picture, people are trying to pick pictures for a movie to be inspiring. What people tend to do is to think about what pictures have the most story in them and drama in them. I was really pushing to get away from pictures with drama in them. I wanted neutral colors because I actually like them. Because I want to try and let a story kind of happen out of a tone and have it work. But I don't know how I work at all because I don't make movies. But I do tend to think of things, all things, at the same time. Like when making music, I'm a pretty visual person and I talk in terms of visual elements of music. They're all kind of the same idea.
Would you say there are characters that reoccur throughout your music?
Yeah, me. I'm always a reoccurring first person character. I'm not like Bruce Springsteen, who always writes characters.
For the film, do you think you'll have character other than yourself?
No, I don't know. I've tried to really not think until I got the pictures Because otherwise I'd be like "Um, what doesn't really cause me trouble?" I don't want to ever half-assedly jam some picture reference in. That just seems cheap. And I felt really bad about picking the joy because joy is an easy goal. But then when I though about it, joy is a good goal because it's a really soft goal. The trick would be to make the best possible thing and not feel like I had to compromise anything in anyway because of the pictures. But also not ignore the pictures.
You want to do go along with the game of choosing photos and making a movie without making it too obtuse.
I don't want to just be like "Cool, I got to make a movie" and ignore the task. But I don't want to be like, "I played the game. But it stinks."
How long do you have to make these movies?
I don't exactly know. I think it's all budget-dependent. There's windows that people can film in and obviously we can't film for a year. I only do -- it's Terrence Malick style -- I only film during the golden hour. I have a crew waiting on set all day until the lights right, then we shoot for 25 minutes, 30 minutes, and then go back to the waiting game.
You acted in "The Comedy." Does that experience make you any more confident for this project or is it still completely foreign?
Totally is [foreign]. I'm hardly acting in "The Comedy." That's what the video was. A couple of days and no specific dialogue. It's all improvised and stuff. But in the end, I wasn't responsible for it, which was also quite beautiful. This is I'm responsible for. So making music is what makes me feel less terrified. Making videos, I've made videos. But I'm historically really totalitarian. I don't like telling people what I'm doing. So that is going to be interesting because I have to work with people. I have to work with a lot of people because it's like a proper shoot. There's producers and stuff. So I have to deal with producers which is just not my way. I'm much better at narrowing my field of options and improvising.
When you made the LCD Soundsystem documentary, was the directive to just stand out of your way just a little bit?
Because it was a show, so much of it was like a military operation. This happens at 2, this happens at 7. So they don't even have to deal with me. They know so and so is going to be there at 2 o'clock. But the next day stuff, I knew they were coming over, and around they just went with me. And they had a vehicle so that when I got into a car, or the subway, either the people would carry what they needed on the subway and the vehicle would drive. Always a camera went with me. The camera and the one sound person with the lav always went with me. Plus, sometimes one of the directors would operate sound, so I knew it wasn't that weird.
Was there anything weird about watching it that you didn't realize you were doing?
Yeah, it's really hard to watch myself drunk. I think that's normal for people. It's always a little bit embarrassing. I'm really like kind of a controlling person, but long years ago, when I really got more and more out of my head. When I got to be like late 20s early 30s. I found that I got to blackout places that I couldn't remember for days, and I heard from other people that I was never a jerk. I never turned into like a terrible person. Because that's always the fear that you're going to get really wasted and you're going to offend your friends, you're going to say really screwed up stuff. But it turns out that I just turn into a happy, overly gregarious, I'm a little annoying, but it's not so bad. But the big existential thing is gone. But I learned that over ten years ago that I wasn't going to suddenly be like a jerk. Because I know people, you know those people that are totally find and then they get drunk and they're mean you're just like, "Where did this come from." I'm not that guy. But it's still embarrassing to see me ramble and see me struggle with stuff. But we had to leave it in. Plus, I saw it so much in its being made that it immunized me, a bit, against the first time seeing it with people. If I had not been part of the process, I don't think I could have ever seen it with people.
So you were part of the editing process?
I was heavily involved in the editing of the performance because, for me, even filming the performance is capturing and releasing the performance, and that's what I do. I produce my band. I mix my band. So the performance stuff, they didn't know necessarily what people were doing what, and it's a little confusing, a lot of people on stage. And they had of couple of shots that were sort of rock star like, really flattering. I wanted none of those, because it's really not, to me, what the band is about. And if it's about that to some people, it's better to show the audience. It's better to have genuine audience reaction than to try to and tart it up a bit.
Do you think that LCD's show developed drastically over the years?
I have no idea. As far as we're concerned we just do the same thing every time. I never feel the need to reinvent anything. I alway feel like we just try to find the best way to play it and then everyday we try to play it the best way we can. And sometimes we get better at it. Sometimes in practice we get worse at it for some reason. Sometimes we get self-conscious or un-self-conscious. There are these different variables. For the most part it's just like play it the best we can and, in a way, I can't speak for everyone in the band. Other people have different needs. But for me, it's play it in a way, at a volume, that I'm not one hundred percent self-conscious the entire time. Play it in a way that takes me out of myself a little bit. And there's a reason that I sing constantly or play percussion all the time. I'm never standing there because I can't do it. My stage fright would just ruin everything. But I don't know that anything changes other than the last Madison Square Garden show. We did a lot of dumb stuff that we've never been able to do like build a bunch of set pieces and had spaceships and stuff. But other than that, it's kind of the same thing. Although I've ripped my voice out, so I wore an in ear in one before that just had my voice in it.
It seems like the common thread, between the way you talk about the Canon project and your music, is that you'd rather the consumer of the product come up with their own interpretation of your work.
Well, I don't like to be too heavy handed. And I don't like to be cheap. I'll do things that look cheap. I don't mind that. You know, just write a pop song that's cheap. Pop songs are cheap in a way. I just feel like they should have enough density that if you investigate them more and more they don't feel flat. They shouldn't feel flat. And I think that a lot of narrative type stuff, and a lot of music for sure, doesn't want to be investigated anymore than right there. It works on an emotional level right there, but then it's cheap underneath. It's like bad fabric. It looks fine but then you're like, "This kind of sucks." I kind of prefer, even if it looks cheap, if it's a pair of sneakers, they are really intricately woven. They're really nice in a different way. But I want them to have a little bit of both.
You've been DJ'ing a lot more lately.
Yeah, a lot more. It's my job now. It really is -- people ask me why I'm DJ'ing now, and it's my only job. I'm building a house. I got to pay bills. We're long past the time of bands my size retiring. When people sold hundreds of thousands of records, sure, you could retire.
Just today I got an invitation to go see KISS play on Letterman's stage. So maybe it's an accomplishment that you retired.
But I didn't retire because I could. I could, because anybody can, unless if the mafia has their mother. [Laughs] But it was being harder and harder to do so I figured I should head out. It was like being in a relationship, where you're sort of like, "we've been hanging out a lot, I should leave now if I'm going to leave."
But what you said about cheapness reminds of me some dance music --
[Sarcastically] Electronic dance music has taken over!
Right, if only because a common critique of the type of EDM that's becoming more popular in the States is often derided as thin or flimsy.
Yeah that sucks. Some of it sucks, but it's fine. It doesn't suck it's just that large masses of people are usually stupid by nature. That's usually the nature of large groups of people. But festivals can be really fun and really surprising. I always had a better time when it was just bands and people really didn't know what to do. But the new thing with that is that they are adrenaline junkies and they want a giant light show and explosions and they want to stand there and watch you and do this [fist pumps]. And it's not a sporting event. It's not a show. That's not what I do. And we played a festival where I was under a lot of pressure to create visual content, by the way, the word "content" is the worst word. So I was like cool, "I have a visual thing do we have screens?" And they were like, "Yes, great, we have screens!" And I bought this really crappy little machine that you just type things and they show up in green on black, like an Apple 2E, and I'd be like, "Hey everybody" while DJing. And I think they were like, "Awwwww, that's not exciting." Then they showed me these images they collected, and they showed me. And it's like a disco ball and the lighting in my face and then my name doing this. And you're like "This sucks!" I feel like I have to bore people first. So I like having a long set so I can bore the shit out of them for awhile. And then if they start dancing, they don't leave, then it's genuine. It's a genuine thing that starts happening.