Music Interviews
8:30 am
Fri July 6, 2012

James Murphy: The Brains Behind LCD Soundsystem

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 8:01 pm

This interview was originally broadcast on June 21, 2012. The new film Shut Up and Play the Hits documents LCD's Soundsystem's farewell concert at Madison Square Garden.

When LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy attended live concerts, he says he always felt like there was something missing.

"I'd start to see bands prioritize things wrong in my mind," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "[They weren't] prioritizing the momentness of a show or the physical experience of a show. Instead, they [were] prioritizing making sure they didn't make mistakes or prioritiz[ing] trying to faithfully represent a prerecorded piece of material."

When Murphy hit his early 30s, he says he decided that he would stop complaining and instead make his argument for better live music by composing and performing his own compositions.

The result, LCD Soundsystem, combines a funky mix of dance music, pop, electronic tracks, indie rock and disco, along with other experimental styles. Murphy, who had worked as a DJ and party promoter, began the group in 2002 with the humorous eight-minute single "Losing My Edge." It is an anthem, he says, to growing older and realizing that musical styles change with generations.

"It's really from a specific time in my life more than it is about it," he says. "From when I had started DJing and I hadn't released any records ... and for the first time in my life, I was almost cool. ... And I went to a punk show, and between the bands, somebody was DJing. And that wasn't done. And I remember thinking, 'Hey! That's my thing.' And they were playing some of the records I played, and I got really upset, and they were like 23, 24 — and I was really mad. And then I started getting very embarrassed that I was getting mad, because I remember being in a young band when I was 23, 24 and talking to this guy who was like ancient — I think he may have been 28 or 29 — and he was talking about how kids now, the guitar sounds aren't good, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, man, you never say that.'"

Murphy's latest album, This Is Happening, again combines a number of musical elements with self-effacing humor. He's said that this album, his third, may be the final full album he releases under the name LCD Soundsystem.

"It's become my whole life, which I've become very happy about," he says. "It's a wonderful life. I love being in this band. But to do a band properly does kind of mean you don't really get to do anything else. Now I also have a record label (DFA) and I'm a producer, I design equipment, I like to write — there are a lot of things I'd like to do that I can't really do because I have this job. So I thought like three albums — a nice trilogy over a decade — it feels like a good time to stop being a professional band. That doesn't mean LCD will stop. It just means I'll go back to the beginning: releasing a track here and there or being more fluid about my decision-making rather than albums, videos, singles, tour. Rather than this professional arch of being in a band, I'd like to go back to being a person who decides what he likes to do and pursues something new once in a while."


Interview Highlights

On His Composition Techniques

"I'm not a big songwriter guy. People who are really good singer-songwriters usually left me kind of cold. I've always been more of a physical music person even when I didn't listen to dance music; I didn't quite realize it, but the punk bands I liked had a kind of physicality that I really liked. Lyrically and vocally, I was never all that interested in melody or great voices, and musically, I was never that interested in chord changes. I always liked to find something that kind of did one thing for a really long time and did it very well — or just had a physicalness to it that I really liked."

On How Being A DJ Contributed To His Original Compositions

"After being involved in self-involved punk bands my entire life, you think about what it is you want to make — who it is you want to be. But DJing and finding dance music was much more of a communication device. It was very blatant. If people aren't dancing, you're not doing a good job. You can't make any other argument about it. There's something simple and workmanly about it that I really liked. And it changed making music for me because suddenly I wanted to make music; I wanted to make songs — I stopped being in bands when I was 26, so I took three years off and I wanted to do it again, because suddenly there was an actual quantifiable way [to see] if you were doing your job. People danced or they didn't. And if they did, then you're doing your job, which was a really nice thing to finally be able to learn."

On The Future Of Record Stores

"My high-techness is pretty low-tech. I'm not wildly computer savvy. I'm a record person. I still feel like if I don't have the vinyl, I don't own it. Even if I have the CD, I don't feel like I own it. CDs always felt like cassettes to me — partially because the industry decided to put them in basically a cassette box even though they had a perfectly good, round object that could have gone in a tiny record sleeve — I'll never understand that one. But they decided to put it in a cassette box. I'm not that worried, because I think things change, and I think my experience of buying records was very different than my brother's or my father's before me. And people's experiences in the 1990s were different than my experiences of the '80s when buying their first records. It just changes. I'm not that worried."

On Instruments He's Played

"I was a singer-guitar player as a kid, a.k.a. I was a self-important, pretentious jerk as a kid — and controlling, you know, teenager. I started playing in my first band when I was 12. I like to date myself by saying I was in a New Age band when it wasn't ironic; it was actually called new wave because it was new. So all through high school, I played guitar and moved to New York when I was 19. And I started thinking, well, maybe the guitar wasn't for me. ... And then I started playing drums and I thought, 'These are great. You hit them harder and they get louder.' So I started being a drummer in bands. I think now I've settled on the fact that the instrument that is most for me is the bass guitar, because it's somewhere between the two. It's like the workhorse, and you can play it very physically and it delivers a lot more punch in the stomach, but it also can drive the song around. It's a rhythmic instrument, but it's also a melodic instrument — or at least a tonal instrument."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Last year, the influential band LCD Soundsystem decided to disband. It went out with a bang, playing a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden that lasted nearly four hours.

There's a new documentary about the concert and the band called "Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Final Days of LCD Soundsystem." Today, we're going to listen to Terry's 2010 interview with the band's leader, James Murphy. At times, LCD Soundsystem was really just Murphy using instruments, electronics and overdubbing. LCD Soundsystem played dance music, and Murphy was once a club DJ. But the lyrics of his songs were often ironic and funny, and the music that inspired him went way beyond dance music, appealing to a broader set of fans who wouldn't necessarily think of themselves as being into that sound.

The documentary "Shut Up and Play the Hits" will be played July 18 in select theaters around the country and will be available on digital platforms later this summer. Terry spoke to James Murphy after the group released its final studio album called "This is Happening." They began with a track "Drunk Girls," co-written by Murphy and featuring him on vocals, drums, synthesizers, guitar, bass, Wurlitzer, tambourine and claps.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRUNK GIRLS")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Drunk girls, drunk girls, drunk girls, drunk girls. Drunk girls cause a couple of heart attacks. Drunk girls are unusually mild. Drunk boys keep in pace with the pedophiles. Drunk girls are boringly wild.

(Singing) Drunk girls get invitations from nations. They got the patience of a millions of saints. Drunk boys, they steal, they steal from the cupboards. Drunk girls like to file complaints.

(Singing) Drunk girls are like a night of simplicity. They need a lover who is smarter than me. Drunk boys, we walk like pedestrians. Drunk girls wait an hour to pee.

(Singing) Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut. It comes back, but it's never the same. Drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boys. Drunk girls can be just as insane.

(Singing) Oh, oh, oh, I believe in waking up together. So, oh, oh, that means making eyes across the room.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

That's "Drunk Girls" from LCD Soundsystem's "This is Happening." My guest is James Murphy, who is not only the founder of the band, he is most of the band. James Murphy, welcome to FRESH AIR.

So the band is called LCD Soundsystem, and you used to create sound systems.

JAMES MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: And your record label was called, or is still called - was called, is called, DFA.

MURPHY: DFA Records.

GROSS: Which stands for Death From Above, which is also what you called your sound system because it was all about loud.

MURPHY: Yes, incredibly loud.

GROSS: Really loud. And why does really loud appeal to you, and how loud are we talking?

MURPHY: Okay, and this is another thing that I'm pretty specific about and have very strong feelings about.

I don't like hurting ears. I don't like hurting people's ears. I don't like hurting my own ears. And there are frequencies that I find that I am hypersensitized to, and I think people normally are.

The human voice, like, likes to hover around 1,000 hertz. That's sort of at the center of our hearing. And, you know, you can go up to 20,000 and go down to 20 hertz and, you know, that's kind of the range of human - that's kind of the area where we listen in.

So I like to make sure we're not punishing anybody on these frequencies that hurt your ears, but I do like the visceral, physical experience of bass when it's attached to the rest of the sounds. I think it's bodily, I had my - the first shows I saw were really bodily loud, and it was a really incredible experience for me.

Like, your adrenaline goes up. You kind of have a fight-or-flight experience that can be maintained in a nice way by volume. And I think, like, a certain type of airy treble, a certain type of airy space, that doesn't hurt your ears again, is kind of wonderful and magical and for lack of a less hackneyed and overused term, psychedelic. Volume is a big part of that.

I think people have - a lot of people have lost the art of using volume in a way that isn't just harsh and painful, but it's something that I'm really into. Like, our band is - our band on stage is typically illegally loud in a lot of countries. Like in France, I think you can't be above 97 dB, and where I stand on stage can be about 120 decibels. Or 122.

GROSS: And you don't think you're hurting your ears?

MURPHY: I still test better than average. I still test really high frequency. I mean, it can be fatiguing. You know, we shouldn't do more than five shows in a row. And we used to do shows that were about an hour, and now they're about an hour and 40 minutes. So, you know, we've knocked this, where I stand, down to about 114, 115 decibels.

But if I don't - if it doesn't feel right physically, I would just be thinking constantly on stage. I would just be constantly thinking, and then I'd forget the lyrics, and I'd forget the arrangements, and it wouldn't be very good show.

GROSS: You'd be thinking, oh, it's not loud enough, it's not loud enough?

MURPHY: I would just be thinking. I would just turn my brain back on. I need the - for me, I need a certain amount of volume to turn the brain off.

GROSS: Oh, I see. Right, right.

MURPHY: Turn the rattling monkey in my head off.

GROSS: I'm glad you say you're not interested in hurting people's ears. There was this, like, one concert that I went to in a small venue, where it was so loud, so intentionally loud, that I moved way back because I thought, like, this is really egotistical on the performer's part. If he thinks his music is worth damaging my hearing, he's crazy.

MURPHY: I think it's also, I mean, you know, the band is typically mixed by an engineer, too. So it's you know, it's kind of a combo of who's really trying to hurt you.

GROSS: Oh, I think he was.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: The system was designed by someone...

GROSS: In this case, I think he was.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And also, the system is designed by somebody typically who doesn't know how to design sound systems. People - that's a lost art now because everything is pre-packaged. Like, sound systems come pre-packaged now. People used to design them.

I used to design boxes and design the amplifiers and the crossovers, and you could, you could make them specific to rooms, but now they're mostly cookie cutters, and someone comes in with a mystical computer and sets it up, and then they go away. And then they get messed with a little bit every night until they sound bad again. Then they have the mystery man come in with his computer and fix it.

GROSS: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: It's kind of I don't know, I'm an anachronism, I would say, in that I like to control these things as much as possible in a more old-fashioned way.

GROSS: Well, I thought we'd hear another LCD Soundsystem recording, and this is from earlier. This is called "Losing My Edge," and it's - one of the most famous things that you've done?

MURPHY: It's the first one.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, and let's hear it. I think it's like a really funny song, and I'll just say it's about somebody who thinks he's losing his edge to the kids who are coming up from behind him. And so let's hear it, and then we'll talk about it. So this is LCD Soundsystem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSING MY EDGE")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) I'm losing my edge. I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody, every great song by the Beach Boys, all the underground hits, all the Modern Lovers tracks. I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagara record on German import. I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit, 1985, '86, '87. I heard that you have a CD compilation of every good '60s cut and another box set from the '70s.

(Singing) I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record.

(Singing) I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables. I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars. I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know...

GROSS: So that's the first single by LCD Soundsystem, and my guest, James Murphy, is the creator of LCD Soundsystem. And I think that's just so funny. And when I listen to it, I can't help but wonder how much of this is about you and how much of it is older people who you met coming up through the ranks who were afraid that they were losing their edge to people like you.

MURPHY: It's a little bit both. It's really from a specific position and time in my life more than it is about it, where I had started DJing, and I hadn't released any music yet. We had DFA Records, and I started having - there was parties that I was throwing, and I was DJing, and for the first time in my life, I was almost cool.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But not quite?

MURPHY: At almost, like, 29 years old, I had my first taste of, like, wait, people want me to come to this party and DJ. This is very exciting for me.

And then I went to, I remember I went to a punk show, and between the bands, somebody was DJing. Now, that wasn't done. And I was like, wait, that's my thing. Like, I play records, you know.

And they were playing some of the records I played, and I got really upset. I looked, and they were like 24, 23, and I was really mad. And then I started getting very embarrassed that I was getting mad because I remembered being in a young band when I was 23 or 24 and talking to this guy who was like ancient - I think he may have been 28 or 29, you know, practically in his grave - and he was talking about how kids now, they don't know; the guitar sounds aren't good and things like that. And I remember just being, like, oh, man, you never say that. That's just, that's such a lame thing to say.

And then I caught myself doing it, and I'm, like, oh, I'm saying it, but at the same time, it's true, but it's so pathetic. And it made for the easiest song I've ever written. It was the easiest song to write.

The whole lyric with a couple of - I punched it in a couple of times, but I played drums and sang that song in just one take, just without writing anything beforehand. The only thing that I wrote was the list of songs that I yell at the end, I mean the list of artists I yell at the end. The whole thing was just made up because it was such a fertile and embarrassing and circular set of feelings.

Like, it was so easy to know what I was mad about and so easy to be embarrassed by it, and so you know, it was just, like, endlessly like oh-but, oh-but, oh-but, you know, type of emotion that I had. So it was a really and after that, I was overconfident. I was like, I can write songs all the time. This is easy. Just have an experience that typifies your life at that moment and then go yell about it.

GROSS: It's funny because I kind of half-imagined you taking like, having this secret notebook in which you wrote down all the things that people said to you about why they were worried about younger people coming up and replacing them.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And why they were losing their edge because it's all so perfect.

MURPHY: It was so simple to me. It seemed like such a good - and at the end, the reason I yell all the band names was I suddenly realized, like, I'm one of these - I suddenly realized, I was like, this is what you do when you know things. Knowing things, knowledge, or, like, your attachment to them or your self-association with other bands or with books or whatever is usually like this, often this weird amulet that protects you. Like, you're like, no, I am serious. Look at my library. Listen to this. Like, I'm going to list all the books I've read, and now you know I'm a serious person.

And so it was just supposed to be like this amulet swinging around me to protect me from being seen as anything that I didn't want to be seen as.

GROSS: Yeah, I think a lot of people have experienced that, you know, what you read, what you listen to, as who you are.

MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: I think my favorite line in "Losing My Edge" is: I hear you've done a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's really great.

MURPHY: It just - yeah, which is, you know, of course, now that's just the Internet, isn't it?

GROSS: Well, yeah, but that's not any one, single person.

MURPHY: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah. And then you say: I've never been wrong. I used to work in a record store.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: You had everything before anyone.

GROSS: Yeah. So did you used to work in a record store?

MURPHY: I actually didn't. That's the only typical rock-nerd job I did not have. I had every other typical rock-nerd job. At the time when I could have worked in a record store, it was very hard to get those jobs because they were the most desirable. So I worked in a bookstore instead, which is the second-most-desirable job.

GROSS: But you probably frequented record stores a lot.

MURPHY: Oh boy, yeah. I, like, basically lived in them.

DAVIES: James Murphy, leader of the LCD Soundsystem, speaking with Terry Gross in 2010. We'll hear more after a break; this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're listening to Terry's 2010 interview with James Murphy, who was leader of the LCD Soundsystem. The group disbanded last year, and there's a new documentary of their farewell concert called "Shut Up and Play the Hits."

GROSS: So let's play another track from your new CD, "This is Happening," and I thought we'd play something that's kind of different in tone from what we just heard. And this is called "Home," and it's more emotional, and I thought we'd quote a couple of lines from it and see how this connects to your life, if at all, if this song grew out of your life or is just a song.

So the lines are: So grab your things and stumble into the night so we can shut the door on terrible times. And then a little later, you say: This is the trick. Forget a terrible year so we can break the laws until it gets weird. So did you write this after a terrible year?

MURPHY: Yeah, it was a pretty bad year last year for a lot of my friends. A friend of - a very, very close friend of ours passed away. And there - it was somebody that a lot of people were very, very close to, like genuinely a big part of the music scene in New York and separate from the music scene, just a very good friend, named Jerry Fuchs, who's a drummer, who had played in LCD, he played in The Juan Maclean and Holy Ghost! He played in, like, a ton of bands that we were all involved with, and I've known him for a really long time.

So it kind of just took a big bite out of everybody in New York, and it was the biggest - it was sort of like an unfortunate mark on that year. So that year, 2009, kind of is kind of always to me that year. So yeah.

GROSS: Okay, so why don't we hear "Home," and this is LCD Soundsystem. My guest is James Murphy, who is the founder of the band, and the band is more or less him. So here it is. This is "Home."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Home, home, home, home, home, home, take me home. Just do it right. Make it perfect and real because it's everything, no everything was never the deal. So grab your things, and stumble into the night so we can shut the door, oh, shut the door on terrible times...

GROSS: That's "Home," from the new LCD Soundsystem CD, "This is Happening." My guest, James Murphy, is the founder of the band, and the band is kind of him with other people. Even in a more emotional song like "Home," you have these really catchy grooves. And I'm wondering if that's - if your composing revolves around finding the groove first.

MURPHY: A lot of times it does. I always - I'm not a big songwriter guy. People that were really good singer-songwriters I never - they usually left me kind of cold. I've always been more of a physical music person even when I didn't listen to dance music, I didn't quite realize it, but like the punk bands I liked had like a physicality that I really liked.

Lyrically and vocally, I was never all that interested in melody or great voices, and musically, I was never that interested in chord changes. I always just liked to find something that kind of did one thing for a really long time and did it very well - or just had a physicalness to it that I really liked.

GROSS: So rhythm kind of becomes melody for you.

MURPHY: Yeah, to a certain degree. Just repetition and rhythm. Yeah.

GROSS: So the tracks on the new CD are approximately under eight minutes each.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: Yeah.

GROSS: And, you know, on the dance floor people tend to play long tracks.

MURPHY: Yes.

GROSS: But what, does about eight minutes seem like the right amount for like a listening experience?

MURPHY: I don't know. I have a - I'm always wrong about these things. Like, you know, whenever I listened to a record growing up and somebody would, I'd be like oh, this is the hit. And then, of course, I'd be completely wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah.

MURPHY: So I have this - I don't have the ear for that. I know for me, I like, you know, for me a pop song is about five minutes 40.

GROSS: Oh, you got it down exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: Yeah. Like no, I kept noticing, I'm like oh the pop song on this record, it's like oh, it's like five and a half minutes. You still have to cut two minutes off of it to make a radio single out of it. And it's like, oh. And this record doesn't - although, "Drunk Girls" is almost three and a half minutes. It's under four minutes, which is a real shocker for me. The only songs that I ever write that are under four minutes are just like kind of barnstorming punk songs.

But for me, I think a good pop song is like five minutes long because I like intros and outros. I like to let things develop before you stop to start putting melodies on them.

GROSS: Yeah. You sometimes have long instrumental sections before the vocal starts.

MURPHY: Yeah. I like that. I mean I like - when we play live it's nice for me because I can like let things settle. I can make sure I can hear everything the way I want to, and we can then start singing. I find it more fun. I always have though. I've always like these kind of things that just go on for a while.

I loved the Talking Heads because they would have these sort of mesmerizing kind of like hypnotic things. I always loved "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles because of how you could listen to the intro before the vocals come in for an hour.

It's just kind of - it's hypnotizing. I like that. It gives me - I'm a self-conscious person, I think. I'm a shy person and a self-conscious person, and things being hypnotizing a little bit I think is healthy for me - lets me like let my guard down and try and just sing the song or whatever. Rather than be like what, are they looking at me? Are they looking at me? I don't know. That's what I would otherwise do.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You go through that on stage? Because you know people are looking at you when you're on stage. That's one thing you can be sure of.

MURPHY: Of course. It's the worst. Yeah. I think it's very funny when people discover that when you watch a show from the audience you never think of that. And so someone will jump on the stage and, you know, want to dance around. And they suddenly jump there, and you see that look pass over their face that they've stepped through the television and it's not what they thought.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And they turn around and everyone's staring at them. And they get very self-conscious and then they kind of do a little dance that makes them really shy and then they jump back down. It's a pretty funny experience. And I'm always when that happens, in the back of my mind, I'm like, you didn't think it was going to be like this. I know you didn't. But it's really strange up here.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: James Murphy, leader of the group LCD Soundsystem, speaking with Terry Gross in 2010. Murphy will be back in the second half of the show. LCD Soundsystem disbanded last year, and there's a new documentary of their farewell concert called "Shut Up and Play the Hits." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're listening to Terry's interview with James Murphy, who was the leader of the group LCD Soundsystem, which disbanded last year. Murphy is a former club DJ and sound engineer and the group played dance music - though its lyrics and unique sound attracted a far wider fan base.

LCD Soundsystem ended its run last year with a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden that lasted nearly four hours. There's a new documentary about the concert and the band called "Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Final Days of LCD Soundsystem." Terry spoke to James Murphy in 2010, when the group's final studio album, "This is Happening," was released.

GROSS: You've mentioned several times that you like really physical music. You like to feel it in your body. So I guess it's no surprise that your first instrument was drums.

MURPHY: My first instrument was guitar.

GROSS: Oh. So it is a surprise.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: Yeah. No. But I learn - yeah, I was a singer-guitar player as a kid. AKA, I was a self-important pretentious jerk as a kid and...

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: ...a controlling, you know, teenager. I started playing guitar when I was - I started my first band when I was 12. I was in a new wave band. I like to date myself by saying I was in a new wave band when it wasn't ironic. It was actually called new wave because it was new. And, but yeah, so 12, 13, all through high school I played guitar. And I moved to New York when I was 19 and started feeling like maybe the guitar wasn't for me. I met a guy who was a really great guitar player. He was a natural guitar player. This guy name Yotaka Yokoyama(ph) who was a violinist, who picked up guitar and we liked a lot of the same music. And we played together.

And watching him play guitar made me realize that maybe I'm not playing the right instrument for me because he was just so natural and physical. And I was always trying to struggle to get the guitar to give me more of something. And then I started playing drums. I was like oh, these are great. You hit them harder and they get louder.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: This is all - this all really makes sense. And so I started being drummer in bands. I think now I've settled on that the instrument that's most appropriate for me is the bass guitar, because it's somewhere between the two. It's like the workhorse and you can play it very physically and it delivers a lot more like punch in the stomach. But it also can drive the song around. It's a rhythmic instrument, but it's also a melodic instrument or at least a tonal instrument.

GROSS: And speaking of like physicality, you studied kickboxing after high school, which is certainly...

MURPHY: Yeah.

GROSS: Was that just because you like physical things or did you need to defend yourself?

MURPHY: Oh, I didn't need to defend myself. I was a big - I was a very big young kid.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: When I was like 15 I was about six feet two, 210 pounds, so I was fine. I just think I did it because my friend did it and it was at the local mall and I didn't go to college after high school, so my parents were like what are you doing with yourself? So I worked at a bookstore and I kickboxed, basically having this very late '80s kind of rebellion. And I finally did go to college after a year and a half of kickboxing and working in bookstores, which was probably the best thing for me because it wasn't that great, living at my parents' house, kickboxing and working in a bookstore. You would think it would be great but it wasn't. And I decided I did want to move. I moved to New York and started playing more music and quit kickboxing. But I did love it. I really do. I do. I still love it. I train Brazilian Jujitsu now, which is a different kind of fighting art. But I really do, it never left me. I really do enjoy it.

GROSS: Have you ever needed to use martial arts?

MURPHY: No. No. I mean I think usually with a couple of exceptions, usually you don't have to do any - you don't have to defend yourself. You can just walk away or say something. I'm not a - I've learned to not be as antagonistic as I was as a kid. I got in fights a ton when I was a kid. But that's because I was the weird kid and a loud mouth.

GROSS: I want to play another song. And this is also an earlier LCD Soundsystem track, and it's the title track of your album "Sound Of Silver." And I just think the lyric's really interesting about being nostalgic for being a teenager until you remember what it was really like to be a teenager. So why don't we hear it and then we'll talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUND OF SILVER")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then you think again.

Sound of silver talk to me. Makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real live emotional teenager. Then you think again.

GROSS: That's LCD Soundsystem. My guest is James Murphy, who's the creator of the band and plays most of the instruments on the records and does the vocals and writes the songs.

So is this a kind of personal song for you?

MURPHY: Yeah. But in more ways than one, possibly. The type of singing is the most personal and embarrassing part of that song. I was really into Heaven 17 as a kid too, like new wave stuff and the singing is kind of like arch. People don't sing like that anymore, kind of this kind of like '80s new romantic baritone.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And I really love it. And I'd been on a quest for almost the length of this band to just trust my taste even when it's pretty embarrassing, because embarrassments kind of are an untapped rock emotion, usually. People don't get too into embarrassment. They get into heartbreak and cool but they don't get in too much into just being embarrassing. So yeah, I just wanted to belt it out in this kind of weird way. And it was pretty funny to make those lyrics because I was like oh, I don't really need any more lyrics. It's just a one-line song, really.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And what was your real live emotional life as a teenager?

MURPHY: I led a pretty OK school time. I was just a - I kind of made things difficult for myself. Like when I was younger I fit in a lot better. I was an athletic kid and I was a pretty big kid. But then when we got about 13, you know, certain types of - I had much older brothers and sisters and certain types of like hyper self-aware stuff happened to me pretty young. My voice changed when I was in fourth grade. I was 10. I looked bigger. You know, and something happened where I was not kind of on the same page as a lot of my peers. And watching the cruelty develop around 12, 13 was super psychically like traumatic for me.

Of course, now it's like oh yeah, people are kind of crappy to each other sometimes. You can live with that. It's okay. You know, I also learned that people are capable of great insensitivity and horror and also capable of, you know, great optimism and kindness and it's - a lot of times it's how you treat them that they can, you know, become the best parts of themselves or the worst parts of themselves.

But at that time I had no experience of this. So watching suddenly two friends that were best friends the year before turn into cliques and, you know, the more popular of those two would be taunting the less popular of his ex-best friend and just - all that stuff was just like, you know, I felt like I was in some sort of horrifying, you know, psychedelic nightmare that I couldn't wake up from.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And it really, really traumatized me in a way that I find kind of embarrassing. But, of course, it's all this predictable stuff that everybody goes through. But I think you're supposed to be - I think the blessing is at that age you're pretty oblivious to a lot of it and so wrapped up in it that you don't, you know, like you're kind of missing the horror. And I didn't have that luxury and it was not nice to watch.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So you've said that the current CD, "This is Happening," might be the final LCD Soundsystem CD? Why is that? By CD I mean album.

MURPHY: I know. I always have a hard time. I'm an album person. It's not that it'll be the last album. What it is to me is like, it's become my whole life, which I'm very happy about. It's a wonderful life. I love being in this band. But to do a band properly does kind of mean you don't really get to do anything else.

Now I also have a record label - DFA. I'm a producer. I design equipment. I like to write. There's a lot of things I'd like to do that I can't really do because I'm doing this job. So I thought like three albums, a nice trilogy, a decade. I started when I was about 30. I'm 40 now. It feels like a good time to stop being a professional band. That doesn't mean LCD will stop. It just means I'll go back to more the beginning, like doing what in my head, just doing a song here and there or being more fluid about my decision-making, rather than album, videos, singles, tour.

You know, like rather than this kind of professional arc of being in a band, I'd get to go - I would like to go back to being just a person who gets to decide what he likes to do and pursue something new once in a while, rather than just being like I wish I could pursue something new, but it's going to take me nine months to make the record and then there's going to be four months of promotion, then I'm going to tour for a year - which is kind of, when you put it together, that's two years of your life every time.

GROSS: Now, your music is so much about being loud, so that you can physically feel the music. Yet, the first track on your new album, the vocal on it is really quiet. And then the instrumental comes on much louder, deeper into the track. But why start the album off at such a relatively low level?

MURPHY: Well, because I thought it would be funny. Again, I like to play games and I like - I started - well, I wanted the beginning to be very quiet. And I thought I'd mix the vocals even quiet for the beginning, so that you'd naturally turn up the stereo...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MURPHY: ...so that the impact of when the drums and the synthesizer kick in is much stronger. Because when I would listen to it and I'd turn everything up and I'd sit there with my eyes closed and it would start, and I'd play it for people who hadn't heard it before, they'd just like - we'd look at each and be like wow, that's - it really hit. It felt really good. But then when I was, you know, mixing it later on, it was like losing some of that impact, and it was like you really just have to turn it up. You really have to turn it up to get the effect. So the only way I could guarantee that people would turn it up is by recording the vocals very quietly under a quiet percussion line in the beginning so that, you know, so that you'd settle into that as the median volume of the music.

I mean, if you listen to classical music, people do it all the time. You know, you start very quietly, very quietly, and something dramatic happens - not that we're making classical music. I mean, it's dumb music with drums and synthesizers, but it's just a physical thing that I like. In fact, that's why it started so quiet, so that that sense of physicality could happen.

GROSS: Very clever. Very devious.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: James Murphy, really a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

MURPHY: My pleasure. It's really nice to talk to you. It's the first time I've heard your voice and you're actually talking back to me.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Well, it's a pleasure to do it. Thank you so much.

DAVIES: James Murphy, leader of the LCD Soundsystem, speaking with Terry Gross in 20100. The group disbanded last year and there's a new documentary of their farewell concert called "Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Final Days of LCD Soundsystem."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE YRSELF CLEAN")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Ah-ahh, present company excluded in the night. Ah-ahh, present company included in the fight. Ah-ahh. Ah-ahh. Ah. Ah-ahh.

Don't you want me to wake up? Then give me just a bit of your time. Arguments are made from make outs so give it just a little more time. We've got to bring our results. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.