James Murphy Is a Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None

And he probably truly won't sleep until he's dead.

James Murphy's body of work is undeniably appropriate 21st-century time-capsule material. Despite his stoner-slacker pantomime, he exemplifies the postmillennial multitasking maestro status that has set the professional standards for aspiring producers everywhere: Murphy probably truly won't sleep until he's dead. He's also definitely a uniter, not a divider. The rockers love him for his fearless use of cowbell (among other things); the punks and indie rockers appreciate his sarcastic-but-affectionate riffs on stuffy hipster culture; and the electronica nerds simply admire his progressive talents and seamless shape-shifting abilities.

From the day-to-day duties associated with running DFA, the wildly popular label he co-owns with fellow producer Andy Goldsworthy, to his ongoing knob-twiddling collaborations with everyone from N.E.R.D. to Hot Chip and his own one-man, post- punk dance-party machine, LCD Soundsystem, it's not hard to understand why the guy dreams of eventually settling down into a more comfortable, low-key role as a college literature professor. Sound of Silver, this year's hotly anticipated follow-up to LCD Soundsystem's critically adored 2005 debut, may showcase a slightly softer side of Murphy, but the 37-year-old dance-floor dictator certainly hasn't lost his edge.

Seattle Weekly: How many instruments do you play at this point?

James Murphy: I'm really a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. I sort of play drums and guitar. I think I took one guitar lesson at some point, but it was never really a priority.

What was the first record you remember buying for yourself?

A 7-inch of "Fame" by David Bowie.

What about your first concert?

The Ramones in New Jersey.

That's a pretty impressive first concert. How old were you?

Yeah , I was lucky...I was maybe 14.

Can you recall the first time you heard a piece of music that made you want to create your own?

I don't ever remember not wanting to make music, so I can't really pinpoint a moment. I did have a cassette recorder and would record little skits...audio movies, I guess. I made a drum set out of coffee cans. I used to record the refrigerator humming because it was my favorite sound, but the recording never came out very well.

Is it true that you passed up the opportunity to write scripts for Seinfeld?

I had a friend who was a writer [on the show]. All their writers were moving to L.A., and I think they were nervous about not having someone from N.Y.C. on staff. They asked me to write one sample script, but that didn't really go anywhere. I just ended up smoking pot and doing the stupid things you do when you're 22.

Why did you turn down Janet Jackson?

She actually called me herself. She was very sweet. She said she liked "Losing My Edge" and wanted to do something with that "funky" sound. At the time, I had to prioritize my work with the label—that's always been really important to me.

Tell me about working with Britney Spears.

She just came in the studio and we tried to work on a song for about four hours. It didn't work out, so we never did it again. It wasn't really a big deal.

"Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" is pretty rich with visual details. Was the story line taken from any particular experience?

I've played a lot of house parties myself, but I never got to go to, like, acid-house raves in Europe or anything. I was just thinking about how great it would have been to have Daft Punk crash at my house. A fantasy, really.

I have to tell you that "North American Scum," the single from the new record, sounds an awful lot like "Homosapien" by Pete Shelley. Was that some sort of deliberate homage?

Someone else said that. It wasn't [purposeful]. I thought I took the bass line from a Can song, actually.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Not making records. Probably teaching.

Teaching what?

The second half of 20th-century American literature. That's sort of my thing.

What was the last great book you read?

Well, I'm still rereading Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. Probably the last great book I've finished was Home Land by Sam Lipsyte. That guy is so smart. Very witty, vicious, intelligent writing.

Given the title of "New York Is Bringing Me Down" on the new record, I'm wondering if you really are disillusioned with New York.

It's just a love song, and a love song's always got to have a bit of sadness in it, doesn't it?

So you still love New York?

I'd never leave New York.


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