AUSTIN, Texas — James Murphy was given an impossible task: To produce a hit for Britney Spears in less than three hours.
"[Britney] came over, and the idea was that I would write lyrics with her. We were really open-minded, because who knows what she's like as a person?" the LCD Soundsystem frontman and DFA producer said of his failed collaboration with the pop princess.
"Maybe she was really starving to do something else, and we could play her records [to introduce her to some new ideas], but that's not how that world works," he said amid downtime during the recent South by Southwest festival (see "Queens Of The Stone Age Are Kings Of SXSW 2005"). "[The record company] sends her to work with like 30 or 40 producers to see who is going to generate a hit, and that isn't interesting to me."
Britney was there because the DFA — the production duo founded by Murphy and his British partner in crime, Tim Goldsworthy — are one of the trendiest record-making teams of the last five years. At the beginning of this decade, the pair was producing dance-rock records and remixes for the indie acts like Radio 4 and Le Tigre, but a song they produced for the Rapture, "House of Jealous Lovers," became a bona fide underground hit in 2002
Soon, the duo's beats became the sound du jour, and mainstream pop stars like Spears, Janet Jackson and even Lindsay Lohan started calling.
"Janet Jackson seemed very friendly, but she could have been calling because, at the time, the Rapture were being [chased by major labels]. Everything's very political," Murphy said, sounding generally surprised that any superstar's motive for wooing the production team could be genuine.
Even Duran Duran came by. At the time, Murphy was rehearsing for his early LCD Soundsystem shows, and Goldsworthy had to meet them solo. However, he did encounter the '80s dance-pop legends, although it wasn't planned: "It was really surreal," Murphy recalled. "We were practicing, and the door crept open, and we jokingly yelled, 'Close the door!' thinking it was someone that worked in the studio. The door kind of slammed shut, so I walked outside — and the entire original lineup of Duran Duran was standing, sort of stunned, in the hallway."
Despite all the demand, Murphy knew that the DFA's moment in the sun wouldn't last. "We knew how silly and temporary [the hype] was," he said. "That [moment] was gonna disappear — either with a terrible backlash or just withering away."
Soon enough, the Batphone stopped ringing. Meanwhile, the levelheaded Murphy took it all in stride and began concentrating on the Soundsystem.
One of his first underground hits was "Losing My Edge," a cheeky and self-effacing satire of music geeks wryly lamenting that the kids are taking over. ("I'm losing my edge — to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '80s.") It's a subject that is clearly close to Murphy's heart. "It's pretty humiliating to find yourself saying things you swore you would never say, like, 'These new kids, man, they don't get it!' " he laughed. "So I wrote a song about how humiliating it is to be me and, hilariously, it did all right." (The song is available on both LCD's self-titled album and DFA Compilation #1.)
Released earlier this year, the LCD LP continues in a similar vein, merging Murphy's dance and rock influences along with a sardonic self-awareness and some tongue-in-cheek titles. The first single, "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," is a perfect merger of the two styles.
Still, Murphy's not having anything to do with labeling his sound.
"Categories have nothing to do with quality," he said. "I always get this: 'Are you guys, like, punk-rock guys making dance music, or dance guys working with guitars?'
"What the hell does that even mean?"
LCD Soundsystem's North American tour dates, according to the group's publicist:
- 5/10 Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom*
- 5/11 Seattle, WA @ Showbox*
- 5/14 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore*
- 5/15 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre*
- 5/20 Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall*
- 5/21 Toronto, ON @ Opera House*
- 5/22 Montreal, QC @ La Tulipe*
- 6/9 Boston, MA @ Avalon*
- 6/10 New York, NY @ Webster Hall (DFA Night)
- 6/11 Philadelphia, PA @ Transit
- 6/12 Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*
*Dates with M.I.A.