James Murphy Talks About His New Foray Into Filmmaking
Having recently put to bed one of the most beloved and deeply influential bands of the past decade, former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy is currently basking in the joys of relative unemployment. In addition to some sporadic DJ gigs and a few freewheeling recording sessions, the erstwhile pop star is currently involved in a filmmaking project with Canon. As a part of Project Imaginat10n, Murphy joins a group of five aspiring directors — including Eva Longoria, Jamie Foxx, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and Marchesa fashion designer Georgina Chapman — who will each make a short film based on a series of 10 selected images randomly submitted to Canon’s website. In order to make sure that their films aren’t total messes, Ron Howard, a guy who seems to know what he’s doing, will mentor all the directors. According to Murphy, the project is something akin to a fun school assignment that will allow him to produce a movie that he might never have made otherwise. The project also jibes nicely with Murphy’s apparent “If it sounds fun, do it” kind of attitude, which seems to have worked out nicely for him thus far.
Stereogum: James Murphy. How are you?
James Murphy: I’m medium.
Stereogum: Me too, actually.
Murphy: Fair to middling?
Stereogum: Actually, that’s not true. There is just the slightest whiff of fall weather happening in NYC today, so I feel good. Optimistic, even.
Murphy: Oh good! Me too, actually. I’m generally a very optimistic guy. I believe in it wholeheartedly.
Stereogum: Where are you right now?
Murphy: I’m in a car in London, shuttling from one place to another. Technology is amazing, huh? I’m talking to you on a cell phone from the backseat of a car in London, and yet you sound clear as day. It’s like we’re almost in the same place.
Stereogum: Amazing. I feel very close to you right now. I know you are in London doing some DJ gigs and promoting this new partnership you have with Canon. How did this union come to be?
Murphy: It’s really boring. They reached out to my manager to talk to me. The interesting part is that I was very excited about it. Because I don’t do a lot of stuff with companies and stuff like that. So they were like, “I don’t know how you’re gonna feel about this ….” And I was so excited about it, because I just finished making a film and I’m actually a mediocre photographer. I’m actually genuinely a Canon guy — I use all of their cameras — so doing a project with them was easy. You’re kind of dealing with the company for real right now. It’s not like a passive thing, like you DJ’ed a party for them and it’s now a banner on someone’s website. This is like you are actually doing something with a company, so I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel pretty psyched about it.
Stereogum: From my understanding of it, people will submit their own images and you’ll choose 10 of them and then sort of create a film around those 10 images, yes?
Murphy: Yeah, the brief is pretty liberal. The photos could inspire; you could use them as an idea for setting. You could use them quite literally or really broadly, depending on what you get from the photos, which obviously people could use as a way to cheat. But I like it because I’m a picture guy, I take a lot of film as well, and you kind of have attachments to pictures. I’m not sure how I’ll use them, whether they’ll be really literal or whether they’ll be soft logic, inspirational types of things.
Stereogum: So are you trying to go into it with a totally open, totally blank state of mind?
Murphy: I have no choice. I’m not good at compromising, so if I sort of formulate an idea now and then try to find pictures that meet that idea, I’m gonna just get really frustrated. It’s like a school assignment. I like that. Like, I wouldn’t make a short film, I wouldn’t find the time, and I wouldn’t know what to make it about. But if someone says, “You have to make a short film,’ and I’m like, ugh, what do I make it about? And then they’re like, “You have to pick 10 pictures and make a movie around them,” then I’m like, this rules! I do that for other people all the time, like the artists on DFA. I’ll assign them something, like, you have to use only this drum machine, just because I think it’s good to have some things already answered. If something’s already moving, you’re getting involved with a moving project rather than starting from a blank page. Sometimes to be given the parameters really helps.
Stereogum: How long will the finished film be?
Murphy: My segment is like 10 to 12 minutes long.
Stereogum: Which in filmmaking is actually quite a long time to fill.
Murphy: Oh I’m gonna want more. Ten minutes is easy for me!
Stereogum: Yeah that’s like one track for you.
Murphy: Yeah, it’s like the length of one typical song for me!
Stereogum: How much time will you have to do it after you choose the images?
Murphy: I’m not sure exactly. I think that’s to be determined based on what I want to do and what the treatment is. I think I’ll have the amount of time I need. There’s a deadline — I can’t spend 10 years making the film — but I think I’ll have the time I need.
Stereogum: Did the experience of working on Shut Up And Play The Hits sort of whet your appetite for wanting to do something on a bigger scale?
Murphy: Well, yeah. But I like to learn; I’m a technical person. I run my studio and I’m the engineer, so I enjoy the techie stuff. I don’t see myself as necessarily a very creative person. I’m a technical guy. I wouldn’t want to just jump into “I’m gonna make a film because I’m awesome!” I want to understand how the process works, too. And this is great because there’s an infrastructure. I did the other film but I wasn’t with the director at all, I didn’t know what was going on, but I learned a lot about cameras, and I learned a lot from the DP who I really like, and I’m hoping she’ll do this one with me. I have relationships with people and I get to work with them as well. I’ll start building a little bit of a film family.
Stereogum: Do you have an interest in narrative filmmaking?
Murphy: I have an interest in everything, but I don’t have an interest in starting new careers. What’s kind of lovely about the place I’m in at the moment is that I have the opportunity to try things and people might give me a chance. Canon didn’t call me when I was a teenager in New Jersey living with my parents to make a short film, they called me now. There are opportunities for me that are kind of amazing, and I want to take them. It’s more about chasing the opportunity than me being like, “I’m going to be a director.” But I would love to see how this goes and see how I feel about it.
Stereogum: After Shut Up And Play The Hits came out and there were the requisite rounds of doing press and endlessly talking about it, did you go through an experience of post-partum depression that it was finally all over? Or was it a total liberation?
Murphy: Sometimes it’s bittersweet because I did love the band and I was happy and we all liked each other, but it’s also mitigated by the fact that I see the people in the band all the time and they’re my friends. And the film, it kind of won’t die, which is something that I’m learning about films: that they take a long time to go away. There’s always something else to work on. It’s not like a song when you want to listen to it again and you spend like six minutes staring at the speakers. If you want to watch the film to see if it works, it’s two hours. It’s a much larger commitment. But this is 10 minutes, so I’m pretty psyched.
Stereogum: People are obviously itching to know what you’ll be working on music-wise. Do you have a sense of what you want to do next? Will you make a record?
Murphy: The beauty is, I don’t know. That’s kind of the amazing thing. It’s the first time I’ve felt like that in a long time. There are songs that I want to make, but they’re just because I want to make them. I don’t have a label, and I don’t have anything. I can just make a song if I feel like it, which I am quite excited about. What I realized is that it’s what the band was born out of: I had time to be creative and I had nothing to lose. And I think it would be terrifying and deeply counterintuitive to go back to that state of nothing to lose. But also a good idea … and interesting and fun and scary.
Stereogum: I’m assuming that you could be kept busy all the time as a DJ. Have your feelings about doing that changed? I know a lot of DJs who experience fatigue after a while.
Murphy: I get into periods of fatigue, but it’s usually not DJ’ing, per se. It’s usually what I’m playing, and I have to change it around. I’ve been kind of re-invigorated within the last four months with what I’ve found to play. And basically I just picked out new records that were already in my own house, didn’t even go to the store.
Stereogum: That’s how you know you have a lot of records.
Murphy: It’s one of the best stores I can ever go to, because I can just dig through my stacks and find things.
Stereogum: Where do you keep all your records?
Murphy: In my house, in Brooklyn.
Stereogum: That’s a lot to haul when you’re playing overseas.
Murphy: Oh I only carry like 80. But I can play probably 12 hours with 80 records.
Stereogum: Well I’m happy to spread the word about the Canon thing. It sounds like it’ll be fun.
Murphy: I don’t want people to think that they have to make, like, really good professional photographs, which I’m not really interested in. One of my favorite photographers is Ruvan Wijesooriya, who takes most of the LCD photos. His work is incredibly colloquial and raw.
Stereogum: I’m just thinking about the process of going through the submissions — that will entail looking at thousands of images, right?
Murphy: Oh they’re pre-vetted. But I’m going to try and request that people allow a certain amount of scrubby, messy stuff through. Personal stuff.
Stereogum: Do you have any other things coming up for the fall? Will you be DJ’ing around NYC soon?
Murphy: I don’t know. New York is a great place to DJ, but I tend, when I’m home, not to think about it. I hope so. I mean I’d like to. I did one really small thing in Brooklyn where I screwed up. It was a place that holds 75 people, and I was afraid nobody was gonna come, so at the last minute I posted on the LCD Facebook, and then too many people came and it was a big screw-up on my part. I’m trying to dial that stuff in. It’s no fun to have a party if everyone can’t get in.
Find out more about “Project Imagination” and submit your photos. Maybe James Murphy will make a movie about one of them!