Releasing your debut single at 32 years old is not something most avant-garde pop heroes do. But James Murphy, the mercurial mind behind LCD Soundsystem, struggled for some years as a flailing artist before he finally found the courage and the creativity to release his first single as LCD Soundsystem. Like many artists from the music world, Murphy saw his initial failure as the perfect reason to give up entirely.
Having always been involved in bands across his teens and into his twenties, it would take Murphy reading a David Foster Wallace’s seminal title Infinite Jest to spark his engine into action. “I was really a failure,” begins Murphy in the clip below without a shred of irony and only the wryest of smiles. “I dropped out of college to make music, but then I’d stopped making music. Not even like an ‘epic failure’ like a sad, pathetic failure.
“I didn’t take responsibility for much,” Murphy shares as he notes the moments that led to LCD Soundsystem finally releasing their debut single. “I just felt bad for myself and wondered why my life wasn’t better and stuff like that. Then, when I was about 26, I just realised that ‘wow, my life is not at all going the way I wanted it to go.’ It was not what I expected.”
It’s an age that many people have to make tough choices at. For many musicians, often, that choice is whether to find a ‘real’ job or keep on pursuing your dreams. “It seemed a little too old to be doing nothing,” recalls Murphy. But it would take reading one book to give him the push he needed. “Not long after, David Foster Wallace put out the book Infinite Jest and it really just really depressed me. I remember thinking, ‘If I start right now, I wouldn’t get it done in time to write something by the time I was his age and have it come out — it’s not possible’. So, I was pretty disappointed with myself.”
“It wasn’t that I was lazy; I was just really afraid,” confesses Murphy. “Really afraid of failing. All my life, I had been precocious — I was supposed to be smart, I was supposed to be creative — I think hearing those things makes you scared that you’re gonna do something stupid or you’re going to do something uninteresting, and no one will see you as smart and creative anymore. I was never given credit for being hard-working or diligent, so all these credits were based on attributes I had no control over.”
With Wallace’s tome hanging over his head, Murphy decided to change his ways. “So I realised that I had been so afraid of failing and looking bad that I didn’t do anything. I just did nothing. I could claim some sort of safety in doing nothing. But then I decided that’s pathetic, and I need to work against all of my instincts and start doing things. So that’s where I started the record company. Built a studio and started becoming aggressive and engaging culture, which was fun.”
“I started going to different types of things and meeting different people and, all of a sudden, I was kind of cool. I had always been, not even an outsider but a nobody, sort of invisible.” Murphy would go on to start DJing at his house and throwing legendary parties, “then, one night, I went to see a band, and somebody else was playing the records that I was playing. Nobody else was playing the records I was playing — that was my thing, and I got really mad and defensive.”
Murphy continues to open up about the duality of this anger, how he was both “right and wrong” for being annoyed about the apparent infringement, and so was the DJ who was playing the same music as him. It would end up inspiring LCD Soundsystem’s first single and start Murphy’s journey to the top of the musical pile. “That’s where ‘Losing My Edge’ came from,” the singer explained. “I made that song, and everybody thought it was terrible,” laughs the musician as he explains the many awkward faces he saw when pressing play.
“It was the B-side until the last day,” he admitted to the cameras noting how the song not only showed him the power of a single song but also how the internet would soon be used for sharing music at will. When asked about the song’s impact now, Murphy confirms, “That’s so funny because I know how many we made, and it’s not that many, like 4,000/5,000 12″ […] this is also how I knew everybody got everything from the internet.”
Murphy would take these learnings and finally begin his career in earnest: “It was the first time I had made music where I wasn’t trying to be another thing that I thought I was supposed to be […] that was a big change to me. Since then, I’ve become a really intense proponent of my friends.”
It’s interesting to note how certain moments in our lives can lead to others. While Murphy likely wouldn’t call Wallace’s book the starting point of his musical exploration, it is certainly the moment the artist began his legacy of LCD Soundsystem.