If you’ve ever ridden the New York City subway, you know that it’s as much a study in misdirection—your train always, somewhat magically, misses your stop—as it is a visual and auditory sense-fuck. Read: You’ll see and hear more than you ever wanted to on any given ride.
James Murphy—the musician and entrepreneur behind DFA Records and electro-indie band LCD Soundsystem, which played its final show at Madison Square Garden back in April 2011—wants to soften one blow to the senses of the subway experience: The sonic nails-against-chalkboard you hear when you swipe your fare card through the turnstile. “I think the alarm bells are pretty universally grating,” he says. So he’s working with Heineken on a project to replace the current sounds with lighter electronic fair—sort of like the stuff he produced back in the LCD days.
But he’s up against the mighty Metropolitan Transit Authority, which hasn’t signed off on anything and is openly despised in New York City by pretty much everyone. “I can’t imagine any project that’s ever happened in New York City where everybody thought it was the best idea ever—including the subway itself,” Murphy observes. “There are some people who think we should ban it, but I love it.”
He’s done his research, too: Turns out the MTA is looking to phase out the swipe-cards and move towards the tap-through automation that BART-goers in San Francisco and Metro-riders in Washington, D.C., have long since enjoyed. And even if your geriatric parents fail to use their cards correctly the first time, Murphy has them covered: a gentle “knock” will denote that a swiper or tapper will have to try again. Dunno about you, but this “Subway Symphony” sounds pretty good to us.
And all this talk about the subway gets this author thinking about all his friends, who are dotted across Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan and even Staten Island. That’s a good enough segue to the focus of this latest Oral Hit-story: LCD Soundsystem’s most memorable track, ‘All My Friends.’ Talk about critically acclaimed: Pitchfork named it the no. 1 song of 2007 and the no. 2 song of the 2000s. We grabbed Murphy for a few minutes to get the scoop…
Let’s talk about ‘All My Friends.’ Do you remember exactly where you were when you came up with the idea?
For the song.
Well, for me, songs aren’t really ideas. Songs are songs. They kind of have a bunch of different ideas. They’re musical ideas. I was in the studio in Western Massachusetts working on music, and I thought about how certain songs work energy-wise. There’s an energy idea: Like, a song that grows and grows in energy. I was really inspired by ‘Transmission’ by Joy Division, which does that sort of thing, magically, where it’s kind of playing the same song from beginning to end, but by the end, it has a lot more energy. And then there’s the lyrical content of the song, which I guess came up while I was singing it. I usually don’t write lyrics, I just sing them.
“The longest song on the last record was nine minutes, three and a half of which were almost inaudible. They played it on the radio anyways, so people just make up their own mind which songs they like.”
Despite that energy, in reading through the lyrics, it’s a pretty depressing song. Did you have a specific set of ‘friends’ that you were missing when you sang the lyrics?
Yeah, I have a really close group of friends in New York that were really, like, my ‘team.’ Going on tour was a very strange thing: Suddenly they were all gone. I didn’t really get to see them. So it was my New York friends.
We both enjoy a good espresso. When the drugs run out, do you go straight to the espresso machine?*
Espresso is my DOC—Drug of Choice—at the moment. So I have an espresso machine at home [and] we have one at the office.
There’s one lyric that I can’t wrap my head around: “So here we go/Like a sales force into the night.” What does that mean?
Well, it’s just a weird thing about being a band and when you go out on tour and do a lot of interviews, and sometimes it feels a little like being on a sales call. [Laughs]
I hope this interview doesn’t feel like a sales call.
No, no. This doesn’t. But I’m getting the ‘wrap it up’ circle [from the publicist].
The song is 7 minutes and 42 seconds long and is the fifth track on Sound of Silver. I guess you didn’t assume it was going to blow up.
Oh no, not at all. No, I mean, I don’t care how long songs are. I like long songs. I guess I’m just optimistic and foolish. The longest song on the last record was nine minutes, three and a half of which were almost inaudible.** [Laughs] They played it on the radio anyways, so people just make up their own mind about which songs they decide to like.
‘All My Friends’ was the last song played at my friend’s wedding, and I remember all these well-dressed people going absolutely nuts on the dance floor. Do you think it has a second life on the wedding-singer circuit?
I’m hoping that it does. I’m going to get into that market next I think.
*I’m loosely paraphrasing one of the song’s lyrics: “Though when we’re running out of the drugs/And the conversation’s winding away/I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision/For another five years of life.”
**That would be the song ‘You Wanted a Hit.’