James Murphy On Advice From David Bowie, Being "Done" With Producing
James Murphy's production and engineering portfolio is quietly impressive.
Outside of his thrice GRAMMY-nominated work with his band LCD Soundsystem, for which he is the frontman and chief songwriter, Murphy has contributed tracks and helped produce full albums for many of the bigger names in the alternative, indie, and dance-pop scenes.
When building his first studio, he sought advice from former boss and mentor Steve Albini. He worked on a track with the Gorillaz and André 3000 in 2012. In 2013 he produced a song with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with whom he also shared a well-documented misspent youth in New York City around the turn of the millennium, for their fourth studio album Mosquito.
He produced the lion's share of songs on Arcade Fire's Best Alternative Music Album GRAMMY-nominated Reflektor, and played drums on two songs from David Bowie's Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album GRAMMY-winning Blackstar.
During the Blackstar sessions, Murphy sat in a room with GRAMMY-winning producer Tony Visconti and GRAMMY-nominated bandleader Donny McCaslin and casually suggested Bowie should consider using a different chord progression on an undisclosed song from the album (advice which Bowie actually took when recording).
Yet, in the face of his impressive catalogue, he told Guardian that the lessons he's gained from reviving LCD Soundsystem after a 5-year hiatus have left him with the sense that he may forgo producing altogether.
Murphy describes himself as a series of contradictions that amount to a controlling nature that's at odds with a hypersensitivity to people's feelings. He indicates that his short-lived presence at Bowie's Blackstar sessions – where he'd been initially brought in as a potential co-producer with Visconti – became a moment where he recognized his nature might be incompatible with the requirements of a producer role.
"I feel like I’d possibly been brought in to play some kind of Brian Eno role and that is so far from what I am," he explains. "I’m not being inflexible, I’m not being stubborn, it’s just not there. I can’t produce. I think I’m done producing. I can’t do it.”
Longtime fans surely know that Murphy's neuroses and idiosyncrasies tend to drive him to create his best work, so it's certain that his assertion that he's "done" producing must be taken with at least a medium-sized grain of salt.
Interestingly enough, the specific advice he got from Bowie that prompted him to put his doubts aside and revive LCD Soundsystem is likely the biggest indication that Murphy's production career is not yet over: "I was talking about getting the band back together. [Bowie] said, 'Does it make you uncomfortable?' I said 'Yeah', and he said, 'Good – it should. You should be uncomfortable.'"