Murphy discusses his new album, the band's return and David Bowie, at length
This album definitely feels moodier, even gothier, than your other stuff.
I was like, “I don’t know if people are gonna like this, it’s a much darker record.” And Michael, who’s been the art director at DFA forever, was like, “With the bands I like, I’ve always waited for the dark record…” But I don’t know if we’re the best target market, late forties music nerds… I was a goth band in the ’80s, and it’s a big part of my youth. In some ways, it was just letting myself have the questionable taste of my ’80s, not just the quite obviously approved tastes of my childhood, but the dubious stuff too, which still means a lot to me. Letting that out a bit, without reserve, was a big part of it. It’s also kind of a weird time.
It’s a weird time to be a human. It’s always a weird time to be a human, but particularly, for me, now.
The album feels denser than your previous albums too…
It’s sonically denser, which wasn’t my goal. It just wound up being that way. In fact, I had to go and remix a few things to thin them out. I think my sub-woofer was turned down a little bit. A couple of the hyper-dense ones I sent to Dave Sardy to mix, because I think he’s better at wrestling with guitars. But it was fun to dig into it.
“How Do You Sleep?” is insane –
Yeah, that’s one I had to remix! I played it for my wife, and by the back 20% she was leaning back in her chair: “That might be too much…” It was just howling by the end! So I had to go back in there and make some space. That song, for a really long time, was just the drum at the beginning and a little percussion and voice, that’s all it was. Then I was working with Al in London, and we made the big kick drum and the big synth bass, which was pretty hair-raising. Then there’s a whole new melody at the end, and a string synth. It just got bonkers. It made me quite happy in the end, but it was a bit of a beast to wrangle.
Did you have to buy back some of your gear, and get some new stuff?
I never sold the studio gear, we just sold the tour gear. Not as much of it as I had thought, in fact I still need to get rid of some shit. I did have to buy back a few things which was slightly frustrating. The worst things to buy back are cases – because you have to go buy new cases. They’re far and away the most expensive thing to tour with, which is weird. You’ll have a guitar and a case, and the case is four times more expensive than the guitar. Your speaker cabinet might be $300, but the case that holds two of them is several thousand dollars, so buying that stuff is a real kick in the nuts. And once you’ve bought them, now they’re worth $200. I wanna start a whole company that has a whole depot filled with cases, it’s like a case exchange so you don’t have to keep buying new cases.
Do you think you’ll be able to play all these songs live?
I think we’ll be technically capable, but I think with a couple we’re gonna wait. We can already play half of them, and I don’t know if we would ever play “Black Screen” live, but there may be a time where that’s appropriate to do. With “How Do You Sleep?”, I think we’ll wait. We learned something on the last record – “Dance Yrself Clean” we didn’t play for a while. And it was good, because it’s such a big thing to absorb as an audience, so I think it’s better that people know it a bit before trying to wrestle with something like that. The record comes out in September, so maybe we’ll be playing “How Do You Sleep?” by the end of the year. Because it’s not a party-starter, it’s a heavy heavy thing. Most everything else feels right to play and put in a set and work through. We have a bit of a problem – since the beginning, what we are as a live band isn’t really a machine that promotes a record. There are songs that if we don’t play, people get angry. We like playing them, we’re not like artistes, like, “Here’s the new album, like it or not…” I want people to be happy, that’s the fucking point. I remember going to see The Cure for Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and thinking, there’s a lot of songs you’re going to need to play that aren’t on this new record, before you are allowed to play the new ones… In that era, there were probably 15 or 20 songs that they’d need to play, or people would start getting antsy. For certain artists it’s really about the new record, this is exciting, they’re getting bigger, this is new. [But] we’ve landed in this place that I kind of like, which is a band that people at a certain time in their lives have been finding, and not necessarily about when we release things. So there’s a certain type of young person who at a certain point in their lives has a certain friend who turns them on to us. So for them, old songs are new songs. And being some form of constant means that you let go of potentially making your Achtung Baby, where you’ve got a whole new sound, and you’re Number One, you’re the biggest band in the world, and I don’t give a shit about any of that! [laughs] So it seems to me like we’re just doing things in our own time, which does mean that live we have to address the fact that there are a certain number of people coming to see us, and how we feel about ourselves as a band. We’re not impatient, we don’t look at each other and say, “I can’t believe we’ve gotta play this fucking song again…” We’re playing “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” right now better than we’ve ever played it, and more happily than we’ve ever played it. Ten years ago, we thought we could knock this on the head pretty soon, but we’ve found a totally new way to play it, and it gets more and more like the record, it’s not like we’ve reinvented it as a drum and bass track. Figuring out what to play live when you have a lot of songs under your belt and they’re all about seven minutes long is fucking hard work. That’s why we play live shows when we can.