SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS: James Murphy on retiring his band LCD Soundsystem and almost writing for Seinfeld

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain wrote in his suicide letter. The New York-based, electro-dance band LCD Soundsystem, which formed in 2001 and released three critically-acclaimed albums, took Cobain’s—by way of Neil Young’s—advice, choosing to abruptly retire at the height of their fame.

On Feb. 5, 2011, a letter was posted on the band’s website, saying,

good people of earth: lcd soundsystem are playing madison square garden on april 2nd, and it will be our last show ever. we are retiring from the game. gettin’ out. movin’on. but for just one more night, we will be playing with friends and family for nearly 3 hours–playing stuff we’ve never played before and going out with a bang. and we’d like you to be there.

British filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who filmed the 2010 documentary NO DISTANCE LEFT TO RUN about the band Blur, decided to chronicle the mega-concert in the documentary SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS, which made its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. According to Lovelace and Southern, the two approached LCD front man James Murphy about the project, and it came to fruition over various awkward meetings—eventually taking nine months to edit, and was finished about two weeks before its Sundance premiere. The directors describe it as “a daunting task”—chronicling the final show of a band they both cherish—and decided to create a juxtaposition of thrilling concert footage from the show with both an interview between Murphy and rock critic Chuck Klosterman prior to the gig, as well as scenes from the day after.

Sundance Channel caught up with LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy to chat about the documentary, if the band is really done, why they decided to end things, and how he almost became the first staff writer on SEINFELD.

What’s it like seeing your film in front of 1,000-plus people at Sundance?
I’ve been involved for nine months of layers of weirdness—editing, etc.—plus pre-weirdness, so I don’t have that experience of watching it for the first time. It’s as weird as you can imagine. But I think being immunized in doses to it by looking at footage, mixing the songs to picture, has gotten me into a place of acceptance. There are still things though that make me laugh and make me cringe. The falling off my microphone stand that looks like a Michael Jackson move is still my all-time most hilarious moment—losing my balance and writhing myself to where it looks like a Justin Timberlake bump. It’s still a hard one to watch. But it’s like a comedy in the first half! That was surprising.

Is this a Jay-Z “retirement,” or is LCD Soundsystem really over?
No. It’s a retirement. We could make music. The point wasn’t to get away from each other—we all like each other—the point was to not be in a professional rock band and to kill some of the expectation that’s internal of being a professional rock ensemble that makes albums, goes on tour, makes videos… I didn’t want to do that anymore. I’ll probably be on a stage performing again and I might be with some of the people that were at Madison Square Garden, but it just stopped that line. We’re not the kind of a band and never were that kind of a band that were like, “What will we do without each other, man?” I didn’t do a fake retirement, but I’m not going to be like, “I’ll never make music again.” That’s weird.

Did you also want to go out on top before falling off, sort of like the British version of The Office?
I always admired that style of making something whole and leaving it, rather than, “How long can we resist the terror of what’s going to happen next?”

So you don’t want to turn out like The Police, doing reunion tours for dough?
[Laughs] Well I hope I don’t make [Sting’s] THE DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES. [Sings song in ridiculous Sting voice] Sorry, Sting!

So I heard you almost became a writer on SEINFELD at 22?
I weirdly went to a meeting through a friend—totally non-professionally, I was just in college writing stuff. I went to L.A. to see a friend of mine and he was a family friend of some person who worked with the show. I wound up writing samples and they asked for a test script and I just smoked pot and didn’t do it because I was 22 and an idiot. I thought it was THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. I didn’t realize it was SEINFELD until 2001 when I found the letter. That letter is actually posted next to my desk.

You still have regrets about that?
I mean who could regret becoming the first staff writer for the most successful show in television history? No, things turned out great. I think I would have been an insufferable asshole. Now, I’m just a sufferable asshole.

So are you instead going to assume a more managerial role at your label, DFA Records?
I’ll do some of that. The band was a weird lark. I think that’s more my speed.

What’s it like being at Sundance?
I find it really funny. I had an outfit idea that I didn’t get done, which was: a white fur hat, white Uggs, weird sunglasses, a spray tan, and blond tips in my hair. I just wanted to be the worst person. And I wanted to have six gifting bags hanging off me with a Bluetooth just like, “Excuse me, I’m sorry! I’m really busy.”

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