LCD Soundsystem embarked on what could be their last tour. The latest album, This is Happening, is critically acclaimed to say the least and enjoying accolades at a rare confluence of commercial success and hipster cred. So why would James Murphy and company choose now to hold back the reigns and end the journey?
Drummer, percussionist, DJ, and James Murphy collaborator, Pat Mahoney, took a little time after soundcheck in Philidelphia to speak with me about drums, touring behind such a well received body of work, and hinted at yearning for simpler things …
K&N: Now Wikipedia states that you were a sergeant in the 1st Madras European Fusiliers (later The Royal Dublin Fusiliers), during the Indian Mutiny. Is that true?
Pat: It is
K&N: OK, then I’m talking to the right guy
Pat: I am also a rabid anti-abortionist apparently. The Reverend Pat Mahoney.
K&N: So, for the record, who are you and what do you do?
Pat: My name is Patrick Mahoney and I play drums with LCD Soundsystem. I also DJ with James Murphy as Special Disco Version and I am a visual artist as well.
K&N: Now, speaking of drums, I’ve always been interested on how a drummer with an organic kit works with music like LCD? Working in what seems like a mostly electronic environment – mixing in rock with a little dance pop. Are you playing with tracks? Are real drums being used to add an element of live rock? Do you use special triggers on the drums or something to create a more dance-y, drum machine sound?
Pat: We play a few songs to rhythm tracks that come out of an NPC, but we – as a rule – in order to keep it feeling live, and letting it breathe as a performance, um, we have a bunch of rules as to what can come out of the NPC.
Generally, only things that would be totally synthetic sounds, like 606 drum machine beat, but we would never sample congas or something like that. If there are congas on the track, then there is someone playing congas on stage.
Typically when James records, he’ll record a drum machine, then play live drums over it. If there are live drums in the song then there are live drums on the stage. That’s generally how it works so it doesn’t sound too canned.
For the majority of the songs, I am the timekeeper – there is no backing or click tracks.
K&N: OK, so there is that sense of the songs being “alive,” and taking on new forms in concert?
Pat: Yeah, if things are exciting, it could be 5bpm faster or we could slow it down if the need arises. If there is a step-up in energy, I can step up a few bpm’s, capture the moment, and really propel the song forward.
K&N: So you can kind of orchestrate the song based on the moment? You can speed it up and everyone else can jump in with you? They’re not anchored to any kind of pre-sets or tracks?
Pat: Yeah. That’s the other thing. Another rule we have is that no one on stage can hear anything the crowd can’t hear. No one is playing with a click or anything. Sure sometimes things can go wrong, but that is live music.
[media id=50] “Dance Yourself Clean”
K&N: How is the tour going? How are the crowds? How is it playing from night to night?
Pat: It’s been a great – really great response. We just did a 5-week run of festivals in Europe and we are heading back in November. And we just kicked off the American leg of the tour last night in New Jersey.
K&N: Now have you been to central Florida before? I don’t think I’ve ever seen LCD come through.
Pat: We played south Florida. We played Miami for the Winter Music Conference a few years back.
K&N: So this your first trip here?
Pat: Yeah, pretty much. My mom’s family is from central Florida so there is some, I don’t know, sulfur water running through these veins.
K&N: How does it feel to tour behind such acclaimed material? Is there pressure or is just great to deliver this stuff?
Pat: What’s really nice is we’ve existed thus far, kind of in a funny place where we never had to compromise anything we do. We’ve always done this thing that is unique to us and somehow we have a public that has trusted us and come along with us for that. It’s really good and it just feels like everything is firing on all cylinders.
For a long time on this tour we weren’t playing much of this new record, which I think was frustrating for the fans and for us. One of the reasons is that we simply didn’t have enough time to rehearse, but now we are playing most of the new record and good selections from the previous two. It’s really working beautifully.
K&N: What is your favorite thing to do in each city? Do you have to hit some local food places or record stores or something like that?
Pat: Yeah, that’s part of the pleasure of touring is getting to know a bunch of cities in an intimate way. We arrive and it’s not a 9 to 5 type job or anything so we have time to wander around and explore.
Record stores are high on the agenda. Finding a restaurant you really love … one that feels like a little bit of home is really important. We’re always on thelookout for good food – we like to eat. And if you’re away from home as long as we are – (wow) it’s gonna be a year and a half when it’s done – any little bit of home comfort is extremely welcome.
K&N: Yeah, I bet those deli trays [I stammer and think of the most hackneyed and storied element in the life of the performer – the deli tray] backstage get a little old.
Pat: There are only so many sandwiches a man can eat.
K&N: Ha, I haven’t found that number yet? [the fat guy in me is screaming to break free – and wants a sandwich]
Pat: Right? After I’m home a few days, I’m craving a sandwich.
K&N: You being a long-time DJ yourself, are you excited about coming to Orlando – the House music capital of the world? Any DJ’s in the area you listen to?
Pat: I don’t know right now. I actually played in Orlando – last year … with Andy Butler. It was really close to WMC so the crowds in town were smaller, but we met a lot of nice people.
I’m actually excited to go back to south Florida and shop for records. I used to live there so it is nice to go back.
K&N: What do you do to stay connected to the outside world while you are in this tour bubble?
Pat: Well, you end up getting pretty disconnected when you’re away for so long.
K&N: Are you a big fan of social media? Is that a way to stay connected to home?
Pat: I am not. I’ve been a bit, I mean, living a public life to a certain extent – we end up valuing our privacy, you know? Also, I have a 9 year-old child so I try to keep a low profile.
I tend to think if I’m not calling somebody directly, texting them or sending them an email, then I don’t really need to be in touch with them.
Also, I think I’m just old enough to not be a part of it – it’s not really a part of my life, it’s almost alien to me.
K&N: So there is not a device that you’re anchored to like an iPhone or Blackberry or something?
Pat: Ha. All that being said – I have an iPhone and I love it. I have a girlfriend that lives in Paris and I stay in touch with her through an app that allows us to stay in touch.
Pat: It’s called WhatsApp.
K&N: What medium do you think is the biggest push for your music? Social media, blogs, satellite radio?
Pat: As you know, we were a little late coming to the whole social media thing. When James (Murphy) said we were promoting our party in New York we were still sending out emails and mass texts. Then he was like, “whoa, we could just Facebook this.” No one pays attention to anything but that anyway. So that was like a realization for us … four years too late.
K&N: It’s funny because the vibe I get from LCD is so current, it’s like future pop or something.
Pat: Yeah, I mean it’s funny. The history of electronic music is filled with all these machines that are failures – at least in terms with what their designers intended. They were trying to replicate acoustic instruments and they ended up making other weird sounds. Then other people sort of developed a kind of music using those weird sounds.
We (the band) use a lot of technology, but some of it is quite old. We are kind of caught between a bunch of things. I think it is pretty special. We don’t sound like other bands.
So yeah, I think everyone is a little ambivalent toward social technologies. People use them in the band, but it is not really “where we live.”
I’m always searching for records and one of the resources I use constantly is YouTube. There’s any number of songs you can’t find anywhere else and some weirdo collector will put a recording up with a still of the center label on the record or something. A lot of our performances and videos are there, but I’m not really sure how people are finding us.
K&N: From what I’ve seen, there is tremendous buzz about the album and band on the “blogosphere” and plenty of reviews and video from the shows.
Pat: I’m really proud of our live shows. Especially, playing festivals where a lot of people are unfamiliar with our music. The see it, they like it, then they evangelize about the live show. Then, occasionally, somebody buys a record.
K&N: How do compare festival shows to the theater shows? I can see you guys sounding great in a theater, but really being able to amp up a large festival crowd with the music.
Pat: It’s a really different experience playing to 40,000 people than it is to 5,000 people. When you’re doing a festival people aren’t there to see you. I mean there are some people there to see you, but there are a lot of people just walking by or hearing buzz about you and you have to deliver to them. And that’s a really exciting challenge.
K&N: What are you listening to right now?
Pat: Right now I’m trying to give my ears a fucking break. (laughs) I’m listening to the 3-dozen things I bought at a record store last month- basically semi-obscure disco and house music.
K&N: There is talk of LCD calling it quits, or at least taking a break from the big stuff like albums and touring and putting out random EP’s and 12 inches. So what’s next for you?
Pat: I’m going to continue to DJ. I have a music project with Nancy Whang from the band, so I want to work on some of my own music, continue working on LCD stuff, DJ with James, make some art work , so, yeah – there is no shortage of stuff for me to do.
What Pat will do in the short term is shake up the Hard Rock Live in Orlando on Tuesday, October 5th with James Murphy, Nancy Whang, Phil Mossman, Tyler Pope, and Gavin Russom and the rest of LCD Soundsystem. Brooklyn noise pop band, Sleigh Bells, is set to open the show ensuring that your hipster-o-meter will burst into flames.
Interview appeared in REAX Online 10.5.10