When BYT traded e-mails with Pat Mahoney in 2007 – back when LCD Soundsystem was still a functioning band, and he its drummer – there was stiff competition for his attention. It’s hard to answer questions when a human being is using your body as a jungle gym. “I’m fending off my seven-year-old son,” Mahoney shared at the time. “He apparently needs to use the computer quite desperately.”
Seven years later, Mahoney remains a hard man to get on the horn. It’s not that he means to shirk the press duties of a working musician; it’s that his priorities are where they should be: The former lap-crawling seven-year-old is now a full-blown teenager, and Mahoney has a freshly minted nine-month-old to boot.
Do either care that their father makes albums? Not really. His infant was too busy “throwing a wobbler” to let his dad talk, and when asked whether his elder son appreciates the work that his old man put into LCD Soundsystem, Mahoney’s answer takes the form of an unsentimental coming to terms with the reality of middle age: “As far as his generation is concerned, [LCD Soundsystem] is pretty stale, old news.” (How these kids will have a meaningful college experience without the song “All My Friends” remains to be seen.)
Mahoney isn’t dwelling on the past either. Last month, DFA Records released the debut LP of Museum of Love, his collaboration with longtime friend and fellow DFA mainstay Dennis McNany (The Juan MacLean, Jee Day). The album – nine wandering, crooning songs marked by their subtlety rather than a biting dance sensibility – conveys Mahoney’s humble attitude toward music creation, which seems to be informed by great books and movies more than his experience working with an industry “auteur” like James Murphy.
In our conversation a few weeks ago, Mahoney discussed the new record, along with knowing his limitations, karaoke staples, and whether or not he’s the type of guy who has what might be called “a burning desire to execute his own creative vision.” He isn’t. That’s not his style. And if you listen to Museum of Love, you’ll hear a deeply collaborative approach to music that derives most of its identity from the “let’s see what happens” method of Mahoney and McNany.
Museum of Love is out now on DFA Records. Mahoney says the band is “working on a little West Coast run with New Build,” and it hopes to “do little weekenders on the East Coast in late November.”
Was there a central concept driving this album? It doesn’t sit still for very long.
It grew out of Dennis and I hanging out and talking about the music, books, and movies we like. It’s an attempt to try and give an outlet to all the things we really like and adore. So it’s purposefully not narrowly focused. We were trying to focus it through the things that we love, and we have pretty Catholic tastes, so it’s kind of all over the map.
Any particular books or movies?
I just turned Dennis onto Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. Do you know that book? It’s about a British Consul stationed in Mexico during the second World War, and he’s sort of a terminal alcoholic. His brother and his wife try to rescue him, but he’s in a downward spiral. It’s this really beautiful and intense book; the language is really beautiful and imagistic. You wouldn’t think it would be made into a good film, but there’s a great film adaptation from like 1980, ’82, or something like that. It’s fantastic.
We wanted the album to have themes that were greater than what we were hearing elsewhere – even in the records of our peers. We were pretty ambitious about what we wanted to talk about in it. So that’s why we were getting into literature and movies when we were thinking about what we wanted to make and what we wanted to say.
“FATHERS” seems like a pretty far-reaching song in that sense.
I’m sort of talking about families and family histories and their interactions with world history. When I’m writing a song like that I’m thinking about my family a lot, and my extended family, and the family of friends I have, and how all of that relates to the world.
Since Dennis isn’t around, would you care to talk about your guys’ working relationship?
Yeah, he gave me leave to talk about him as much as I feel is necessary. [Laughs]
Duos can seem prone to disagreement. Is that ever the case with you guys?
See, I think bands with more than two people are more of a recipe for conflict. With two people, if you trust your opposite member, it’s great.
There were choices on the record where Dennis was just like, “No. Trust me – even though I know this makes you uncomfortable.” And vice versa. I think one of the main reasons we decided to make this record was just hanging out and talking and dabbling and eventually saying, “Let’s try and make something together without being all that serious about it.”
The first two tracks took a year, because we weren’t working on them every day. We’d get together once a month or so, hang out, have dinner, drink some beers, and just see where it went. We ended up discovering that we were coming from a very similar place, both with our personal histories and with the things that excited us about art and music. So we were able to form that kind of working relationship where there’s a ton of trust and we’re working on something mutual.
That sounds fairly ideal.
It’s really awesome. We were just gonna put together a couple tracks, and then we decided it was really working and we should make a record. We were both in the understanding that these were the sounds we wanted to hear, and that we were going to go searching for them together, and that’s what happened.
Now we’re really excited to get working on the next thing. We’re putting together a list of all our [unfinished] songs that’ve been refocused by the process of making this record, and we’re jotting down little snippets of lyrics. Dennis has hard drives full of musical experiments that need to be focused and arranged, so there’s a big pallet. Then there are machines that we find inspiring, so we’ll get our hands dirty just programming and trying to find sounds.
Dennis was a sound engineer for DFA. Is that something you’re good at too?
I only know enough engineering to get myself into trouble, but that was a choice.
Dennis went to engineering school and worked in several studios, including DFA. He also has his own label called Run Roc, so he’s a full fledged producer in his own right.
In a conscious way, I’m obsessive about stuff. I like tools. I like machinery. And when I get into something, I can go overboard. So, I’ve made a choice to know a little bit – enough to help me make music – but not so much that I became an engineer, because then I would just be focused on that.
Gotta limit yourself, I guess.
Right, and that’s also why I wanted to just sing on this record and not drum. Most of the drums are programmed, I played drums on the bits that are live drums but I didn’t want to focus on that – I’d been doing that for James [Murphy] and other people for a decade.
Had you ever sang before Museum of Love?
[Laughs] I mean, I’ve always sang karaoke…
What’s your song?
I like doing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. That really brings ‘em to tears.
“Thunder Road” for life.
Springsteen’s always a good one – also, the Beach Boys.
“Monotronic” sounds a little like Brian Wilson.
That was something I was thinking about, for sure. Not even so much specifically on this project; it’s just one of those things that’s stored in the memory banks, know what I mean?
More specifically, I was thinking about Brian Ferry, Robert Wyatt, Arthur Russell, John Cale – those were the records that I was listening to and thinking, “They’re doing something.” For a long time, I tried to write lyrics, and they were just miserable. I had to kind of, like, back into it by not trying to write a song, and just make songs out of things that I would say.
If Dennis thought that I said something funny or made a good observation, he would write it down and throw it at me later. Because, at first, it was sort of excruciating to try to write something to sing. It’s not me sitting at the piano with piles of notes everywhere, singing melodies. It doesn’t come out very spontaneously. It’s starting to – I’m starting to realize that part of the pleasure behind it is that it does get easier. I don’t know if I’m getting better at it, but it definitely feels better.
You and Dennis have done a lot of interesting things in your respective careers over the last decade or so. Do you consider Museum of Love your most significant statement as artists?
When I was 14, I sang in a hardcore band in Massachusetts, and I really like being a collaborator. I’ve never been someone who’s like, “I’m an auteur. I have this singular vision, and I’m going to make it at all costs.” I like working with people, and I’m inspired people who are like that.
It’s like my relationship with James [Murphy]. I’ve witnessed firsthand the process that he’s gone through. I loved being a part of that, and contributing to it, as a friend or as a drummer or whatever. But, at the end of the day, LCD [Soundsystem] was his thing. He wrote all the music and all of the words. He had a vision. He is an auteur, and he has an idea of how he wants things to be that’s hyper specific.
I don’t think I ever really had the confidence to say, “This is the art I want to make” – until I formed this very collaborative relationship with Dennis. So, I would say without reservation, that this is the thing that I’m proudest of.
I’m still very proud of the music LCD made. I never really thought I was going to be a professional musician. It’s strange. I never dreamed of being on stage. I just like making music and got super lucky.
How common would you say that is among your DFA peers? Or would you say most of them had a dream and now they’re executing it.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing a lot of musicians who are successful, and who are making a contribution to the culture at large right now, and that’s certainly true for some of them. They’ve always wanted this. This is their dream and they’re doing it.
But I also know a fair amount of people who come at it more as fans. They’re not people who are burning with a singular vision. I do think that I have a vision, but it’s as a fan of music rather than as someone who is going to impose something from the top down.
Ahmed Gallab from Sinkane mentioned that he’s trying to bring back DFA parties. How are those?
We’ve done a couple now, and they were great. There were parties, like, back when the label was founded, and then everyone was busy with life, and it hasn’t been a steady thing, so he’s been trying to bring them back and it’s been awesome.
Do any stories come to mind?
The second party was our live debut in New York, so that was a super awesome experience for us. We’d played once before, at Moogfest. Ahmed actually played drums at that show. But the DFA party was our first gig with our full time band.
I struggle a lot with stage fright, but for some reason, not when I’m singing, which seems weird. I get way more nervous playing the drums, because I’m afraid I’m going to fuck up and make everybody look bad. But when you’re the front man, if you fuck up, you only make yourself look bad. So, that was totally fine. I felt pretty comfortable with that [Laughs]. It was actually a very enjoyable experience, even though performing sometimes makes me very anxious.
Working with Ahmed on the William Onyeabor tribute has been really inspiring. He’s an amazing musician, an amazing bandleader, and an amazing artist himself. I totally admire that guy.
The pedal steel on Mean Love is awesome in the live setting.
Johnny Lam is one of my favorite artists. He’s just incredible. He’s a total lap steel expert. He’s making a film on lap steel players. And he’s a totally awesome musician. He plays like twice a week in a country band. When I first heard Mean Love, I was really surprised, but it just works so well.
The album art and press shots for Museum of Love are great. How did those earthen costumes came about?
Our really good friend Tim Saccenti is the photographer who took those. I’ve known him for years – he’s a photographer, and a videographer, and a director. Our manager’s worked with him for years. So, we said we needed press shots, and he got us a studio for nothing. He gave us his time and a couple of assistants’ time. Dennis and I had this idea to do shots, like, out in a park in New York wearing these camouflage suits – they’re called ghillie suits.
Oh the sniper suits!
Yes, that’s exactly what they are. And I think it says something about both of our slightly shy personalities that we were like “Yeah, let’s go hide in a bush for our press photos.” [Laughs]
But Tim, being the brilliant man that he is, was like “No, let’s shoot this in black and white in the studio, and it’ll look like a sculpture rather than you guys trying to blend into the surroundings. It’ll stand out.” I mean, he didn’t actually say that, but I think that was his intuition.
We took a bunch of studio shots in black and white before we were gonna go out into the park, and from the first few shots, it was just very clear that it looked super cool and almost otherworldly, so we just ran with it. And then Tim’s friend, Michael Place, put in so much time making these really cool graphics.
We just totally lucked out and hit the jackpot, because we didn’t have strong ideas.
You’re also a sculptor, correct?
I am. I’m too middle-class or something to make fine art. I don’t really understand it. But I worked for years as a commercial sculptor. I’ve made store window displays, I’ve made jewelry, and I worked for ten years in the toy industry, sculpting action figures.
We actually just shot a video to promote the album. Tim was supposed to direct it, but due to scheduling conflicts, that didn’t happen, so we were like, “Shit, what are we going to do?” We ended up shooting it in time-lapse. It’s me sculpting a portrait of Dennis in one sitting.
DFA seems like a big happy family where everyone helps each other out, based on what you’re saying.
It’s always been about this group of friends. Most of the people on the label are either people we’ve known for a really long time, or new friends that we’ve made. Like, Planningtorock – James found one of her videos online and was like, “This person is awesome.” Then we just found out what she was doing, and we brought her on tour, and we became really good friends. It’s always been about that. Even the staff that we tour with is people that I would have over to my house. They’re people that I would let hold my kid.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.