“When you begin writing a profile, your first worry is access. Does the subject talk in soundbites? Will he or she let you see anything that hasn’t been rehearsed? (‘Accidental’ meetings with famous friends, fans showing up en masse at coffee shops, etc.) Will you just get an hour in the hotel lobby? Will the publicist sit by your elbow as you talk for what ends up being less than an hour?
“James Murphy, as a subject, presented none of these problems. Over the course of eighteen months, he opened his home and his studio and his rehearsal space to me. The profile could have been almost any length. His monologue, in Laurel Canyon, on Louis CK’s genius deserved a page-long block quote, and his stories about his family in New Jersey could have made for a complete, stand-alone piece. But what I wanted to focus on in The New Yorker piece was how functionally, logistically independent Murphy is—he can really execute any single part of the record-making process, from conception to fabrication of widgets. And he isn’t just obsessive about detail but obsessive first about locating the important details, and then obsessive about attending to them thoroughly. I’ve spent my life playing with and observing musicians, and I’ve never seen a bandleader make so many small, ongoing demands of a band without alienating anyone. I did not expect all the hugging.
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Illustration by Sarah Merlin