June 19 2017

Three Sheets to the Wind: LCD Soundsystem's Nancy Whang

New York-Standard Sounds
Sometimes best laid plans go awry—especially when you’re sharing a watermelon filled with vodka cocktails for eight. Lesson learned. Our plan, such as it was, was to get LCD Soundsystem keyboardist Nancy Whang tipsy so she would tell us about the band’s new record, which frontman and mastermind James Murphy has said will drop in the next few weeks. Fresh off debuting new music on Saturday Night Live, and warm-up shows at Brooklyn Steel, the band is back at it after a premature retirement. 

When we met up with Mrs. Whang on an unseasonably chilly summer night, however, the conversation veered off in several different, no less interesting, directions—which was probably to be expected given the cocktail situation that The Standard, East Village’s Summer Garden had lined up for us. By the time we got around to the Watermelon Punch Bowl, things had gone far off course, but lest you worry, nothing went to waste (except maybe us). 

While we may have only gotten a few nuggets about the new record, we did get Whang sufficiently sauced to talk about the gender dynamics of LCD, how she became a musician by accident, getting bumped from SNL by Chris Brown, and how her dad came to truly appreciate the significance of LCD Soundsystem.

++++
DRINK ONE
The Standard
THE STANDARD: What is it like to be playing shows again with LCD? 
NANCY WHANG: It’s a lot of fun—it’s only fun. All the pitfalls of being a new broke band are behind us. I have a really good job that I like to do, I play with people that I love, and I don’t have to hustle anymore. At the same time, when we played those first shows, that was the first time in seven years that we’ve walked out on stage to play a song for the first time. That fucked me up. 

Why? 
Because the last time we played a song for the first time [in 2010] I fucked it up royally. Susan Sarandon was there. We played “Dance Yourself Clean” and my hands did not operate. I was simultaneously trembling and paralyzed. 

What can you tell us about the new record? 
It’s done being made, musically. But there’s all the other aspects—artwork, pressing, etc. I don’t know what I would say about it. 

Where are you from originally? 
Portland, Oregon. 

What brought you to New York? 
I came here to go to school. Or rather, I went to school here to come to New York. 

What were you doing after school? 
I was just hanging out, really. I finished college in ’99 and I was working for this painter, Peter Halley, who also published Index magazine. The magazine office was in the same place as the studio. I worked in the studio making his paintings. It was a weird environment. I hated it—I hated my job, I hated my boss—so I just went out a lot. I drank a lot, I partied a lot. 

Was that the worst job you had in New York? 
That was it. I was not happy there, but it really wasn’t that bad. He [Halley] gave me the only piece of advice that I ever remembered, which was to not worry about making a mark in your twenties because your thirties is when stuff actually starts happening for you, and that totally came true. 

So you thought you were going to become a painter…
Yeah. 

How did that transition into music? 
It didn’t really transition, it just switched. Every job I had in New York after college broke my heart more and more. I got to see different sides of the art world, and it wasn’t very inspiring. 

So you were going out and getting into the music scene? 
Just going out, doing the downtown cool kid thing, even though I wasn’t a cool kid. I met James [Murphy] at a party, and we just started hanging out all the time. It was that weird thing where you meet someone and then all of a sudden they’re everywhere. Then he decided to put a band together after he had put out these singles [“Losing My Edge” and “Beat Connection“] that got a lot of attention. And I just happened to be there. 

But you knew how to play. 
I knew how to play the piano…and I was a girl. 

He wanted a girl in the band?  
Yeah. 

Why is it important to have a girl in the band? 
My presence changes the atmosphere. When you’re in a room full of only guys, you tend to go further than you would if there was a woman in the room. It keeps everybody from becoming their feral, primal selves. 

Drink up…What’s your favorite era of being in LCD? 
Right now is pretty good. But strictly as the band evolution goes, I really liked the beginning. We were scrappy and kinda punk. We were honestly a bunch of nerds, but we felt cool because cool people were into this thing that we were doing, even though we weren’t cool. We had nothing to lose. 

What do you remember about the scene at that time? 
Everybody wanted to have fun—that was a really important aspect of that period of time. And there were very few constraints on what that meant. It was a very serious time [post-9/11]. There were a lot of things that were not fun.

DRINK TWO
The Standard
The Standard
LCD recently played SNL for the first time, and you wrote a thing about how you had conflicted feelings…
Why did you have negative feelings going into it? 
We got asked to play SNL a bunch of times in 2010, 2011, and each time we got bumped. The first time was for Tom Petty—fair enough, it’s fucking Tom Petty—that makes sense. The next time we got bumped again—I forget who took our place. And then we got asked again, and that was the last chance because a month later we were going to play our last show. And then, we got bumped for Chris fucking Brown. The fact that anybody even fucking entertained having him on the show was outrageous to me. I don’t think you can argue that what he did to Rihanna and what he’s done to other women, is excusable in any way. It is objectively repulsive. It’s just wrong. I took it very personally. They killed the joy I had at the prospect of playing SNL. That was the thing that hurt the most. 

Ultimately, how was the experience? 
Going into it, I was like, “Fuck them, fuck that place, fuck that guy, I don’t care.” But it was amazing. It was really a spectacular experience. 

The performance seemed really well planned. How much planning went into pulling it off? 
A lot. We practiced for a week before the show. Half the gear that was onstage isn’t stuff we play. In fact, my entire keyboard setup—I don’t play any of that shit. We don’t travel with that stuff—those are some vintage synthesizers that are very large, very heavy, and very delicate. 

What about that dude dancing in the back? He nearly stole the show. Was that the plan? 
No, that’s just Gavin. He’s a free spirit and he’s got moves. 

We’ve read that James Murphy has a “no feeling it” on stage rule. Did Gavin violate the “no feeling it” rule? 
No. 

Why not? It seemed like he was feeling it. 
The no-feeling-it rule is more to do with posturing. A biting of the lower lip. A scrunching of the nose. Looking off into the middle distance. Feeling it for the sake of showing that you’re feeling it. It’s more about rock posturing. 
I feel like it’s about to sleet. You’re freezing. 

I’m fine. [Writer's note: I'm shivering uncontrollably.
You’re shivering.  

It’s true. [Writer’s note: we move under some adjacent heatlamps.]
Being a musician by accident, I don’t really have any ambitions musically. Even playing Madison Square Garden, it never crossed my mind. Once we started getting bigger, we got offers from SNL, and I was like, “Oh right, yeah, I really care about this.” SNL was something that I knew about when I was a child before I even knew what New York was. 

DRINK THREE
The Standard
[Writer's note: I look blearily at my list of questions.] Shit, this is getting harder. 
Not only are my answers going to get blurrier, but the questions are going to get blurrier! [Laughs.] I’m really enjoying watching it. 

The “Irish Cunt” plays a prominent role in LCD lore. What is an Irish Cunt? 
It’s a glass of champagne with a shot of Jameson poured into it. Sometimes it’s not a glass. Or a shot. It works though. It’s better than you think. 

When was the last time you drank an Irish cunt? 
A long time ago. I’m gonna say it was 2008. I don’t drink whiskey anymore. 

Have they been phased out? 
Yes. We can’t take it anymore. It’s just too much…or we’re not enough. 

What’s your drunk tell? 
My drunk tell is I tell really really long winded stories. 

[Mrs. Whang is fiddling with her straw and some of the drink spills.

What just happened there? 
I wanted to change the shape [of the straw], but the liquid that I trapped came out. [Laughs.] 

[Nancy turns to the photographer and says, "You wanna get in on some of this?" The photographer responds, "Yeah, we have enough pictures."]

Meet your heroes or don’t meet your heroes? 
No way, never. Aside from Grace Jones, who I think is just Grace Jones all the fucking time, people are just people, and you kinda don’t want your heroes to be real people—you want them to be your heroes. The only time that I’ve ever met anybody who I’ve been starstruck with—and I honestly continue to be starstruck—are the Beastie Boys. They contributed to why I moved to New York, which sounds absurd, but not really. 

Didn’t they have something to do with the formation of LCD? 
James played basketball with Adam Horowitz, and Adam gave James this boombox that had a little built-in drum machine. One of the beats from that drum machine is the beat from “Losing My Edge.” 

Are you afraid of losing your edge? 
I never really had an edge to lose. I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about what it means to be cool, and I don’t really know how to define it. It’s like porn—I know it when I see it. I like the idea of being cool. I would like to be cool, but I also don’t think I’m cool. And our band isn’t cool. Really we’re not. We’re just a bunch of fucking nerds. We’re like substitute teachers hanging out in the teacher’s lounge. 

In Meet Me in the Bathroom, the new book by Lizzie Goodman about the early 2000s music scene in New York, James says, "We wish we’d been around at the Factory, but if we were at the Factory we’d be like, 'Oh, this is so boring and these people are so rude and what is that band the Under-somethings?'" What do you make of that? 
I don’t think that’s true. When we were doing what we were doing at the time, we all looked at each other and we’re like, “This is AWESOME. What we’re doing is FUCKING AMAZING. This is so much better than what ANYONE was doing before. This is THE SHIT. This is THE NEW shit. We’re fucking making it happen.” 

Does your family understand what you do? [Writer’s note: The following story has been edited for length.
My parents have no fucking idea what I do, what it means, none of that. My brothers know what I do, they know what it means, but they have an inflated view of what it all is. 

A week and a half ago, I was in Portland visiting my family. My brothers and my dad still live in Portland. so I was over at my brother’s house. My brothers were like, “Dad, did you know Nancy was on national television?” My brother had it on-demand, so they played it for him on TV. And he sat there in the living room watching this thing. And like, he doesn’t know what the fuck SNL is. He sees just that there’s a TV and I’m on it. And he’s like, “Oh yeah, there she is.” 

I remember being in a cab going to one of our last shows, and everyone in the band had invited their families, and I invited no one from my family. It occurred to me that I should probably let my dad know what’s going on, so I called him, like, “Hey dad, I’m headed to one of our last shows. We’re gonna play at Madison Square Garden, and then we’re retiring.” And he goes, “Oh ok, hope you’re good, talk to you later.” He doesn’t give a shit and it’s fine, it’s totally fine! I know what I’m doing. He has no idea, but it doesn’t matter…

Back to Portland last week: we went out to dinner. He wanted to go to Red Lobster. I said, “No. There’s gotta be something better.” So I took him to this other place in Portland—really good, he loved it, he loved all the food. 

But really the thing that stuck with him the most—that really impressed him—was I paid for dinner. I did it on the sly, like I gave my credit card to the server, and he tried to pay for dinner, and the server was like, “No, you’re daughter took care of it.” He was beside himself. He couldn’t believe that not only could I afford to pay for dinner for myself, but I bought him dinner. I don’t think my dad has ever been more proud of me in my whole fucking life than when I paid for dinner—and it wasn’t even really that expensive! [Cracking up] In fact, I think it would have been less than Red Lobster! 

And then, we’re trying to leave, and he was over the moon. He goes to the servers, and he was like, “My daughter just paid for my dinner! She plays in this band called LCD Soundsystem!”  
The Standard
Writer
Alex Waxman
Photos
Zak Krevitt