Interview: Dylan Southern, ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’

Following on from 2010’s acclaimed Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace return this week with Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012), a new project detailing the final days of James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem. Despite looking like similar projects on paper, the directorial partnership’s latest work is an altogether different beast to its predecessor, a concert film interspersed with a character study of Murphy, the band’s leader. To mark its arrival on UK shores, CineVue was fortunate enough catch up with Southern and Lovelace for a chat about its imminent release.

Daniel Gumble: How did the two of you initially come to be involved with James Murphy, and when was the idea of an LCD Soundsystem movie conceived?

Dylan Southern: We were fairly adamant that we weren’t going to make another music film as we didn’t want to become too bracketed with that genre. However, someone from EMI connected with Blur said we should meet James, and as we were fans of LCD Soundsystem and were interested in James as a character, we thought it’d be good to have a chat with him. So, we ended up getting on really well with him and there was something very interesting about the idea of a band just calmly stopping, as it seemed like the opposite to most bands’ stories; there were no fallouts and they were still making good music.

Will Lovelace: It was also an attractive prospect to capture the end of a band who had just decided to finish after three albums and go their own ways, without the usual rock ‘n’ roll clichés of a band breaking up.

DG: You mentioned that you were already planning on making a film about James and the band prior to the announcement that they would play their final gig at Madison Square Garden. Was there always going to be a performance element to the film?

DS: Yeah, we actually thought about setting up a small final gig, but then James called us to say they and had been booked to play Madison Square Garden, which isn’t typically the kind of place you’d see LCD Soundsystem perform. Usually you get people like Bon Jovi or Lady Gaga playing there, so as soon as James told us we knew that’s what the film would have to be about.

WL: It’s that gig and the contrast of the following day that are at the heart of the film.

DG: How did Spike Jonze come to be involved with the shooting of the concert? And how would you gauge his impact on the movie?

WL: We had decided that we were going to shoot the concert in an old fashioned way; finding cinematographers, giving them a brief and sending them out to the show. And a lot of these people weren’t involved in music films and had never shot live bands before.

DS: What he brought to the film was his amazing ability to find characters and moments in every situation. For example, there’s a moment in ‘Us v Them’ where the camera finds this couple who initially are just dancing around and during the course of the song they get closer and closer and end up making out on the dance floor, and that’s one of those amazing moments that gives the performance a special quality that you wouldn’t get if you were concentrating on standard shots of the band.

DG: Aside from the gig footage, the film is pretty much centred on Murphy. Were there ever any plans to feature any of the other band members?

DS: It was kind of James’ story that we were interested in because it was really his decision to end the band, which obviously affected the other band members, but if we had treated them the same way that we treated James during the film it would have been even more complex and sprawling, and we never wanted to use talking heads interviews or anything like that, as it’s just a bit too explanatory. Early on it was decided that it would essentially be a character study of James alongside the concert.

DG: After the gig had been shot, did you ever consider releasing the entire gig as a concert film, similar to that of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (1984)?

DS: Our plan with that was to take it to venues, not necessarily cinemas, but venues where people can dance. We’ve also talked about taking it to clubs and music festivals next year and really making an event out of it.

WL: I think it makes a great companion piece to the film, but with Shut Up and Play the Hits it was always going to have a central focus on James; if we had just released the three and a half hour gig it would have excluded everyone apart from die-hard fans.

DG: Chuck Klosterman conducts the interview with James that runs throughout. How was it decided upon that he should be the one to carry this narrative strand?

DS: We read lots of articles as research when we were first discussing the idea of the film, and Chuck had written something for The Guardian, which was the most insightful, cerebral interview with James that we found. A lot of the questions seemed to come from left-field and reach a really interesting point by virtue of that, and we really wanted to get inside James’ head. Also, we liked the way he nudges and pushes and has an opinion. On top of that we just loved him as a character. If you were writing the character of a music journalist for a film, you’d probably come up with someone like Chuck.

To read our full review of Shut Up and Play the Hits, just follow this link. 

Daniel Gumble