Earlier this month, we raved about Too Old To Be New, Too New To Be Classic, a 12-minute documentary put out by Red Bull Music Academy on the 12-year history of DFA Records. And not just because we love pretty much all bands they've worked with, from LCD Soundsystem to Yacht to Holy Ghost; the mini-movie is entertaining on just about every single level. No surprise, then, that it was directed by Max Joseph, the New York-raised, L.A.-based filmmaker behind some of our favorite short-form videos, not to mention one-half of the Catfish duo on MTV. Before this Saturday's DFA Records anniversary show in Brooklyn, we caught up with Joseph to find out just how hard it really is to track down James Murphy (hint: you may need to get on a cruise ship to find him) and learn about his upcoming "Saturday Night Fever for the electronic scene" movie.
Is it as exciting to have one of your projects be released on the internet as it is to have it aired on TV?
Every time a video comes out on the Internet, it feels like my birthday. i can't sleep the night before and spend the whole day on social media! There's definitely an instant gratification on Catfish too; Catfish is a fun project for me, but my career is as a filmmaker, so when I release a film it's weighted a little different for me.
So how'd you get connected with this documentary in the first place?
What happened was I had done a movie with my friend Casey [Neistat]--we took Nike's money and ran around the world with it, and made a Nike commercial from our adventures--and a production company in Brooklyn called me up, said they had seen the piece and had really loved it, and just wanted to talk to me about collaborating with me on something. And then they called a month later and were like, "Look, we're doing a series of vides with Red Bull Music Academy and one of the videos is about the anniversary of DFA, would you be interested in making a short doc?" And I was like, "Done." i knew DFA--I thought I was one of the very few people who knew about DFA beyond LCD Soundsystem--the song that Casey and I used in our Nike video is a DFA remix, I always want to use their songs, and any excuse to meet James and Juan Maclean and Nancy Whang to do that would be a great project. So it was a no-brainer. Then the time came to actually make it, and all of the sudden I really freaked out! I've interviewed and made films with people I really respect before, but there was something different here, because I thought, These guys are the coolest guys in the world, I need to be on my a game, I need to know their history, I need to be a music nerd for this.
Is it really as hard to track down James Murphy as the documentary makes it seem?
I was in New York for two weeks and that was the time we had all allotted for getting all the interviews. but James didn't get back to NY for those two weeks. Every time we were like, "Where's James?" no one knew, and eventually I said, "I'm going to go back to LA and start editing this because I don't know if he's coming back and if he'll be in the movie." Then the call came towards the end of the December, "James is going to be on a cruise ship DJing, we can get you onboard the cruise ship--just you, we can't set a time with James or a time to meet, you'll have to find him on the boat." So i went on this cruise ship by myself, which isn't very fun--it was fun for everyone else, but I was a man on a mission. I found him on the second day, after literally walking up and down the ship for six hours--I bumped into him in the corridor and we made a plan to meet the following day and he gave me an hour and half interview. And it was an amazing interview. It was so funny, anytime he was talking about the history [of DFA] he wasn't as engaged and wasn't as exciting, but in between the questions the things that he would say, the jokes he would make, he'd be so animated. It was clear that that should be in the movie. There are so many interesting characters at DFA--Jonathan [Galkin, the label's manager] is a character, James is a character, Chris who works in the office is a character. There's all this history and I realized that these people are more interesting and fascinating just to watch and learn than giving every bullet point of the history.
Where were you in 2001, when DFA was born?
I graduated high school in 2000 and I went to school in Providence, so i was there and would come back to New York and go out in the Lower East Side and Alphabet City. It was still really sketchy and dodge-y but starting to be cool. I wish I was going to Plant Bar!
What else is keeping you busy?
I'm co-writing and directing a movie for Working Title--we've got to write it first, and then if that goes well I'll be directing it. It's not set in stone but it's a movie that takes place in the world of electronic music, so very much in the same vein of DFA but the next generation. I would say electronica 1.0 is the '90s Underworld, Apex Twin, all those early trance guys, and then DFA came along and they were dance rock indie electronic, and now electronic music is Skrillex and Tiesto and Porter Robinson, so the writing takes place in that world. It's a coming-of-age story about a bunch of guys living in that universe. You might say a Saturday Night Fever for the electronic scene.
Whoa, that sounds awesome! Are you also working on the next season of Catfish?
I'm doing Catfish season two and working on [the script for the film] at the same time.They're going to announce the premiere date [of the next season] pretty soon, but the stories we've seen so far have just been really crazy and new original and already different from season one. Just when you think you'll know how it will go every time....
Were you recognized much more while filming season two?
Definitely a lot more eyes recognizing us as we travel through America. and also the people on this now have seen season one, which is good in a way because they know the drill. they know that we're not there to point fingers and condemn them, they know that they'll get a chance to say their side of the story and that this is a safe place for them. I think people are really interested in the show because in a world where almost every story has been told a million times, and there's nothing new under the sun, this is a fairly new phenomenon. So it's exciting, it feels like we're in new territory.
In the meantime, why do you hope people watch the DFA doc?
What's exciting about it is most of the stuff you make, whether it's a commercial or branded stuff or it's' for a general audience, your'e trying to connect to everyone. And what was great about this documentary was it's for my generation; people who love LCD Soundsystem, who grew up at a certain time, who are connected to the hipster movement whether they like it or not, this is the kind of thing that I can send to all my friends and they can be like, "That's cool that you made this."
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS