LCD Soundsystem caught on camera: ‘You really get to see the ravages of time and hard living’
Photographer Ruvan Wijesooriya has documented the band’s career and touring adventures for more than a decade
LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney by Ruvan Wijesooriya
LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney is, perhaps, an unlikely advocate for photography of himself. “I don’t like having my picture taken very much,” he tells me, “but Ruvan chats and takes photographs in a very unintrusive way, and he’s a friend so it’s not annoying to have him around.”
The unintrusive snapper to which he’s referring is Ruvan Wijesooriya, the Minnesota-born nightlife photographer who has catalogued LCD Soundsystem’s career and touring adventures for more than a decade. The fruits of these labours were collected into 2012’s LCD, a handsome photo-book released during the fortnight-long period in which it was believed the band had split up. They are also now the foundation of a three-week exhibition at Guinness’ Open Gate Brewery.
Mahoney is quiet, thoughtful and decidedly unshowy; a delightful conversational partner but perhaps the sort of person you could imagine being a nightmare to shoot. How did Wijesooriya break through?
“Well,” he answers, “by standing there cracking jokes. He’s a smart guy, and also he’s the kind of person who, if you tell him to f*** off, it doesn’t hurt his feelings.”
The pictures showcased in the Guinness x LCD Soundsystem exhibit were, he assures me, procured with this lightness of touch, and date back to Wijesooriya’s earliest times with the band.
“I think he was on the scene as a nightlife photographer way back when, so it’s been a long time... maybe around 2006 or so,” Mahoney recalls of their first interaction. “He shoots chest height so it’s not annoying.”
Does he have a favourite shot? “I think there’s one of me in a longish sweater and no other clothing on. It was backstage in Miami. I was sopping wet after the show, but then when the sun goes down in Spring in Miami, it drops to about 65 with a cool wind blowing. That was a great candid shot.”
There’s something melancholy, I note, about old photographs, particularly when they capture a long period of growth, and the slog from youth to what comes next. Does he find it almost funereal, looking back at the band’s history, all laid out together, moments frozen forever, his youth captured?
“Yeah, I really do,” he says. “I think now people take more photos of themselves, certainly more than I’m used to. In my daily life, with my family, it drives my wife crazy, but I never take pictures at all, because I always feel like it interrupts whatever experience you’re having. So, there’s a lot of times that I don’t have photographic record of things that I took, personally. For this reason, Ruvan’s photos represent years and years of my life that are important – being on tour is a little bit like, it’s not real life, you know? It is, of course, but it’s a place apart, it’s very repetitive and sometimes you don’t notice whole months, if not years – hopefully not decades – going by. So, I often get a little emotional like, ‘Christ, we were so young’. You really get to see the ravages of time and hard living.”
“Except Nancy always looks good, she’s never aged a day,” he says.
“James and I, on the other hand, we have become,” his voice here dropping to a wizened croak, “grizzled and grey.”
Some of the images are particularly candid. Were any rejected for being too personal or injurious to a band member’s vanity?
“No,” Mahoney insists, “we all started this thing when we were full-grown adults so we’re not doing anything in these photos that we would be ashamed of in public. Capturing those moments, even the funnier moments, is great.”
“One time everyone was making fun of me for wearing these particularly tight trousers so I went to the bathroom and stuck a banana down there and he was, of course, waiting at the door for me to come out. He has the knack. But he also knows my kids, so he has the kind of access that a friend has.”
He has even started circumventing Mahoney’s own distaste for self-photography.
“Oh yeah, he sometimes sends my wife pictures of me, when we’re out on tour, for her and the kids.” He laughs at the luxury of this situation: “It’s kind of nice to have a staff photographer like that.”
The photography is supplemented by 11 paintings created by the exhibition’s curator, artist Joe Henry, fresh from last year’s Lost Warhols show in Brown Thomas. “I’ve seen some of the stuff,” says Mahoney, “but I’m sure there’ll be surprises.” As there were during his DJ set, which accompanied the exhibition on opening night. “I have eclectic tastes,” he says. “I’m going to figure out what I do in the moment, whatever it feels like. I don’t play any one genre in particular, but I try and find a story that I like, and tell it through a memory stick.”
The secret to good music photography, he suggests, rests on a similar flexibility. “It has to do with understanding boundaries,” Mahoney explains. “Being able to read when people are stressed out. I think that’s why so many nightlife photographers… move on to do something else.”
By way of example, Mahoney ends with a stirring case study in the pratfalls – both literal and figurative – of overly eager photography.
“We played Lowlands, or maybe Pukkelpop, many years ago. It was the early 2000s and there was a man with a camera beside the stage. We made it abundantly clear that he had to stay out of the band’s way. We never quite figured out why, but he went after Tyler [Pope, bass player] pretty aggressively and kept getting in his face, with Tyler having to physically push him back, in the middle of a show.”
Comparatively early on in their life as a band, the other members were unsure how to react to this pestering pap. “Playing big festival shows was still new for us. Nancy had never really been in a band before, and certainly none of us were accustomed to playing to 10,000 people or whatever. So there was pushing with this guy and he kept doubling down and pushing back, and after we had finished, we walked off stage on one of those janky put-together bits of scaffolding they have at festivals and the guy came over and put the camera in Tyler’s face again, so he decked him, knocked him and his camera down. I think Tyler ran and hid somewhere because he was upset and knew he wasn’t necessarily within his rights to punch the guy. The festival security came and the police came. Luckily, I think the higher-ups corroborated our story so nothing ended up happening.”
Alas, scandal-hunters will have to wait to see a mugshot within the collected portraiture.
“None of us have managed to get arrested on tour yet,” he confirms, “which is good, but still surprising.”
The LCD Soundsystem exhibition will be on display until June 22nd during Guinness Open Gate Brewery hours, Thursday and Friday from 5.30pm to 10:30pm and Saturdays from 2pm to 8pm. guinnessopengate.com.