Just/Talk: Justin Strauss with Luke Jenner from Rapture

In the beginning, there was “House of Jealous Lovers.” Born in New York around the top of the 21st Century, The Rapture’s breakout single still ripples through pop music’s collective consciousness — just as the band’s body of work continues to inspire new experiments in sonic cross-pollination. For this edition of Just/Talk, Rapture founder Luke Jenner sits down with Ace friend and legendary DJ Justin Strauss to discuss evolving visions of success, band marriage counseling and making juice for Kate Moss.

Luke Jenner will be closing out the year in spectacular rapturous fashion up at Last Light, our rooftop bar at Sister City in the Lower East Side. Tickets for the New Year’s event can be found here.

Justin Strauss:
Hi Luke.

Luke Jenner:
What’s up?

JS:
Nothing. Just thought we’d have a chit chat. Do you remember the first piece of music or record you heard that made you think that music was something you’d want to do for a job?

LJ:
I grew up listening to music, but it didn’t seem feasible to do. It wasn’t until I started going to shows with people my age, that were either local bands or touring bands that no one cared about. Being in a room with four people in San Diego, a small coffee shop or an all ages club or something. I think the most important thing for me at that time was I felt I could be better than them. It wasn’t enough to look up to somebody. I had to feel I could be better than that person.

JS:
Yeah. You always want to be better.

LJ:
Well, I grew up in like a sports-minded environment. My dad’s hyper-competitive. I never attempted to do anything that I knew I wasn’t going to be the best at, until pretty recently. It’s a horrible way to live your life and not very nice to yourself or other people. It’s a perfectionism thing.

JS:
When did you pick up a guitar? How old were you?

LJ:
I was about 17. I got a guitar. I borrowed one from the kid who took my place in the baseball team because I had sort of failed at baseball in my mind, and he had one.

JS:
It was a trade off.

LJ:
It was a trade off. His dad was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and was one of my little league coaches. People started running by me in baseball. I didn’t care as much and I hated the guys on the baseball team. The whole macho thing started to really break down for me.

A big part of it was also my mom. She went to a mental hospital when I was around that age. I remember being in school and everything cracked for me. I couldn’t keep it together.

JS:
How old were you?

LJ:
I was trying to put it together, I don’t know, maybe 17. 16, 17. I think around that time, combined with going to shows, feeling like there were different people I could hang out with. I could start hanging out with people that liked music. I grew up in the suburbs; music was around, but it wasn’t like how city kids would be into music or something.

JS:
Were you disappointed that you couldn’t become the baseball star you wanted to be or were you happy playing your guitar?

LJ:
I just really felt like I let down my dad a lot, and that was a big thing. I had already let my dad down at school because he was a university professor and he was like, “You need to be perfect at school.” I went to war with him around junior high on that. I mostly played baseball because that’s where I got my validation from; the coaches were like the dads that I wanted to have. That’s where I got attention, and I was good at it. But then when I started being less motivated, it felt like everything just kind of happened.

JS:
How did you meet the guys that you would start playing music with? Were they just school friends?

LJ:
I tried to play music with Vito Roccoforte, the drummer of The Rapture, like right away. We were just starting to play music. I started playing music maybe six months before Vito. The obvious move was to get Vito because he was my really close friend; he lived near me. I remember the first time I went to see him play with a different band and his entire drum kit, like, fell apart on stage while he was hitting it. 

JS:
Sounds amazing actually.

LJ:
Yeah, it was cool. Vito was a late bloomer – I felt I had to keep myself busy and wait for him. There was a magazine in San Diego called The Reader that had ads for musicians in it. I called a few of them, and we ended up with this dude who had a practice space in his garage, and we would drive there.

The Rapture started to happen really fast because I knew what I wanted the band to sound like. I knew who I wanted to be in it. I knew who I wanted to put out records with, and I figured it out.

JS:
Were there bands that you were bonding over with Vito?

LJ:
Vito was into cross country running. He had a real temper. He broke his hand twice in one year — once he punched a mailbox and the other time punched a weight machine. He’s a really mellow, nice guy, but he was getting into fights with his mom and then he would just like punch stuff.

JS:
Teenage angst.

LJ:
High school just felt like waiting around. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t go anywhere. I needed people to drive me places. I grew up in the suburbs in San Diego. It’s in the foothills, and there’s nothing there.

JS:
What was the first show The Rapture did? And where did the name of the band come from?

LJ:
The Rapture started in San Francisco. I had followed Vito to San Francisco, where he was going to school. We were in a few other bands together that I didn’t sing in at first, but with The Rapture, we started having these parties in San Francisco that were really fun. By then, we figured out how to be cool and all of those things. I wasn’t really very cool in San Diego.

San Francisco is when I really came into my own. That’s where I started to discover records that other people didn’t have — a lot of New York things. I remember finding a Television record in the thrift store for 50¢ or something, and reading Please Kill Me, all of those things.

The name the Rapture comes from a Helios Creed song. We were obsessed with the band Chrome at the time. I think one of the dudes in Chrome had studied with La Monte Young, and they made these really interesting records in their kitchen in San Francisco. 

JS:
Do you remember the first time you went into the studio with The Rapture?

LJ:
I recorded a bunch of stuff at our practice space on a TEAC four-track. A lot of the early Rapture recordings were made in San Diego with three or four different people that I knew there. By then, I knew people and we could go record for free.

JS:
Did you self release some records or did you send out your demo tape to labels?

LJ:
The Rapture started to happen really fast because I knew what I wanted the band to sound like. I knew who I wanted to be in it. I knew who I wanted to put out records with, and I figured it out. We had our first 7-inch on this record label in San Diego called Gravity. It was just a respected record label, it meant that you could go and play for 20 people basically anywhere in the country, and have a place to stay.

JS:
And how did you end up on Sub Pop Records?

LJ:
There is an EP on Gravity and then there was an EP on Sub Pop.

JS:
And who is in the band at this time?

LJ:
Vito. We moved to Seattle with this guy who was on heroin, and I just wasn’t cool with it. We’d fight about it, but he knew everybody in Seattle. He was our key to Seattle. We got up there. I just didn’t like it very much.

Then we got this guy Jimi Hey to tour with us from Seattle to New York. He threw an entire can of grape soda on me once in the middle of the summer, because he didn’t like how I was driving or something. The early days of The Rapture were like Spinal Tap… there were a lot of bass players, a lot of different people. Sometimes we had four people, sometimes we had three. We were just trying to make it work, however we could.

JS:
Did you think by putting a record out on Sub Pop that things would change dramatically for you as a new band?

LJ:
We weren’t that new at that point, but I really wanted to go to Europe. I kept telling Sub Pop, “I want to go to England.” Just watching the Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back every day. Noticing that Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana and all these bands, they made it in England first.

But by then I didn’t feel like Sub Pop had much of a connection to England anymore. I was really disappointed by that. But they gave us, like, $10,000 and we bought a van, and just booked a tour to New York. I was in Seattle I think for less than a year.

Seattle felt like a very closed world. You have to pay your dues for a hundred years before anybody talks to you, no matter how good you are. I had already gone through that in San Diego and San Francisco, and I didn’t want to be in another place like that.

JS:
Before you came to New York with the Rapture, you had never been before?

LJ:
No, I had never been before. I remember we were stuck in traffic somewhere outside of New York and I just thought I was going to die or something. It felt so ominous.

We met the band Black Dice. They were our only friends. Jimi Hey knew them, because he used to shotgun beers with them or something. We went to their house in Williamsburg, which probably is now a super nice part of Williamsburg. At the time, it just looked like the apocalypse or something.

JS:
What year is this? 2000?

LJ:
June of 1999. I remember just showing up at their house and thinking, “I can’t even relate to this.” I had never seen anything like it — kids living in like industrial neighborhoods, glass all over the street. The only store was like a crappy bodega with malt liquor and chips.

JS:
Did you have living arrangements sorted or you just showed up?

LJ:
We just showed up with all of our stuff. We stayed with Black Dice for a while.

The first place I ever got was a $300 room in Manhattan. I was at a show at ABC No Rio for something, and I was outside just asking, “I need a place.” Someone was like, “Oh yeah, you can move into my place.” It was this place on the 23rd floor of some rent controlled place in Manhattan, right by Bellevue. I’d be home listening to Miles Davis’ On The Corner and Black Flag. In the background there would be sirens.

JS:
What was your first impressions of New York? Was it, “This is where I want to stay,” or “Please get me home”?

LJ:
I didn’t have any home. That was the whole point. I was just running away. I really couldn’t go home. Even the first tours back to the West Coast, I didn’t feel good there, and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to get out of there. I felt very much like a refugee sometimes, from an emotional war.

JS:
How long did it take you to feel like New York was your home?

LJ:
I felt like New York was my home from the minute I got here. Because New York is an idea, it’s not really a place. I really bought hard into the idea, and I noticed that there were a lot of other people that bought into the idea, too. If somebody agrees with the idea, you’re pretty safe.

I felt like New York was my home from the minute I got here. Because New York is an idea, it’s not really a place.

JS:
How did you come to meet James Murphy?

LJ:
We were playing at Brownies and everything just went wrong. My amp blew up and I was kicking stuff over. I was really into destroying stuff then. I think I just watched too many The Who videos or something. I smashed all my stuff every show. James was there, he thought it was great. It was a mess.

JS:
Did you know of him or he just came up?

LJ:
He just came up out of nowhere. Actually, there’s this guy Justin Chernow, who had seen us play at ABC No Rio. We had a song that was a rip off of a This Heat song called “Health and Efficiency.” Justin Chernow was super into This Heat, and he was like, “James, you have to see this band.”

JS:
Had DFA started yet?

LJ:
No. The Rapture was the first record on DFA. We had known James for a long time by then. DFA was a name that he had come up with — it was his sound system or something; the name was around, but wasn’t functioning as a label yet. It was just something that James had imagined.

JS:
How did it come about that you all went into the studio together?

LJ:
Well, that was the thing. We were in this American underground world; my goal at the time was like — just want to open for Fugazi, or something like that. James and Tim Goldsworthy were just like, “That’s stupid.” They really appealed to my wanting to go England thing. I was like, “I just want to go to England.” They were like, “We can get you to England.”

JS:
James introduced you to Tim Goldsworthy.

LJ:
Yeah, Tim was around. I can’t remember the first day I met Tim, but I definitely met James first.

JS:
Did you have a manager at this point?

LJ:
No. To be honest with you, I couldn’t even imagine having a manager at that point; I just didn’t. I wanted to be a professional musician, but the rest just seemed very abstract to me.

JS:
Did you have to get another job? How were you supporting yourself?

LJ:
I would just quit my job every time I went on tour. The first job I got in city was at Angelica Kitchen. I would make juice for famous people. It’d be, like, Russell Simmons and the photographer Glen Friedman. Kate Moss would come in – we’re making juice for Kate Moss every day. I delivered food to the Beastie Boys and Joey Ramone. This is all on my first week there.

JS:
Amazing. What kind of juice did Kate Moss like?

LJ:
They only really make some beet ginger juice. It’s a nightmare. I don’t know why someone would want to drink that every day. They did though; they were stoked.

JS:
Did you become friendly with these people? Or you were just the juice guy?

LJ:
Some of them were really nice. Some of them just wanted their juice. Everyone was friendly. Angelica Kitchen was a real hangout. Woody Harrelson would give interviews about weed out front.

It was just ridiculous. I got a job there because the people knew what Gravity Records was, and they knew my band — which was a miracle to me. I didn’t understand how that was possible, but they were like, “Oh yeah, we totally know you. You can work here.”

JS:
And around the same time, James and Tim were building a studio.

LJ:
Their whole pitch to us was, “Look, you can just go make some crappy indie record somewhere in two days, but we have the studio, and we can just spend years here.” That sold us. That, and the going to England part. Also, they were just really, really interested in us; we spent a lot of time with them. We really needed them and they really needed us. 

JS:
When you went into the studio to record “House of Jealous Lovers” was that song already written?

LJ:
“House of Jealous Lovers” was written. They were really excited about this other track that we gave to Sub Pop; they were super sad about “Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks,” because they wanted to produce it. It would’ve been amazing. James really wanted to get us out of Sub Pop — he hated Sub Pop because he felt like they hadn’t promoted Six Finger Satellite, Juan Maclean’s band, who he’d toured with as a sound guy.

JS:
And so he arranged to get you out of your contract?

LJ:
No, he didn’t arrange anything. I called the owner Sub Pop really drunk one night and left him a really long message saying I wanted to get out. James had put me up to it.

“House of Jealous Lovers” was written in this place called Tasty Fish. It was a storage locker you set your stuff up.

JS:
It was a rehearsal space?

LJ:
It was a rehearsal space with storage lockers in the Lower East Side. There was some guy who worked at Angelica Kitchen who also worked there — I think we got free or cheap rehearsal time.

I remember I was just really into buying all these records at the time. I could go to A1 Records and every other record store and it was this whole new world of music for me. I just remember that first year getting really familiar with all these records I hadn’t seen. And all the record labels, things on Trax Records or DJ International. They didn’t have those in Seattle or San Diego or the West Coast. Maybe they had them somewhere, but I had never seen or heard them.

JS:
You discovered club music when you moved to New York?

LJ:
Yes. Through really cheap records. Back then they were $1 to $3 for any disco record or any classic house record. And you know, I just love digging and discovering.

There was another guy who worked at Angelica Kitchen who worked at a nice dance music store down the street. He was just into all this classic stuff; he had thousands and thousands of records. I didn’t have a place to live. He just gave me keys to his house and said, “You could just stay at my house if you don’t have a place for the night. You can always just come to my house.” He would leave for work and I would just listen to all of his records. He’d come back and I’d have a pile of records and I’d be like, “This is cool. What else sounds like this.” And he’d be like, “Oh listen to this.” And he would pull all this stuff and he would leave for work again. I spent days there.

JS:
And listening to those records influenced the song “House of Jealous Lovers?”

LJ:
Yeah. I really just wanted to make something that I thought could be on Trax Records, but I didn’t have a drum machine. I think the best records are always made in a really naive way.

I always used to use Suicide as a reference, how they thought their first record was supposed to be this massive pop hit. I thought that was super amazing — that they were completely convinced. I took the same approach to “House of Jealous Lovers.”

JS:
It sounded different than anything you had done previous?

LJ:
Yes and no. On the West Coast, we were friends with this band Go!Go!Go!, who were mentors of mine. They were really into a lot of post-punk. In the mid 90s, they were listening to Public Image Ltd, Gang of Four, “Do the Du” by A Certain Ratio and things like that, which influenced us.

JS:
So did James and Tim come by the rehearsal space and heard the song, or how did it unfold? 

LJ:
I just brought it to them. James didn’t like disco at the time. Tim was really a super important part of early DFA; he was an early mentor to all of us in a way. He was also from England and had been with Mo Wax Records — and he was the only person that knew how to program. 

JS:
So when you went to record “House of Jealous Lovers,” did you record it as a band or did you have drum machines as well?

LJ:
Tim just chops it all up. There wasn’t a drum machine; the drum machine was Tim. He used this program at the time called Recycle. He would just take each individual drum sound and move them around. If you listen to beginning of “House of Jealous Lovers,” there’s a bunch of backwards symbols and stuff that are impossible to play. Tim was also really into the intro, which I could relate to. Any good pop song has to have a catchy intro.

JS:
How long did that take to record?

LJ:
It’s one of those things where it probably didn’t technically take that long to record. James and Tim wouldn’t show up to the studio most days. They’d be like, “Meet me here at two o’clock,” and then they just wouldn’t come. Or they would come at five o’clock. Everyone was doing too many drugs and drinking too much. It was messy.

A lot of times we just hung out. I would just go to the DFA building before there was a office. I really miss that. That’s one thing that I would love to have again, just a place to go by and be like, “What’s going on today?” Somebody was always making something.

Rapture in 2002

JS:
So you recorded the song. How long till it comes out?

LJ:
It was sitting around for a while. There is this big mythology about how I didn’t like it at first, and that’s part of the story that’s been told — that’s probably a better story than my story.

I had this delay pedal that I wanted on it. I wanted a different delay on the guitar. James was like, “No, it doesn’t matter.” They didn’t care, they wanted to put it out. But I wanted to get the delay right on the guitar, because I was the guitar player and I felt like I wanted it to sound a certain way. They were just like, “No, we’re just gonna put it out how it is. We’re not listening to you.” That’s fine and that’s how it worked.

At the time I just had a lot of resentment, because I really wanted to know how to produce music in a studio, and I had no idea. I had all these ideas in my head that I wanted to get across, and I was always frustrated because I’d have to try to talk somebody else into doing it. They nailed this idea that I had. The idea that I had was basically like, what “House of Jealous Lovers” is, in nuts and bolts. I couldn’t have pulled that off technically by myself. But it was my idea.

“The greatest luxury is being able to give stuff to people that changes their life, and that you don’t need anything in return for.”

JS:
And did you get your wish and go to London at this point?

LJ:
Trevor Jackson was super important. DFA and his Output Records label in London partnered up for “House of Jealous Lovers.” He knows a lot about music and he knows a lot about fashion trends, and he did a lot. He did the artwork on the first Rapture record and he was around at all of our early gigs. He probably helped get a lot of the early Rapture gigs at fashion parties and stuff like that.

“House of Jealous Lovers” just opened everything up for us. At some point we played in England. We’d definitely played there more than in New York for a year or two.

JS:
And how were you handling the attention you were getting?

LJ:
It was uncharted for me; I didn’t really, you know. I felt a lot of things. I think I’m still unpacking what I felt. I felt really scared because I was like, “Is this going to just disappear, now that I have what I want?”

Also there was just a really strong New York thing happening then, like The Strokes had hit before us. To a lot of people we were just like the disco Strokes. But there were major labels interested in us and we went to a lot of fancy dinners. We met like the head of every label. We went to lunch with Lyor Cohen and he had to go to a court case — “Sorry have to go to court case.” He bought us this like $500 tray of fruit.

It was just one of those things where every single day I was like, “How did I get here?” I didn’t really have any financial security… it was like we were just playing with other people’s money and ideas. It seemed funny, but it was scary — it was exciting.

JS:
So fast forward a bit. The Rapture makes an album. They make a few albums. Things happen as in a lot of bands, things get crazy. Bands break up. There’s lots of up and down. What was the breaking point for The Rapture, when you decided you couldn’t do this anymore?

LJ:
The Rapture broke up twice: after the second record and then after the last. I just wanted to go be with my kid and I wanted to have a healthy marriage, and no amount of touring was going to do that. And also, we had just gotten to a point where we were just repeating ourselves and I just wasn’t interested in the things ahead of us. I didn’t want to play Madison Square Garden. I didn’t want to headline big festivals.

JS:
You started out saying you wanted to be the best and being the best means playing Madison Square Garden when you’re in a rock band. So your outlook changed?

LJ:
Yeah, my outlook changed like a lot. Going on tour with The Cure and Daft Punk and watching what they were doing and feeling like I didn’t want it… I just didn’t like it. I just noticed really quickly that none of those people were any better off afterwards. And sometimes they’re even really confused.

My ideas about success and who I was changed a lot. I think the thing with the fame is when it hits, it’s really blinding and really alienating. All these people are telling you that you’re great, but none of them see you… not a single one of them knows that you’re a person; they’re just projecting all of this stuff onto you. 

JS:
What are you doing differently when you’re putting together new projects?

LJ:
I just want to give stuff away. Success is really useless for me if I can’t give it away. I’d be happier to support somebody else who wanted to play Madison Square Garden than play there myself. Being a father really shifted me. I don’t think it’s really that admirable to be an old rock dude who just rocks hard till the end. That’s the path to make a lot of money. If you want to make like a billion dollars, you have to just rock hard until you die. 

JS:
The Rapture has gotten back together and The Rapture is still very much loved and respected. How are you approaching that now? Will The Rapture be recording new music?

LJ:
I would like to write new music and I would like to change things. I would just like to enjoy it more. I think the thing that got away from me is, I just stopped enjoying it.

Anytime I’ve stopped enjoying something, I just stopped at it, regardless of the financial implications or the career implications. It’s just like, “Is this fun? Would I do this for free?” Usually the question I ask myself is “Would I do this for free?” And if I can’t say I would do it for free, I just don’t do it.

JS:
Are you having fun?

LJ:
It’s been a mix. It’s not really black and white. I will say that it’s the most challenging thing in my life at the moment, and the most rewarding thing also right now.

I feel like having sorted out my family and having sorted out my personal life, it’s the one thing that’s still really messy. I would love to get The Rapture working in a way that I could pass on to somebody else. Because all bands are messed up. I would love to help other bands. I would love to be able to like make it work really well and then be able to talk to somebody about it and be like, “Here’s what I learned.” A band is like a marriage. Some band marriage counseling.

JS:
You’ve got a few other projects going on as well. Your solo record, working with Seedy Films, a band you put together, a duo called Tandem Jump, and Meditation Tunnel, which explores the more dance music side of things. Sounds like a lot.

LJ:
Yeah.

JS:
Do you love The Rapture?

LJ:
Yeah. People ask me if I love San Diego, that’s where I grew up. It’s like asking if you love yourself or not. The Rapture’s like more than half of my life. If I didn’t love it, I would be in trouble. But love’s not enough. Just because you love something, that doesn’t make it successful; that doesn’t make it work. That’s only part of the equation.

JS:
There’s been a couple of people like James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy, and more recently Philipe Zadar who have been mentors and inspirations to you. Philipe, who produced the last Rapture album passed away recently. Can you tell me something about him that you would like to share?

LJ:
Phillipe was a big influence on me. He really included his family, and he just had such a wonderful relationship with his kids and his wife and his studio partners. He worked on a lot of different things. 

The thing about Philipe that I learned when he died, was just how many people he gave to and how deeply he gave to them. That’s become a much bigger ambition for me recently. Like, with all these projects I’m doing — the greatest luxury is not Madison Square Garden. The greatest luxury is being able to give stuff to people that changes their life, and that you don’t need anything in return for.

Luke with Phillipe Zdar