Gavilán Rayna Russom on Why She Left LCD Soundsystem

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The transdisciplinary artist and longtime LCD Soundsystem synthesizer player discusses her decision to leave the group she’s performed with since 2008.

Gaviln Rayna Russom
Gavilán Rayna Russom, photo by Cam Franklin

Tonight, LCD Soundsystem will kick off a 20-date residency at Brooklyn Steel. The string of concerts will run through December 21, marking the band’s first live performances in three years, since they toured behind their 2017 reunion album American Dream. An official lineup for the residency was never detailed, but one longtime member will be notably absent from the stage: Gavilán Rayna Russom, the transdisciplinary artist who joined LCD in 2008 after working at DFA Records for several years.

Russom had been a member of LCD during a few of the group’s pivotal phases. She contributed to the band’s 2010 album, This Is Happening and performed at the subsequent “farewell” shows. She returned to her post behind the keyboards and synthesizers throughout the band’s 2015 reunion cycle, and embarked on a massive tour with LCD in 2018. But when frontman James Murphy approached her about this year’s residency, she declined the offer, ultimately choosing to leave the group entirely.

Russom’s decision to remove herself from LCD Soundsystem follows a number of personal and professional shifts in her life. In 2017, she came out as transgender. The decision to discuss her transition publicly followed a period of self-care after extensively touring and recording with LCD. Two years later, Russom issued her debut solo LP The Envoy, a textured soundscape inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The album included a collaboration with Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti and brass arrangements from Arthur Russell collaborator Peter Zummo. Just days before the March 2020 lockdown, Russom launched her own record label Voluminous Arts, which focuses on “boundary pushing art” and music “that isn’t genre-based” as she told Pitchfork recently over the phone. The label, which just issued a new release by EAR, as well as Russom’s latest LP as Black Meteoric Star, embraces artists “who understand the political dimensions of their music.”

Not long after unveiling Voluminous Arts, Russom contracted a severe case of COVID-19. “Largely why I didn’t go to the hospital is because my local hospital is Elmhurst [in Queens, New York], and, at the time there were refrigerator trucks of dead bodies outside,” she said. “There were no beds…. At that point going to the hospital seemed worse than dying on my couch.” Russom says that she still experiences persistent post-COVID symptoms, such as migraines and disorientation, which factored into her hesitance to perform live. “It definitely left its traces on me,” she said. “That experience of considering my own mortality… actually lying on my couch and being like, ‘If this is it, did I do OK? Have I cleaned up the big messes that I’ve made?’ I think put me in a place of wanting to be even more intentional about what I do.”

Pitchfork spoke to Russom about her decision to leave LCD Soundsystem, the state of her label and music, and the desire to carve out a space for her true creative identity.

Can you talk about your history with LCD Soundsystem? Why did you decide to leave now?

My connection to LCD and DFA grew out of a period in the early 2000s where I was looking for work. I had this skill of analog synthesizer design and construction, as well as vintage synthesizer repair, and James was the only person who was interested in hiring me to do that work.

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