Hot Chip Interviewed

On 'One Life Stand', side projects, touring and Susan Boyle

Hot Chip, like all great experiments, started in the bedroom.

However, shunning the example of Ike and Tina or Richard and Judy, Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor didn’t make love. They made R&Bedroom.

That was five years ago. They went BOOM! We danced. Since then, the writing partnership of the duo has seen many heights.

Indie disco smash ‘Over And Over’ was so good it was widely voted song of the year in 2006, whilst EMI tried to release it four times. Ronseal screamed.

Their last album, ‘Made In The Dark’, their third, whisked across twenty years of dance music winks and nods, whilst single ‘Ready For The Floor’ lodged at number six in the UK charts.

In the last twenty-four months, however, things have got really busy for the band: Alexis started an improv band called About, Joe wrote a solo album and launched an underground dance label, Greco Roman, Al and Felix started their own side-project, and every member trotted the globe as DJs before nailing a mix album for Bugged Out, a Vampire Weekend cover with Peter Gabriel, and a Joy Division tune for War Child. Oh, and there was the small matter of a world tour thrown in as well.

To serve brevity, they’ve never stopped since they started.

So, when Joe and Alexis settled down to write their fourth album before the latter became a father, the calm that they craved settled in their music.

‘One Life Stand’ is more rounded than they’ve ever managed and more gentle since their debut, ‘Coming On Strong’.

This collection of songs is stripped back, but still embraces the kaleidoscope, being riddled with house, pop, electro, folk and the throwback eruption of UK funky, all simmering with the soul of Prince, Bill Withers, Sparks, and good old Macca.

These boys still kill the old way.

– – –

This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the March issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from February 4th. You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

– – –

Here’s what Alexis had to say when Clash pinned him down in London…

So, what did your pre-album team talk involve? What was the general feeling of the band going into writing?
We had always started with recording everything with maybe two or three people then building it up track by track with lots of live playing but with all that live playing being chopped up and edited. We felt we should start the next record how we’d been playing live, so that entailed everything being much more stripped back with only essential sounds rather than taking a maximalist approach to production. That was the only real thing we talked about but we didn’t sit down even as a whole band and say that, only maybe me and Joe said that, maybe even to just give our ears a break from this very full sound. Both Joe and myself wrote quite a lot of songs and demoed them at our respective homes. We did that separately and would send each other ideas, play everything to the whole band. But we came into the beginning of recording the album with a good selection of songs to work from – maybe eight songs or something – then we could work on every single one of those songs knowing really what happens already in the song in terms of the songwriting, which was rare for us to already have that, and then it was about how do we arrange the songs and how do we produce them and do justice to them, whereas previously we would have written the songs whilst pressing record. So, it was quite different in that respect.

How do the other three members chip in to the song writing process? Do they come with songs or do they just refine yours and Joe’s ideas?
They didn’t really write anything on the album as such but they would obviously come up with the parts that they play, which are sometimes new hooks and things in the songs. Al and Felix make songs together but they keep that separate – they haven’t said, ‘I’ve written this song, let’s try it’ – they just leave things up to me and Joe because the band was started by us so we tend to write songs all the time anyway. I think it would be nice if they did want to write in Hot Chip as it would be more inclusive, but at the same time it might lose some of the songwriting identity of the band.

What’s their project going to be?
They were calling themselves Lanark, which is the name of the studio that we record in, but they just said the other day that they’re not going to use that name anymore, so I’m not sure. This is the first record really where every member in the band is essential to every track and has been in the studio every single day recording and playing. Even if me and Joe wrote the songs, it’s the most band orientated record out of all of them. And we’ve been getting more like that, the more we do. The songs haven’t come out of practicing all together in a room jamming, they’ve come from individuals writing at home and then bringing the ideas to everyone.

I think you can tell that. ‘Made In The Dark’ had these little dance passages that really held the landscape of the album but definitely made it feel like one of two peoples’ bits. This one feels more rounded. How has your writing partnership changed with Joe since you’ve been at school? How can you sum up the ten years of change?
In terms of the actual writing that we both do I think that we’ve started to develop – we’re quite slow at developing, we’re not the most sophisticated in terms of what chord changes we go to. It’s always been rooted in quite basic chord progressions and quite basic melodies, it’s not open ended flowing melodies like Paul McCartney or The Beach Boys or other things we love, it’s more folk orientated in terms of the notes you go to and the melodies. But, having said that, after all this time I think we’ve branched out a little bit in terms of imagination. It’s taken us a while to get there but I feel that we’re finally writing things that are quite new to us. But in terms of writing together, nothing has really changed drastically since the beginning because we’ve always writing separately and together. Joe’s written stuff on his own and so have I and then there have always been these songs like ‘Ready For The Floor’, where there are two people working together, one of us having a bit of an idea and the other writing the rest.

– – –

– – –

Do you believe that two people collaborating is always going to make a more unique song than just one person writing?
I don’t think there is really a hard and fast rule about it. I definitely think you can arrive at something you’ve never arrived at before with someone else. Because people just hear what you’ve come up with in a different way from how you hear it, so they pick up on something that you may not have realised is there, so then the song goes in another direction. Or someone might have quite a good and useful lack of respect for the way you imagined the song to be, suggesting you apply this and that to make it completely different.

What would you say that each of you bring that the other lacks?
Joe is a really good producer and he doesn’t do things in an obvious way, and I’m really interested in playing things live quite rhythmically and I find it easier to play the melodic synth parts in real takes. But something I can’t do is programme a drum beat. I can make one by playing it live, but in terms of using the computer or instrument to write a midi part, I prefer Joe to do it. So we end up with a good mixture of live playing that gives energy to it, and then the other person programming in a way that sounds more unusual.

Is it true that ‘Keep Quiet’ is insipired by Susan Boyle’?
No, that was a mistake in an interview. Joe mentioned that there’s a reference to the strings on ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ like what she had done. So, it’s not really her singing that we were interested in, it was that particular piece of music, which has existed before anyway, but that’s what brought it to his attention. I don’t really like these programmes like X Factor – I don’t like the analysis of these bland performances that are scrutinised. I think your standards are lower so that when you see something half decent you start thinking people are alright, but then after a while you start to realise that they’re all bland. But at the same time I don’t object to those people wanting to be singers as they should do what they want, but the problem is is that it encourages Britain to think that that is all there is in music and to take what you’re given.

How do Hot Chip cope on tour?
It helps that you can do all that touring with people you’ve been friends with for a long time because you’re not squabbling or worrying about things because it’s earning you a living whilst being incredibly enjoyable. So that releases a lot of tension. But at the same time, three of us are married and everyone is in a relationship. All of these things help you to feel settled. Being happily married adds to the sense of being comfortable.

What’s the most philosophical you’ve been whilst on tour? Are there any particularly poignant moments that you’d go back to?
I’m quite hot headed and on previous tours I’ve been ready to stop doing it for various reasons – fall outs, technical problems, which can make me feel really dejected in front of all these people because everything is falling down. But luckily on the last tour we did I felt that we had learnt from all these different problems to be able to still do it. Essentially it’s not the hardest thing in the world – you just have to remember that you’re making music for people who enjoy it, as well as having emotional resonances to it – you have to remember why you’re there and that you shouldn’t care if you fall down as long as you pick yourself up again quickly. So, I feel like we’ve learnt to deal with problems and mistakes a bit more by just doing it so much and realising there’s another way round.

What was the most shameful thing that happened to you or anyone in the band on last tour?
I can think of some funny and embarrassing things that happened but nothing that anyone will be ashamed of.

What’s the best decision Hot Chip has ever made?
Probably to get Nick Relph to design a T-shirt – he came back with R Kelly wearing the Devo hat. Best decision in a fifteen-year career.

Words by Matthew Bennett
Photos by Steve Double

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.