ondon's Hot Chip drew some critical props with their 2004 release Coming On Strong, which featured smooth grooves and lots of love for Mr. Rogers Nelson, the Purple One. But they really came into their own with The Warning, a beguiling mix of electro-pop pathos and skittering floor fillers. Though the main duo of Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor have been playing together for several years now, with the addition of three auxiliary members the band has really hit its stride. I caught up with Joe before a late spring stop at Washington, DC's 9:30 Club on a bright, sweltering Saturday afternoon in April.
What do you do in Hot Chip?
I play bass when we play live, and I write the songs with Alexis (Taylor). We're the only songwriters, pretty much. And the last two albums we produced in my bedroom on my computers.
I saw there were two songwriting credits on Coming On Strong, but on The Warning the songs were all credited to Hot Chip.
We just didn't want to exclude the other guys, but for The Warning the songs were pretty much written by me and Alexis. For the next record, there might be a little more writing from the others.
Alexis is the singer, primarily?
He sings the most. I sing sometimes. Al (Doyle), the guitarist, is starting to sing quite a lot also. But Alexis is the main singer.
When Hot Chip started, was it you and Alexis?
When it first started, it was just the two of us, for a little while when we were at school. We were seventeen or something.
Wow, how long ago was this?
About ten years ago. I'm twenty-seven now. It was just us two, and then Owen (Clarke), who plays with us, he started off doing artwork for the group. He wasn't in the band, he just did the sleeves. But he was always around at my house, recording weird noises and just helping out. So then he joined the group about eight years ago. And then Al and Felix (Martin), they joined about four years ago.
You guys were "Hot Chip" ten years ago?
We had the name Hot Chip ten years ago, but we didn't do very much at that point. We used to play shows at our school in the drama theatre, and then we started playing a few pubs in London, but we weren't playing much. Then we went off to different universities, so we would play gigs on the holidays. We were kind of writing songs but we didn't do that much while we were at university. Then we came back together and that's when things sped up.
When was the first Hot Chip single released?
We put stuff out ourselves for a while. We took copies of things to Rough Trade in London and other shops that would buy five copies of your single to sell. We made editions of 50 CDs of a couple different releases right at the top. There's one album that is really old called Felix and the Factory—there's probably 20 copies of that ever. Then there's the Mexico EP which there are probably a couple hundred copies of a Rough Trade single.
Were these CD-Rs?
The Felix and the Factory thing was CD-R. We did one called Sanfrandisco which was also a CD-R. Then after that, was the first thing on Moshi Moshi, which was our first label. We put out the "Down with Prince" 12" and then Coming On Strong.
How did you hook up with Moshi Moshi?
I think Alexis sent them our Sanfrandisco EP. Stephen (Bass), the guy who runs Moshi Moshi, was also working with Fridge, who were old friends of ours. Stephen was their A & R guy at Go! Beat, who they were signed to at the time. Adem and Kieran (Hebden) of Fridge told Stephen to check us out. Stephen asked about our album after that.
So you were friends with Fridge when you were in school?
We were good friends, yeah. They were two years above us, but they turned us on to loads of good records.
Definitely Kieran, he's a big record collector.
His dad's a record collector, so he's grown up with tons of vinyl. He played me Will Oldham for the first time and tons of good artists. And he was obsessed with Prince, who Alexis is obviously obsessed with as well. Kieran would teach Alexis guitar solos from Prince tunes. They used to play shows and I saw Fridge perform a couple of times at the school theatre. I was speaking with Jeremy (DeVine) from Temporary Residence last week and he is trying to get them over here this summer. They actually asked me if I could tour with them and play percussion and synthesizer, but I don't think I'm going to be free to do it. I must've seen them about ten times around London back then. They're a great group.
Were you guys doing anything musically other than Hot Chip during that time? Did you get the other guys from other bands?
I don't think they were in other groups at the time. Al has played with tons of groups over the years, because he's a grade-A cello player, and he can play drums as well. He's one of those guys who can play anything. But at the time I don't think he was with any group. I don't think Al was either. Alexis played guitar in a different group while he was in university. When we were in school we were in different bands—I was in a grunge band and Alexis used to play Neil Young and Prince covers in a group.
Now, we're doing other projects. Alexis has been making some music with Green Gartside from Scritti Politti. They're going to release an EP together. And I've been doing some hip-hop tunes with a young kid I met in London. Al and Felix have a side project where they do minimal techno as well.
How did you make the move from Moshi Moshi to DFA?
We found out that James Murphy bought the "Down with Prince" 12" from the Moshi Moshi website. We saw it was going to a studio in New York and that it was bought by him, so we thought he was interested in the group. Then Alexis came to New York to visit his girlfriend who was studying here at the time, and just kind of bumped into James somehow and they got to talking. So they were interested in working with us and brought us over to New York in the beginning of 2005 and we recorded with them for a week in the studio. We did the remix of "(Just Like We) Breakdown" at that time. We were talking with them about having them produce our next record, but after working with them it seemed like we didn't really want to be produced by other people and they didn't want to get in the way of us producing ourselves. So we didn't end up doing that, but we did end up signing with DFA in the states.
Is there any material from that week-long session other than that remix?
No, just a different version of the remix, but I think that's it.
Obviously the DFA have some pretty big recognition here. Astralwerks here has a presence in the states, but the added cachet of the DFA has probably done a lot as far as the recognition.
We get on with those guys really good. We've played shows where it's been us and the Juan Maclean and Delia and Gavin and Black Dice, and they're all very friendly and down-to-earth. When we come to New York now we see them all, and it's a good relationship between everyone. James Murphy is always suggesting ways for us to improve our sound and ideas for us to try, which is really useful.
Speaking of the remix, we're living in an age now with high-speed Internet, where people can disseminate their music very quickly, so you don't have to go buy the 12" and chop out the acapellas to get source material for a remix. Everywhere you turn, there's a new remix, and everyone's remixing each other. Hot Chip has put out some great singles with some excellent remixes, but for some people it might be too much. Especially now that anybody can get involved, especially if a band puts their material on a website and says "have at it." How do you feel about that?
We've been doing so many remixes of other people ourselves over the past couple of years, and I'm starting to feel like there isn't that much of a point in the whole thing. Often, you find the original version of the song is the definitive version of the song and that remixes are often watered-down versions that never really get played. So I feel that the whole thing is a little pointless. On the other hand, occasionally a great remix comes along and it's a fantastic thing and it means the record gets caned by different DJs. But usually they're just fucking pointless things. There are so many of them flying around the Internet that are no good. Some of the ones we've done haven't been that good. I kind of feel a bit of an overload of the whole thing.
Have you had to turn down stuff?
We've been turning down quite a bit of stuff lately, because we've been trying to finish up our next record. Time's been getting too short. Felix has his laptop over here, and he's working on one or two different things, and I've got one or two things on my laptop as well, so we've always got remixes on the go.
It's a difficult art, though, and the DFA people, when they do remixes, they really know how to do it so it's actually a great song and it sounds great and it's engineered well, and it's really beautiful, so all their remixes are classics. But there are so many people who don't, and there's not much quality control.
It's almost like there's a formula, where you just plug it in and the computer does it all for you.
Yeah, you just stick a kick drum to the whole thing and it's done.
I just heard the Junior Boys remix you did for "In the Morning," and it's interesting how you added this whole beginning part that doesn't sound like their song at all. Do you ever stop and think there's stuff you use for remixes that you could've developed for your own material? You could squander some ideas that way.
The most difficult thing is that often you're asked to remix songs you don't actually love yourself, then it becomes a difficult thing because you don't want to use that much of the original. With Junior Boys, I love that song so it wasn't that hard, but with other songs you could listen to a guy's vocal for two days straight and you end up hating it so much. We're maybe going to try to cut down a little bit.
Do you guys come from a DJ background, like playing in clubs and stuff?
It depends on different members of the group. Some of us have a history of doing quite a lot of DJ-ing. Like Felix and myself—in university I DJ-ed two or three times a week probably, and played lots of hip-hop and R&B, and some house music. I've been DJ-ing for a while, but for other guys in the band, they might DJ a party or something. We try to work some of those ideas or methods of DJ-ing such as stringing a set together, into our live sets sometimes by segueing tracks together or things like that, which seems to work pretty well.
You just did that DJ Kicks record. Was that a lot of fun?
There were things about it that were really fun. We got to put on some tracks by people that we know. The first song on it is by Grovesnor, a good friend of ours from London. It seems like people have really responded to it, so that was fantastic to give him some publicity and get his music heard by people. Then it was kind of difficult in a way because we submitted a really long list of tunes to K7, and a lot of them we couldn't get clearance for, so that narrowed our options. Because there were five of us, and we all have kind of disparate tastes, it was kind of difficult to knit together. It's kind of all over the place, the mix.
Which can sometimes be a good thing.
If it's done well, yeah. For instance, Kieran when he DJs, does that really well.
His Late Night Tales was absolutely amazing and it is all over the place.
When he's on form when he's DJ-ing, he can go between genres in a really natural way, that doesn't sound forced or weird. He's really good at it, but that is a particular skill. Sometimes it kills the atmosphere completely dead when you go from one genre to another when you don't do it right. We try and I think we get it right sometimes. I think when Felix and Al DJ they play solely minimal techno.
Tell me about the next album. You guys are working on it now? Has anything been recorded?
We recorded six songs in January as a live band, which is something we haven't done before much. So, they're all going to be on the next record. There's six or seven songs which are pretty much finished which Alexis and I did on my computer. We're going to try to knit those two things together. I'm still not sure how that's going to work, but we're going to try that. I think we're going into a studio when we get back from this trip and record a couple more songs live. Then we're going to sit down with this group of songs and see if it's good enough and maybe mix it in June. Because I would like for it to come out this year.
Are you on a schedule for this?
There isn't a tight schedule, and we're not even sure if Astralwerks will let us release it this year. But basically we're going to try to finish it as soon as we can. The live show tonight will have eight songs that are new, that haven't been on any albums, and five or six released songs. But we're really trying to move on to the next thing.
Are you going to add anything to the sound of the records? Because there definitely is a Hot Chip sound on the first two records. Are you going to add strings or anything like that?
The tracks that we recorded live will sound pretty different. They won't have all the stuff from the last two records, such as the tiny bits of percussion and loops, because they're live takes. So, they're going to be pretty different, more raw and more distorted and louder. The other songs that me and Alexis have been making on my computer have the same kind of sound, which is that Hot Chip sound, if you can call it that. If anything, they're a bit more frenetic and tribal and crazy. There are also some quiet, folky songs. There's three or four songs like that. We're using real piano a lot more on this record. And I've been using this software quite a lot which has Moog-y analog synth sounds which we haven't yet used before, which will be a slightly different texture.
On your song, "ABC" you talk about "everybody's whistling for the Hot Chip sound." Where does that lyric come from, and do you have to define what that is?
It's just some kind of fantasy. Obviously at that point no one was whistling for the Hot Chip sound, part for us. It's like what you have in hip-hop and R&B with bragging or boasting, like braggadocio. Rappers kind of boast and R. Kelly talks about how good he is. We find it amusing, and it's a call to imagination. For us it's imagination, but for R. Kelly he does have millions of people listening to him. Ever since I met Alexis in 1992, I've been listening to a lot of hip-hop and it's seeped into my brain somehow. I'm not suggesting I'm some kind of rapper, because I'm not—I'm just a middle-class kid from London, but I still kind of have these fantasies about that whole world.
On the first record, everything is a little more subdued. The Warning has so many more uptempo numbers, whereas the first record is slow jam after slow jam, and if you listen to the lyrics, you have to ask "where are these guys coming from?"
When I listen to the first record now, it seems like a really weird album. Basically, Alexis and I were locked away, and we hadn't released much beyond these CD-Rs and we had this kind of fantasy thing going on where we imagined we were making Destiny’s Child records. So we just our imaginations go.
So when you were doing Coming On Strong, did you know it was going to be released on a label?
Yes, we knew it was going to be on Moshi Moshi, but it's still really small. There's only two people there.
Did you have any inclination it would be coming out in the states at the time?
No, it took almost two years for it to come out in the U.S. after it came out in the UK. It happened really gradually.
You can never tell how a recording is going to be received while you're making it.
That's probably why the lyrics are kind of bizarre and humorous on that record—because we didn't know how people were going to take it. But now, we've done so many interviews with people who talk about us being nerds and stuff, so The Warning has a little bit less of our nerdiness, and it's a little bit more straight.
By: Dominic DeVito
Published on: 2007-07-05
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