[MUSIC: Interview] Hot Chip
Stuck In Our Heads
By Lachlan Kanoniuk
The last Australian visit from UK dance-pop giants Hot Chip entailed a string of stellar double-headline sideshows with their trans-Atlantic contemporaries LCD Soundsystem. In the few years since, LCD have called it a day – but Hot Chip are gearing up to release their fifth record in a near-decade-long career, and show no signs of slowing down. After he answers the phone with a delightfully British “Hullo”, I ask frontman Alexis Taylor for the secret behind Hot Chip’s longevity. “Well, James’ [Murphy, LCD Soundsystem] band made the decision to end what they were doing relatively early on in their career,” he says. “It wasn’t because they didn’t have longevity; they just decided they didn’t want to make more than three albums, I guess. Cutting it short before outstaying their welcome is perhaps a self-deprecating way of looking at it. We just like making records, and we’ll keep making them as long as we enjoy it.
“I don’t really know how to justify why a band keeps going,” he continues. “Maybe just because they want to, hoping other people like their music. I’ve never really thought about Hot Chip stopping. I’d like it to carry on until we’re very old and hard of hearing, unable to communicate, but still enjoy rambling around on the stage.”
The two years since the release of One Life Stand have seen many of the Hot Chip contingent pursuing extracurricular musical outlets – particularly Alexis’ free-form outfit About Group. As Alexis explains, playing with a multitude of projects has symbiotic benefits. “Well it’s not really a jazz group, About Group. I’ve seen that written before. It has a lot to do with free improvisation, and I suppose people listen to it and assume it has to do with jazz. There are lots of ways in which [Hot Chip and About Group] are kind of connected, lots of shared influences on both bands. But at the same time they have quite distinctive ways of making records,” he says.
“The very first About Group record was purely improvised – there was no plan with it and it
was all instrumental. I guess that’s quite different to any Hot Chip record, because we have to write and structure pop songs and make things that work in clubs. But there are still things that the two groups have in common, and the experience of doing things with About Group has had a direct influence.” An example he gives is Charles Hayward, the drummer from About Group, who ended up playing on both In Our Heads and One Life Stand. “We had him playing live with us for a while, too. But we can all come back to Hot Chip from doing other projects and feel quite refreshed again.
The most obvious sonic leap in the course of the Hot Chip narrative came around the time of One Life Stand, a leap that saw the band bring the drums back into the fold for the first time since their breakout. “We always had a drummer right at the beginning – we never thought that the band wouldn’t have drums. But then our drummer left quite early on, and we were left with just drum machines – where previously we had drum machines, as well as a live kit. We just never got around to getting someone else to be the drummer,” deadpans Alexis. “That kind-of-accident shaped the sound of the band, making us less drum-heavy. We’ve always been interested in drums, and it has affected the live sound quality quite a lot; I guess it’s made it bigger, and at times it reaches a slightly more rock aesthetic. But it’s always a more disco sound that we’re trying to achieve when we have live drums on tracks.
“There are quite a few drummers out there that are a great inspiration to me personally,” he continues, “like Stevie Wonder, Prince, Paul McCartney – three people that aren’t really known first and foremost as drummers, but who drum on their own records when they want to. I really love the way that those individuals play; they don’t play like pro session drummers. They play in strange, unorthodox ways. I like the thought of bringing what you can bring, as opposed to a drummer with full capabilities; someone [drumming] with personality.”
“Remember when people thought the world was round?” asks the opening line of In Our Heads – and with Hot Chip, you’ve never had to look too hard for clever wordplay. “Do I think I’m a funny guy? Not really,” Alexis ponders with a chuckle. “Sometimes I’ve written words that I’d hoped were funny. On the new album there are a few words that were meant to be quite funny, like in ‘Night And Day’ there’s this little rap in the middle to do with DJ requests. I found that to be a quite funny thing to put into a track,” he says. “But that opening line in the first track, ‘Motion Sickness’, is a quote from Brian DeGraw from Gang Gang Dance – he actually said it: ‘Remember when people thought the world was round?’ I just wrote the rest of the lyrics around that line as a kind of continuation of that thought. Most of the time the words I tend to write are fairly serious, but there is that playfulness as well,” he continues. “There is that wordplay going on, and I hope people pick up on that.”
What: In Our Heads is out on June 8 through EMI/Domino