Q&A: Hot Chip on One Life Stand, Recording With Peter Gabriel, and How Kebab Fat Ruined Their Studio
Ever since Hot Chip got home from its seemingly never-ending world tours in support of Made in the Dark, the English quintet has been laying groundwork for their next five years. Guitarist Al Doyle and synth player Felix Martin built their own recording studio. Vocalist and synth player Joe Goddard co-founded his own record label, Greco Roman. Co-vocalist and piano player Alexis Taylor got married and became a father.
That last thing, paternity, isn't much like the others, but Taylor's not the first member of the group to tie the knot. There are more married men in Hot Chip than bachelors now, and their new album, the boldly poppy, strangely grown up One Life Stand, reviewed in this week's Voice here, is the first to reflect that. We recently sat down with Joe, Al, and bassist Owen Clarke to talk about the new studio, collaborating with Peter Gabriel, and how the wives and kids affect their touring schedule.
I read that you wanted One Life Stand to be a big, upfront pop record. But given the band's status, isn't a big, upfront pop record the only natural thing for you to do at this point?
Al Doyle, guitarist: The Hot Chip project is basically a pop project. It kind of always has been, to a greater or lesser extent. So [the record] always was going to be [poppy].
The interview made it seem like you thought of this as a new, bold change of direction.
Al: I think I was just trying to get people excited. It was nine months down the line, and if you tell people you're doing something weird, the label will freak out, and they'll call the management, and they'll call me. [laughs]
Your past albums have been informed by specific things. The Warning was, in part, a straighter and more aggressive reaction to people calling you guys goofs after Coming on Strong. Some songs on Made in the Dark were things you'd been touring and playing live for a while, and you tried to capture that on tape. Is there any sort of similar thing on this record, something that informs a block of songs?
Joe Goddard, vocalist and synth player: There's not much that defines this record, really. It's just kind of a collection of tracks that we made together. But we wanted to make something concise, direct, quite simple. Apart from that, nothing was really explicit between Alexis and myself while we were writing. We didn't say, "We have to write songs about relationships," it's kind of unspoken. But a lot of the songs turned out to be about love, and our families, which I guess is what everyone writes songs about. But the only other thing we wanted for the album, sonically, [was] to have kind of a spine of instruments throughout. So there's real piano on a lot of the tracks, which we haven't done much of in the past.
Also, steel drums. Was that for practical reasons? Touring logistics, for example?
Joe: With the steel drums, we really love those sounds. Alexis really wanted to use a live piano, and steel drums are just a fantastic instrument. But it was also because we thought it would give the album a kind of cohesion. The last record-and we're proud of that record-didn't have a sonic signature to it. Sonically, in terms of tempo, mood, it's all over the place.
This is the first record you've made since your studio was beset by catastrophe.
Is that your studio?
Al: Yeah, mine and Felix's. We had a terrible time of it. [laughs] What happened was, there's a kebab shop that backs up on the studio, and they were pouring fat down the sink, and then it all built up in the pipes, and then the pipes burst. And there's this weird dead space on one end of the studio, and so we didn't realize initially that it was building up, until all of a sudden it spilled over and got everywhere.
Al: Yeah, it was really bad.
But on the positive side, you maybe got to rebuild the space in a better way.
Al: Yeah, it gave us a real kick up the ass. We started it again, from the ground up, and basically built the studio purely to make the Hot Chip record. We have a particular way of working, and so we wanted to have things set up so any time we had an idea, we could just go for it. The keyboards were plugged in all the time, we knew where everything was, we could get down to recording very quickly. It just felt very comfortable.
Air recently got their studio, Atlas, opened up finally, and they've said that they mostly want it to be for them. Do you plan on letting other bands use this studio, or even producing other bands' records there?
Al: Loads of people have been in since that time, actually. That's already starting.
With you producing and participating, though? Or is more like you'd just turn the lights on and start charging people?
Al: Oh, definitely producing. We don't let people go in there by themselves. [laughs] It's too weird and dangerous! We have to be there.
Can't have them stealing your amps.
Al: No, it's not that. I'd just be afraid for them. The building's very odd. It's this old factory that's been derelict for many years. There's no light in many parts of the building, and it's very labyrinthine. I have to be there to hold people's hands, otherwise they'd find themselves in people's offices, or trapped behind cupboards and stuff.
This is also the first record where you've had guests helping on songs; Charles Hayward plays drums on "Slush." I know this is one of those questions that artists don't like, but is this something you're going to start doing more of?
Joe: We just choose these artists to come work with us in quite a practical way. We need a drummer to come play on a song; we'll call a drummer. If we need someone to play steel pans, we'll call this great guy, Bravo, to come play them for us. I'm sure that will happen again in the future.
In terms of getting collaborations going with other people, we've already started doing that. We did that collaboration with Robert Wyatt and Peter Gabriel.