One of the most critically acclaimed British bands of the past five years talks about the dangers of being too clever
Perky London five-piece Hot Chip may have been nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2006, hit the UK top 10, appeared all over the airwaves, scored a rave Time Out review and a Grammy nomination, but their name is still more familiar to the music-nerd underground than the record-buying public at large. Quite why remains a mystery, considering Alexis Taylor and co have a brilliant knack for combining the housed-up, hedonistic pull of the dancefloor with sweetly expressed emotion, and their disco-soul-pop is easily accessible to anyone with both hips and a heart. If there’s any justice, new record One Life Stand – their fourth album – should spread the word on Hot Chip from the geek fraternity to the masses quicker than you can say ‘top tune’.
Did you have any particular direction in mind for the new LP? Joe [Goddard] and I both felt like we could do with fewer songs on the record than we’d had before – along the lines of Prince’s ‘Dirty Mind’ – but we didn’t quite do that. In our little world, it’s quite difficult to agree on things, so getting it down to 10 songs and less than 50 minutes was a major achievement. This time, we felt like we could do with making something that doesn’t outstay its welcome and is a bit starker and more to the point.
It features everything from real piano to steel pans, plus what appears to be an old Fairlight synth. Why did you opt for a different sonic palette? All the things we do are natural progressions from one record to the next, but I’ve been listening a lot to the orchestrations on Prince records that were done by a guy called Clare Fischer. I’ve always liked them and did quite a lot of research. I even watched a seminar he gave on YouTube and was thinking about what it was I liked about his parts. For example, I wanted ‘Hand Me Down Your Love’ to sound as if the strings came in from nowhere and had nothing to do with the original tune. Clare Fischer’s strings do that – they’re quite romantic and they tend to take over.
You also tap into the renewed popularity of piano house… Yes, there’s definitely been a big resurgence of piano house in the past two years. For me, the appeal of Derrick May’s ‘Strings of Life’ is how cheap and minimal it sounds, but also how anthemic. That’s what I was drawn to for ‘Hand Me Down Your Love’. Maybe the resurgence happened so long ago that it’s almost had its day, but I don’t feel we’ve overstated it, because our song is a mix of that track, Prince and The Beatles.
What’s the public perception of Hot Chip? I think the reason some people have a problem with Hot Chip is that they can’t tell whether we mean it. There are loads of people who think we’re too clever and are tricking everyone the whole time. It’s a strange thing when you know where you’re coming from, yet people don’t believe you: you don’t want to be standing there shouting, ‘I mean it, I mean it!’, or carving ‘4 Real’ into your arm [like Manic Street Preachers founder Richie Edwards]. To some people, there’s obviously something very irritating about us, but I don’t know what that is. People have even asked us if we dress this way for a joke. They think we’re jumping on some kind of nerd bandwagon. But we didn’t even know there was one! One Life Stand is available now in stores.
Chips off the old block
Still not sure about Hot Chip? Here are a few of their stated influences
Prince Like Prince, Hot Chip have a firm grasp of groove and aren’t afraid to explore varied musical avenues.
The Beach Boys They may not be boys any more, but 45 years ago Brian Wilson and pals were masters of layered, complex pop music.
Ween Alexis Taylor has name-checked this long-running alternative rock group as an inspiration.
Devo This playful post-punk band’s synth-heavy, experimental music (and bright clothes) are mirrored in Hot Chip’s own works.
Neil Young Young’s frail voice is reflected in the reedy – but memorable – vocals of Alexis Taylor.