Photography by Gabriel Green
New label. New album. Same familiar set up. For a band that’s spent the better part of a decade polarising opinion, consistency isn’t one of the buzzwords typically associated with Hot Chip. So after leaving DFA/EMI to release new LP ‘In Our Heads’ on Domino, Alexis Taylor explains that the move was more of a logical step than a new beginning.
“It’s a label that’s always been very close to our hearts,” he says. “I used to work for Domino before Hot Chip signed to DFA and EMI. I was a fan of the music it was releasing and I always thought that Domino and Drag City were two of the best labels out there. In recent years, even when we were on EMI, I maintained relationships with people at Domino and just shared a lot of good times with them. Then About Group signed with Domino for our last album so I began a working relationship with them again and got to experience what it was like to be a band on that label so it just made sense. We didn’t meet any other labels. It was a pretty easy decision.”
There’s clearly a mutual respect and affinity between band and label and is another example of each party looking beyond the glitz of a major name and finding a relationship that works.
“I think now, where records are selling less, a good label is really important,” says Alexis. “I think that having a label that got through the hard times and knows what it’s doing to get music out there to people, and is dedicated to the bands, and is not full of inner turmoil the way major labels like EMI started to feel, is a good thing. I’m not saying that everyone there was, but there was a threat to everyone’s jobs when EMI was being sold, and sold again.
“You want to have a label that lets you do your own thing,” he continues, “but also one that has good ideas when you want them to have good ideas. We’ve been able to sense that they were really keen, and really excited to have our band on the label, so there’s a lot of love for the group there.”
It’s also an indictment of the increasingly considered decisions discerning bands are making in terms of creative control and label pressures. In a progressively open market, it’s no longer a one size fits all dynamic, and the more astute – both bands and labels – will surely reap the benefits.
“I think that’s true,” he nods. “That’s probably quite a healthy way for records to get made. I suppose there was a golden era of interesting major labels and major label records, like the ’70s where bands were making big, lavish records that cost quite a lot and could be supported through not having hits. I guess this was mainly because labels were making their sales elsewhere, but it’s definitely harder now to make records that way,” he ponders.
“I think you just adapt to the situation. We’ve always made records on a tiny budget, just because we’re used to working on a small scale and gradually working in a studio. We certainly didn’t go crazy and go to the Bahamas or anything; we just did it in a cheap studio in London. I do wonder how different it would be if we made a record in a different era, though.”
Hot Chip have certainly seen the world since the release of their 2004 debut, ‘Coming On Strong’. Despite a near decade of success, though, and a steady climb to critical recognition, the band’s means and methods of recording have, unwittingly, remained the same. For a group happy to indulge in numerous side projects and bands, familiarity has won out over opportunity.
Alexis explains that the way he and Joe Goddard – together Hot Chip’s creative engine room – write is today how it was in the beginning. “Either myself or Joe has a song idea, and whether it’s complete or incomplete we play it to each other in whatever form and work on it from there,” he explains. “Collaborative songwriting is always how we’ve done it and it’s always been quite easy for us to write songs that way. Yesterday we were rehearsing songs for shows that were coming up and I found myself playing songs from the first album and realising how similar it is in terms of the chords and the feel and the observations, and it made me think there’s quite a natural way we’ve written from the beginning.”
This consistency isn’t always readily apparent within Hot Chip’s eclectic experimentation beyond Alexis’ awkward vocals, but in an almost inimitable way it’s arguably what binds most of the band’s back catalogue together. Beyond the off-beat percussion and off-kilter time signatures, there’s the fondness for old house and 90s dance that’s come to the fore as the driving force on new album ‘In Our Heads’ but, as Alexis points out, if you analyse anything long enough, you’ll find what you want.
“Each album is a snapshot in a way, because a song doesn’t really take that long to be written. I think by the time we’ve finished the record, it’s taken quite a long time to make it, but it’s still representative of those initial ideas. You write the album then spend a lot of time talking about it and rehearsing it and touring it and it lets you get back inside it. It’s kind of a weird snapshot that gets analysed, a lot!
“Sometimes you think a song is meant to be a certain style, but we’ve never made an album where we’ve explored one type of groove or one type of music from start to finish. We’ve never made any of the albums in that way. Making genre-based decisions would be quite weird. I don’t know if anyone does really… maybe Simon Cowell?
“I’m not saying our music is so complicated we couldn’t do that, but it’s never thematically one thing. Maybe we’re just not that marketing conscious in the way some people are – some people like to give this prescription to what something is.”
The genre. The pigeonhole. The box. The topic that wracks most music writers with guilt or the caveat some use to laud over or unleash on the bands they love to hate. It’s a subject that’s a source of clear frustration to Alexis yet he talks about it eloquently.
“I’ve never really understood what the obsession is with that,” he says. “I always just think it’s really misleading. Right from the beginning, a review is quite often trying to categorise things that aren’t really there and that tells people it’s ‘like this’ or ‘like that’ when it often really isn’t. A lot of people don’t necessarily even notice it isn’t that because they’ve been told the opposite so many times. As someone who listens to music, which a journalist does and a person making music does, I’m not sure I’m motivated by that need when listening to someone else’s music to say it’s ‘this kind of record’ or ‘that kind of record’.
“Record shops is where you would have had these divisions and I don’t know how helpful it is to people to be told what they’re going to get before they hear it,” he continues. “It’s a very powerful thing to be a journalist. You’re given this respect and authority to say that about a record, somehow, over anyone else. It’s quite strange to step back from that and there’s usually a passion for music, so I’m not taking that away from journalists, but it’s a funny idea that sets people up. I do it all the time – I read reviews of films and if it’s a poor review, I’m affected straight away.
“You could even go even deeper in terms of music that you ‘should’ listen to or is ‘worth’ listening too… music is there for people to find for themselves and get pleasure from and not be forced to think a certain way by something they react to. I don’t know if I feel there are records that need to be pointed out to the world that are worth hearing. I don’t have that righteousness myself, to be honest.”
Neither a pious diatribe nor an animated attack on the music press, it’s an honest summation that underlines Alexis’s thoughts in terms of his music philosophy. Content with creating an album and letting it go, it feels like his personal expectations and ones for the band have always been relatively simple: control what you can, trust those that you need to.
“In a weird way, the work is done once I’ve finished the album. I don’t really have any idea how it’s going to be received. We had these quite interesting interviews about it and had a good response from the different parts of the label that have heard it and are excited by it. That still doesn’t tell us anything about how it’s going to be received when we put it into the world. I’m not really a good judge of which songs are going to reach the bigger audience.
“I always liked ‘Over and Over’ but I didn’t know that would be the song we’d be known for, but there’s tracks on this record like, ‘Night and Day’ and ‘Now There is Nothing’… ‘Look At Where We Are’… maybe those three… and ‘How Do You Do?’ as well – I’m most excited by those, but I don’t know whether will they reach our core fan base or will they reach more people. I’ll leave that up to the label to do what they want to do with it.”
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012