“I think it's a really integral part of the music, to feel a human on the other end of the instrument....” hmv.com talks to Hot Chip
More than a decade on from their debut, Coming On Strong, electro-pop maestros Hot Chip are back next week (May 18th) with their sixth album, Why Make Sense?
We caught up with keyboardist Joe Goddard to talk about the stripped back sound on their new record, the importance of playing electronic music live, and why their album comes in 250,000 different flavours...
When did you start & finish working on the new album? You've said before that you tend to work quite quickly...
“Yeah, it's complicated actually because we did it in lots of short bursts. We started making it while we were still touring the last record, so maybe the end of 2013 I think. We were playing a few shows and we started writing tracks then, not with any clear plan about what we were going to do with them really, but just writing. We did a few short bursts in the studio together, four days here, four days there. So in total it was probably about 18 months of working on the record, but it was bursts of activity broken up by long periods of listening to what we'd done, thinking about it, that kind of thing.”
You've mentioned that you were tempted to do a double album this time around, what made you decide against it?
“Well, it's just that double albums often end up being kind of... I mean, the thing everyone always ends up saying about double albums is 'oh, they've have made a wicked record if they'd just shortened it', you know?! We thought people would just think we should have put all the best stuff on a single album, so we just decided we'd take out the middle man and do that ourselves, haha!
“But yeah, there was a lot of material that we thought was really good so we were considering it, but I think it's kind of important to make a succinct record that fits together perfectly and feels like a good, listenable amount of music.”
Do you think that's something you might still do in the future?
“Maybe, I don't know, it's hard to say what we'll do in the future really, but I can see us maybe doing that. In general we're into releasing things in unusual formats, so it could happen at some point.”
Last time out you mentioned trying to emulate the Phil Spector approach to making epic, layered tracks, but on this record you've tried to strip things back and make the record closer to your live sound?
“Yeah, the closest thing to that big, layered sound on this record is probably 'Dark Night', but I mean that wasn't recorded in the same way as Phil Spector made records - you know, recording the whole band in a room and layering things on top so there's this big 'wall of sound' thing. We didn't really make the track in that way, but in terms of the melodies and things in that song it feels to me like it has that quality.”
“But generally, yeah stripping things back was mostly the kind of mode we were working in. The reason for that was because when we were making the last album we had that song 'Look At Where We Are' on there, and that song is very stripped out. There are relatively few elements on that compared to the other tracks on the record where there are synthesizers layered in top of one another, percussion and things. So I just felt that by stripping a lot of stuff out of that track it ended up being a focused and powerful thing.”
So were there any similar reference points for making the new album?
“Well, yeah that focussed effect of stripping things back is what you get from a great hip-hop or modern soul record, there are very few elements, so the elements that are there can really hit you in a powerful way. So we tried to carry that working method into the songs on the new record.”
Has that allowed you to perform more of the record completely live, as opposed to running parts of a track from a sequencer or a laptop or something?
“Yeah, it's a big question for us actually, we've just been rehearsing for the last three weeks and it's a weird thing. We have the capability with our live set up to run everything off a backing track if we wanted to, I mean we wouldn't need to have any musicians on stage! But we've been going through this convoluted process in rehearsals of working out what is the best thing to do for each song in terms of the live performance, and often what is best is to play all the parts live, for real, because when you do that and the band goes on tour for a year and a half or whatever, everyone gets tighter and gets in to a groove.
“So that means that the band gets better and better in terms of our sound as the tour goes on, whereas if you're playing elements from a backing track or a sequencer then it's just going to stay like that for the duration of the tour. So when we're not feeling lazy we try to do as much of it live as we can! That's really important to us, I think it's a really integral part of the music, to feel a human on the other end of the instrument, I think that's what's really exciting about it.”
How is the writing shared out these days? Is it quite a collaborative process?
“It's mostly really collaborative, yeah. There are odd tracks on the record, like 'White Wine and Fried Chicken', that track is basically wholly written by Alexis, and 'Dark Night' is basically written by myself, but most of them are really collaborative, like 'Love is the Future' or 'Easy to Get', where I'll start working on the music and Alexis writes the lyrics, then everyone contributes musical parts for the songs when we're recording and they become places where everyone can express themselves.”
So you write as you're recording?
“Yeah, and actually a thing that works really well for us is where Alexis will come to my studio and I'll play him some music I've written, and he responds really immediately and either writes words on the spot, or looks through some lyrics he's written earlier and fits them to the song right there and then, so it's something that feels really spontaneous and fresh when we do it like that.”
Can you tell us a bit about the concept for the artwork on the new album?
“Yeah, the designer is a guy called Nick Relph and he's worked with us before on our last record. He mentioned that there was this new type of printing technique where you could give it a couple of different variables for images on the front cover and then an algorithm would basically randomise them and chuck out lots of different variations. So on our artwork for the new album the background colour can be one of 500 different colours, and then on top of that the positioning of the design can be adjusted as well, so if you randomise both those elements you end with about 250,000 different possibilities.”
“I'm really pleased it's all actually happened, like I was expecting us to mention it to the record company and them to say 'no, you can't do that, it's going to be really expensive and nobody will be able to find it', but I think it's really nice, hopefully people can choose a colour that they like and I think it will look awesome on the shelves and stuff.”
You and Alexis have both been involved in some solo / outside projects, will there be any more 2 Bears stuff or is Hot Chip everyone's main focus now?
“Hot Chip will be everyone's focus for at least the next few months or so, definitely, then after that I'll probably work on some other stuff. Yeah, there will definitely be more Bears stuff, hopefully some solo stuff too at some point and I'm sure the other guys in the band will do other things as well. We enjoy the process of making tunes, so we're always thinking about it.”
What touring plans do you have for the new record?
“This month we're doing some shows in the UK, then at the end of the month we're going to America for two or three weeks and after that we'll start to hit the festivals, there will be tons of those in Europe and some in the UK like T in the Park, Green Man, Glastonbury and Lovebox. In the autumn we've got Australia and South America, some more shows in the UK... so we've got shows booked until the end of the year basically and some of it will probably spill over into early next year as well.”
Anywhere you're particularly looking forward to?
“Yeah there's loads of places, one that springs to mind is this really great festival in Corsica called Calvi On The Rocks. It's a tiny festival with about 2,000 people but Corsica is such a beautiful little island, it's super-hot, there's loads of really great food and disco music all day long on the beach, it's just an awesome small festival. I'm also really looking forward to going back to L.A., and South America is always amazing too.”
Why Make Sense? will be available in hmv stores and to download from Monday May 11th