The British group Hot Chip might not strike you as the typical band to be interviewed on AmericanSongwriter.com, but their brand of nerdy, electro-pop is too good to resist talking about. Right before Christmas break, rogue editorial assistant Jay Steele caught up with Hot Chip member Al Doyle (second from the right with reddish-blonde hair), to talk about, among other things, Made in the Dark, wrestling for band members, Human Tetris and the band’s plans for their upcoming tour. The British group Hot Chip might not strike you as the typical band to be interviewed on AmericanSongwriter.com, but their brand of nerdy, electro-pop is too good to resist talking about. Right before Christmas break, rogue editorial assistant Jay Steele caught up with Hot Chip member Al Doyle (second from the right with reddish-blonde hair), to talk about, among other things, Made in the Dark, wrestling for band members, Human Tetris and the band’s plans for their upcoming tour.
Videos by American Songwriter
American Songwriter: First off, I saw a good bit of your set at Bonnaroo, and it seemed like everyone was having a blast. There were kids pulling dance moves they will probably never attempt again. Tell me about the playing for this diverse crowd in rural, southeast United States.
Al Doyle: [Laughs] Well, that is very kind of you to say that. It wasn’t the best gig we’ve ever played, actually, that one at Bonnaroo. I don’t know if it would have been noticed by the crowd, but we were a little bit uncomfortable, which is a shame because we really wanted to do the best show that we could. I think after that one we sort of wanted to go back out on stage and do it all over again. Everyone there was really, really nice to us, and we got a great reception. It was nice…that little stretch playing some of the places down South we haven’t played before. We played North Carolina, Georgia, and ended up in Austin, Texas. So, it was quite nice to see that part of the world. There aren’t that many U.K. bands that always go down there. So, yeah, it was really cool.
It was a big dance party and I’ve noticed that the new songs on Made in the Dark like “One Pure Thought,” “Hold On,” “Ready for the Floor,” and “Out At the Pictures,” are some of the most danceable songs Hot Chip has written. I know that Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard are responsible for of the songwriting, but how does the live experience affect the band’s creative direction?
Well, I mean some of those songs you mentioned like “One Pure Thought” and things like that-those are songs that we kind of perfected on the road. Well, not perfected, but we definitely developed [them] on the road. In fact, a lot of people have said to us that they prefer the live sound to the recorded sound, so when we came to do this new album we wanted to capture a little bit of that. There are three songs that we recorded in the studio with a live band that kind of made it onto the album. Yeah, “Hold On”-that you mentioned-“One Pure Thought,” and “Out At the Pictures.” They were all started live in the studio, sort of playing all together with [the band]. It was a radical departure for us, though it’s probably normal for any other band. We’d just never done it before. Yeah, that’s got the spirit of the live show, which is definitely more chaotic and almost epic, something that we wanted to try and recreate on this album. But even some of the songs that aren’t played live, like, yeah, “Ready for the Floor,” or “Bendable Poseable” and stuff like that…they still feel quite…I don’t know…raucous and rocky, I suppose. Whereas the last album was a bit cleaner sounding and a bit more dance floor oriented; these are leaning towards slightly older traditions. [Laughs] But, yeah, we were happy with the fact that the live show’s involved in the record. It’s worked out pretty well.
I think it’s definitely worked out well. What was your role in the making of Made in the Dark, and how does it compare to your contributions on past albums? I read somewhere that you were singing more on The Warning than before.
I’m singing more on this one, on Made in the Dark. I’m doing a lot of harmonies and things. Alexis and Joe haven’t done that before. Again, yeah, I’ve been doing some harmonies for them in the live show, backing vocals and stuff. So when we came to do this album they thought it would be quite nice to try those out on the recordings as well. Different songs end up involving different people. There are some songs [on the record] that are very collaborative. “One Pure Thought” I suppose would be the best example. Alexis and Joe brought aspects of that song to the table and we all worked on it together. So that one was a big collaboration, a lot of other songs [were] some overdubs with different parts played by people. Like on “Hold On,” I did play quite a lot of parts on that particular song because after the tracking sessions we put on some extra drums, bass guitar-stuff like that. But to tell you the truth, the vast majority of it is still down to Joe and Alexis. They’re quite protective of their songwriting process and it’s something that they’ve built up over time, just the two of them working together. You know, it seems to work out really well for them, so we’re sort of happy to let them go on with that, really.
Did the band have a specific aim in making this record? There are a wider variety of influences on this record than there were on the ones before.
Well, there wasn’t anything that we set out to do or some sort of Holy Grail that we wanted the album to be like. The main thing that we wanted was for it to sound different than the last one, and we wanted to put a few down better than [on] the last one. That was the only thing, really. I think that we took a few more chances with this album than with the last one. Because people sort of know who we are now, so we could afford to do that. There are some very quiet songs on the new album-stuff that we would never get a chance to really play live and stuff that people that probably don’t know Hot Chip for. We’re not really known as a sort of purveyor of ballads. I think that’s quite nice. Hopefully it will be a good surprise for people because I think some of those ones are the best songs on the album. My favorite one is actually “Made in the Dark.”
I think “We’re Looking for A Lot of Love” turned out well, too.
Yeah, they’re all quite soul-inflected songs. I hope they’ll stand up next to the immediate, sort of, rocky, poppy songs that are on there. I don’t know how that’s going to work out when you actually come to do some live stuff. Especially at a festival thing were it’s very, very difficult to sort of incorporate that kind of music. I hope people might give it more of chance this year than they did last year, when they basically wanted to dance all the way through the set. We gave them what they wanted in most cases.
I know the last record was recorded mostly in bedrooms and Joe’s house. Where was most of the work done on the new record?
Well, quite a lot was still recorded in Joe’s bedroom, apart from those three songs that I mentioned, and a couple of other ones that we recorded in the studio that Felix [Martin] and I run, which is in another part of London. It’s right next to the building where I live. It’s a proper studio in the sense that it has a control room and a live room that is a little bit more equipped than Joe’s bedroom. We did quite a few overdubs and vocal recordings there. So there are a lot of different acoustic spaces on the album. There are a few little recordings on there that people did on the road, like in hotel rooms, stuff like that, [that] they just brought with them. Song to song, the kind of acoustic space changes quite a lot… [that’s] something that we sort of wanted to do-give different sensations and spaces within the album. Hopefully it didn’t lose too much cohesiveness because of that. I think it sort of hangs together, you?
I think so. Alright, so Alexis sings on “Wrestlers” that “all [he] know[s] [he] learned from wrestling.” Then on “Hold On,” he sings about “tak[ing] [it] outside.” And on the last record, on “The Warning,” he said that “Hot Chip will break your legs, snap off your head.” What’s up with all his aggression on some of these songs?
[Chuckles] He’s a very angry man. I mean, he doesn’t take it out on other people, but he often takes it out on himself. He’s broken his hand a number of times punching walls and other objects. You know, he would never lift his hand to anybody else, I don’t think. But you know, he’s a very…I don’t know, he sort of believes what he believes and sometimes when he gets frustrated; he doesn’t necessarily keep it in. Which is good, you know. He’s got an artistic temperament, and I love him for it. So… [laughs], but yeah, it’s quite representative of his character. I mean, the whole thing with [“Wrestlers”] was definitely tongue in cheek.
It was a response to, uh, James Murphy trying to steal me away to play with LCD Soundsystem and James said that they would have to wrestle me…wrestle Alexis for me, kind of thing. And although that would never happen, Alexis used it as a starting point for the song.
That’s hilarious. It’s funny to see a smaller guy like him singing about all these aggressive things.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s part of it-just the humor of seeing a guy like that doing that onstage and he definitely plays it. And we’re just quite a funny bunch to look at. I mean, Joe’s quite a big guy and Felix is really tall. I don’t know, were a quite physically strange bunch of people, so it’s nice to talk about those kinds of physical things on the album as well.
Well, sticking on the whole aggressive idea, are you boxing fans? I know the big rage recently was the Hatton-Mayweather boxing match.
Yeah, I was up in Scotland for that one. And was up at like, eight in the morning watching that one-well not watching, we just got reports from the radio and the internet about what was going on. But yeah, I’m not really into it that much. Though, after knowing James Murphy for a long time, he’s kind of gotten me into ultimate fighting as well-sort of vaguely watching at bit of that as well. But if you ever saw one of those fighters in real life you’d realize that it’s totally ridiculous that we have any kind of affinity for that world. [They’re] the most scorning, kind of twisted individuals.
Yeah, I read in an interview that he had taken up ultimate fighting.
Yeah, yeah, he wants to do it. He wants to get in the ring. He’s quite old to be doing it, but, um, he’s already a black belt in kickboxing and he’s learning jujitsu at the moment, so he would definitely qualify. Whether he would actually win or not when he’s on the mat; it would be quite funny to see him. [Laughs] I think I would have a laugh when he gets to that one.
Turning back to the band, Hot Chip released a lot of remixes in 2007. How does that process work? How many of those are you offered to do, and how many do you turn down?
Well, I’d preferably turn down quite a lot, but Joe is a little bit worse at saying no than most of us, so he takes on quite a bit. The rest of it falls to, you know, whichever of us would like to work. Alexis kind of likes to work by himself, and the rest of it comes to me and Felix. Or sometimes we’ll work on two together at the same time, especially since the Kraftwerk music that we did was actually two Kraftwerk songs. We did one, and Alexis and Joe did the other one. It’s like a little factory. We can get a lot of stuff done at the same time. Yeah, I think you’re probably right; we have taken on a bit too much. But we’re really going to try and put a lid on it from now on and concentrate mostly on the live stuff and doing that as well as we can.
I don’t think that it’s too much. It’s fun to always have a new Hot Chip remix popping up.
Yeah! It’s fun. It’s kind of quite nice because you can be very free with what you do in the remixes. It gives to a chance to kind of experiment with things that you maybe wouldn’t necessarily put on your own album or whatever. People tend to give a very free reign in terms of what they get from those. We’ll ask a lot of times if they want a kind of like dance floor remix, but we have turned in stuff that’s been very ambient and weird and [we] still have it accepted. But, you know, it’s something that we’re quite happy to do.
Definitely. Yesterday I saw the new video for “Ready for the Floor,” and I wanted to know if you watch any of those Japanese extreme game shows?
Yeah, that was the inspiration for a lot of it. Human Tetris.
Human Tetris, yeah.
Takeshi’s Castle and stuff like that. Yeah, that was a big inspiration for it-for the feel of the video. We actually had to do all those tasks for real. There was a rotating stage. It was rotating pretty fast, and there was a kind of wall that they built around it. We would have to jump through the holes and go from block to block and this kind of thing and it was pretty difficult actually. [Laughs] There were a few-not quite accidents-but cuts and bruises from that filming session.
There is also the scene where you’re taking on that huge stack of paint cans.
Well, they were empty…it was a really, really fun video. The same guy [Nima Nourizadeh] that directed that was the same guy that did the “Over and Over” video, which was a very physical video where we had to do a lot of tasks. And that’s the kind of thing that we like to do to be involved in that way rather than, I don’t know, just sort of acting the more straight way. I think it comes across better on the screen if you test it a little bit. So, we just wanted to run that route again.
Cool. So I just checked out the touring schedule and so far it’s pretty interesting. You are playing that tour in the U.K. where it’s all, basically, universities. Then when you come to the U.S. you are playing those two shows that are described as intimate shows where you will describe what went on while making Made in the Dark. Was that the band’s decision?
We wanted to do a couple of small shows in America separate from a proper tour, and I don’t know, sort of tell people that we’re still around because we haven’t played there for a little while. And we’ll do a couple of promos for TV there at the same time, so it made sense to put in a couple of shows, because otherwise we’d just be going over there to do interviews…so we just wanted to do a couple of those shows. But we’re going to come back and do much of a more involved tour in America. It’s penciled in for April, I think. I don’t know what’s going to happen at those shows, whether there will be some type of question and answer or not. I imagine it will be a pretty straightforward gig, you know.
The very first one, the one in New York, will be the first time people get to see us with our new setup. We did one gig in London a couple of weeks ago where we were trying out some new things and using that as an experiment we’re going to then go on and do much more rehearsals in January and change the way we are onstage and a lot of our instrumentation. It’s going to basically be a brand new Hot Chip where you have to relearn all of the songs. It’s been a quite technical kind of challenge. So if anybody has seen us before they will definitely be surprised at the way we are when we come over again. Not to give too much away, but we’re not really lining up in a row anymore. There’s a lot more stuff onstage. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s going to be physical, but hopefully it will still be good.
Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark will be released on February 5 (next Tuesday) via Astralwerks/DFA Records.