Bryget Chrisfield learns Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor has an encyclopaedic brain when it comes to music: “Unfortunately no one has ever asked me for any Frank Zappa or Roger Troutman of Zapp while I’ve been DJing.”
London is recovering from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee while staring down the barrel of hosting the Olympics. Alexis Taylor’s hometown must be getting crazy! The Hot Chip vocalist/multi-instrumentalist laughs, “I’m sure it will get that way, but at the moment you can’t really tell.” Is he planning on escaping the mayhem? “Um, we’re meant to be doing some music for the table tennis tournament, so I think we’ll probably be around for that. They just commissioned us to write a piece of music that could be for any sport at the Olympics and Joe [Goddard, vocals/synth/percussion] really likes ping pong. So we’ve made the music, we’re just trying to finish the mix of it and then that will get used as the music as the players are walking out onto the pitch, or track.” If Hot Chip’s music were to be pumped through subwoofers during the tournament, the players would definitely try to keep in time. “Yeah, and it changes speed, actually, as it’s going on,” Taylor shares, “so that would probably confuse them quite a lot.”
Hot Chip’s latest offering In Your Head is album number five. That’s enough for a boxset, surely. “Well you’ve gotta factor in all the unreleased material and that’s a classic part of a boxset,” Taylor muses. “Actually, when Hot Chip first started I remember us claiming that we’d already made 400 songs before the first one that we released: we were just trying to persuade people that we had a big vault full of unreleased gems like Prince. And so by this point in our career we’ve probably got about 8,000 unreleased tracks, so we’re ready for boxset material.” And that’s not even counting their various side-projects: Taylor’s in About Group, Goddard’s in The 2 Bears and New Build borrows multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle and drummer/keys player Felix Martin.
Obviously Taylor’s never fallen victim to writer’s block. “Not so far,” the prolific artist acknowledges. “Thankfully… But maybe sometimes people suffer from that when they’re really actively trying to sit down and write music or something. I tend to let the ideas come to me a bit more, kind of of their own free will. I do work on music most days, but I don’t necessarily work on it in a strict sense. Sometimes it’s just things coming into my head and I’m sort of thinking about whether they’re worth dealing with or not. I’m not always at the computer every day, I tend to let the songs drift along in my head and then work on them when they sound like they’re gonna be good ones.” Taylor is in tune with his internal jukebox, “whether it’s other people’s music or something else”. “I mean, I have suffered from mania induced by that: one of your own tracks that you’ve been working on, just a little bit of it, going around incessantly. But at the moment we’re rehearsing to go on tour and I guess I’m quite tired by the end of it all each day, so it’s not too difficult to sleep. And also with a young daughter, it’s one of those other things – you get into that zone. When I’m reading her bedtime stories, before she goes to sleep, it usually makes me feel quite tired as well.”
What’s little miss Taylor’s name? “Prudence. We kind of decided on it fairly early on. We both like the name, the meaning of the name. We also like The Beatles’ song Dear Prudence and then we met Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie & The Banshees, who had famously covered that song, and she seemed really nice when we met her and we decided that was a good omen and that we would stick with that name.”
Taylor is extremely gracious when informed Night And Day was this mag’s Single Of The Week a few issues back – “Oh, great! Oh, thank you” – and explains Goddard “was partly referencing Nightlife Unlimited – Peaches And Prunes, Ron Hardy edit” in the stomping track. “We were in the studio with a drummer called Leo Taylor, who’s played with us before – he’s been to Australia with us, in fact – and we got Leo to do these really crazy drum fills over the top of the track, and that’s how it kinda built up to another layer. And then it was at that point I did all the vocals for it, and it felt like the music had a kind of dark and quite sweaty, sort of sexy, sound to it. So I tried to write words that fitted with that.”
A phrase in the breakdown – “I like Zapp not Zappa” – refers to Taylor’s frustration when fielding requests from the DJ booth. “Unfortunately no one has ever asked me for any Frank Zappa or Roger Troutman of Zapp while I’ve been DJing,” he despairs. “But the whole of that section was more just trying to make it really plain for people that I don’t necessarily have the things that they want, and that some of the requests are kind of annoying and stupid. Sometimes people really want you to play Hot Chip music and you don’t have it with you, but because you’re in Hot Chip they keep asking. It’s fair enough, I don’t mind people saying what they want, but it’s more just the lack of logic that’s difficult to deal with sometimes, and Joe said that he’s had someone ask him has he got any garage. And he said, ‘Yeah, this is garage that I’m playing,’ and they said, ‘Oh, good, I like garage’ – that’s the kind of thing that is quite amusing when you’re DJing.”
If Hot Chip’s live show’s on the menu, steel drums will certainly be served. “It was me actually, in the band, who first became really interested in that sound. [There were] loads of different records I used as influences. The Esso Trinidad Steel Band made an album in the ‘70s, produced by Van Dyke Parks, and I really liked it. That has things like Apeman by The Kinks and I Want You Back by The Jackson Five arranged for steel bands. Then also a Harry Nilsson album called Duit On Mon Dei that has steel drums all over it, and New Position by Prince [& The Revolution] from the Parade album. And P.I.M.P. by 50 Cent, which has a kind of keyboard steel drum as the main instrument. Those are the key records that got me excited about the sound.”
An introduction to Fimber Bravo led to Hot Chip’s cover version of Transmission by Joy Division from “a few years ago”. “We really liked how he sounded on that and then we got him to play on One Life Stand, the album. And then by this record we actually went to Manchester and recorded with a full steel band rather than one solo pan player.
“The band itself had maybe, like, eight or nine people in it and they acted as a band for this one track, and I sang and played piano. And that’s gonna come out a little bit after the album, I think, or maybe it’s gonna be something that comes with the record but as a separate, non-album track. But that was really fun to record as well. So it’s been an ongoing obsession... I think it’s a really lovely sound and I think it’s a little bit um, you know: it’s not always in fashion that sound, the steel drum. People think of it as slightly ‘novelty’ at times, but I think it’s really beautiful.”
Last time Hot Chip sizzled our dancefloors (2010), they were one man down. “I think that [Joe] was about to have the first child when we were away on tour and maybe towards the end of the tour the baby was born,” Taylor ruminates. “And then he’s got another baby due in about ten days or something like that. I’ve only got the one – and there’s no plan for another one immediately – so he doesn’t muck around.” When will Taylor and co be back? “I think we’ll hopefully be back in the beginning of January, around that time we’re looking at, at the moment,” Taylor reveals. “If we can make it, we’ll be there,” he promises. Tell Goddard to give it a rest and stop making babies then. “Haha, okay.”
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