Hot Chip: “I don’t see anything wrong with listening to old records, that’s what we’ve always done”

Alexis Taylor, the British group’s “nerdy” and erudite leader, talks to us about music, outlining a view of current electronica that isn’t at all complacent

This is Hot Chip’s week: they have just released their most stirring album, the one most intended to get you dancing until you drop dead, and they will present it on Saturday at Sónar. We spoke with Alexis Taylor to find out more about the inspiration and aims behind “In Our Heads”.

The world is going to pieces, but Hot Chip say that it can’t be. That there are reasons why we should stay alive, that make it worth not blowing our brains out. Faithful to their music aimed at the dance floor - and their inimitable, catchy rhythms - in their fifth album “In Our Heads”, they reclaim club culture, whilst simultaneously defending a happy life, in which hedonism and the priceless miracle of being alive are the only things that one should take into account. This is the subject of their first work for Domino Records, their fifth album, with Mark Ralph helping out on the production; it seems destined to flood the more discerning discotheques this summer.

Taking advantage of the fact that Alexis Taylor – the London group’s composer and vocalist alongside Joe Goddard - stopped by Barcelona a few days ago to participate in the moving homage to Big Star at Primavera Sound, we spoke to him about the trials and tribulations of recording as well as many other things. With his intellectual-looking glasses and inevitable “nerdy” look, one of the big names in current electronica tried to explain to us the reasons behind the music he makes, and the meaning of the projects he is involved in, one of which will bring him back to Barcelona: on Saturday, 16th June Hot Chip will be onstage at SónarPub for Sónar 2012, at 1:30 am.

"As far as Hot Chip goes, we only want to put together sounds that say something, that make the people who listen to us feel new emotions"

How do you like it in Barcelona?

I came to Primavera Sound on Wednesday and I’ll be here until Saturday. Yesterday (31st May) I listened to The Afghan Whigs and a little of Wilco. The thing is that my daughter, who is three, was very sick and so we had to go back to the hotel early. I hope we can see more after performing today.

Do you usually read reviews of your work? What do you think about the reviews of the latest album that you recorded with Hot Chip?

I think most of them haven’t been published yet. But I saw that they gave it 9/10 in a Swedish magazine, 8/10 in Uncut and 4/5 somewhere else. I haven’t read the reviews; I’ve only seen the numbers. I think people like the album pretty well. It has more songs for discotheques than any of our previous works. There are probably five or six “hits” for the dance floor.

What was the composing process like?

We were working in London for several weeks. We’ve had more help than ever. We had very talented people like Neil Michael Hagerty (Royal Trux), Steel Harmony, Charles Hayward on the drums and Terry Edwards on the sax. He is the one who coordinated the orchestra that took the ‘Big Star’s Third’ show to the UK, a few days ago.

The video clip from the first single - “Night And Day” - seems really odd to me. In fact, the group’s image has always been very characteristic. Do you usually participate in the decisions about the visual side of the group?

From the beginning we have controlled the image of all of our videos, until we met Peter Serafinowicz. He always finds the best idea. So we always let him do whatever he wants. When he tells us, we can only say: “Go ahead, that sounds way better than anything that we could have ever thought of”.

"Sónar is a good thermometer for taking the temperature of the electronic scene of the moment".

I suppose it doesn’t have anything to do with it, but when I saw the end of the video, I wondered whether the yin-yang symbol falling on some buildings had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

No, not at all. Really, I think that none of the images that appear in the video make any sense. That’s exactly the meaning. They are only intended as entertainment. Nothing is logical: there’s a sort of black, hairy god that controls a spaceship and that intergalactic heroine who heads another flying machine. Finally the two get together, people start to dance and pray, and in the end the spaceship crashes. I don’t know, it could be a metaphor for something really big that comes from nothing and then, just a little while after taking shape, is destroyed.

It has been said that your music generates excitement and happiness, but your lyrics go in another direction, they’re much more introspective.

I don’t think so. I like to talk about happy things, things that encourage people. This album is a clear example of that. It includes the idea of floating around the world, the pleasure of bringing children into the world, there are songs about seduction, love, and making music … There isn’t a main theme, but it’s true that all of them revolve around the same positive, energising feelings.

You are presenting the album at Sónar. What is your experience with this festival?

I’ve only been there when I had to play, but it’s true that I’ve been there four or five times now. I always take the opportunity to listen to all the other performers that I can, not so much the big names on the roster, but the new bands. Sónar is a good thermometer for taking the temperature of the electronic scene of the moment.

About that, how do you see current electronica?

It’s not really that I have an opinion. The first time that I went to Sónar I remember that the dominant current in electronica was music based on the sounds coming from a laptop computer. I’m talking about people like Fennesz, who did very different music. And then there were other names like Carl Craig, an excellent reference point in current techno. I’m much more interested in those two universes than I could be in styles that are trendy right now, like dubstep. To tell you the truth: I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter to me, what the trend will be in the future. I don’t care about what could be considered “new”. The majority of the things I find unusual, refreshing, and interesting nowadays come from popular music that isn’t trying to be anything more than that, music for the masses; it seems much more praiseworthy to me than all of those people trying to sell you their product as if it were something experimental or unknown.

It seems like it’s in fashion to talk about this time as a nostalgic period, one in which music irremediably looks to the past.

Personally, I don’t think we’re any more obsessed with what has been done before than we were in other decades. The thing is that YouTube allows people to have access to all kinds of things. Albums that used to be impossible to find, are now only a click away. We’d have to talk about a technological change and not a change of thought. The way that people consume and make music has changed, but not because there’s a fixation on what was done before, but because technology allows it. Creators have always looked backwards for inspiration.

"People suddenly decide that a sound is new, that it didn’t exist before, but really it’s only an evolution of something that was already done decades ago"

Some people say that there’s no creativity now, or originality, and that everything is a copy of earlier, better times.

The people who do dance music now especially look at the 80s and 90s for their inspiration, but they contribute new ways of focusing those sounds, which is what generates a unique vision. Do you really think that current musicians try to imitate things from other decades? I don’t know. As far as Hot Chip goes, we only want to put together sounds that say something, that make the people who listen to us feel new emotions. I don’t know if I manage it, but that’s what I try to do. In any case, I still listen to albums by old and new musicians, just like I did when I was 19 years old. Of course I don’t reject the influence of the past. That would be stupid and I’d be lying.

It’s true that when talking about music, we all mention the sounds of the 80s or 90s, but is there a sound that we can identify with the 2000s?

I don’t know what to say. The sounds that people write about always come from something before. Dubstep comes from drum’n’bass and chillwave from Ariel Pink’s albums. And in the end, it’s all an evolution of disco music, house, UK garage… People suddenly decide that a sound is new, that it didn’t exist before, but really it’s only an evolution of something that was already done decades ago. Besides, the passing of time isn’t significant when it comes to evaluating a piece of music. There are great albums that have been discovered long after the period when they were released. 30 or 40 years may have passed since it was recorded, and people will still enjoy it. I’m talking, for example, about Raymond Scott making electronic music in the 50s in America. I don’t see anything wrong with listening to old records. In fact, that’s what I’ve been doing all my life.

Is that how you got involved in the homage to Big Star? Is it a sort of homage to the past?

Well, of course tonight’s concert - where I’ll be performing Big Star’s album “Third” with a lot of other musicians - is the reason why I’m here in Barcelona. I decided to collaborate on this project because I love Alex Chilton, maybe more than any other singer. He’s one of my two or three favourite idols. So when they asked me if I wanted to form a part of this homage, I said yes, of course. His music is very important in my life. Thanks to this opportunity, I’ve been able to listen to all of his albums carefully. I want to enjoy the experience and learn from the people participating. It’s brilliant for me to be able to play with Jody Stephens, the original drummer of Big Star. I’m sure that Alex Chilton never imagined that something like that could happen. For me, the aim of this show is to let people know about these songs, which may not be very well known, but they’re wonderful.

How does it feel to perform others’ compositions live?

It’s an odd feeling, but a good one. It’s a pleasure to play with this band and reproduce the infinite details that the album holds. To go back to the original outline in their minds. There’s not a single thing that’s too much, everything in these songs is in the right place. I like to think about that a lot. As I’ve studied the album, I’ve discovered new things, other interpretations that I had never realised before.

Do you remember the first time that you listened to it?

Sure, it must have been about 1997. I liked it then, but it wasn’t until I got my hands on “Like Flies On Sherbert” (1979), Alex Chilton’s first solo album, that I started to invest a lot of time in his music. It opened the door for me to other albums that he would record later under his name, but also to other artists that he was connected with. For example, The Cramps, whom he worked with as a producer. That sound inspired by old 50s rock, but taken into his own territory. He covered genres like R&B, soul, rock’n’roll, blues, country… What fascinates me about his personality is that he always managed to provide his own vision and create a unique atmosphere with whatever he played. I think Big Star’s influence on Hot Chip is evident in our slower songs, beyond the fact that for awhile we used to cover “Thirteen”.

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