Hot Chip | In the Business of Having Fun

prof_hot-chip_sm.jpgThey’re designed to be played live in the sense that there are flexible structures. You can extend parts of them and there are important parts of the melody.






Hot Chip is that likeable bunch of hard-working guys you want to root for. They’re the guys from the Most Dangerous Catch or from the local fire department. They are the countless sports teams that consist of a group of over-achievers who make it to the big time. In a music world where the exploits of Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty or Britney Spears often overshadow the music, it’s refreshing to listen to a band like Hot Chip. Seeing them live brings it to the next level as their show is a high-energy, feel-good dance party. Prior to their sold-out Seattle show, I had an opportunity to have a beer and a chat with multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle.


I noticed that on this particular tour there are not a lot of dates in North America. It seems like you played some dates on the east coast, a couple in the middle and then more on the west coast.

Yes, that’s pretty standard for a lot of U.K. bands, really. It’s tougher to get the audiences in the Midwest. We’ve done some shows there; we played Denver, Cleveland, Ohio. We played Columbus, Ohio. But yeah, we don’t go out there too often.

A lot on the coasts and then Chicago, and we’ll often go up to Canada and do Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver like we did this tour. But I think when we come back later in the year, we’ll hit the places we missed out on this trip. So we could very well be back there.

Your current tour ends this weekend at Coachella.

Yeah, it should be a good one. We did it for the first time last year, had a really good time. I actually did two shows last year as I was playing with LCD as well, so it was a busy day. It was very hot, obviously. It’s quite tough on the crowd, especially those shows in the middle of the day. The midday sun kind of heating up the tent. We played at three or four o’clock, just after the midday sun. Unbelievable. And you’re looking out at the crowd and you’re thinking, These guys aren’t moving around very much, and then I’m thinking, I’m hot enough up here on the stage without ten other dudes around me. Very difficult, though this year I think we’ve got one of the later slots so hopefully things will have cooled down a bit by the time we play.

Are you going to check out anybody at Coachella?

We’re definitely going to watch Prince; he’s playing the same night so we’ll see. I’ll probably try to see Kraftwerk, even though I’ve seen that show quite a few times now. It will be interesting to see if they do anything different but I would be quite surprised if they did.

Do you have a preference for doing the big festivals vs. smaller clubs?

It’s just different, really. I think for a while we couldn’t get a handle of playing some of the bigger stages at festivals. We’re always a band that feeds off the audience a lot, but sometimes when they’re a distance away, it’s a different kind of thing. Now we’ve been doing really big shows for well over a year now, especially in the U.K. and Europe, so when we come over to the states and do Lollapalooza or Coachella we’re a bit more used to that kind of setting. It’s not as though we have any kind of big live show or crazy backing dancers or anything like that. But we try to put on more of a physical show; it translates to a bigger stage, I think. We have a very big sound. There’s quite a lot going on on stage to look at. We’re all quite strange looking guys. Yeah, people seem to enjoy the festival shows very much.

Your shows are pretty famous for being real high energy.

Increasingly high energy; it’s taken it out of us. We did like five shows in a row; that doesn’t seem like much, but we’re finding it really physically exhausting. If I can get away with saying that we’re getting old now — hardly, because we’re all about 27. But we’re feeling it, coming off stage being really, really exhausted. If we’re playing a show, then we’re going to do to the best of our ability and try to throw as much into it. And if we start getting feedback from the crowd, then we’ll just go for it even more. It’s that kind of show.

A lot of the content of Hot Chip’s songs seem to have a focus on humor and are quite funny. Do you translate that into the live show?

Well, it’s not like it’s a stand-up routine. We stick a few of those kinds of songs in. I suppose from the new album the song "Restless" is quite an overtly and unashamedly humorous song. And that song has an expansive, almost epic sort of chorus to it that seems to puncture that humor a bit and take it somewhere else rather than it being a straight pastiche like an Art Brut song. But that’s always been something that’s part of all our characters and we’ve put it in there. It’s not disappearing up your own asshole, basically. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re in the business of having fun.

And there’s also a melancholy tone in some of the songs.

That’s a real tough one. Doing the quieter songs during the set has been quite difficult. I think there is a portion of the audience who would like to hear the slow songs, but the majority of the people who come to the shows are there for a dance party. Sequencing the set is very difficult, because if you start playing some of those slow songs into the main body of the set, it just slows everything right down and then you have to build it all up again. So the solution we’ve had is to put some of those slower songs in the encore. Then you can start all over again that way. That’s been working out very well for us. We’ve also been doing some acoustic sessions, a lot of radio sessions on this tour and in Europe; that is quite nice as we get a chance to scratch that folky itch.

It provides an opportunity to showcase some of those other songs.

Yeah. We’re just not known as that kind of band and it’s quite nice to particularly show people what Alexis can do with his voice in that kind of setting when he’s not straining. He’s got an amazing voice and it really comes through when he gets a chance to do it against a very sparse background. There have quite a few reviews of the album that have said that his voice doesn’t carry those kinds of ballads and I couldn’t disagree more. I just find his voice so pleasant to listen to…kind of honest. He’s not doing that kind of heartfelt ode to Karen angsty thing. I just think it works really, really well. I can’t understand why some people don’t seem to like it but there you go.

I read somewhere that the new album Made in the Dark was designed to be performed live.

There certainly are three or four songs on there that we’ve been performing live for quite a while before the album was recorded, so in that sense it was informed by touring and our experience of what works well to get the crowd going. But all of the songs are just documents of those songs at that time. All the Hot Chip songs are only really meant to be structures to play; we’re always re-recording songs and remixing songs, and when we play the live show the songs that were originally recorded live — and when I say recorded live, I only mean recorded as five people playing in a room — "Hold On," "Out of the Pictures," and "One Pure Thought." Even those songs now when we play them live sound quite different to those recordings. So there’s been a further evolution of the songs. They’re designed to be played live in the sense that there are flexible structures. You can extend parts of them and there are important parts of the melody. You can kind of take the parts of the songs of paramount importance to the song and then from that point you can do whatever you want around it.

Another reputation you have is being able to change songs; you might play it in Montreal one way and then come here to Seattle and it sounds different.

I think that increasingly on this tour we’ve been doing the set like other shows and it probably hasn’t been changing as much as we used to do it. But certainly if you had seen us play six months ago or a year ago, then you’ll get a totally different show now. We’ve changed a lot of the instrumentation and equipment we are using, keyboards and different guitars. This is the first tour that we’ve used a bass guitar. So yeah, we’ll do new and exciting things. Value for the money.

I saw your appearance on the Conan O’Brien show; it seems as though you are getting exposure to a much wider audience. How does that feel?

It’s great. There seems to be a certain class of Hot Chip fans that exist in the mid levels of the media that are championing us. I think one of the program managers at Conan was a fan and he looked into it. Obviously, it was a great honor to do that one; in January, we did Jimmy Kimmel as well. That was amazing; there was really good studio audience. They brought in fans and we were playing right in front of them. It was really cool and it felt like a gig.

But as to what kind of level of exposure that has given us, we don’t really know yet. We’re trying really hard to make a success of it over here. I think Hot Chip has always had a disparity between our record sales, which are relatively low, and how many people know about us and how many people come to the live shows. Our shows are always sold out well in advance — not just this year but last year, which was amazing for us, as we love to play to packed rooms. I think we’re suffering like everybody else, especially with the kind of music we have, electronic music and quite young fans who are just downloading it, which is fine. We’re just prepared to work quite hard and we’re not too worried about selling out or being on TV or whatever.

We’ve always thought of ourselves as a pop band, so in that sense we just want as many people to listen to our music as possible. There’s certain things that we have not done, like doing any adverts in the States or in the U.K., actually, no TV ads. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t do it, either, it’s just that the right thing hasn’t come along for us. It’s just nice to go to Columbus, Ohio, or Atlanta, Ga., or North Carolina. We played Asheville and have kids turn up and know your music. It’s amazing to do that. It’s still a real surprise and a real pleasure to go to those places and play our music.

You mentioned LCD Soundsystem. There seem to be more up-and-coming bands who have an electronic sound but play instruments. Where do you think of yourselves in the greater music picture?

It’s never been that strange to us, as there have always been bands like New Order or Human League, Depeche Mode, Brian Eno’s bands, Roxy Music…they have always used synthetic instruments in coordination with more traditional band instruments. It just seems like part of a very long tradition to us, for whatever reason — and probably due to the dominance of guitar bands for probably a period of about five to ten years, from the early ’90s into the 2000s. Maybe people just forgot about making music that way.

Also, I think people compartmentalize dance music as something done by low males with too much gadgetry around them and a very stale or boring live show. Sort of one dude behind a laptop and a load of laser lights, which is a very unfair portrayal of that music, as it’s a very vibrant scene in its own way and has to be viewed on its own terms, but it’s not a live concert. It’s a DJ or a techno party or something like that. You know, we still have a real love for that kind of thing, but when we do our live shows we want people to feel as though they are seeing a band; they’re seeing five people playing together. Something that we have always wanted to do is Hot Chip as a live project since 2003 or 2004. We wanted people to have the experience of seeing people interact musically.

It’s exciting to see, visually. You hear the music on the record and you think that maybe it’s a band like Justice or Daft Punk, and then you see it live and you’re just blown away.

And that’s what actively disgusts me about acts like Justice. The way that they roll up with their– it’s just obviously artificial, as they have Marshall Stacks that aren’t plugged in. The massive thing that was built by Thomas Bangalter with all the leads and things that are also not plugged in and the artifice of that is really; I just can’t get my head around it. [For us,] if there’s any single thing on the stage that’s not plugged in, then it’s off the stage. Everything’s in use. Everything is there because it has to be there in order to play our music. I see what they’re doing and it’s totally fine. It’s just the fact that they’re trying to bring this rock aesthetic or something; it just seems so calculated to me. I’m just singling them out because they’re– I’m sure they’re really nice guys. That’s just something that we’ve not ever been interested in doing.

And each of you will do DJ sets. You’re known for taking other people’s songs and reworking them. That’s interesting, a sort of separate side of Hot Chip.

We’ve all got big record collections. Actually, me, Felix and Joe do the most DJing. And we go play music that is not very Hot Chip. Like Joe will play a lot of old disco and U.K. garage and techno and stuff, and Felix will play almost purely minimal techno. So some people are quite surprised when they come and see a DJ gig. Obviously, in the early days, we were just booked because of the name and people could sell their parties out by that. But now we’ve got a bit more of name as half decent DJs, so that’s kind of cool for us as it’s another thing to do and we quite enjoy it. Though I never enjoy it as much as playing live.

You mentioned bands like New Order and Human League. Are there certain bands that you think of as being primary influences on Hot Chip’s music?

The few people that Joe and Alexis would say are very influential or are well known as being our influences would be Prince and Devo, Robert Wyatt and Brian Eno. And there are slightly more obscure influences. Not obscure, as they are very well known as artists, but more that they’re influence has been more oblique. Like singer songwriters such as Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan. Alexis likes this guy Van Dyke Parks. Sometimes with those people it’s more like their approach to music making or inspiring musicians. So you may not hear their influence in a very direct way.

What are you listening to now?

We just bought a bunch of old disco records; we had a real good shopping trip in Vancouver. Just got a lot of old, obscure classic disco records. I bought a classical CD, actually; I bought some solo violin. I think we tend to listen to stuff that is far away from what we do as possible, especially when we come off the stage or are on the road because nobody really wants to listen to some kind of big time techno thing. So there’s a lot of blues a lot of singer/songwriters, folk, classical, stuff like that.


Hot Chip have currently finished their current leg of their North American tour. They are reportedly planning a return to the States later this summer and will hit more Midwestern and Southern cities. | Jim Mancini

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