Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hot Chip

My cover story on the band Hot Chip appears in this month's Discorder. Pick up your copy now!

Get Out on the Dance Floor!
Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard talks about turning teenage angst into toe-tapping dance music

By Andrea Warner

The path leading from the Beatles to Destiny’s Child is like a treasure map for the minds behind Hot Chip, the UK’s hottest, manliest, bust-a-move-revolutionaries. Their influences have more variety than a sampler cereal pack, and listening to Hot Chip’s music is akin to the best cram session ever in the evolution of rhythm. On tour to support their latest album, Made in the Dark, Hot Chip’s sound is beat-heavy, slyly amusing, and deceptively sincere. They are disciples of a simple cause: getting you sweaty on the dance floor.

Grade school chums Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor met at the age of 12 while attending the same school in a suburb of London. Their shared love of music fostered a friendship that still thrives today, which is refreshing in an industry that has so famously fractured dozens of bands in the past. Over the phone with Goddard, who is in London before embarking on Hot Chip’s North American tour, he’s humble, happy, and still a bit in awe of how far they’ve come.

As teenagers, Goddard and Taylor would hang out on Friday nights and play their acoustic guitars, singing covers of Oasis and Blur, “any band around 1994”. This lead to writing songs and recording on a four track, before Goddard started producing music on his computer in 1996.

“When we first began, myself and Alexis, it was very rudimentary,” Goddard says. “We didn’t have the capability to record lots of different layers of music or different things. We would do a little bit of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a little bit of one old keyboard—my technology teacher at school gave me an old keyboard and we used to use that—and we would play very simple, almost kind of folk or country music. We were playing very different music.”

Goddard describes the Mexico EP, which was released during this period, as “quite sad and melancholy.” The slow, acoustic music of that EP does little to hint at Hot Chip’s future reputation as the dance band with the wild live shows. But, one thing from those days stuck.

“The band was actually called Hot Chip at that point,” Goddard says. “We actually made the name up, like on stage at one point. We started playing gigs in parks nearby the school, and then the kind of usual places small bands play, like pubs.”

The evolution of Hot Chip’s sound from acoustic to dance was just a part of growing up.

“It’s a kind of typical thing, isn’t it, the teenage angst? I guess it’s something to do with your personality developing. You have these melancholy ideas…I think what I feel is that we just kind of got a little tired of being melancholy all the time. We started to be inspired more by groups like Destiny’s Child or things that Timbaland was doing. We started to find that more exciting music and it influenced us to make more pop or R&B music.”

Hot Chip was also expanding the band to include Owen Clarke, who originally provided the artwork and the creative direction for the band’s self-released albums, before officially joining Hot Chip as a musician. (One of Clarke’s official musical credits on the band’s MySpace page is “hand claps!”) Stints at Cambridge and Oxford to attend university also helped complete the band’s lineup as Felix Martin and Al Doyle joined the group, and following graduation, the five devoted themselves seriously to making music. Hot Chip made their first commercially available album, Coming on Strong, and have been writing, touring, and remixing ever since.

Though they now earn enough money solely from playing music, Hot Chip has remixed over 30 songs for other bands including Kraftwerk, M.I.A., and Rilo Kiley. This is just one of the ways they have managed to diversify their money-making strategies as new bands everywhere are learning that big money no longer comes from record sales.

“For a long time in our career, we worked juggling other jobs to make money and get by,” Goddard says. “We kind of DJ’d to make extra money occasionally and do re-mixes for other artists. The record sales have slumped so dramatically in the last few years, bands need to have other ways of getting by financially—remixing, DJing, playing live. We try to balance all of those things.”

The band’s live shows have become a hot ticket for concert enthusiasts, and Hot Chip’s been tapped to play several of the largest festivals this year: Coachella and Glastonbury. The Vancouver show has been sold out for months.

“What some people find exciting about it is that we’re making electronic music and the way that most bands do that is by using just a laptop or having everything sequenced or controlled so it’s perfectly in time. It’s all controlled by a computer originally, so you get this very well-oiled slick dance music,” Goddard explains. “Whereas the way that we do it is much more organic. Like you’ll see the five of us on stage just playing together, like a rock band, but making the real house music or techno or R&B. We don’t do it in the same way that most people do it when they play live. That’s very important to us, to be very physical on stage, playing together and to be enjoying that and having fun and really working at it rather than just having it all pre-programmed.”

The energy from playing their complex songs live seems to fuel the crowd, which Goddard describes as “an electricity in the air” that happens at many of their shows.

“In Lawrence, Kansas, it just felt like a total party,” he says. “People were just really, really going for it, having fun. Those are the shows we feel good about when we can see people smiling and enjoying themselves. Luckily that happens quite often with us. We went to South America, Brazil, and played a show and there were maybe 20,000 people and a lot of them were really just dancing. It’s a fantastic feeling when it all goes right.”

The band has been touring extensively for the last several years, and the travel side is a major bonus for Goddard, who used to be an enthusiastic photographer, and loves experiencing other cultures.

“I’ve been to hundreds of places that if I wasn’t in this business I wouldn’t have had the chance to visit. I love being in Japan. I love the culture and the food there. I love the shops and the clothes you can find there,” he says. “We’ve had great visits in Texas, California. I’ve got friends in Boston that I see. New York is great. We’ve always had a great time when we’ve played in Canada in the past. Spain, Portugal—I love different kinds of world cuisine, trying local cocktails. It’s so rich in new experiences, I’m really thankful for all of that.”

And, even though touring can be exhausting, it’s also an incredible perk, Goddard admits, especially if your band mates are your best friends.

“When you’re touring on the tour bus you have a lot of free time to spend with the people you’re touring with. A lot of chances to just have fun with people: play games, listen to music, or just drink with people and talk,” he says. “It’s a very sociable thing to do. Obviously you get moments where you really want time alone, where you want some privacy, but most of the time it’s really a happy and joyful thing.”

If Hot Chip’s photo appeared in a teen magazine, the caption would likely read BFFs, or Best Friends Forever! Though they have worked with some of their biggest heroes (Kraftwerk, Robert Wyatt), and loved it, they don’t really want to branch out and take on big names for future albums.

“Most of the time, we’re kind of happy working just with each other,” Goddard says. “I don’t really have a strong desire to get lots of guests on our album or anything like that. We’re quite happy being quite self-sufficient.”

This might be the real key to why their music makes people so damn happy—the band genuinely likes each other, and loves what they do. There’s still a bit of innocent naiveté that fills Goddard’s voice as he describes Hot Chip’s good fortune, and how the five men have become “kind of brothers”, which includes all the good and bad that comes along with that relationship.

“When you spend three weeks on a tour bus being with each other all the time, we end up kind of needling each other, or slightly annoying each other, but when we’re apart, we really kind of miss each other,” Goddard says. “When we see each other again after break, it’s really kind of joyful and we make each other laugh a lot, and we enjoy each other’s company. It’s a strange situation because you start a band and not thinking it’s going to be your career. We started our band just because it was fun and exciting to us, but we didn’t ever really think it would be our day job.”

But, what a killer day job it is.

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