On February 5, Hot Chip is releasing its third record, Made in the Dark. By far its finest work yet, the album manages to be danceable while appealing to those who don’t like dance music – mainly because of its nods to post-punk, British power-pop, cheesy top 40, old-school funk, new-school R&B, minimal techno, rave-y electro and more.
Hot Chip recorded Dark in various locations in its home base of London. The quintet self-produced/recorded tracks in guitarist/ percussionist Al Doyle and percussionist Felix Martin’s studio, holed up in vocalist/percussionist Joe Goddard’s bedroom (where it constructed much of 2006’s The Warning) -- and even entered a real studio with professional engineers, something it had never done before.
Vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Alexis Taylor says the aim of this nomadic process was “not to let [Dark] sound like it’s all of one mood or of one acoustic space." Mission accomplished: The album works as a Friday-night warm-up, as fodder for a rock-music DJ and as something for funk/hip-hop DJs to slip into their sets.
Many of Dark's songs were already debuted at live shows -- which helped the recording process evolve.
"We wanted to make this album sound closer to our live sound," Taylor says. "[Usually] we write at the recording stage. With this album, we wanted to go against that, do something that would be unconventional for us – that actually is probably more conventional for most bands.”
Dark is unconventional for dance music, but distinctly Hot Chip, because it’s entirely thoughtful, from the carefully stitched-together music down to the emotional vocals.
Annie Zaleski: When you read about people who make music with keyboards and stuff, they don’t tend to use that word -- thoughtfulness. Alexis Taylor: Why would anyone want to make something that didn’t work for a long time – or maybe could be played in a very different context? Recently, we played a show in London, and two members of the band [Joe and Felix] weren’t around. We decided to play the show, and it wasn’t really about dancing at all. I was just speaking to someone last night who happened to be at that gig, and she was saying how she was really quite amazed by it. She was expecting one thing but got a completely different thing. I suppose that’s someone saying that the songs still stand up, even if they’re performed only with a keyboard or an electric guitar -- rather than a full band trying to make people throw their hands in the air or whatever.
As an artist, I bet it’s so gratifying. It’s like, “Oh right, totally. They get it!” I’m not for a minute saying everyone gets it, but if people can see these different sides to us and appreciate that, then that’s the best thing really. If you’re trying to make music, you’d like people to be open-minded, and you’d like to be able to do very different things. If you’ve got anything of your own to say, it’s not like it could be a very narrow scope. That’s just how I feel anyway. I like to be able to make minimal, experimental music, and also make pop music, and also make music that’s hip-hop influenced and also make heavy-metal-influenced music. All different sounds are interesting to me. If you can get to the point where people still are interested in it – and they’re not just turning away as soon as you change your sound – it’s great.
The Batman-influenced video for Hot Chip, "Ready for the Floor":
Taylor says he was listening to a diverse selection of artists while making Dark – including Willie Nelson, Donnie Hathaway, Terry Riley and even R. Kelly. (The slow jam “Wrestlers” is a hilarious – and successful -- attempt at aping Kelly’s “I’m a Flirt.”)
How did these things influence your writing at all? That’s just me talking about the things that come to mind for me; I’m sure for the others in the band, they were listening to completely different things. Joe is a big U.K. garage fan, and also [likes] house and techno music. We’re all interested in different polyrhythms and things and trying to set songs in an interesting context – not necessarily just leave them as they are when they’re first written. Sometimes a song is simpler in its original form, but we sort of take it and put it in a new context. I’ve listened to quite a lot of Black Sabbath over the last few years as well. Funkadelic -- the first Funkadelic album, I was going back to and listening a lot. I don’t think we were listening to these things and then consciously thinking about them. They’re just sort of in the background, you know? Listening to music for pleasure…
How did all the remixing influence the songwriting? Has it at all? The remixing hasn’t directly influenced the songwriting, in my mind. But what has influenced it has been DJing. All of us put together this compilation album, DJ-Kicks [last year]. We did a lot of DJing around the release of that. Al and Felix found a particular area of dance music that they wanted to DJ, German minimal house and techno music, on the Traum label and Kompakt, things like that. There’s a lot of influence from those labels and that Cologne-based music scene coming into the rhythms on this record. Things like the track “Hold On” started out as a minimal-techno thing, but I guess by me singing over it, it kind of takes it into a slightly different place. And also, Joe was trying to make more of a disco groove, it’s kind of a battle between being disco and minimal house, and being a song with live distorted Fender Rhodes all over it as well. The DJing will have brought a minimal techno feel to the record in a way that we haven’t really explored before.
When people listen to the record, what do you want them to take from it? I’d like them to be enthralled by it, and be confused by it, and disoriented by it, and be able to listen to what’s happening in the lyrics -- as well as how those are going against the music sometimes. I want people to find all the depth in it that we hope they’ll find in it, you know? I want them to have fun listening to it, but also there’s a lot to be found in the record, I think.