Hot Chip have managed to capture that ever-elusive quality that every band would kill for: Staying power. The British electro-pop quintet's been in the biz of turning out rad dance songs since their debut, Coming on Strong, dropped back in 2004. They've established a "new every two" pattern, subsequently releasing The Warning in 2006, Made in the Dark in 2008 and, this week, making waves in 2010 with their fourth full-length record, One Life Stand. While the cohesive sound keeps with the Hot Chip tradition of badass beats and arrangements, the lyrical content appears more personal than albums past. Out with the obtuse, in with the sentimental. Well, not entirely; but they do show their sensitive side moreso than ever before. As opposed to singing about crap kraft dinners, sexual chocolate and shining escalades, the boys are back with themes that touch a little closer to the core. All in all it's a solid disc, from the more subdued "Alley Cats," a personal favorite, to the electrified dance number "We Have Love." There's something for everyone on the record -- including flugelhorns and steel pans.
Despite a hectic stateside schedule, the jolly Joe Goddard, sporting a white tee with Gandhi's face on it, and bandmate Owen Clarke, looking dapper in his herringbone blazer and leather lace-ups, took a moment to chat with PAPERMAG.
How do you guys feel about this album in comparison to your previous three albums?
Joe Goddard : I feel very happy with this. I feel like it's really focused. I like the way it sounds. I think the songwriting is the strongest we've ever done. I feel like our abilities have improved -- to write songs and make them. I feel like it's a development. I guess bands generally say that about their new record, don't they?
Owen Clarke: I was in my local pub and they have the first album, Coming on Strong, on the jukebox. One of the songs came on and I thought âI haven't heard this in ages.' I thought âIt's actually quite good.' I think this album's a bit like the first album. The first album's quite sonically succinct as well. I was suddenly struck with a little moment of pride with how the new album sounds.
What are your personal favorite songs on the album?
JG: I really like "Alley Cats," I really like "Brothers." I like most of the songs, to be honest. I really like "One Life Stand." I think it's funky and successful. Good chorus.
I quite enjoy the way you explained that. Alexis [Taylor] does most of the lyric writing, right?
JG: It's kind of split. We work differently on different tracks. A couple songs are basically written by Alexis, like "Hand Me Down Your Love" and "Slush." I just help produce them. Other ones are written by me; "Brothers" is essentially written by me. And "Alley Cats."
No wonder you like them best!
JG: But something like "One Life Stand" is really half and half. I wrote more of the music and he wrote more of the words. So, across the album, there's different ways of working.
I have to say, with this title, One Life Stand, for, like, thirty seconds, I wondered to myself if this was a charity album, a record for a cause. The title sounds kind of lofty. Then I thought a little longer and realized, âWow, that's clever. That's cute.' Good title, guys. What inspired it?
OC: We had a bit of trouble naming the record. It's quite hard to name a record. It's like naming a pet or a child or something.
JG: It's hard to pin it down. We spent months trying to decide
on the title. We had so many! Some stupid. Some serious. In the end, we
felt "One Life Stand" was simple. There's a lot of songs about love and
relationships on the record, so "One Life Stand" kind of captures that.
Basically, it was the only one none of us got annoyed with.
What about "Brothers"? What inspired that song? Not love and relationships. At least not romantic relationships.
JG: It's partly just having brothers. I have a younger brother and thought it'd be nice to write a song about that. Alexis has two older brothers and one really young brother who was born recently. And there's another part to it; we toured with Matthew Dear a couple of years ago in the UK and he wanted to collaborate on a song about a brotherhood of dudes touring in different bands. He thought it would be a nice subject for a song, cause we got on really well and would hang out together, go drinking after shows and have parties backstage. We had a great time. So, those were the two things with that song. My brother really likes it. I thought of maybe getting him up onstage to sing it with me.
Other influences on the album? You were talking about love, your own brother, etcetera.
JG: I think this record is influenced by old dance and soul music from the States. Lots of stuff from Detroit and Chicago. Old Motown records. Old house music from the late '80s, from Chicago. Old techno records, famous old house records, like Promised Land by Joe Smooth. Would have been '87 or something. Maybe earlier. Look it up on YouTube. It's so cool! Old, soulful house music with big songs and big gospel instruments and piano.
Robust! I meant to ask you, do you guys have a real steel drum in there or is that a sample?
JG: We have real steel drums in there! We had this amazing, old Jamaican guy play steel pans for us. It's really, really cool. A guy called Bravo. He's been playing for, like, 30 years! Really amazing. Really knew what he was doing.
When did you wrap up recording One Life Stand?
JG: September? We started in April. We weren't recording that whole time. We recorded a lot in April and May. Took a break for a while, wrote a couple more songs toward the end of the process, in August and September. Finished around then.
Sounds like a shorter process than a lot of other bands that labor over things for, like, a year or two.
JG: We do tend to be quick when we start making a record.
OC: The actual recording of it's quite quick. Production and pulling it together take quite a long time.
JG: Some bands go through that whole process of working with one producer and one studio and that doesn't end up being good, so they have to try another studio and another producer. Try out all these different ways of working. With us, we just went into our own studio and did it.
You make it sound so easy! You've fallen into a pattern; you seem to put something out every two years since 2004. Think we can expect something new come 2012?
OC: It's like a sporting event that only comes around every four years!
The Hot Chip Half Olympics?
JG: I think there's a good possibility of us doing another. At the same time, we'll maybe do our own things for a while. It's hard to say. The whole of this year has been mapped out with touring. When we get to the end of that process we'll see how we feel. If we feel like we want to start on another record, then you could be looking at 2012 for the next one.
So what can fans expect from you in terms of live shows?
OC: It's a little bit faster and louder than the disc you're listening to at home. We don't go into big production too much. We like to keep it quite straight.
JG: We tend to do the songs in different ways. We don't try to copy the album version. We take the essential parts of the song and make a whole new version, so it kind of fits better in the live show. We extend parts of songs if we think they're good. We often segue between songs --
OC: We are quite physical. On our last tour lots of things became quite sequenced. A fun thing to do might be to allow those things played by a drum machine, or repetitive parts, to be played by ourselves.
What's one of the craziest things that's happened during a tour?
JG: We were at a massive festival and we had a massive power cut in the middle of one song. The Brazilian crowd didn't bat an eyelid about it. They just kept on drinking their caipirinhas. Twenty minutes later, the power came back on and we started from exactly the point where we had to stop. The crowd went nuts.
OC: They did synchronized dancing.
JG: Yeah, they did samba dancing in the front row. It was great.
Do you feel like different crowds around the world react to your music differently?
JG: There are differences in terms of people's boisterousness. Different countries are more rowdy than others. These are clichÃ©s. Japanese audiences are very thankful and polite. They'll clap massively, really suggesting they've had a good time, but they'll stop dead and really listen to you in case you say something before playing the next song.
OC: You can hear the stage creaking.
Wow. I can never make out what people onstage are saying.
JG: And then other places people are a lot more drunk. In Germany, you generally play really late because crowds go out late and like clubbing until the early morning. In the end, people around the world are essentially the same.
OC: People are people.
JG: They just get more or less drunk.
One Life Stand is out on Feb. 9 via Astralwerks.
Photos by Bevis Martin and Charlie Youle