Interview by Emily Tullock on 15/5/12
A bunch of school mates formed UK synth-pop band Hot Chip in 2000. Fast-forward twelve years later and they’re all grown up and coming on strong with their fifth studio album. Guitarist Owen Clarke talks to Pulse Radio’s Emily Tullock about maturity, being the oldest guy on the dance floor and how the charts are a “terrible state of affairs”.
Pulse: Where in the world are you and what are you up to at the moment? Owen Clarke: I’m currently barefoot in my kitchen in London. The lights are on even though it’s daytime because it’s dull and wet outside. I’m wearing a very nice blue dressing gown.
How would you describe the sound on the new Hot Chip In Our Heads that’s coming out on June 11th? A bit more singular, a bit more interlocked and of course electronic. It’s quite tough but also has elements of light and shade within that.
Hot Chip formed in 2000 – is there a sense that you’re all getting a bit too old to keep playing the same light, fun electro songs? Well human beings have always found it very difficult to deal with age but it’s also a benefit, I think, that brings on changes. I think listening to the very first record; Coming On Strong, it was very much made as an in-the-home record. It was very referential. It was about the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder and Queen and it was quite a young record – not naïve but if you go through the records it’s not like they’re audibly getting older but you do have to change the way you’re thinking. You don’t want to be the oldest guy on the dance floor, you don’t want to be singing about teenage heartbreak when you’re 25 even. It’s good if you look at yourself and try and do the thing that you think is most exciting. And not try to emulate youth. The experience of withstanding vitality I think is much more important.
Would you say this is a more mature album? Mature sounds - not dull - but not severely exciting. In a way, the last record sounded like us unwinding and maturing and becoming more professional. But we’re not that much more mature this time than the last one. There are less songs about wrestling or silly things like Stevie Wonder not being able to sing. There’s still an escape and a humour but there’s a different way of dealing with the themes. The themes have always been the same – love and questioning relationships, introspection and reviewing things and talking about music itself. Those things are still there. If you look across the records they’re factually maturing. This one is maturing in the way it sounds sonically – it’s not more mature but there’s a progression. We’ve figured out how to make music and by doing it together for a while we’ve figured out when to either butt out or chip in. We’re just trying to make the songs as good as we can and as neat and as punchy as possible. That’s the thing that I feel is more mature about the record – the sound. There’s peaks and troughs even though there’s slower songs and longer songs. Even though everything is weaving around it’s from the same space.
Did you do anything differently or new this time in terms of the sound? The last record we did out of a studio which was really just a basement and we did that DIY thing where we produced everything ourselves. We were doing it in a patchwork, pirate-ship way; sticking everything together. This time we were working in a proper studio, that was the thing that we did differently – it doesn’t sound that revolutionary, there’s no headline “Band goes to recording studio” – but for us it was quite a step. But a very comfortable step for us to make. In terms of doing things differently it meant that we opened up on the record. We got a percussionist to come down and play. We got a saxophone player in. Basically we just had fun with it with our friends in the studio but it also has this raw element that was still ours. We found our own world but inside this portal other world. That was the thing that changed this record.
With the fifth studio album is it easier or more comfortable to create the songs together? It’s quite hard to write a song with five people - I think that’s the frustrating thing when you look at a Beatles record and you see by Lennon and you know that everyone’s had an influence on the way the record sounds. Even Justin Bieber, the song credits, there’s about seven writers involved and yet the song goes “baby baby … baby”. When the songs came through as demos they were pretty much written but in terms of adding some melodic aspects and arrangements, when you’re amongst friends you can say whether something is bullshit which is quite a powerful thing. There’s lots of little things that edge into the songs and knock them like a pinball machine to get somewhere good. A lot of the song writing would get done before the studio – I think that’s a strength in a way that you’ve got the core but you put in different aspects.
Made in the Dark was very popular in the charts - is there any pressure to replicate that mainstream popularity? The only pressure we have is from ourselves really. Over and Over and The Warning seemed much more popular in the UK in terms of actual chart success. Ready for the Floor was never as big. The charts, especially now, are a terrible state of affairs. It’s not that much fun to write for them really. We just try and write songs that are fun pop songs. Sometimes it does work for the charts as well. But our priority is just writing what we want to write that’s fun but also a bit odd. In the spirit of say Phil Spector or OutKast – they’re very poppy but they also sound a bit odd. They’re not some sort of Euro dance or a kickback with a guy laughing through the chorus. If we wanted to do that, we could do that. But we don’t. We want to make something fun.
Are you planning to come to Australia any time soon? We’re in the midst of planning it. We’ve got our maps out and we’ve got our little flag. It would be great if we can. It takes a little while to get there. Even when you’re on a plane it takes 24 hours and the plane is going 500 miles an hour. But yes we are coming over. I couldn’t say when at the moment. We love coming over. We haven’t really toured, in my memory, in the past few years. It’s definitely time to come over.
What’s next for Hot Chip? We’re gearing up to the live tour. And we’re also waiting for the record to come out– we’re quite excited about that. We did a video recently which was synchronised dancing which was quite fun. We’re also picking out our most exciting songs that will form the live show for the next few weeks. Then get out there and see how it goes.
Hot Chip’s new album ‘In Our Heads’ is out June 8 via Domino. Pre-order now via iTunes.
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