As the weeks and months flew by this year, Hot Chip's new The Warning LP went from one of the best records to download and, erm, "preview", to one of the best records to buy on overpriced import, and today it becomes one of the best records to run out and grab from your favorite stateside music emporium. We talked with Hot Chip's Al Doyle about musical humor, German techno, working with the DFA, and more, check the conversation after the jump. And if you still don't believe us about the record, stream it here in it's entirety.
Are you excited for the album to finally come out?
Yeah sure, why not? Haha. No we’re happy its coming out, for us its been a long wait since this thing has been finished—since last June I think? So for us it’s already getting a bit old.
Was it a mostly home-recorded affair again?
Partly—Felix and Joe lived together in Camden in North London and part of it was [recorded] there, and then they both moved out and part of it was done in Joe’s bedroom in his dad's house, which is where the first album was recorded. So its still bedroom-based pretty much. I think there was one song that was recorded in Felix’s new house that is “No Fit State,” which we recorded all together. It’s sort of the only one on the album that is like that.
Did you have a concept in mind going into The Warning?
No—I mean I think that the “concept album” idea is a sort of just like a last minute add on, really. In terms of the way people were thinking about this album, it ended up being a group of songs that had this lyrical content that was vaguely shared. There’s a lot of songs that seemed to be urging caution, and that wasn’t consciously done, it just happened that way. There are a few songs on there that are really old, like “Boy From School” and “Over and Over” and “The Warning” were written probably six or seven months after finishing the first album, or the same time as the album was out, so definitely the writing spanned a long period. Putting it together was something that happened at the end of trying to force some cohesion to this sort of faceless lump of songs really.
How do you feel about the response to Coming On Strong? Do you think people “got it”?
It sort of varied from place to place—actually in the US there has certainly been more response to it, I don’t know if it has been more positive than not, but generally it has. It didn’t get a hell of a lot of coverage in the UK to tell you the truth, and it wasn’t too much of a big deal. I think that the people that did listen to it and were enthusiastic and liked it, you know, sort of put the word out in a low key way. But over in the US I think people have mostly got it. There’s been a few issues, with the record sort of being pigeonholed as a novelty comedy record—people can’t seem to get past that aspect of the music.
I think a lot of people have a hard time seeing the difference between music that’s intentionally “jokey” and music that just has a sense of humor, or just doesn’t take itself quite so seriously.
Yeah there is definitely a distinction to be drawn. I think that we didn’t want to be too earnest and too much of a sort of easy target for people that like to listen to these sort of kind of glaringly simple rock bands like Ladytron or something like that, where it seems to be right straight down the line. We’re doing this thing, and you know it has sort of a confrontational feel [as opposed to] the way they’re doing their music. I think The Warning is kind of confrontational in a different kind of way, its sort of…you know its asking a lot form the listener but hopefully rather than being rewarded right away, there are layers that bring people back. So hopefully that will be something for people to listen to over a longer period of time.
Did you know beforehand that you wanted the beats to be lot more driving on this record?
There was a tendency for people to see the first album as maybe seeing this, like, background sort of Air-style electronic music and that wasn’t the intention at all. I wasn’t in the band at that time but I think that they had an intention to make records that could be played on the dancefloor and maybe get people moving, but the production wasn’t quite there so it didn’t end up being that way and consequently it was taken in a lot of quarters as being kind of like “chilled beats” style, I don’t know. Which was a bit disappointing for all of them I think, and I think it confused a lot of people because there were people that really liked it and they would come and see the live shows which were really sort of energetic and pretty intensely house-y and dancey and it got a bit confusing. So this brings things into line a little more with what we do live.
When did you join the band?
Its over two years ago now. It was just after the first single was coming out which is “Down With Prince” on Moshi Moshi, so it would have been…I don’t remember, the end of 2003 or something. I had known Felix for a while, he’s the guy that plays the drum machines, we were at college together. He’s a real old friend of mine, but the other guys I hadn’t known, really at all, Owen and Alexis and Joe were all at school together, and you know they were eating their pack lunches in the cafeteria and wrestling in the schoolyard since they were eleven, so they were really a tight unit. Owen was an addition to the band, it was Alexis and Joe and then Owen joined and then Felix joined and there was another guy called Rob Spouten who went solo—and now he’s actually supporting us on our UK tour under the moniker Grovener. I kind of came into replace him. I know we’ve done pretty well since I’ve joined and I don’t know if that’s coincidence or not. But you might want to mention that. It’s been good, I got to give up my day job, which has been fantastic that I get to do this sort of stuff.
Are you going to be playing a lot of shows behind The Warning?
It's not too heavy over the summer, a lot of festivals obviously, we’re coming over to the States for a short while, we’re going to do like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and we’re going to go over to New York and do the Seaport Festival I think. And then we’re doing Lollapalooza and maybe a few other things if we can fit them in, but that’s just a short little stint over a week. Then we’ve got some European festivals and some stuff in Scandinavia and a few other bits and pieces, but we haven’t got way too much—anything we do now is sort of for our own sake. We’re still writing music and we’ve got probably eight or nine songs for the next album, and some stuff we’ve been working on together in different. There is already a lot of new material, and chances are we’ll be playing some new songs that aren’t even on The Warning [on tour]. In fact we were doing that already when we toured the States. We don’t have to actually worry about putting something out for a while, we’re just going to be dealing with the album. Although we’d like to put some stuff out, if someone wants to.
How has touring and the sonics of Hot Chip’s live set influenced the newest songs?
Well hopefully it will be tending more toward the live sound, Felix and I both have our own studios and its just about to the state where we can bring it together, so we might go in there and lay some stuff down. But I mean who knows, really. We are always trying to write something that’s different from what we’ve done before. There’s rumors of sort of doing something acoustic—playing guitars so we’re not pigeonholed as just being a keyboard band. It will be very different from whatever it is [now]. Some of the new tracks are pretty pounding, Some pretty straightforward techno songs with a real song-based edge to it. So thats should be quite interesting. What tended to happen over the whole arc of the [previous] albums, there’s been extremes within Coming on Strong and then there’s been extremes in The Warning, but those extremes have been becoming more distant, and drawn apart, so you’ve got some very quiet stuff and then you’ve got some very dancey kind of numbers, maybe that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll draw even more of a clear distinction between when we’re up and when we’re down.
Is the band still listening to a lot of recent rap?
Totally. Joe and Alexis continue to listen to quiet a lot of R&B stuff and hip hop stuff and following R. Kelly’s career pretty closely and what he’s up to. Personally I m big into a lot of minimal techno stuff .
Yeah, I mean pretty much, that kind of thing. Kompakt is a good and mellow label. For those sort of people that are working out of Germany there’s some interesting little labels out doing some pretty cutting edge stuff which I’m really interested in. In terms of other current stuff and specifically rock, none of us listen to any of that stuff. I don’t know what the hell is going on with most of, you know, “modern music.” Apart from the people that we kind of meet when we’re touring. We meet a lot of people and a lot of bands and most of them are really nice and we’ve gotten along really well with them, but I wouldn’t tend to go out and buy those records really. A lot of the time I’ve been listeing ot a lot of old folk records and The Incredible String band and kind of just old Smithsonian Folkways stuff, getting some tips on writing good songs from those days. So you know, hopefully we’ll put the two together and see what’s going on. We’re making a lot of music, but its sort of the bossman’s holiday to come back and put something on, and that’s why I think a lot of this folk stuff is really great. It’s a real good way of just clearing the air, its sort of helping you through the problems you’ve had during the day with your 30 year-old synthesizer.
Who decides on remixers for the singles?
Most of them have come from home actually. We’ve asked like Naum Gabbo who’s one half of Optimo. Johnny Wilkes, he’s got some records out on Kompakt’s sort of sub-label Spike, he did a remix for “Over and Over”. We sort of went for those guys rather than your sort of classic dance music remixers. Obviously EMI wanted us to go for some sort of big name and whatever, and we weren’t really interested in doing that so we suggested those people. Erol Alkan we’ve known for a little while, and we’ve played at his night here in London and he’s been doing some good stuff so we were happy for him to do one. Cosmic Sandwich is a guy called Steve Barnes who records with another guy called Riley Reinhold who’s the head of Traum records out of Cologne in Germany, which is one of the most consistently good kind of German house labels. We were big admirers of his work, quite funky stuff. We’ve been trying to get some other sort of strange stuff—Jane has done one for “Boy From School” which is a very long, ambient kind of workout. But you know, we’re always trying to put b-sides in first, we’d rather have new Hot Chip stuff for people to listen to. If we have to have remixes—which we sort of do—then we’re going to try and go for the most interesting stuff, and if we can introduce people to some people that we think they should be listening to then that’s a sort of good power to have I think.
Are there any other people on your remixer wish list?
Well we were tyring to get in contact with Robert Wyatt to do something for “Boy From School” cause we just thought his voice would suit him really well. It was such a long shot and also I don’t think people really took us seriously, and we were deadly serious about it so that didn’t happen although we’re actually going to be playing a festival with him here in London in June I think so we might try and talk to him again. I’d really like this guy Dominic Yorfolk to do a remix for us. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s really good, like one of the biggest DJs in Europe at the moment, just doing techno and trance and house and he’s got this cerebral sort of well-produced style, some really really good stuff. We’re quite interested in getting bands to do stuff as well, people who wouldn’t normally do remixes like Gang Gang Dance. That would be quite nice, you know, getting a band to come in and basically do like a cover rather than a remix—maybe we’ll look into those for the next one. Obviously DFA have done a few, they did…well it wasn’t really a remix it was a song. “We break down” was sort of some recording sessions we had done in New York with them quite a long time ago, and ended up kind of being there own thing, and they’ve just recently remixed “Colors,” another song from the album, they did a fantastic remix.
I heard that DFA were supposed to produce the entire record for you.
No not really. We had sessions, they were kind of…abortive is the word. It was quite a lot of rehearsal and a very short amount of recording before realizing that things weren’t really working out that well, so yeah, there’s not a whole lot left over from that. It’s not to say we wouldn’t like to work with them again, it would be good but it would be more of a collaboration then a Hot Chip or DFA thing, I think it would be something else, something somewhere in between.