SET­TLING DOWN HAS BEEN GOOD FOR THEIR MU­SIC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - The Times

ALEXIS Tay­lor and Joe God­dard, the singing, song­writ­ing, syn­th­play­ing core of Hot Chip, are sun­ning them­selves in the court­yard of the British Li­brary. This is a favourite lo­ca­tion for band meet­ings with their three ab­sent col­leagues: Al Doyle, Felix Martin and Owen Clarke. It’s no Chateau Mar­mont-style plea­sure pit but, as we should know by now, the South Lon­don­ers have never as­pired to con­ven­tional star­dom.

They’ve never as­pired to it, but it may be claim­ing them any­way. For more than a decade they have been mak­ing lit­er­ate, dance­able mu­sic, built around Tay­lor’s pris­tine falsetto and wry de­con­struc­tions of ev­ery­thing from the rep­e­ti­tion of dance mu­sic (‘‘like a mon­key with a minia­ture cym­bal’’) to the retro joys of the Sony Dis­c­man (‘‘ev­ery­thing spins on my hip’’). But the ar­rival this year of their fifth al­bum, In Our Heads, felt like the mo­ment at which they joined Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and Scritti Politti at the top ta­ble of in­tel­li­gent British elec­tronic pop.

The last time I met them was in 2006 at a slightly shab­bier ta­ble, in a Le­banese res­tau­rant in West Lon­don. They were about to break through with their sec­ond al­bum, The Warn­ing. What’s changed since? ‘‘ It’s still the same menu, I went there the other day,’’ dead­pans Tay­lor be­hind his Joe 90 spec­ta­cles. God­dard, ur­sine and af­fa­ble where Tay­lor is tiny and pre­cise, lets out a snig­ger. He con­cedes that they have moved away from the hip-hop and R&B that in­formed, of­ten obliquely, their ear­lier al­bums in favour of dance and pop in­flu­ences: the new record takes in blissed-out Balearica, con­fes­sional elec­tro-pop and Miami Vice- style synths.

An­other change is that both men have hit 30 and be­come fathers. Here, too, they have bucked the muso trend by sim­ply tak­ing their kids on tour with them — or at least God­dard did un­til the ar­rival of his sec­ond made it ‘‘ mind-bend­ingly dif­fi­cult to take them on a small tour bus’’. Now, God­dard ad­mits, he ‘‘ would ac­cept do­ing things for the good of my chil­dren. Some gigs we get of­fered might be spon­sored by a mo­bile phone com­pany. It’s hard to earn a liv­ing through mu­sic and not en­gage with the com­mer­cial world.’’

But set­tling down has, over­all, been good for their mu­sic, deep­en­ing the de­tail and frank­ness that have al­ways been their hall­marks. In Our Heads is an unapolo­getic cel­e­bra­tion of do­mes­tic­ity and monogamy: ‘‘ When you wake me in the morn­ing, that is my favourite thing,’’ Tay­lor sings on You Do?

Their sin­cer­ity and speci­ficity con­trasts with the blithe ho­mo­gene­ity of the charts, much of which God­dard finds con­ser­va­tive and bland: ‘‘ Sweep­ing state­ments like ‘ You have to live as if it’s your last night’ feel quite empty.’’ Be­ing gen­uine, he thinks, ‘‘ makes a mas­sive dif­fer­ence as to whether peo­ple re­ally con­nect with a song. Some­times I do feel kind of strange get­ting older and mak­ing pop mu­sic and not es­sen­tially be­ing that pop­u­lar,’’ he ad­mits.

In terms of units shifted, Hot Chip does have way to go be­fore it threat­ens Depeche Mode,

How Do but the band’s sold-out tours sug­gest it’s not now out of the ques­tion.

Even Tay­lor’s three-year-old daugh­ter, Pru­dence, is hum­ming its songs now, al­though her aware­ness ex­tends only so far. ‘‘ The other day some­body in the park said to her, ‘ What does your daddy do?’ and she said, ‘ Daddy’s job is drink­ing beer.’ Which is quite im­pres­sive given I was tee­to­tal for 22 years.’’ The lat­ter ad­mis­sion fits with Tay­lor’s sense of lu­cid con­tain­ment: he didn’t drink un­til he was 22 ‘‘ be­cause I didn’t like what drink and drugs might do to me’’. Were his fears re­alised when he started? ‘‘ I just liked beer.’’

The best thing about Hot Chip is its unique­ness: its mem­bers have in­flu­ences com­ing out their ears but they sound like no­body else. Their clos­est cousins may not be mu­si­cians at all: with their rig­or­ously con­structed in­te­rior worlds, their Oxbridge de­grees (God­dard went to Ox­ford, Tay­lor met Doyle and Martin at Cam­bridge) and their abil­ity to com­bine fun with in­tel­lect, they have more than a dash of Monty Python.

Like the Pythons they have a bun­dle of side projects: God­dard’s dance-floor-geared 2 Bears, Tay­lor’s im­pro­vi­sa­tional work with About Group, Doyle and Martin’s spin-off band New Build. Doyle, a multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist, has also played with James Mur­phy’s now de­funct LCD Soundsys­tem. ‘‘ James and Al get on very well; James rightly thinks Al’s an amaz­ing player, so if James had an­other mu­si­cal project Al would prob­a­bly be in­volved,’’ God­dard says.

They played a re­cent concert un­der their var­i­ous guises and there is talk of de­vel­op­ing a re­vue-style live show in­cor­po­rat­ing all of their aliases. ‘‘ It’s very har­mo­nious, re­ally,’’ God­dard says. The more their mu­sic be­comes cher­ished, the more their sin­cer­ity con­tin­ues to chime, the less peo­ple will fix­ate on their geek­i­ness. It’s the tag that has fol­lowed Hot Chip around since day one. Not that they have ever re­sisted it. When I first met them, Doyle pointed at Tay­lor’s char­ity-shop top and said: ‘‘ Look at that shirt. Is he wor­ried about it? Of course he’s not.’’

But slowly the geek cho­rus is fad­ing. They played a mi­nor role in the Olympics, writ­ing the in­tro­duc­tory mu­sic for the ta­ble tennis. It also turns out that Tay­lor is a use­ful foot­baller. ‘‘ We used to play to­gether loads at school,’’ God­dard says. ‘‘ Alexis is re­ally good. I was a de­fender and he and Owen were kind of cre­ative mid­field­ers.’’

Tay­lor, God­dard and Clarke met at the mu­sic-friendly El­liott School in south­west Lon­don’s Put­ney, whose alumni in­clude the xx, the Mac­cabees and Four Tet. They were pre­cious years, when they first be­gan mak­ing mu­sic at each other’s houses. ‘‘ We weren’t ex­posed to criticism so hav­ing your own lit­tle world where you can have your own fan­tasy and ideas was quite easy,’’ God­dard says.

Now they have swapped their teenage bed­rooms for what God­dard calls ‘‘ a mas­sively lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment’’ with their wives and kids. Lest they get smug, they have God­dard’s dad to keep them on their toes. ‘‘ He in­vests quite a lot of time in our mu­sic,’’ God­dard says. ‘‘ He’s al­ways push­ing us to be weirder.’’

Af­ter their re­cent gig at Heaven in Lon­don, which I found rather rap­tur­ous, ‘‘ Joe’s dad ac­tu­ally gave me a pretty rig­or­ous re­view,’’ Tay­lor says with a hint of a smile. ‘‘ He said that we needed to work on the shape of the set and that we lost peo­ple at cer­tain points.’’

But af­ter all that, what’s most strik­ing is how much they haven’t changed. The fact there is a recog­nis­able Hot Chip sound makes God­dard ‘‘ feel re­ally proud, but I also won­der if peo­ple just think we’re re­peat­ing our­selves’’. He needn’t worry. They have sim­ply gained con­fi­dence in their whim­si­cal world and waited for ev­ery­body to catch up.

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