The party might be over for Hot Chip. After years of producing infectious beats to get the dance floor started, the band members are following their muse in a different direction. Once its reputation was firmly established by Coming On The Strong and The Warning, Hot Chip put out Made In The Dark, which was at once a breakthrough and turning point, offering ballads with a depth of feeling (and much subtler beats) not usually seen in a group of synthesizer-pounding partiers. As anyone in a relationship is quick to point out, though, getting together is the easy part. On its new release, One Life Stand, Hot Chip explores what happens when the honeymoon is over and the long-term relationship starts. Here, guitarist Owen Clarke discusses the pleasures of domesticity, predicts the eventual fate of the majority of his band’s CDs, and offers one of the most anticlimactic exclusives in the history of music journalism.
The new album is called One Life Stand. Is Hot Chip settling down in its old age?
That might depend on your definition of "old." We’re definitely in a different period in our lives than when we started. We’ve got two members married and one baby. We’re definitely settling down, but that’s a natural progression for people. It would be odder if we were still trying to hang on to what we were doing years ago and refusing to adapt.
Where does this album fit in the band’s progression?
It’s more cohesive, and really more like the first record in that aspect. Rather than a collection of singles for the club, the songs have a flow that makes it more suitable for the home as well as the club. We tried to find a tempo where the music still makes you want to move around, but you can do some other things. If you listen to an album in the home, you’re going to be doing chores, like washing dishes. One Life Stand is the perfect record for this sort of thing. That sounds very domestic, but there’s only so often you want to go to the club and listen to music. We want to make pop music that can be listened to at all times.
How has the band’s sound developed on this album?
We’ve added some new drummers this time around, Charles Haywood and a fellow named Leo Taylor from a great band called Invisible. There are steel pans by a man named Bravo and strings from our friends Geese. We just went wherever the songs were taking us, and these additions seemed natural. When a band consciously tries to develop or change its sound, the results almost always sound forced. We just try to explore in ways that feel organic and right to us in the context of the band.
A lot of artists seem to be hemmed in by the expectations of their fans and label. Do you find that you have the opposite problem, and that there are too many possibilities?
A blank canvas is an opportunity, but it’s also very daunting. We try never to have expectations when we’re recording, and most people know us in very different ways. Our singles are usually very different from our albums, and some people relate solely to them. It’s a bit old fashioned to think of singles as an advertisement for the larger album. If people don’t want to move past the singles, that’s fine. If they want to go further, they can.
Where do you start when you’re recording a song?
I think what’s interesting is that the process can swing in style during the recording process. “Heart of Glass” started off with a reggae beat and then they tried it with disco and it grew into a classic. The song is best created as it goes, rather than existing in full from the very beginning. A song like “Hand Me Down Your Love” started out in one place at outset of the recording process, but ended up somewhere very different.
How do you know when a song has reached completion?
It’s kind of like when you exercise. You’re exhausted and tired from the exertion, but not so much that you never want to do it again. When you reach that point, that’s the signal that it’s finished.
Are there ever any arguments in the studio?
We’re not the kind of band that argues; the music argues for itself. The song will be pulling in one direction, and the best decision is usually to follow it. There are some uncomfortable silences during the recording process. At that point someone needs to take charge and come up with the best solution. Making music is sometimes about diplomacy and finding out how to work out the issue in the best interest of the music.
Were you involved with the design of the album this time around?
I was, and it’s kind of a curious process in that everybody has an opinion about how things should look. I came up with a concept and did a whole bunch of drawings. I got my friends involved in the process and came up with a look that suited the album. The process of making a CD is interesting, because the majority of them will probably end up in a landfill. There’s no real purpose for their existence, but it makes them more like art. It’s an object without a real function. I would hope, however, that everybody who is going to legally download the album would at least want something to set a beer on and will buy the CD.
What’s your opinion about the state of the music industry today?
It’s still making music. As long as the industry is still able to do that, most everything else will fall into place. It’s when the industry starts trying to make calculations instead of music that it runs into trouble. There’s only so far a business plan can go. Things become really boring and the fans start to go away. When the industry focuses on simply making music and getting out to consumers without looking at the profit margin, the industry will be in a much better place than it is today.
Can you end the interview with a genuine exclusive? What is something that nobody knows about Hot Chip?
Nobody in the band drives at all. We all have to get around the old-fashioned way, on our own two feet. That’s not exactly the juiciest bit of information, but we are settling down a bit.