Hot Chip had one helluva ride in 2008: Their third studio album, Made in the Dark, charmed both fans and critics. Touring saw them play to ginormous crowds across the globe (including numerous notable festival appearances, like Glastonbury and Coachella). They worked with legendary artists and cultivated new talent. And, to top it all off, “Ready for the Floor” was just nominated for a Grammy.Here, affable vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Joe Goddard talks about Hot Chip’s feted live shows, collaborating with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Robert Wyatt, and the many weird and wonderful forms the band’s side projects take.
Hot Chip’s fan base has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. Are you at all surprised by your success?
It feels like a gradual thing for us in a way, because we started such a long time ago. It’s been a gentle rise, so we’ve been getting used to it for a long time. It’s accelerated the last couple of years, but I haven’t realized that much. When we play in London next, we’re playing two nights at the Brixton Academy, so it’s like 10,000 people. Obviously, that’s amazing. When I was a kid, I went to go see the Beastie Boys there and other bands that I considered to be massive, so I feel really proud of that. But it never really sinks in. I think the thing is live tons of people come to see us — and it’s great, we’re really proud of that — but we don’t really sell that many records compared to massive acts. It’s not something I’m bitter about — I’m really happy with our career.
Despite drawing huge crowds, you guys have a pretty low-key image. Do you get recognized on the street much?
No, it doesn’t happen much — very occasionally. It’s kind of perfect at the moment, I wouldn’t really want to have my daily life be made more difficult by being stopped. Occasionally someone will say “Hi” or “Can I have a photo?” That’s really cool. People are generally very nice.
You’ve been touring madly around the world, and crowds have been getting bigger and bigger. Is your reception much different in the U.S. compared to Europe or the rest of the world?
I wouldn’t say I’ve noticed a difference in the States, but all around the world we’ve noticed things getting better over the last year or so. We’re playing really well together now, just through touring so much — I’m really happy and proud of the way the band sounds. In Europe and in the States, people just seem to appreciate that. The best indicator of that is seeing people not really even looking at the stage but dancing madly with their friends, which I feel like is a real success. We’ve had the biggest shows we’ve ever done: Coachella was big for us, and Glastonbury in the U.K. was a really big, important show for us. That just set us up to have a really fun summer of festivals all around the world. We’ve been having a good time. Adding this live drummer Leo [Taylor] in the last two weeks has again bumped it up in terms of excitement and energy.
Your festival sets are heavily dance-oriented. Do you try to throw in more of your mellower songs for your own shows?
We do do more gentle things, yeah. After playing festivals for a few years, it kind of makes the most sense to play the exciting, fun stuff. People just want to drink a beer and have a dance around. At our own shows, we try to get people really excited, but you have more time to just stretch out and do some of the gentle things. We’re playing some old songs from the first record that we haven’t been playing live for the last couple of years — we thought that’s a good thing for our own shows, because hopefully people coming down are going to be fans of the old material and kind of into that idea. We’re playing one totally new song [“Alley Cats”] and little bits of other people’s music.
Speaking of, you’ve done tons of really interesting covers, Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” being one of my favorites. Is that something you try to constantly mix up?
It’s generally Alexis [Taylor, Hot Chip’s other vocalist/multi-instrumentalist] who starts the process. He’s very into learning other people’s music. He throws into our sets little bits of covers of other songs, sometimes just playing the music of our song and adding the lyrics or melodies from other people’s songs. He used to do a bit of “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac when we would play our song called “[Crap] Kraft Dinner,” and he’s done Prince things. At the moment we play a little bit of “Nothing Compares 2 U” at the end of our set. It generally starts as something that’s improvised, then if it goes well, we work it into our set and keep doing that until it gets stale, until we’re not having fun. Whenever there’s a good song that we’re into, if it seems to make sense, we’ll have a go at it. We did this Vampire Weekend one recently, as well.
Right. You worked with Peter Gabriel on a cover of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” How did that come about?
It was actually kind of a bizarre thing that started it all off: Peter Gabriel’s son goes to the same school as the son of the guy who runs Vampire Weekend’s record label [XL Recordings] or something, so they kind of bump into each other when they pick their kids up from school. They got to talking about the fact that Vampire Weekend mentioned Peter, asked Peter to cover it, then thought it would be fun to have someone else produce that cover, and asked us to be involved in that. We’d never played with [Vampire Weekend], but since doing [the song], we played a show in Arizona like two weeks ago that was really good. I was chatting to them afterward, and they were really cool guys and really liked the version that we did of this song. We recorded this thing with Peter Gabriel like three or four months ago, and we hadn’t really had much feedback from Vampire Weekend. We were hoping that they were into it, [so] it was great to find out that they’re nice people and that they liked what we did.
The whole thing turned out really well. We got to go to Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio in the U.K., which is like out in the countryside with loads of land that he owns all around it, and it’s an old water mill — really beautiful. Just to be in the same room while Peter Gabriel’s singing was really amazing, just kind of sounded exactly like all those records that you know — really, really cool.
Anyone else you’re dying to work with?
There’ve been people we’ve talked about over the years. Brian Eno is obviously an amazing collaborator with a lot of bands, and I think that could be incredibly exciting. In the end, sometimes when we’re thinking about collaborations, we kind of think that might mean that the control we like to have over the music will be gone. We’re kind of control freaks about how things sound and all aspects of producing our music, and that’s kind of central to us, particularly me. I kind of produce a lot of the things — that’s my favorite bit of the whole business — so I think we find it a little unnatural giving that up to someone else as a producer. I think in the future we’d like to have guest singers come onto our records. We worked with Robert Wyatt this year as well — that was amazing. I’d love him to sing a song with us, so something like that could happen. But in the end, we kind of like doing all of the stuff ourselves. We’re not the kind of band that reaches out to people all the time as some bands do.
And I guess you can get your fix for working with other artists by doing remixes. For a while there seemed to be a new Hot Chip remix every five minutes, but there don’t seem to be as many coming out lately. Is that because you’ve been so busy touring and working on other projects?
It has kind of slowed down — it’s just kind of a time thing. Maybe a few years ago, I think we used to rush through some remixes and the quality would drop occasionally on certain ones of them. [Laughs] So, I think we’re kind of trying to work harder at making everything we do at a better standard, put more time and effort into what we do, so we’ve been finishing less [Laughs]. We’ve done so many of them now, like 50 or 60. I think people are kind of not asking us so much anymore because everyone’s got a Hot Chip remix — it’s not that special anymore! [Laughs]
I’ve been working on remixes recently — one that I’m really proud of [“Winter Home Disco”] is from a guy called Pictish Trail. He’s on Fence Records from Scotland. He’s a really lovely person that we’ve known for a while and played shows with and has a very beautiful voice. I just finished a remix for him just as a favor to a friend. If anyone’s a fan of the remixes we do, then that will be one they really like.
Will you also continue to DJ?
We’re DJ’ing loads. We’re gonna have this Bugged Out! compilation come out, a new DJ mix coming out next year, doing a lot of DJ’ing around Europe. I really love it. Coming to the States just feeds my addiction, because I buy records everywhere I go. My favorite thing to do during the day is to go find secondhand vinyl. I love disco, house, a bit of techno, a bit of U.K. garage and rave music, sometimes hip-hop and dancehall. I’ve been really liking old Chicago stuff like Ron Hardy and people like Sylvester, classic disco stuff.
I also heard you’ve been doing some producing outside of Hot Chip. What can you tell me about that?
Yeah, there are two things that I’m doing at the moment. I’m working with a rapper called DELS, who’s a kid from Ipswich in the U.K. I just heard his music on MySpace one day and thought he was really good. He said he was a fan of us, and we started making hip-hop together, which is nice for me because I grew up listening to that music. [Hot Chip] sometimes attempt to rap, but it doesn’t really work, so it’s nice to work with someone that does that properly. One single [“Lazy”] came out on Moshi Moshi Records earlier this year; the next, “Shapeshift,” should be coming out pretty soon.
There’s a girl called Little Boots, and I’ve worked with her on three songs I produced and she’s written. That’s total pop music. She loves Kylie Minogue and ABBA — absolute pop music. Really fun, because something that might have seemed a bit too pop for Hot Chip to get away with, she just loves it. The songs are quite simple but really kind of ingenious pop songs. I’ve been trying to produce it thinking of her as kind of like Debbie Harry or a cool kind of female vocalist.
Do you prefer working with developing artists over established acts?
I would be into doing anything, just depending on who the band was. If an established band asked me to work with them, if I was into the songs and into the people, then I might try that. I don’t really know that much about how to be a producer of other people — I’m still kind of learning that business, and I think there seems to be a real art to that business, not just kind of thinking about what instruments you’re going to use on a song or what studio you’re gonna use, but trying to make the people making the music feel really focused and involved and comfortable and confident and fun. If it was an established band, I think it’d be quite hard to step in and do that. I’ve only ever done it with Hot Chip before, and we’ve been doing it for like 15 years or something, so it’s easier, but if it’s other people, that could be tough. How that all works, so everyone just feels comfortable with what’s happening.
But that’s something that I would really like to do in the future. I don’t foresee Hot Chip touring around the world for like 20 years or something — I’d like to produce other people in time, because, as I said before, that’s kind of the thing that I’m best at and enjoy most. It’s my first love — just being able to be in London and working with bands there.
On the subject of side projects, Alexis just put out a solo album called Rubbed Out. What can you tell us about it?
It was totally his thing. It’s songs that Alexis has been writing over the last couple of years. If we waited and put them on the next Hot Chip record, I think he feels like they’d be really stale by the time that record comes out, because that’ll be like next year or the year after. He wanted to just release them while they’re still kind of fresh to him, fun. I think he’s going to play a few shows around the release of the record and be able to express the other side of stuff he loves by playing on his own with just one keyboard and him singing, do something a lot more delicate. Some of the songs could easily be Hot Chip songs. With Hot Chip now, there’s six of us and tons of gear, and going on tour is a massive deal. I think he wanted to do something a bit more simple, straightforward.
You mentioned drummer Leo Taylor [no relation to Alexis] recently started playing live with Hot Chip. Will he become a permanent member of the band?
It’s something we haven’t really worked out. I would like him to be part of the group. He’s fitted in amazingly well, even in terms of our sense of humor. We’re really comfortable with each other, and musically he fits in totally well. He has a lot of the reference points that we have. He’s played with tons of different groups, like this great underground dance group from the U.K. called Gramme that were on Trevor Jackson’s Output label about eight years ago that put out a really influential record for DFA. He plays with Zongamin as well, similarly kind of exciting, Nitin Sawhney, lots of different kinds of musicians.
We just bumped into him doing these other projects and then thought we’d like to play with a drummer, and he was available. I think he’ll probably continue to work with other groups when we’re not touring, but I’d like him to be involved with lots of stuff. I’d really like him to be on the next album.
Finally, anything people would be really shocked or surprised to know about Hot Chip’s life on the road?
Most of the things are highly ordinary. We watch R. Kelly DVDs and read comics and watch films and get drunk. [Laughs]