x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hot Chip: From synch to sink

Al Doyle of Hot Chip admits that the maturity in their latest album makes it good 'washing-up' music.

Al Doyle, left, and Alexis Taylor of the band Hot Chip perform at the Coachella festival in California, last moth.
Al Doyle, left, and Alexis Taylor of the band Hot Chip perform at the Coachella festival in California, last moth.

Al Doyle of Hot Chip admits to John Doran that the maturity in their latest album makes it good 'washing-up' music. Rock stars are seldom worthy recipients of our sympathy, and with good reason: after all, why feel sorry for someone who enjoys a life of fun, fame and fortune? And while some of these pampered prima donnas may moan about the pressures that come with such an exalted position, it's hard to empathise with people who consider having to travel around in a tour bus and speak to the odd journalist as the most gruelling activities in their work schedule.

So do we feel even less sympathetic towards the guitarist Al Doyle, a member of not one but two of the world's most popular rock-dance bands, LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip? Or do we allow just a smidgen of empathy for his doubled workload? "I'm not going to lie to you, there aren't many people who could do it," he laughs. "But I'm doing it. I'm doing a good job, I think. It's not too bad. It's not the musical aspect, it's more the time management."

He refuses to be drawn on the reports that This Is Happening, the latest album from LCD Soundsystem, is to be James Murphy's last, swatting away questions with an evasive: "I just don't know. I got in a lot of trouble last time for saying he wasn't going to do another one, so don't ask me basically." Murphy told Rolling Stone in March that he "[felt] like" This Is Happening should be LCD Soundsystem's last record.

Thankfully, Doyle is happy to discuss Hot Chip at length - as he proudly points out, it's "the main gig" for him. The band released their fourth studio album One Life Stand last February, which ironed out the inconsistencies that had plagued their previous record, Made in the Dark, to produce something more cohesive and resembling an "album proper", as opposed to a disparate collection of hit singles.

Yet as Doyle confirms, not all of the band's fan base were happy with what they perceived to be a more "pop" direction. "It's been interesting to see the responses to the record," he says. "There was a bunch of people who liked it straight away, and a lot of people who really hated it. And then following those responses it's been a case of people listening to it and giving it a bit more of chance, and then coming round to it, which I thought might happen."

He continues: "Some of it is quite light and very overtly poppy, maybe in a way that some of the previous records haven't been. It's also? there's less kind of 'in your face' style of songs like Shake a Fist from the previous album. It's one of those albums you can put on in a domestic situation. It sounds like a put-down, but it's more like washing-up music." It might be intended as a throwaway comment, but his quip about "washing-up music" does raise one of the main concerns fans raised before the release of the album. Much of the speculation about One Life Stand focused on the apparently increased domesticity of its creators, with two members of Hot Chip swapping bachelordom for marriage.

With a series of ballads appearing on the album, too, such as the fraternal affection of Brothers and the gooey romanticism of Slush, there was a fear that dance-floor hedonism had been eschewed for quiet nights in. "It's really hard to talk about it," says Doyle when asked about the effect such settling down has had on the band, "because music is such an abstract thing. I think it might be a little bit of a blind alley. Joe, for instance, is still incredibly interested in modern British underground dance music and all that kind of stuff, which is obviously quite frantic.

"There's songs like Slush or Alley Cats that are a little bit more restrained, but that's just a very obvious thing, and that's also something that's happened on previous records. People are talking about ballads, but for us we only see Slush as being the actual ballad on the album. Even songs like Brothers or Alley Cats are a little bit more down-tempo, but they're not really ballads." Age hasn't quite consigned Hot Chip to syrupy sing-a-longs, then - even if Doyle does laughingly admit: "We're all a little bit older" - but there's no denying that One Life Stand heralds a more mature direction for the band. And with such maturity comes an increased sense of worry and anxiety.

Several times during our conversation, Doyle confesses to worrying about trying to appease all of the band's fans, at one point admitting: "It's just very hard to come down on what people actually really want," before offering an even more explicit sense of anxiety and desire to be loved: "You don't want to indulge your own kind of peculiar foibles and interests too much, because that something is very indicial to you and you're writing something that's supposed to have some kind of mass appeal."

Doyle expresses a fear that the band's subtle use of humour has hindered them, too, especially in their formative years. He speaks of the danger of being perceived as "a novelty act" - something that followed Hot Chip around "in their early years", especially following the release of their debut album The Warning. Suddenly, as if wary of sounding too calculating or commercially minded, he hastily adds: "I mean, the way I'm talking about it makes it sound like it's some sort of exercise in marketing, but that's not really what I'm talking about. We want our music to be listened to by as many people as possible."

He's also eager to emphasise that there are certain limits that the band is not prepared to go beyond in order to please everyone; when discussing the band's perceived "geeky" image, he grins: "We've had many offers to be styled but we couldn't quite bring ourselves to do it. We had people telling us to do it, and us refusing. I think it would be weird now if we came on stage and we all looked the same."

He's most enthusiastic, though, when discussing the revered artists Hot Chip have collaborated with, after they teamed up with Robert Wyatt and Peter Gabriel for two projects. He describes the collaboration with Wyatt as "the best two music-making days of my life". Pausing, he adds: "He hasn't got a trait of rock 'n' roll to him. He's very down to earth, very kind and thoughtful. Just very capable - one of the most capable all round musicians I've ever met.