Hot Chip’s Al Doyle: ‘Honor your error as a hidden intention’

Hot Chips Al Doyle - FDRMX

If you’re not familiar with Hot Chip, let me introduce you: Hot Chip is a synth-driven, pop-fantastic, disco, fancy, funk-rock, dance-y, sentimental, sassy, experimental anomaly from London. They make original music that doesn’t always make musical sense—by that I don’t mean it’s hard to digest because most of it is enjoyable to listen to. However, they offer melodies, sounds and chord progressions that keep the listener interested and often thinking, “I didn’t expect that.” Their sound is their own and there isn’t another band like them. Not even close. And when you’ve got a good thing going, why make sense?

I took a half hour last week to chat with Hot Chip’s Al Doyle. If you Google him you’ll notice he sports the hair of a man who just took a 45 minute ride in a convertible with the top down. Musically, he’s played guitar and churned out a number of highly regarded albums with Hot Chip and LCD Soundsytem. For those keeping score at home, that’s one man in two of the most unique, inventive and important bands in the past decade. Not bad. During my interview with Al I asked about his experience in Hot Chip, the band’s new album, Why Make Sense?, and their forthcoming tour.

As you’ve already read, Hot Chip is a tough band to describe. So I asked Al to label his band. What is Hot Chip? He responded, in his pleasant British accent, “This is the classic question. I always thought I should have something prepared for this. A sort of rote answer. It’s been a lot of different things. It’s been a big part of my life for ten years and a lot of things have changed over that time. I could tell you how people sell it to other people: five increasingly aging white guys who make electro-pop music. But it’s really not useful to do that. We’re just sorta surprised to still be here in some ways. It’s strange thinking about this being record number six. And people using a different set of vocabulary about us to describe us—using words like stalwarts or elder statesman. So it’s a learning process in terms of absorbing the reality of how other people think of us.”

Next, I asked Doyle if the band feels more pressure internally or externally to create solid albums? He replied, “Well, those are two different kinds of pressure and pressure from the outside is something you can switch off a little bit and it’s something that if we decide to ignore it, it’s something we could do. It’s nice that people seem to still be interested in what we’re doing. I think the new record is a really strong record so it’s not hard to get excited about it and I genuinely am excited about it. But the pressure from within is something harder to come to terms with. It makes you much more upset if you don’t live up to your own expectations.”

The coming album, Why Make Sense? is the band’s sixth full length—and it’s excellent. Trust me. I’ve heard it. If you backtrack and listen to Hot Chip from beginning (Coming on Strong) to present, you’ll notice they’ve been consistently good—something that’s hard to do. I asked Al: How does the group keep making great music? “If I could explain that quickly I could probably bottle it up and sell it. There are albums that I’m probably happier with than others.” I interjected and asked him what his favorite Hot Chip album is. He said, “I like the new one.” He continued, “I think that’s one of the things we’ve always done, which is a strength, is just generate a lot of material. Alexis and Joe are writing a lot of music and I’m writing a lot of music, playing in different bands and I was very lucky to play with LCD Soundsystem, for instance. I got a lot of experience from being around such an inspiring group of musicians, which is very useful. That’s a very boring answer—work hard! But that’s it. I think it’s about being lucky and not getting to some stupid level of success where things become a bit more unreal. We’ve stayed grounded and listen to other people. We respect people enough when we hear them say no. And you need that. We’re also respectful of each other’s opinions and there’s a level of internal quality control.”

The next question I asked was based on my thought that most people have a personal mantra. Mine is something like, “Always pay someone to do math for you” or “Eat all the pizza.” So I asked Al if Hot Chip has a mantra? “Brian Eno did a set of cards called Oblique Strategies, Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas and one of those is: “Honor your error as a hidden intention.” And I quite like that as a description of artistic endeavor but I think, in general, it applies to what we’re trying to do with Hot Chip. So maybe, I think, that’d be the closest thing.”

Because they’ve been together for over a decade, I figured there would be some substantial highs and lows. So I asked him what the best and worst moments have been: “The worst are so bad and so personal I can’t say what they are and there certainly isn’t one best moment. But there are milestones on the path. I remember being on tour and in a hotel room and seeing one of our songs on the TV—“Over and Over.” That was quite an experience. It was a realization that something is actually happening. After that, a whole series of things. Working with our heroes. Going to Peter Gabriel’s studio, recording with Robert Wyatt was incredible for me. He was an amazing human being. A very particular thing that happened during that recording was I played the cello—which I don’t do much anymore these days. I brought the cello over and did a little recording. When I was done Robert came over and said, “That’s the best thing we did all day.” Also, working with Brian Eno which was just fucking unbelievable for me.” As far as the low points, it wasn’t a good day for Doyle to discuss those as he was struggling with an election that he, his band and all of those opposed to David Cameron’s conservative policies lost last week in the UK. So we stayed positive and talked more about the good times.

I can only imagine the perks that come with being in bands like Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem. For me, the coolest thing that happens at work is when someone brings donuts. I asked Al what the most awesome thing that has happened to him because of his job: “During the election, they asked me to send in a question (to Cameron’s challenger). So I was sitting at home in my dressing gown and after having a few beers I was trying to think up a question for this politician that may end up representing an entire nation. That was a weird thing that happened me due to the fact that I started playing guitar at 14 years old.” He continued and the conversation took us to life on the road. “In general, traveling around. Like when you wake up in New Zealand and that’s where you’ve ended up because that’s where you played music for some people and that’s a weird one because you’re jetlagged and trying to figure out where you are and it’s a little bit like America but it looks like a bit like Europe but people speak English but it’s not Australia and it’s like, where am I? Or like when you’ve ended up in a third location with a hippie you met in South America and it’s 4 in the morning and you suddenly end up at someone’s house. It can also be very strange. Not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but it can make life a little unpredictable which I enjoy very much.”

Throughout the interview it was clear Doyle is a fan of the band’s latest work. So I asked, what do you like most about Why Make Sense? He had a couple of reasons. “I really like the title track. I really like “Why Make Sense.” It was a rally fun song to record and write. Personally, for me, it was validating because I got to sing the end chorus on that song which is the first time that there’s been a vocal that hasn’t been done by Joe or Alexis. It has a complex synthesizer line made up of seven synthesizers that are being played by all seven of us in the band, which creates a really fun and orchestral sound. I really like “Huarache Lights.” It’s really fun to play live. I get to play a really sort of aggressive feedback guitar line in that song—I get to get on stage and go nuts so I personally like that one a lot.”

The live shows start this week so I asked what can we expect on the upcoming tour and will you play “Down With Prince” (off Coming on Strong) at the Minneapolis show? He laughed, “Okay, well, for “Down With Prince” at the Minneapolis show, the current situation is that we don’t know how to play that song. And if we did try and play it would sound really bad. I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to learn it—we have played Minneapolis many times and haven’t played that song and people seem to be okay with it. But now you’ve said it, I will talk with the boys and girls and see if we can figure it out.” As far as other things to show up for, “We’re trying to figure out if we can take this lighting rig to the States—the one you see in “Huarache Lights” (video)—which is a fun thing that would be behind us on the stage. We’re taking it to a few places in the UK and Europe and I’d really, really like to take it to the States. It’d be a fun thing for people to see while we’re playing. In terms of music, we’re doing a cover song people will like in America. It’s by a very famous American artist.” I asked if it was a secret. “I’m afraid I can’t disclose what it is but it’s a very famous song by a very famous American male artist. We’re having a lot of fun playing it and Alexis is having a lot of fun singing. But yeah, expect souped up versions of the present catalogue and back catalogue of old favorite Hot Chip songs.”

The tour kicks off tomorrow with a string of sold out shows in Europe. The first being in Glasgow followed by shows in Manchester, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris before heading to America where they’ll be appearing at the Sasquatch Music Festival in George, Washington. From there, check them out from Portland to Washington D.C where the first stretch of the U.S. tour will conclude on June 5th.

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