Hot Chip's Felix Martin on In Our Heads and creating club anthems
Photo by Steve Gullick
With LCD Soundsystem gone, London's electro-soul rockers Hot Chip picked up the reins to create a dance record strong enough to carry us through summer. In Our Heads is massive enough in scope for impulsive physical movement, but also articulate in a way that satisfies even when the champagne's run out. "Musically this is some of the best stuff that we've managed to produce, the depth of the arrangements, the choruses and the production, it all kind of takes it to another level," says DJ/producer extraordinaire and Hot Chip member Felix Martin.
Ahead of tonight's First Avenue performance, Gimme Noise spoke to Martin about the artistic process and how to pick a single.
CP: When Hot Chip started, did you all have an idea about what the band would sound like?
FM: Joe and Alexis, because they kind of originated the band, had ideas about getting away from boring indie guitar music. They wanted to make stuff that was more interested in R&B and hip-hop, and combining it with a vocal approach to dance music and English things. That was kind of the general idea I think, but we've obviously been influenced by different things as we've gone on.
CP: How does songwriting work with an electronic band?
FM: It's not dissimilar at all to a conventional band. Joe Goddard and Alexis are the main originators and so they write all of the songs really. The role that me and Al [Doyle] play is to help produce and master the music. It's not an unconventional set up it's just that we use electronic instruments and different kinds of arrangements. The key songwriting though is done in a kind of conventional way. Sometimes, there'll be a more hip-hop track where someone's laid a beat down and Alexis will come in and kind of improvise on that, more in the way that you can imagine Jay-Z or someone would go into the studio and listen to some beats and then come up with a song out of that. So you know, it's usually a combination of both models.
CP: Do you have defined roles within the group? Are you always the guy that's doing one specific task?
FM: Not really, I mean Al definitely plays guitar. He's the guitarist for LCD Soundsystem as well as for us, so that's his special skill but he plays a lot of things, he plays drums he plays any number of things. Owen is more the keyboard guy and he plays some synthesizers when we play live and I do more production and drum machine and effects and stuff. So we've got vague roles but when we play live there's a lot of switching around and people trading instruments and stuff.
CP: Did you have specific ideas about the sound of In Our Heads--or was it more that you'd amassed enough songs or material where you could be like "Okay, let's make a record."
FM: It was partly that and partly having a brand ambition to make our best pop record yet. We wanted to make a record that could get into the billboard charts and make an impression on U.S. radio and the UK in a way that we hadn't before. So it was an ambition to make a bigger sort of pop sound, a more immediate exciting kind of pop record, while at the same time exploring the same kinds of ideas that we like.
CP: This record is a slow burn, though. As a fan, it seems to grow on you the more you listen.
FM: I think that has a lot to do with expectations, really. I've experienced the same thing, where when an artist that you really like puts out a new record you've got so many ideas about what you want it to be that when you listen to it and it's not necessarily what you thought it would be, you've got to kind of get to know it. It's like having a relationship with someone you know, it's not an immediate amazing thing it might be this thing that takes a while to reveal itself. I think the really good artists and the albums I really like are the ones where you listen to it 20 years later and you still really like it because it holds your interest. There's a kind of ambiguity, something in there that still keeps bringing you back and making you listen to it that's not apparent the very first time you listen to it.
CP: When you're making a Hot Chip record, do you all have ideas like "this song is going to be a dance single?" Or do you just stand back and see what happens?
FM: Yeah, I think we have ideas, but sometimes people kind of surprise you with what they think. Someone from the label might be like, "oh this one definitely should be a single" you know .... Something like "Flutes" the kind of hit we caught that's been remixed by Sasha and Pete Tong, who are both big commercial house guys. They're quite old-school, and they'll be featuring their version of the tracks and so that's one we think could be a big kind of club anthem maybe.
CP: When you play a live show is it a pretty rigid set thing with your arrangements? Or can you vary that and improvise?
FM: No, it's not really a set show, it depends song to song. Something like "Don't Deny Your Heart," has a pretty specific arrangement and things happen in certain places and its sort of as it is. But something like "Over and Over," where there's more room, we can expand the beginning or the end or rock out a bit in certain parts and stuff. If that fits to the kind of show we're playing, we'll cater it to what situation we're in. Al had this complete euphoric experience playing with LCD and doing their final show at Madison Square Garden and to him it was just a completely inspirational thing and now he can't really get enough of playing live, he's crazy about it.
Hot Chip play with Chromatics on Friday, July 13 at First Avenue; 612.332.1775. Click here.
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