Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor steps off the dance floor
06:20 12 June 2014
Most recognisable for his playfully geeky glasses, Alexis Taylor cuts an unlikely figure among pop’s glossy major players.
Nonetheless, as lead singer of electro-dance trailblazers Hot Chip, he has become one of the genre’s biggest assets, delivering bouncy, rhythmic indie classics that display a depth of songcraft lacked by many of his contemporaries.
As prolific a musician outside of the band as inside it – with other groups including About Group, Bang and Olufsen and Painting by Numbers – diversity has always been at the forefront of Taylor’s thinking, so perhaps it is of no surprise that his newest solo record is about as far removed from the dance floor as you could imagine.
Yet even though he has long considered himself the more downbeat of Hot Chip’s main songwriters, the moodiness of Await Barbarians has still taken him by surprise.
“It is the kind of music I’ve explored throughout my career,” he says, “and even within Hot Chip there are songs with this tempo and mood, but maybe when left to my own devices there’s just a bit more of it.
“The record I made before this album, which was an EP, isn’t melancholy at all, so that makes me feel that it must have just been the mood that I was in, a contemplative mood. I wouldn’t say the record’s melancholy as such, but it’s reflective and quieter.”
In contrast to Hot Chip thumpers such as Over and Over and Ready for the Floor, the tunes on Taylor’s new collection are a subtler breed led by deft piano, synths and minimalist percussion. Part of the reason for this pause for breath is family life; as we speak, his daughter is jumping on his bed in the background, and indeed the entire album was recorded by him alone in his home studio.
Naturally, he says, family affairs can take a hit from the demands of a musical life, but he wouldn’t – and couldn’t – have it any other way. “I don’t think, as a starting point, it’s a good idea to have a million projects, but I find myself wanting to make different kinds of music and wanting to work with different people and on my own, so I’m led by a desire to make music and I’m filling a lot of my time with it, then responding to how you make enough time for it all.
“I’d find it hard to not do that, to do everything I want to do, but of course it affects your family life – though I don’t think any more than if I was just doing Hot Chip and going on six-week or six-year tours. I see what you mean, though; one pursuit inevitably affects another and some of that is what I’ve written about in the new songs.”
On June 20, Taylor will be bringing these songs to Roundhouse Studios for Camden Crawl. Appearing as a solo act will increase the focus on Taylor as a front man, but he says he’ll approach it no differently to his band work, and while “I love performing, singing, playing, I never feel I’m a classic frontman, so I like to play around with that fact when I’m doing it”.
For inspiration, the 34-year-old cites solo acts such as Robert Wyatt and Will Oldham and says they also influenced his recording technique heavily on Await Barbarians.
“Most of the solo records I’d think of, or are significant to me over time, are usually not ones from someone who’s in a band, but rather an artist like Stevie Wonder.
“He’d been a Motown session musician for years before finally signing a contract around 1970 which meant that he could make and produce music all on his own.
“The result is that he played every instrument on the record for a while and that gave a very unique, individual quality to it.”
But is it difficult carrying all the responsibility alone? “The hardest thing for me is measuring the mixes alone and judging if it stands up to other records out there, because there’s no second set of ears. Yet, ultimately, I must have wanted to do it all on my own because I was doing a lot of collaborations elsewhere.
“It may not be something I always want to do, but it was refreshing to allow some of the odd decision-making to not get compromised by people saying ‘that’s a bit unusual, do it this way instead’. Follow your own weird musical path, that’s what I like to think.”
Alexis Taylor plays Camden Crawl on June 20. Visit thecamdencrawl.com.