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Rank Your Records: Hot Chip's Joe Goddard Rates the Band's Five Albums

We had the dance-pop group's songwriter make sense of their discography in anticipation of their new album 'Why Make Sense?'

by Mischa Pearlman
30 April 2015, 3:00pm

In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

Formed in 2000, British dance-pop/indie-tronica/whatever terrible subgenre you want to use outfit Hot Chip blew up with the release of their second album, 2006’s The Warning, mainly thanks to the hit single “Over And Over.” Centered mainly around the songwriting core of Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, the band has been working steadily ever since and is just about to release their sixth full-length, Why Make Sense? which Goddard cites as the band’s best work. And judging from the album's infectious first single, "Huarache Lights," he may be right. So it made sense to ask a surprisingly self-critical Goddard to walk us through the band’s previous albums to reflect on how he feels about them all now.

5. Made in the Dark (2008)

Why is this at the bottom of the list?
That record is just too long, and it’s really all over the place. It’s really sprawling. I think at the time we thought that was exciting stylistically to be all over the place. It has quite weird tracks on it, like “Don’t Dance,” which is just kind of nutty, and… I can’t even remember the names of some of the ones I’m thinking of. But it’s stylistically crazy and in terms of the production it’s pretty varied. I mean, it has “Ready For The Floor” on it, which I think was kind of good, and I’m pleased that it was successful because that’s helped us to have a career with some longevity, but I just think that record would have benefitted from having two or three songs less and maybe from having some kind of outside help from someone in terms of putting together and making it sound good. And in fact, making this new album, we made it quite succinct intentionally—it’s ten songs, not overlong—and I think it’s important to bear that in mind. You want the listener’s journey through an album to be in some ways understandable. It’s good if it’s varied, but it can’t have too many sonic twists and turns because it becomes a confusing listen.

Yet you say that, and it’s your most successful album to date.
Is that the most commercially successfully one?

It’s the highest charting one in England, anyway.
Right. I wasn’t really aware of that. I guess that’s because The Warning was kind of popular and sometimes the next record after that is the one that benefits from that in terms of chart placing and stuff. But yeah. Probably we should have made that better and then we’d be more successful now!

4. One Life Stand (2010)

With that in mind, the next album on the list is the next record after that one, One Life Stand.
Yeah. That had moments on it that I think are really good. I think “One Life Stand,” the song, is a really good one, and it had things like “Brothers” on it, and I’m still quite proud of that song. My brother, particularly, was very happy and excited when we wrote that song and he used to sing it to me when he was drunk all the time, and at gigs he’d turn to all the people around him and say “This song’s about me!” So that has a good feel to it for me. And “One Life Stand” is a song that we continue to play and people seem to really like it. We worked with Charles Hayward from This Heat playing drums on some of the tracks of this record, and that was a very nice moment for us, but I guess what I’m less satisfied with is that I feel it’s not really that coherent as a record. We were very much on our making… well, making all the records, but this one I remember just working for very long periods in—actually, where I’m standing right now, where Al [Doyle—guitar, synths, etc.] and Felix [Martin—drum machines, programming, and synths] have a studio, on Rhoda Street at the end of Brick Lane, and I remember us being shut up in there for weeks and weeks trying to get things right. It felt like it took quite a while to get this record together. This was just before we started working with Mark Ralph, and I think sounded much better once we made that decision, so sonically I don’t think this record is so strong.

It’s a bit ironic that this is the album you had the longest time to work on then!
Yeah. But sometimes making records is better when you do it quickly. With more time, it’s very easy to overwork and overproduce stuff, and our working method on these last two records has been to move very quickly. I like the feel that music has when you move quickly. I like the freshness of the sounds and the fact that things are less quantized and less overdone, less thought out. Things have a better feel to them when they’re done quicker, in my opinion, just generally in music.

Do you regret making this the way you made it and taking that time?
When I listen to some of these old records, The Warning included, and this one, sometimes I just think that we were quite young, we were quite inexperienced and we weren’t working in a professional studio with any professional engineers or anything, and maybe if we had gone in with Alan Moulder or Flood or people who know how to put songs and records together, then the songs might have turned out better. That does cross my mind, because we know a bit more about making records now, and I do wonder. Having said that, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night. My opinion is generally just to do the best you can and then move on to the next thing. It’s actually something that Kieran Hebden said to me when I was a teenager. Maybe it was relating to the music that he made, or I used to send him demos of music when I was at school with him, and he would always say that you don’t dwell on something too long—you do it and move on. And I’ve taken that to heart.

3. The Warning (2006)

I’m surprised this record isn’t higher up your list.
From the public’s perception, it’s probably the best one and the favorite one. And I like it, I just don’t put it in the same order as what the public would choose. But it’s pretty good. It’s obviously got “Over And Over” on it, which is our most well-known song, and I’m very, very pleased for the existence of that song. I don’t bear it a grudge or anything but for it being the closest we’ve come to a hit. I still like it and I’m very pleased that it exists. We still play it when we play live and I don’t feel like that’s a chore to do—I’m just grateful we managed to create something that people like. And I’m pleased with the sound of the record. When we made The Warning, that was the first time the DFA guys got interested in us. They heard demos of “Over And Over” and “And I Was A Boy From School” and started speaking to us, and then we started touring with LCD Soundsystem for the next few years and they helped us a lot in lots and lots of ways. So I feel like that was a very fun, positive time, and it was exciting to be on EMI at that point. EMI had signed the whole of DFA Records, so at the beginning it felt like a real kind of gang thing. We went on tour around Spain and Portugal with Black Dice and The Juan Maclean and Tim Sweeney and it felt really, really fun. That ended pretty quickly, because EMI realized it didn’t know what the fuck to do with the Black Dice record, but for a little while it was really nice.

Were you aware at the time that this would be a turning point for you, or was it only after “Over And Over” really took off that you realized something quite amazing was happening?
I remember we’d tried doing some mixes of tracks with Kieran [Hebden] from Four Tet, who’s an old friend of mine, and we’d gone into the studio and done some mixes, and then also at the same time we’d got Tom Elmhirst, who’s a very famous mix engineer who’s gone on to mix some enormous hits like Adele records, and he did a mix of “Over And Over” for us, and I remember being in [live venue] Koko in Camden, and Kieran was there and we put on various different of these mixes to test them and I remember playing “Over And Over” —and this was before it had come out—and you could tell quite immediately, like it sounded so big and powerful and you could see people in the audience responding well to it, even though they didn’t know it. I remember that being that a very, very exciting thing and just feeling like, “Oh, fuck—this has the potential to be popular.” At that point, we still didn’t know what that meant. We weren’t looking for it to be in the Top Ten and we weren’t expecting that, but you could tell it was catchy and the mix was good.

But it was never your deliberate intention to break through to the mainstream?
Well, we were ambitious. I don’t think we had specific objectives, but we did want to be a big band. But I don’t know. I guess because the people who inspired us were generally pretty big artists, whether it’s Prince or Timbaland or Destiny’s Child or any of these massive things, we were interested in trying to reach a lot of people and be a pop band. We didn’t see any kind of wrongness in being interested in pop music and trying to reach a lot of people. So that was what we were aiming for, I guess. Not like in a horrible corporate way, but we wanted to play in front of lots of people and be good, you know?

And there’s nothing wrong with that if you do it with integrity.
Yeah. I think for us as well, before Hot Chip started to sound more electronic and poppy and R&B and things, we spent quite a while being really interested in indie music. We were very big fans of Will Oldham and Pavement and stuff that’s very much on the indie side, but I think we started to feel a little bit suffocated by that world for a little while. For us to be the people that we were—young white kids from Putney and Wandsworth and Fulham—to aim for this other world of big, American music, whether it’s hip-hop or R&B and things, seemed more exciting and different to what was expected of us. And that’s what was exciting, to try to be inspired by this other thing. And part of that world is to try and make it work in the mainstream but still have this strangeness and try to be inventive but for it to be populist music.

How did things change for you after the success of this record, and “Over And Over” especially?
It was noticeable to us in terms of live shows. That’s the most obvious way of noticing what’s going on in your career. We played to bigger audiences and it became this thing that people really wanted to dance at our shows. I guess that was partly the DFA connection as well, because it was at that point when DFA was very trendy and popular, and so people would really come along to have fun and would be dancing. We noticed we were more widely known, but I can’t remember any real signifiers about our status changing.

2. Coming on Strong (2004)

This was your first album. What makes it stand out for you now?
I think the reason I feel positive about this record right now is because on this new album we were trying to revisit some of the things we were interested in on the first record. The first album is less about a love of house music and more related to… I was just remembering this the other day, but making the first album, there were some of the reference points that people have spoken about in the past, like The Neptunes, for instance. And there were also things like Slum Village and JD and Minnie Riperton, that kind of sleepy, gentle soul music. Those were some of the things we were trying to reference on the first record, and even Stevie Wonder and things like that—quite classic soul and R&B on a track like “Keep Fallin’.” We were going for that kind of thing and it came out in a very unusual, fractured, weird way, but that’s the feeling we were going for. And on this new record, we were hoping for more of that feel as well. It’s less influenced by dance music and more by traditional American black music, R&B and soul and whatever. So I’ve been thinking about that first record more recently than some of the others.

It’s been 11 years. Does it seem like a long time ago?
Yeah! Because also some of the songs on that first album were written quite a while before it came out. So it does feel like ages ago and I really don’t know where that time has gone. We were such different people at that point. We made that album in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Fulham when I still lived at home. I didn’t know my wife and we obviously didn’t have children and it feel like a different life completely. But there’s a lot of continuity there as well, in terms of what myself and Alexis are interested in, and even actually the way that we work together. The working methods are very similar from then ‘til now.

Do you remember what your aspirations for this album were?
I can’t remember specific aspirations, but it was those clichés of people first starting bands—you’re just excited by the existence of a CD. Alexis and myself very much came from tiny, tiny independent label backgrounds. Before Moshi Moshi, there was a release on an even smaller label, so you’re taking baby steps at that point. I guess our aspirations were to be a kick ass live band and go on tour and, I don’t know, do as best as we could. But I don’t think we really understood what kind of goals we should be looking at that point.

1. In Our Heads (2012)

So why is this record at the top?
I has things like “Look At Where We Are” and “Flutes” on it, which are songs that I’m very proud of. When I listen back to “Flutes” now, I feel like it’s a very successful, interesting piece of music, especially the way it starts very small and grows and grows and grows. It has a propulsiveness which I think is really good.

That was your first record for Domino after being on EMI—did that change anything at all?
Honestly, EMI were very hands-off and respectful of us when we made records for them. They weren’t pushing us to do anything particularly different, or pushing us to make more poppy songs or use different producers or anything. They let us do what we wanted to do, and Domino have been the same. So it hasn’t made much difference in terms of making our album, but I guess at Domino there’s a kind of camaraderie because the people there were friends of ours for years before we signed to them. They’re people that we socialize with and have a bit more of a connection to and who we can talk a bit more about music with. But in terms of making the music, we’ve never had those outside pressures from either label.

Hot Chip seems, to me, to be a band who have always forged their own path, so presumably that’s worked in your favor.
Yeah. It is important for us to follow our own path and follow what we’re interested in. That’s probably part of the reason we’re still doing it.

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