Music interview: Hot Chip

You can take Al Doyle out of Leeds, but it seems you can't take Leeds out of Al Doyle.

The Hot Chip guitarist and keyboard player cheerfully describes himself as a "born and bred" Loiner even though, he freely admits, "I'm off the accent".

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"I've spent too long down south – I've got soft," he laughs.

Before Al joined Britain's premier indie-dance group he was a member of several bands in Leeds. "But not," he recalls, "any ones that made it past the rehearsal room."

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"I used to be in quite a strange band with a couple of older guys that lived on Hyde Park corner, Mike and Pete. They were in their fifties and long-term unemployed. Pete looks like a pirate, he's got a big beard and long hair and he once ran for Leeds Council under the name Socrates. He got quite a few votes but not enough to save his deposit."

"Seven or eight years ago" Al decided to move down to London. He was "doing various jobs" when he got a telephone call from Alexis Taylor, asking if he would like to join a band that he and his songwriting partner Joe Goddard were putting together.

"I knew Felix (Martin), the synth player, I'd been at university with him. He started doing something with Hot Chip and he suggested me to Alexis.

"I was originally going to play drums then I decided I was not a very good drummer and we concentrated on a more electronic style. I ended up doing guitar and keyboards and bits ands bobs."

Al remembers the band's early days as "a gradual learning curve". They released their first album, Coming On Strong, on the small independent label Moshi Moshi in 2004. "We were never expecting stratospheric success with that. We didn't market it hard or do much gigging," Al says.

Nevertheless EMI saw sufficient potential in the five-piece to offer them a major deal. The label's faith was duly rewarded when their next album, The Warning, was a critical and commercial success.

The singles Over and Over and Boy From School became anthems for the indie-dance crowd. "Even though Over and Over did not make that much impact on the charts (it reached No.27), it was absolutely everywhere that year," Al recalls.

Its ubiquity created a problem for the band. "It was a strong song, we didn't understand the impact that it was having," admits Al. "It was quite hard to replicate."

Trump it they did, however, with Ready for the Floor, from their 2008 album Made in the Dark. The song made No.6 in the UK charts and was covered by Little Boots and the American model-turned-singer Lissie Trullie. In America it also received a Grammy nomination.

On February 8 the band return with their eagerly-awaited fourth album, One Life Stand. "This time we are hoping to have more than one hit – that's our low expectations," chuckles Al.

"They're quite realistic, although there's definitely one or two contenders - the current single (the album's title track], I Feel Better, Hand Me Down Your Love and Take It In – that's had an amazing response.

"We have quite high hopes though singles are not sold as such; they are a promotional tool for the album, and the album itself is a promotional tool for the tour. Singles are that low down the pecking order."

Was there a greater weight of expecttion from the record label with this album? "It was probably more with the follow-up to The Warning," reckons Al. "Even that was the gentlest of pressures. It's not as though the record company has some big fat guy with glasses and a sodden cigar hanging from his mouth telling us what to do.

"We wanted this to be a pop record and to be quite concise, presenting a unified front.

"Our expectations of our audience were a little too high with Made in the Dark, which was quite rangy. It had three or four ballads on it. People found it a little confusing but that's the kind of record that we like. We like records that go all over the place."

This time band members pressured themselves to write "shortish pop songs with verses, choruses and bridges".

"It's a bit like writing a poem," says Al. "There's a certain structure that you have to work to but within that you have to exercise as much freedom as you can. We did not want to lose that experimental element that we had before. We did use a flugel horn on one track and steel pans on another. We tried to make them work with synths and drum machines.

"Other parts of the album are very conventional," he continues. "We used a drumkit and a guitar and a real piano. For us they are actually quite new. It was quite exciting for us to work with that palette of instruments."

The album has been described, in one review, as being about "love in a cold world". "It was written in the summertime," says Al, slightly bemused. "We were trying to make it an upbeat, optimistic, summertime record."

However, he concedes: "I can see that there's a certain vein of disquiet and melancholy that runs through the record. In I Feel Better where Joe's singing he talks about the malaise of living in a world where there's climate change and finding solace in the arms of your partner. It's a very old approach but it's quite successful."

One Life Stand was a less collaborative record than its predecessor, says Al. "Three or four songs were written as a group, the rest is very much Joe and Alexis's songwriting. We did have input in the way it was produced."

They have tried various appraoches before. For Ready for the Floor and Over and Over "Joe would do a loop and Alexis would do lyrics – like Frankenstein together".

"On this a lot more was pre-written (before they went into the studio]. It hangs together reallly well with the songs. Alexis pretty much solely wrote Hand Me Down Your Love and Slush, Joe wrote Brothers. One Life Stand and I Feel Better were put together in a slightly more piecemeal way."

Outside collaborators Fimber Bravo (on steel pans) and Charles Hayward (on drums) were also drafted in for fresh ideas.

"Working with people like that you immediately get some stuff which you don't expect," says Alexis. "Musicians of that calibre are capable of doing anything, really.

"Charles Hayward comes from an improvisatory background, he's very capable of coming up with his own stuff. At the end of Hand Me Down Your Love the final chorus is a capella with his drumming in the background. There you'd expect the drummer to be doing cymbal fills but there's this explosive sound with his kit. It works tremendously well. It's something we would not have come up with ourselves.

"Fimber was interested in using the instrument in a way that it's not really known for. It's a sunshine, Caribbean instrument in a slightly morose ballad (One Life Stand). I feel it works really well with that song."

To promote the album, Hot Chip embark on a UK tour next month, that calls at the O2 Academy in Leeds on February 16.

For Al, gigs in his home city are always special. "I've got quite a large Polish-Irish family," he explains. "They get very excited when we do a gig there. I end up coping with various different family issues but it's great to have them in the crowd. They are very vocal in their support. We always have a great gig in Leeds. I'm looking forward to it."

Tickets for Hot Chip's gig at the O2 Academy Leeds are available from Jumbo, Crash Records and www.ticketweb. Doors 7pm. 17.88.

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