Known for their astute lyrics and a distinct sound that stems from disparate influences, Hot Chip has been making intelligent pop since the start of the millennium. Through it all, the band has garnered a Grammy nomination along with a few side projects that subsequently spawned from their acclaim, such as Alexis Taylor’s About Group, Joe Goddard’s The 2 Bears, and New Build, which comprises of Felix Martin and Al Doyle. As a follow-up to their fifth album In Our Heads comes Why Makes Sense?, which sees the group stripping back their music to its most essential form and reverting back to the sounds of past eras that they loved, most notably r’n’b, soul, and funk. JUICE got in touch with Felix Martin – who spoke to us from his kitchen in London – about Hot Chip’s sixth album, which he thinks is their best record yet.
We’ve found that the setting of where an album is recorded will have a definite effect on the mood of the album. Seeing that Why Make Sense? was recorded in idyllic Oxfordshire, would you say that it had some influence on the album?
The way we recorded the album was definitely different to how we’ve recorded any other album. We went somewhere in the countryside in England and stayed there for three weeks and we had dinner every day and we were living together basically, and making an album, working till very late into the night and getting up very early in the morning. It just made the album have a different sound to it, more collaborative.
Could you tell us about the concept behind the unique artwork for Why Make Sense? What was the decision to have it printed in such a way that each album will be different from one another?
It was our idea, but we came up with it with Nick Relph and someone from Domino Records, our record label. We just want to make it something really unique and trying to encourage people to buy our records because obviously they’re all gonna be unique, they’re all gonna be individuals, and I’d say that’s (the album art) something that’s never really been done before on this scale. So, you can sort of see that it’s an exciting idea that we’re all really, really happy with that we’ve been able to put into practice.
Last year, Alexis once said that the new album was shaping up to sound like Stevie Wonder’s ‘All I Do’? Would you say that the finished album still sounds like that?
Yeah, definitely influenced by artistes like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, or producers like Quincy Jones, that kind of stripped back, kind of r’n’b, more punky kind of sound that we always found really exciting and really inspirational. This album, we’ve been referencing a lot of those artistes and we even managed to get a punk instructor to appear in one of our songs – and he’s one of our first heroes, so we’re happy about that.
There are hip hop and r’n’b influences in the new album, which you’ve said were important to Joe and Alexis, so we wondered if those particular songs were written with that purpose in mind?
I’m trying to think what they are referencing… I think maybe they like a lot of Timbaland production, a lot of classic Timbaland production so, you know, keeping in mind like Timbaland or even someone like Beyoncé, you know, late ‘90s kind of r’n’b. I think it was part of a reverb where things were kind of tight and trying more sort of more unusual, weird sound in the mix as well and that’s why there was more of a classic hip hop reference.
‘White Wine and Fried Chicken’ follows a line of Hot Chip ballads that resemble ‘70s rock ballads, could you explain why?
(Laughs) Yeah, I think it is part of Alexis’ songwriting, he writes songs that are ballads and even though it’s quite unusual, I think it’s become part of the music that we have on our albums. I think that a lot of people like that and I think it’s one of the things that makes us maybe different from other artistes that are making sort of electronic music and I think it gives a different dimension to the band. Yeah, it’s just something different.
With the release of In Our Heads, we read about the band settling down, but with ‘Huarache Lights’, it was essentially saying, “You can replace us with machines but we’ve got something better.” Could you explain a bit about that?
It’s kinda jokey, you know? Yeah, in a way it’s about worrying and getting older, the fact that it’s our sixth album; do we still matter to people? Are we still relevant in the modern music scene? Do younger people still actually care about our band? I think all those things are thoughts that we have, so that’s why the record talks about it, everything on the album talks about it. I think it speaks about the creative process as much as it does about our identity as a band – that’s a part of the lyrics.
Your side project, New Build, released Pour It On at the end of last year. Did you and Al work on Pour It On and Why Make Sense? simultaneously?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were finished, especially with New Build, we went on a tour of the US for three weeks. We went straight back to the studio literally the day that we got back—straight from the airport, straight to the studio and worked on Why Make Sense? It was really a busy time, a really focused time. Yeah, [I] didn’t even have lunch.
Since there was no break in between, did some of the New Build sound trickle into Hot Chip’s new album?
Not directly, but it’s one of these things that we are working on now that started off as kinda New Build ideas but later would end up being Hot Chip songs. I definitely helped… [I] just had a bigger influence on this album with new things on the album or the other part in the songs. Like ‘Need You Now’, which is a bit of an advance into my sound in a way with the new crop of songs. There is actually quite a lot of cross-pollination between me and the band.
The band has talked about the notion of being open-minded to trying new things and exploring new sounds, would you say that it has allowed the band to stay stimulated even after 15 years together?
Yeah, I think so, because there are only five of us, some of us in the band might have different ideas and some of us might run out of inspirations and one of us might come up with something. It’s always kinda like an interesting meeting point because we all do different projects, we DJ and we work and come back to Hot Chip and bring some of that back to that project. It always feels kind of private, feels like you guys don’t know what’s happening.
There was a general consensus among insiders that Why Make Sense? Is going to be Hot Chip’s best album, do you have a different opinion?
Yeah, it is the best (laughs). I think it’s the best album that we’ve made and I have a feeling that people are going to like it.
Would you say that it’s a definitive encapsulation of the Hot Chip sound?
Yeah! Definitely (laughs), that’s a good way to describe it. We worked really hard on it; we worked for a long time on it. We’ve put a lot of care, a lot of effort into it and I think it will pay off.
Why Make Sense? will be released on 18 May via Domino Records.