There is an energy at a Hot Chip concert that is almost bygone. The silhouette of nodding heads and waving arms are ceaseless as the crowd dances, set to the rhythm of the U.K. band’s electro-pop groove.
On a hot July night in Toronto, the wave in the crowd ripples ecstatically the moment lead singer, Alexis Taylor removes his iconic glasses and jean bib, halfway through the performance, quickly followed by guitarist Al Doyle peeling off his white blazer, while Felix Martin stays cool in his black tee, and Owen Clarke and Joe Goddard sweat it out in their blazers. From their stage wardrobe — comprised of pieces any hipster would be content to have in their closet — it’s hard not to think that this well-dressed band doesn’t have a stylist matching their “look” to their band persona, but as Owen Clarke from Hot Chip shares in our interview with him prior to his show, the crew skips the stylist, and just wears what is comfortable to them. Like their sound it’s organic, and genuinely them, contrary to the over-styled, hyper marketed alterna-pop acts out there.
“You know we have got ourselves an image,” says Clarke. “We have got ourselves a visual thing. I mean obviously we sort of burn off energy into the videos and into the artwork, but you know there are some people that put far too much energy into their look, and then I think that becomes apparent very quickly.”
The designer behind the band’s past album artwork, the guitarist, percussionist and synth player, has as firm a grasp on the impact of all things visuals as he does on all things audio. For Hot Chip’s latest record though — In Our Heads —Clarke passed over the design duties to friend, Nick Ralph. “On this record I didn’t actually do the artwork, but just helped with the concepts, which was a stained glass window that came from the song ‘All Dying Hearts,’ referring to life shining through a pane,” he explains. “I felt as though, with this record, there was lots to do with perception and seeing, and resolving relationships.”
Relationships were the reason for the two-year hiatus preceding In Our Heads. Wanting to spend that time concentrating on their families, sideshows and DJ gigs, the end of that period apart saw members returned with an evolved sound, and a new focus to filter into an album. The mashup of Joe Goddard’s DJ duo, The 2 Bears with its dance/house feeling, plus Felix Martin and Al Doyle’s techno/rock band, New Build, a fresh sound revealed itself. The practiced genres “fed into each other…that’s what helped the record gel,” comments Clarke. Other individual inspirations gathered during the band’s downtime include a brilliant addition to one of my personal favourite track, “These Chains,” in which a recording of Goddard’s baby daughter’s coos can be heard.
Perked up with quirks including everything from baby grunts to bird chirps, a balance is struck between heavier lyrics about life’s ups and downs and upbeat rhythms that will keep you dancing “Night and Day” — another favourite track off the album.
Streaming any bands’ album in its entirety will sometimes listen like one long song, but on first listen and tenth alike, In Our Heads manages to craft 11 one-of-a-kind beats. The longest album to date, the album began in the studio of Domino Recording Company, rather than in the bedrooms of band members. “I think it made people think we were like sort of weird for doing things that way,” says Clarke of their former recording methods. “Your hands are like dogs, they will go to the same places [and] they always lie down in the same beds. I think that if you are producing things at home its very good, you can do whatever you want, but your not going to be challenged.” Outside their comfort zone, Hot Chip experimented and made mistakes during the recording process, the result of which created a sound as interesting as it is new for the band.
For Clarke, different is good. Regardless of genre, the musician believes there’s a way of separating yourself from the pack with “songs that come from somewhere else,” citing artists including Lana Del Ray and Lady Gaga, who he credits for having “an angle that [goes] against the things that are just ‘pop’…giving a little bit of a shoulder.”
On the topic of pop, U.K. sensations One Direction and The Wanted come up, bands that Clarke feel pose no threat to them by dominating the charts. In Clarke’s opinion, there’s room for everyone. “You need bands that are nothing but pop,” he says. “They are very successful and are very good at what they do, but we do something different.”
The fans and the international touring are more a facet for Clarke than an indulgence in fame, as it is for some musicians. “When we actually meet people, and people hear the songs, and we see their reaction, that’s when it feels like it’s actually happening and what we look forward to.”
Switching between the guitar and keyboard during his Toronto performance, Clarke — lips pursed and head bobbing — clearly finds enjoyment in playing live, as do the other band members — an energy that feeds into the crowd. “People have come to see you and you have gone to go play the songs that they want to hear…[it's] an exchange.”
Set to tour the globe for the next few months, with a show slotted for August’s Way Out West music festival in Gothenberg alongside acts including The Black Keys and Bon Iver, and their last performance of the year in Marion Bay, Australia at The Falls Festival with Beach House, The Flaming Lips and others, Hot Chip’s In Our Heads tour is one of the tickets of 2012. Get in on the exchange.