In The Studio: Hot Chip

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Since 2000, London electro-pop quintet Hot Chip has taken a push-pull approach to music, deftly switching between their frenzied live attack (with more instruments onstage than you can count) and the steady bpm of drum machines and electronics-driven sounds. Sure to be on many a year-end top-10 list is Hot Chip’s 2008 LP, Made in the Dark, which saw the band branch out into slower, more ballad-y songwriting to serve as a counterpoint to its four-to-the-floor dance rock. We caught up with members Joe Goddard and Al Doyle during their quick stop at Current TV’s Los Angeles offices earlier this year, and spoke with them about their rather 21st-century production techniques.

XLR8R: Who does Hot Chip’s production?

Joe Goddard: We really don’t have a specific producer. Anyone is free at any moment to say, “This song needs a new synth part,” or, “We should rearrange this track.” A lot of the tracks were based on my laptop, so I’d do a lot of work editing and moving things around, but everyone plays, everyone makes decisions. Most of the album was made in the same way we made The Warning and Coming on Strong. A lot of stuff was started in my bedroom, and significant things were done in Al's and Felix’s and Alexis' recording rooms in their home studios. Most songs are started in Cubase by making rhythms with drum samples, and then on top recording live synthesizers and guitars, percussion, other drum machines and keyboard layers, and vocals–just literally sitting in front of my computer in my room.

Al Doyle: There were quite a lot more sort of “long takes” in the process; where previously I think we were cutting things up a little bit shorter, you could maybe sometimes hear the loop a little bit. This time we tried to do mostly long takes that went across the whole of the song, so even those songs that weren’t recorded in a “live” way still have more of that feel.

That tension has really defined your music.

JG: It’s kind of been a constant evolution of our sound, getting to a point where [our songs] don’t sound like computer productions so much. I think the way that we hear music now, you lose a certain vitality when things are very heavily layered and edited, so we tried to get away from that. And in terms of rhythm, there was an attempt to have a more kind of tribal and vital live sound to things, like in “Shake Your Fist” or “Bendable Posable.” But then, something like “Ready for the Floor” is very heavily produced and edited–and there it’s all about drawing in melodies on-screen. So it’s a real mixture in terms of production elements on the album.

How did the live rock elements mesh with the urge to make dance music?

JG: All the drums begin with drum machines or with drum parts created in Cubase, so they’re rigidly in time. Over the top of that we can layer synths that are sequenced or created on the computer, or we can layer live stuff. That’s where you get the most exciting moments–you have something that’s rigidly in time and then other things that kind of waver. It’s the Sly Stone/Prince kind of thing–having a drum machine and then, depending on your live playing, you can create interesting swings or grooves… that mixture is something we love. The live show is all about that–sometimes working totally with the rhythm, sometimes pulling against it; trying to create this kind of balance. We’ve had a whole bunch of new stuff that we started to use on this album–a Doepfer modular synth and a [Dave Smith] Poly Evolver, for instance–but a lot of it is created on stuff we’ve owned for years. On the prior albums, we used a lot of old Casio and Yamaha keyboards and things; sometimes you find that the sounds in those keyboards are actually more unusual than these presets you get on modern keyboards, which you feel like you’ve heard on every dance track that’s around.

So your synths are mostly hardware?

JG: Well, I do use some soft synths. I particularly love this [Arturia] Moog Modular VST instrument; it’s on almost every track on the album. On some of the tracks it’s used to create a lot of the parts, from the bass drums and snares to the big synth parts and bass parts. And with that, what I love is taking presets and really messing around with them. There are certain remixes I’ve done where I’ve just basically used that synth to create the whole thing.

Hot Chip Audio Interview
Listen to Evan Shamoon’s full interview with Joe Goddard and Al Doyle.