Interview with Owen Clark of Hot Chip: Make The Most Of A One Life Stand

Only the most disciplined artists of the last decade have been able to efficiently manipulate computer technology and effectively incorporate its creative innovations into ideal contemporary pop. Meeting in the year 2000, London-based multi-instrumentalists Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard have steadily improved technical proficiency while heightening the tuneful dramatic intrigue of their augmented post-disco troupe, Hot Chip.

Joined by like-minded synth-based guitarist, Owen Clark, whose provocative artwork (in collaboration with groundbreaking graphic designer, Darren Wall) decorate Hot Chip’s first four modern dance-floor escapades, plus LCD Soundsystem synth-guitar programmer, Al Doyle, and drum machinist, Felix Martin, Hot Chip’s impressionable ’04 long-play debut, Coming On Strong, proved worthy. More importantly, it opened the door for eloquent glam-disco chestnut, The Warning, which became a massively popular ’06 breakthrough and harbinger of the shape of things to come.

In retrospect, The Warning seems rather conventional and minimalist in approach. Simplex crosscut rhythms pulsate through the bustling electronica tonicity of scintillating scrambler, “Careful.” And a luminescent gleam and glitzy sheen polish up every danceable track, especially joyous celebration, “Over And Over.”

But this set the stage for ‘08’s striking Made In The Dark, a meticulously accessible retro-futurist club-ready offering perfect for nighttime hip-shakin’ or hedonist headphone hoarding. Squiggly noises and squirt gun synthesizer blasts envelop kinetic ‘80s new wave mantra, “Shake A Fist.” Hook-filled smash, “Ready For The Floor,” reinforces its quipped titular refrain with nifty house beats. Burundi tribal rhythms cling to the two-note electro-disco keyboard stomp of “Bendable Poseable.” And tinselly cymbal-slashed jitterbug, “Hold On,” reaches climactically symphonic summits.

Learning to better integrate keyboards, strings, and a violin played like an upright cello into the mix, Taylor claims his “obvious next step” was to get “more disco influenced and mid-tempo.” And for the first time ever, he had a piano at his disposal. As a result, Hot Chip delivered their best devotional elegies on ‘10’s domesticated romancer, One Life Stand, advancing underscored solemnity and overall sublimity to fresh new levels.

Opener “Thieves In The Night” siphons Visage’s “Fade To Grey” keyboard drone (previously espoused by The Warning’s glazed trip-hop send-up, “No Fit State”) for a retro-styled synth-pop shudder reminiscent of Yaz and ringing with enough quivering heartbroken tenderness as Alison Moyet’s best post-Yaz works. Yearlong live staple, “Alley Cats,” gets a somber Belle & Sebastian treatment just a bit less adventurously arousing than the thieving overture.

Angelic sweet-voiced euphoria guides the Euro-styled house beats of string-laden auto-tuned highlight, “I Feel Better,” which Clark claims “willed itself into being” and further asserts was “the hardest to helm and shape into existence.” Strangely, delicate keyboard-arpeggiated cradlesong, “Slush,” uses Ralph Kramden’s funny Honeymooners’ catch-phrase “hum-a-nah hum-a-nah” grumble as a nifty lullaby device. Industrial-clad New Order-like bass-boomed closer, “Take It In,” loads on surreal multi-harmony sentimentality at the Thompson Twins-tagged chorus. Furthermore, Trinidadian steel pan percussionist Fimber Bravo adds a cool Caribbean vibe to One Life Stand’s majestic funk-grooved neo-soul title cut.

The newly waxed One Life Stand proves to be a deeply emotional affair.

Owen Clark: All of our songs are about common themes in music. In the past, they were all about love dressed up in heavier metaphors and had humor as their armor. Our latest songs are more bare, with the songwriting coming to the fore more.

The album title, One Life Stand, seems like a shrewd snickering spoonerism or a cunningly twisted adage.

We’re quite terrible at settling on album titles. Previous releases use one of the track’s names to catch the overall theme or sum up the mood. With The Warning, there’s lots of elements of caution and hazard. For Made In The Dark, the idea was we were composing an album slightly naively with things you wouldn’t normally put in the same set together. The quieter songs are composed without any structured bent. This one, the whole record had a mood about love and how accidental fate could be. That bound the album.

The title track seems to have a fascination with Giorgio Moroder’s robotik disco machinations as well as Kraftwerk’s avant-prog kraut-rock. But then it shifts into the hazy galactic love-struck romanticism of Roxy Music’s most hypnotic requiems.

Yeah. It has a powerful chorus and a nice sentiment. It really shows itself in the realm of popular music in the dance party area. That’s very much about the self—this is what I am and what I do. These are my intentions. It’s about expressing fate and love, which is rare nowadays, and that possibly stands out amongst the track’s surrounding it. The songs following keep along that idea, but expand the idea of domesticity, brotherly love, and other relationship aspects.

‘Hand Me Down Your Love’ and ‘Slush’ are extremely dramatic ballads.

We’ve had songs that have been gentler or out-and-out ballads. The Warning had ‘Look After Me.’ Made had ‘Whistle For Will.’ The ballads may have stuck out more on Made, but perhaps on this album they sit more comfortably and rise out. ‘Slush’ is the one that has a different sonic palette. The drums are less dance-y and more like an old Memphis soul lullaby. ‘Keep Quiet,’ on the other hand, sounds like our older tracks—homey —based on careful, quiet, small spaces. But ‘Hand Me Down’ has more of a propulsive Motown/Stax drum element that makes it rattle along at a good pace. They fit better with the disco house numbers. The songwriting and production make them, perhaps, seem more apparent as ballads, but I thought they fit together quite well.

Beneath it all, there’s an expansive experimentalism that moves beyond mere synth-pop.

I think that’s because we always liked bands such as Kraftwerk. We’re less interested in the electronic scene as a way of what we ought to be doing. A band like Kraftwerk is very electronic, but still very much a pop band. Their songwriting, experimentation, and forms of production are impeccable. It’s that fine line we’re interested in.

Who were some early musical influences?

Mine are classic ones. But I haven’t directly referenced these in our music ‘til this album. The Beatles and Beach Boys as well as disco and old house music.

What have you been listening to lately?

The five of us have sprawling influences. But there’s a few things that bond us like Brian Eno’s production and bands such as Talking Heads and Devo. Those apply to everybody. There’s obviously a side that involves hip-hop. But we’ve also kept abreast of modern dance too. And I enjoy Alex Chilton’s Like Flies To Sherbet.

An underlying jazz component slips into a few tracks.

Alexis has an improvised music side project with Charles Hayward of This Heat and John Coxon from Spring Heel Jack. That’s an area where the playing might be influenced by jazz, but I’d never call the arrangements jazzy. Joy Division is an essential part of the musical landscape but I don’t know if their sound is a direct influence—maybe just the approach. New Order’s a more apparent inspiration.

Tell me about the artwork you’ve prepared for each Hot Chip album.

I had a hand in all the illustrations. Coming On Strong had a wanky keyboard and bold colors, which was where we were at. The Warning produced the sculptures all the photos and graphics were based on—typical accidents and the use of a wedge to damage perfect things. The idea of something being broke—as a warning that nothing lasts. For Made In The Dark I wanted something that could be regarded as cellular or some sort of old ruin. So there’s this disc that could be taken many ways and also this oxidized bronze as an old musing in the dark. On the new one, I was going for antiquity and flux. The idea of a thing either being installed, repaired, removed or destroyed. It could either exist forever or only one moment.

Catch Hot Chip at Terminal 5 in NYC on Thursday, April 22 and Friday, April 23.