Sitting in my bedroom at 9 pm, I’m on the phone to Felix Martin of Hot Chip, a band who really need no introduction. Since their inception in 2000 they’ve gone from strength to strength, quickly rising to the top of the electro-pop ranks, where they’ve remained ever since.
Showing no sign of slowing down, they’ve just announced their sixth album Why Make Sense?Why Make Sense? is both the name of the album and its final track. But… Why make sense? Have they figured out the answer yet? “I don’t think so,” Felix laughs. “It’s ambiguous enough that we can be playful with it, which I think is really nice. It gives it an open feeling – but I guess that’s also in the music.”
Over the course of five albums, the UK five-piece quickly developed an image as musical mad scientists and technical geniuses. That may well be the case – but Felix is humble about it. “It’s very flattering,” he says. “But we’re not actually that technically geeky. I mean we can get what we want out of a computer or synthesiser, but I think what appeals to people is the human side of it. There’s this idea that if you wear glasses or you look scholarly, people think you’re gonna be really clever and really good at maths and science. I mean, I was always so bad at science during school.”I can empathise – we lament over the fact that we both wear glasses and yet cannot grasp mathematics.Beyond the technicalities of their music, what I – and thousands of others – adore about Hot Chip is their ability to let feeling and human emotion shine through the crisp, clean synths. “It IS emotional!” he exclaims. “There’s relationships and life experience, and for me that’s the appeal. There’s producers like Aphex Twin that are just so brilliant at working with electronics, and taking machines to bits and putting them back together, and that’s never been what we’re about. I don’t mind if people think that, though!”
So how exactly did their sixth offering come to fruition? Impressively, after 15 years and six albums, there’s no shortage of inspiration. “It’s never hard to come up with ideas – there’s more ideas than we can use, really. What’s really hard is to refine and edit, and try to make things as good as they can be.” While the songwriting is led by Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, everyone chips in as the process bubbles along. “It’ll usually be Joe starting something, a rhythm or chords or a bass line, and then Alexis will have some ideas for lyrics.“They’re faithful to an initial idea, respectful to that moment of inspiration or creativity, so they’re happy to build a song around that. Like on Huarache Lights, it happened really quickly, just someone improvising and messing about. And then suddenly it was there, and we were like, ‘okay well let’s build a whole song around this.’”
Not everything works though. Every so often, Hot Chip trial something that even they cannot conquer. “There’s definitely a lot of different versions of songs, a few tracks that went through so many iterations and different grooves. But we’ve never hired a thirty piece choir and then decided not to use them, we’ve never tried to do a reggae album, haha.”
There’s so, so much to look forward to on this album. On any given record, Hot Chip are expansive and genre-spanning, blending electronic elements with pop, hip hop, rock and more. But on Why Make Sense? they’ve taken the best moments of their career, twice distilled them, and poured out something truly dazzling. “I’m really excited about it,” he says. “Within the band we feel that this is the best album we’ve done.”
I ask Felix – six albums down and a wealth of experience, what’s something new he learnt recording this album? He ponders for a while. “More than ever, I learnt about keeping things very simple in terms of arrangements and songs. Learning that sometimes it’s better to have one very strong element rather than four less good things, which means making hard decisions. There’s a few songs that are very stripped back and have a much more limited palette of sounds and that’s something that’s quite new for us. Usually we add more and more and more.
“Everything has been considered, every sound has been thought about. I hope that doesn’t mean it’s going to sound sterile! (spoiler: it doesn’t.) There’s definitely a sense of capturing fresh ideas, but the actual finished form is very worked out and considered.“
To be more specific, expect an album that’s equally new and nostalgic. “The last album was maybe a bit more rock, but this one has hip hop and R&B influences too. They were really important to Joe and Alexis when they started the band, so I guess we’ve come full circle, but we’ve picked up so much stuff along the way. A lot of people also have a fondness for The Warning, and this album has a few similarities to that.”
But don’t be alarmed. Not even slightly. This isn’t a rehash or a ‘best of.’ Early on in their career, Hot Chip showed us that they’ve found that coveted thin line between a distinct, signature sound and never sounding quite the same. That remains true to this day, and the final results are refined, slick, relatable and gorgeous.
My final question (although I had twelve more on my list) was if an Australian tour is on the cards. The answer was yes. “I’m 100% sure we’ll be there within the next twelve months. It’s always a place you look forward to coming to after loads of touring. It just feels like a really nice reward. We always have such a good time there. Australians have always been fanatical about Hot Chip – it’s not like that everywhere in the world. So I’m definitely looking forward to coming back.”
Why Make Sense? comes out on Friday May 15.