With band members that have such diverse musical influences, including Devo, Madlib, Aphex Twin, the Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, Bob Dylan and Prince, it's no wonder Hot Chip has developed its own unusual (and unusually hip) electro-pop sound. Listening to the band's latest release, The Warning (Astralwerks, 2006), can be a trippy experience. Song styles run the gamut, from the spastic beats breaking into spacey synth interludes of “Careful” and the '70s disco breakdown of “Boy from School” to the handclappin' sing-a-long of “Over and Over” and the bizarre, '80s retro-synth of “Tchaparian.” The band mixes old school and new school with home school and Montessori school.
“When people say they have all these musical tastes and types of music they listen to, sometimes it sounds like all the musical tastes are bolted together really crudely,” says Joe Goddard, who makes up one-fifth of Hot Chip. “You can say that you have a lot of different influences, but the sound that comes out should sound like the tastes have all been mixed together in a good way. I think it's really important that it doesn't sound like just a load of instruments.”
Goddard, who sings and plays the synth, is joined by Felix Martin on drum machine; Al Doyle on synth, vocals and guitar; Owen Clarke on guitar, synth and handclaps; and Alexis Taylor on vocals and synth. And speaking of synths, Hot Chip is quite fond of the vintage ones, toting around a few Roland SH-101s, a Teisco 60F and a Casiotone MT-70. “A lot of the album is just recorded on the Casiotone MT-70,” Goddard says. “It has a really soft, simple sound. I don't think many people would think to use it on their tracks at all; it's a very basic, simple piece of equipment, pretty ancient. It really goes well with Alexis' voice, and it really fits with the sound that we try to create. I think that Casio keyboard is the most essential thing that we have.”
Another essential vintage synth is the rare Teisco 60F. “The Teisco is very flexible in the sounds that it can create, similar to like a Moog or a Prophet or something like that,” Goddard says. “It's also really easy to play live because it doesn't have hundreds of knobs, sliders and controls. It has maybe like 20 things to play around with. And once you've mastered them, it's a great live instrument. You can change the sounds quickly and easily. It doesn't have any preset sounds. You can't just click a button, and it sounds like a flute or a piano. You have to do all the work yourself.”
With their bundle of synths, Goddard and crew went to a very familiar place to record both Coming on Strong [Astralwerks, 2005] and The Warning: Goddard's bedroom, which has a fairly minimal recording setup with a PC running Steinberg Cubase and some free plug-ins. “I've got an old Dell desktop that I bought maybe four or five years ago. I'll probably have to buy a new one pretty soon, but it does everything that I need it to do.”
Although most of the album was recorded using live instruments (including a load of percussion such as tambourines, shakers and bongos), there is a sprinkling of VST instruments throughout The Warning. “I don't like to use VST instruments that much because I feel that they sound quite average, sometimes,” Goddard says. “I find if you mix the sounds up — some analog and some computer things — it works.”
One VST instrument that passed Goddard's quality control is Arturia Moog Modular. “It's really good because it can create great drum sounds — snares, bass drums, hi-hats, everything,” Goddard says. “I've been using it a lot for things like percussion because the sounds it makes are vintage, really nice. They're not too shiny or new-sounding.”
While Hot Chip does everything on a shoestring budget, the band's sound is huge, energized and unlike many other bands on the club scene. Hot Chip isn't a chip off the old block; it's its own block — originality built from creativity, not an expensive gear proclivity.