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Seven is a special number for many people. Will it be for Hot Chip as well? The British brand is presenting A Bath Full of Ecstasy, its seventh album. The nine-track (plus three extra edits) work marks their comeback in a more commercial, pop, and vivid way. For this occasion, they’ve worked with Grammy Award-winner Rodaidh McDonald – the Scottish producer behind most of the XL Recording’s roster – and Philippe Zdar – who together with Étienne de Crécy created the so-called ‘French sound’ under the name Motorbass, and also from Cassius, who sadly died yesterday of an accident.

Launching today, June 21, this album is their most commercial record to date. UK garage–oriented, modular synths and pop music. Get ready to dance diehard Hot Chip this summer – and beyond –, boys and gals. Because they have settled a rather extensive tour worldwide that will bring their show to your (nearest) city between this fall and next spring. We sit down with Al and Alexis to chat about why is this the first time that they don’t remix their whole album, their teamwork with Zdar and Rodaidh, having fun in the studio, and how do they face the challenge of an 18-month tour.
A Bath Full of Ecstasy (Domino, 2019) is your seventh studio album. What does this full-length mean to you at this stage of your career?
Do you mean like if is it remarkable that we got to number seven?
No, I do understand each album is an opportunity to express something very special.
Al: Whenever you’re on the current record, it’s obviously the thing that’s freshest in your mind and you often, possibly mistaken, think it’s the best thing you’ve done. Because it’s what we’re feeling very excited to get out for people to listen to it, enjoy it and appreciate it. This one sounds very complete, and it’s also the first one that’s not been mixed altogether. We mix on our own, but in terms of working with Philippe Zdar in mixing the whole record or applying his sonics to it has given it a different spin.
I wanted to get into that. The album is co-produced with Motorbass co-founder Philippe Zdar, who is one of the leading icons of the so-called ‘French touch’ sound. Why did an established British band like you want to blend this sort of genre in your sound?
Alexis: I don’t think that all of us have spent loads of time listening to everything that Philippe has produced and thinking that we’re looking for a bit of a French electro influence. We wanted to find somebody with a lot of passion for recording and producing music with great skill and access to a great studio who would hopefully oversee the recording process and bring out the best in what we do.
I do understand he has a particular vision of how that process could be.
Alexis: We didn’t know exactly how he would be like, we were just trying something out. We liked talking to him when we met him. There are some basic things that excited Hot Chip, like keyboards.
Al: We’re into keyboards.
Alexis: And he has a great selection of synths that we really enjoyed playing. That sense of playfulness in the studio is quite important to us making a good record. We also have a synth collection but his studio really was one of the best I’ve ever been to in terms of how open it felt, the inclusiveness of everybody, enough space to work, great gear to work with. So these are the more technical aspects, I suppose. We could be way more technical about it, but I’m just expressing what we found appealing about that.
I think it has as much to do with that as it has to do with what he would actually change about the sound. We weren’t looking for someone to tell us, ‘I don’t like what you have done, let me provide my stamp on it’; we wanted somebody to trust us, and us to trust them and to collaborate.

What about Rodaidh? He’s also worked with you in the album.
Alexis: He was really different from Philippe – he didn’t have his own studio and he didn’t always really work in quite the same way that we would, but we were just looking for people to bring some input to us that would help guide us. So we could say, ‘Look, we’ve got this as the starting point, what do you think? Is this going to be a single? Can you help us make it stronger as a single? What can we have fun with and experiment with in the studio? How can we indulge those things that we are interested in but without being self-indulgent and wasting time?’ Just finding a balance.
Did you know each other before?
Alexis: No, it was new to work with both Rodaidh and Philippe.
Al: It was a recommendation from the label. He did the last Franz Ferdinand record. He also knows a couple of our friends in New York, the guys from the band Holy Ghost, who went to his studio. We heard really good things.
After listening to the new album, I would say it sounds more straightforward or more commercial than previous Hot Chip releases, perhaps. Do you agree?
Alexis: I think so, yeah. I think that all of our records sort of look towards the mainstream and commercial pop music to some extent and balance that with an interesting more underground dance music in combination with some influences from southern soul and classic singer-songwriters. But this one, I think is a little bit more synth sync and more pop. Maybe that’s what we’re striving for always, but this time, we might have found the right people that helped us bring that out.
"I think that all of our records sort of look towards the mainstream and commercial pop music to some extent" Alexis Taylor
There is a positive vibe throughout the record. Do lyrics engage with current global problems such as climate change, Trump, Brexit, and so forth, or did you look for a different approach?
Alexis: Some of it is really quite isolated from the political surroundings; like talking about a relationship between two people, or for instance, Joe’s song Hungry Child – I don’t know the inspiration, but he says he’s talking about obsessional love. So not all of it is looking out at what’s going on around. But then, a song like Melody of Love, I felt like there was a kind of epic feel to the music and I wanted the words to be resonating with that. I’m talking a bit about the times that we’re living in being pretty trying for lots of people and how do you find a way out of that despair. And then it also talks about more ‘local’ issues, things that affect me.
My dad’s brother died and I was with him when he found out this news. This is not something I need to tell everybody about, but the moment of seeing your own father affected by this very sad news fits into the lyrics. So the record is not entirely positive. It’s about the lack of positivity and humanity sometimes, where people are maybe struggling to stay alive or struggling to make ends meet, maybe mental health problems, addiction or poverty, which lead to quite difficult situations for people in a relationship and start to break down.
Yes, there is this part of ‘a bath full of ecstasy’, but at the same time, there is this awareness of our current times.
Alexis: Yeah, even in that song talking about heartbreak as much as is talking about the dude bathing in ecstasy (laughs). A bit of a conflict between one thing to find something fantastical, wonderful and also harsh realities.
Speaking of Hungry Child, the music video has a very fresh approach, there is more narrative as music videos used to be, more old school, and more fun too. How did this idea come about?
Alexis: We got talking to Saman Kesh about making the video, and Joe – I think – put in quite a bit of time explaining the mood of the song – it has to do with obsessional love and how it can take over. But I didn’t actually know how it would be like. He wrote a story, which is a good script, it’s very funny, which meant that there was a lot more to it than just the track playing and then some people miming. It came much more like an episode of a sit-com. I really liked it because I found it surprising and fresh. It just doesn’t say, ‘go listen to our song’; it says, ‘think about the song, listen to it properly, think what’s going on between these people’.
You guys have a rather extensive tour ahead. It’s like you will barely be home until 2020. Have you ever done such a big tour?
Al: I think we’ve kind of done it every time. The whole tour is like eighteen months (laughs) when you really come down to it. There are parts of it that are heavier than others. We haven’t done this for a little while. A few years have gone by, so there are countries we haven’t played in and we really want to cover as much ground as we can and play to as many people as we can. So yeah, you are actually right (laughs).
Speaking about how you can take advantage of your time when you’re working apart. I think Al co-wrote some of the songs in LCD’s full-length American Dream.
Al: Yeah.
Are you guys willing to continue collaborating with other artists or making remixes, or is that far-fetched within such demanding schedule?
Alexis: I’m working on a few bits and pieces of new music. I don’t mean to release anything any soon. I’m at the very begging stages of solo writing. I’m also working with somebody I worked before, Justus Köhncke, a German house producer and vocalist from Fainting by Numbers, we have a project together – we did an EP and we’re trying to make at least another EP or an album. There is a friend of mine whose record I’m helping to produce, but I don’t know when it’ll get finished. So all of these things are going on in the background, but I’m not spending every day with them; we’re quite busy with Hot Chip.
So because of the tour, you have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry guys but I can’t currently commit to this’. Or do you find the time?
Alexis: I try to find time with somebody’s other things because they actually give me some sanity, like being in the studio doing something new, not just to talk about the record we just made. But I don’t want to do much of it because you can really burn yourself out. Some of your free time you just need to spend it doing nothing, or with your family, relaxing, switching off, having a holiday. Because it’s gonna be a very busy schedule. And I’m not doing nearly as much as I sometimes do.
"Whenever you’re on the current record, it’s obviously the thing that’s freshest in your mind and you often, possibly mistaken, think it’s the best thing you’ve done." Al Doyle
I read somewhere that the record was made barely in one week. I guess that was production time only?
Al: Not true, fake news (laughs).
Alexis: It was actually three days (more laughs). I don’t know where that comes from.
I think I read it in The Guardian, but I’m not sure now, to be honest. I’ll make awareness of that.
Alexis: We recorded some songs in Joe’s studio in London, where we would probably spend two or three days a week writing and generating ideas. That was maybe for over two or three months. We would get together occasionally and do this – so not working every day and not working for months until we had about ten songs approximately. And then we introduced Rodaidh McDonald to the process.
We spent eight days with him and then went back to Joe’s studio – probably another three weeks of two to three days in the studio generating more song ideas. And then we went to work with Philippe Zdar for probably two or three weeks in Paris, and he mixed it with us there. So that’s approximately about twelve weeks of work spread over a year and a half – and maybe some unaccounted time that we spent in our own homes.
Al: We don’t really like punch in/out.
Alexis: I’ve done some music before very quickly but this was not… It’s not intentionally a long or a short process; we just put in the amount of time we need to make those songs. We were quite productive in the sessions. We probably made about twenty tracks and ended up with nine.
I understand Philippe did the final mix of all of them?
Alexis: Yeah. That was exciting for us because we liked his mixes for other bands. There was one track by Robyn that he remixed recently, Honey. Joe didn’t even know it was remixed by Philippe, and he was saying, ‘have a listen to this track, to the mix, it’s so good’, and Philippe said, ‘yes, I mixed that song’ (laughs). It was nice to get his ears and mixing skill on the record.
Al: I bonded with Philippe quite a lot over dub music and reggae even though the music he made is not a reggae record. But the way he uses his desk is life, punching in and out effects and writing the faders as the track is playing. It’s a performance and it’s very exciting to see him make that mix. And if he gets something wrong, he’ll start the mix over again. He’s not just doing it in the computer and balancing it perfectly and leaving it flat like that. It’s quite dynamic and I think you can actually hear that in the music. I think it’s the most dynamic mix record we’ve made.
Recently, I read an article that said that, apparently, an average professional musician in the United States – within the independent industry, I guess – makes about $40K annually, and the lesser source of income from all that is the streaming part. Taking Spotify just as an example; I think there are about two thousand five hundred people working in their headquarters office here in Stockholm, and everyone arguably earns much more money than that. I would love to hear your take on this.
Al: It’s obscene, it’s completely wrong. And I think that not just Spotify but Google as well, they should be paying everyone a minimum wage. The people are the product and that’s the thing: the reason why these companies are able to make these obscene profits is that they’re not being taxed properly and they’re just extracting value from sovereign countries. I think this is tremendously unfair. We are actually in a much better position than a lot of artists I would say, we kind of do pretty good, but it’s a process of rebalancing. We keep being told that there’s more money in the music industry than there ever has been, but yet I can’t see how that’s translating down to the younger artists.
Alexis: I don’t use Spotify myself. I don’t have a paid subscription. I use Tidal and that seems to pay the artists better actually, which I didn’t know when I signed up to. It pays a slightly bigger percentage. I just choose to use that because I don’t really understand why in this day and age Apple and Spotify can’t offer master quality files for everything like Tidal does for most of it – and if it’s not master quality, at least it’s CD quality.
If you’re going to find that that’s how your listening habits change, you can use a streaming service where you can save things, which is a bit like borrowing from a library long-term – that’s how I look at it –, as well as still buying vinyl. I would just rather have decent sound quality. I agree with Al, I don’t understand how that’s a model that makes sense for artists, really.
I guess playing live is your main source of income.
Alexis: Yeah, unless we spend too much on production (laughs).

Words and portrait
Víctor Moreno

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