Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 02:58 AM ( 5139 views ) - Interviews - Posted by dagmarsieglindeI interviewed Al Doyle in 2007 - this originally appeared in Little Radio.
Q: I saw you guys open up from someone earlier this year Ė I canít
remember who it was.
Q: Yeah, thatís right. I came to see you guys.
Doyle: Oh wow. That would have been in March.
Q: Were they good to tour with?
Doyle: Yeah they were a friendly bunch of people, took an interest in what we were doing Ė which isnít always the case with bands that you support. They borrowed a keyboard from us as well so they were indebted to us at an early stage, which was good. We did about six shows with them.
Q: Was that the first time youíd been to Seattle?
Doyle: Yeah, it was the first time I had been to the West Coast in fact. We came back to L.A. and San Francisco in August and this is our second time going fully down the West Coast.
Q: Is this your first headlining tour of the West Coast?
Doyle: Apart from those two dates in August. Itís good to be in Seattle. We didnít have such great weather but I had a good time. We went to Pike Place Market Ė having a little walk around a few bars and restaurants.
Q: Youíre a classically trained cellist Ė when did you start learning?
Doyle: Maybe six or seven. Iíve been doing music for a long time Ė different kinds. I ended up doing this kind of stuff. I also have a strong left hand. Worked well for the guitar, like I could pick up the guitar quite easily. I still play the cello, record with it now and again. It might be on the next album, hopefully, I donít know. I enjoy playing it from time to time. I should play it more Ė I can still get a sound out of it and everything. Yeah, thatís my background.
Q: I was actually going to ask if you were going to have the cello on any of the CDs?
Doyle: I do some other music with Felix in the band and weíve done some soundtracks for documentaries and stuff like that. We use the cello on that because itís a quite pleasing sound and atmospheric. We have some other string players Ė like on the song Look After Me on The Warning thereís a violin on that. Thereís a really good string quartet that we know in London called the Elysian Quartet that have supported us on a couple of shows. They do from Modern classical stuff to Beethoven and have things written for them by UK composers. So we can always draft them in if we need some strings, which is useful.
Q: What kind of documentaries have you worked on?
Doyle: It was a documentary about the Last Lighthouse Keepers in the UK. Basically all of the lighthouses were automated in 2002, I think. Up to that point there were about three people on every lighthouse and gradually they would stop working at a lighthouse that was about to be automated and keep running that. It was just a strange life that a lot of them led. Now there really arenít any of them any more. Theyíre getting pretty old now and it was a chance to listen to some of their stories. Itís a really good documentary. Felix and I will also be working on another one next year with the BFI, which is the British Film Institute. Weíre going to have access to their archive to choose a movie and rescore it or possibly score a silent movie. That wonít be towards the end of next year, but thatís going to be a really interesting project. We all do kind of bits and bobs on the side, apart from Hot Chip. Itís kind of good to have that breadth and have different projects that can give you a break from doing the album. That often can inform that process as well Ė you can also be a bit more experimental, like when we do remixes and things for other bands we can try out some things that you wouldnít necessarily think of. Itís useful as a kind of study and just improving your technique, I suppose compositionally Ė like with technology.
Q: The celloís kind of a sorrowful instrument, isnít it?
Doyle: It can be. Itís equivalent to the tenor voice, I suppose. Itís got a very wide range so you can go right down to the bottom there but you can still actually go surprisingly high as well. It seems to be a very expressive instrument Ė all string instruments are but the cello seems to be a lot of peopleís favorite. Iím lucky that I learned it, I suppose.
Q: You do a lot of the remixing?
Doyle: We all do. Joe and Alexis do some and sometimes I might work with Alexis or Felix and I work together mostly. And Owen sometimes as well. It generally ends up doing two teams of remixes, which means we can get a lot more done. Which is great. We enjoy it Ė the only thing thatís bad about it does take up a bit of time, and we donít have that much time to do our own music. So when youíre at home and not touring you sort of like you might prefer to get on with your own stuff rather than do a remix. Up to now itís just been paying the rent basically, they bring in a bit of money and weíve needed it. Now itís got to the stage where we can pick and choose a little bit more, we donít have to take everything is thrown at us. Weíre being a bit more choosy about who weíre remixing. Sometimes it can take a day or something but sometimes it can take 2-3 days. It just depends on what youíre working with or how creative youíre feeling.
Q: Are there songs out youíd really love to do?
Doyle: Anything with a really good vocal. A lot of stuff we do thatís what lets it down. Somebody who hasnít got a voice thatís worth listening to, basically. We did remixes for a lot of UK guitar bands for a while and they were just these kind of shouty, very unsubtle singing basically. So weíd take like one syllable or one word and Ė cause obviously they like you to have a bit of vocal in it but we try to get away with as little as possible if itís bad.
Q: Youíre from Leeds?
Doyle: Yeah. Joe, Alexis and Owen are kind of Southwest London. Felix actually grew up near the British Museum in the center of London. Iíve been down in London for the last four-five years. Iím enjoying it, itís good. Now weíre all actually living a bit closer together. Felix lives just up the road. Felix and I have a studio in the building I live in Ė so we can do Hot Chip stuff there. Itís lucky for me, I just roll out of bed and into the studio to do some work.
Q: Do you feel a little different from the rest of them?
Doyle: Yeah, though do sort of mention my different roots now and again. But itís never really a big deal. Iíve had a lot of friends in London for a long time so I know the city pretty well. I like going back and seeing my family. When I go back North I get back more of my accent, but when Iím down in London I donít have that strong of an accent. Iíve been accepted.
Q: Youíre all doing something on stage Ė no oneís lazy up there. How do you do it?
Doyle: Weíre very busy. I personally donít like to be just standing around. I feel uncomfortable if Iím not doing anything. A lot of the songs will have natural gaps in them and Iíll try to find something else to do. At the moment weíve got some congas on stage so Iíll do some percussion. Thereís always something to do because weíve got quite a lot of instruments- more instruments than we can actually play at the same time. Thereís four keyboards, two guitars Ė if someoneís playing a guitar then that means thereís an extra keyboard free Ė for instance on the first song on the album Careful, when we do that live I play both keyboards at the same time. Trying to multitask. It can probably be an error, maybe we should try to tone down the texture a bit in some cases, but itís just too much fun. We can make these big sounds with these keyboards so thatís just whatís been happening. We have actually stripped it down a little bit because weíre playing with a live drummer now so that makes for a much fuller sound straightaway. Weíve had to pull a few things back and incorporate that more into the group. Itís starting to work really, really well. We donít normally have a live drummer but we tour with Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem. Heís done a few shows with us in the US and now heís doing the whole tour with us.
Q: Putting things together and layering. How hard is it not to sound messy?
Doyle: Live weíve just gotten a little bit better at playing. Weíve done so many shows. This year we did twenty-six festivals from May to August, a couple of tours in the middle of that. Weíve been on tour since September, so we did three weeks in Europe, three weeks in the UK and three weeks in the US as well. So pretty much three months on the road and hundreds of shows, so naturally youíll get a lot tighter and the song structures are quite fluid. The instrumentation is quite fluid as well so thereís a lot of room to change and improve and figure out what works and what doesnít. Itís not something that is very consciously decided but itís something thatís more like an evolution.
Thereís quite a lot of communication going on onstage. It didnít used to be like that. When we first started out, especially with the stage setup that we had, when we were all in a line, we were basically all locked into what they were doing. Like watching five guys doing individual concerts but they happened to be on the same stage at the same time. Whereas now weíve got more of a curve going on and we can look at each other a bit more. Thereís a bit more of a group feel to what weíre doing and weíre not concentrating so hard on getting our parts right because we play it everyday and we can look around and listen to some other people. Like a proper band.
In terms of recording, itís building things up by layers, constantly listening and figuring out whatís too prominent and what can be tucked underneath. I know that Joe and Alexis wanted the album to be something you could listen to repeatedly and discover new things in the mix you might not have noticed on the first listening. Like there are little things that will reveal themselves as you listen more, which is quite good. I donít think youíd get that in a normal live recording of a band. If you look at some of those songs on the computer thereís so many different tracks and different little bits coming in. It should be quite rewarding, hopefully, as a listening experience.
Q: How do you decide which sounds youíll use. Like the xylophone, I am obsessed with xylophones.
Doyle: Oh really? Itís actually a glockenspiel thatís on the CD. But funnily enough we just played with Dennis Young, whoís the marimba player in Liquid Liquid, a seminal sort of experimental disco group Ė you know the White Lines by Grandmaster Flash, thatís a sample from one of their songs. Youíd recognize a lot of their songs because theyíre really heavily sampled for hip-hop. Young contacted us through myspace and said hey, youíre playing in New York, mind if I come and play with you? It was like, wow, this is unbelievable Ė heís a real legend. He played about three songs with us on marimba. Weíre a big fan of those kind of sounds although they can be overused sometimes Ė itís difficult to not make them sound a bit twee. But sometimes it is just the right thing.
Whenever weíre choosing sounds itís just whateverís best for the song. People always go on about how we use cheap keyboards or casios. Itís not necessarily just because itís cheap that we like it, itís just that happens to be a sound that is nice and maybe we spend 1,500 pounds on another keyboard and use that as well. But thereís nothing to say that oneís better or worse just because how much they cost or where you got it from. Itís just a case of looking at things very objectively and deciding what would work best for the song and what sounds best. Iím sure thatís how most people go about doing this kind of music. Or I hope it is. People shouldnít fetishize certain sounds as being the ultimate thing, like when the 303 kind of acid sounds used to be really popular, I mean itís a really great sound and we have a 303 but itís become this kind of thing above and beyond itself. I donít think thatís very good when that
Q: How surprised are you by the response youíve received in the States? I wasnít the only one you came just to see you as openers.
Doyle: It was crazy Ė I think Stereolab were quite surprised as well. Weíre constantly surprised by people coming to our gigs. Or how they know about us. Because the album is selling alright but itís not flying off the shelves in the US by any means. There are a lot of people who are sharing music and thereís a lot of our tracks on blogs and stuff in the US and also thereís been quite a lot of good reviews and articles in local and national press for us. We deliberately came over (to the States) in August even though it was only going to be a very short trip Ė If we hadnít played in the US as much I think people might have forgotten about us a little bit Ė so it was important to do that. It just sort of helped maintain the interest. I think the live shows are a big part of that. People seem to particularly enjoy some of the live versions of the songs that we do, and theyíre very vocal about them. A lot of our fans seem to be very willing to talk about us and to convert other people, which is great. But otherwise I have no idea why they seem to being picked up on. I mean the songs are poppy and theyíre easy to listen to. Thereís nothing too difficult, weíre not trying to do anything thatís too way out. Obviously thereís some very experimental aspects to the music but weíre not deliberately trying to create any barriers. We want everything to be accessible and danceable. I think people pick up on that and hopefully get excited about that.
Q: Your nickname is Al-Doit?
Doyle: Not really, no. It was just in a press release.
Q: Do people call you that?
Doyle: No, no one calls me that. I think there was just a point where people were trying to put in nicknames. Originally I suppose what it came from was that I was the last person to join the band. It wasnít really clear what my role was going to be. There used to be a live drummer and then Felix started playing drum machines and we didnít have a drummer. Then maybe I was going to play drums, because I was a drummer as well, and then people were saying we need someone to play some synth as well and it became, Iíll do it Ė in every situation. I think thatís sort of where it came from.
Q: They were called Hot Chip when you joined?
Doyle: Yeah, Hot Chip as a music making entity has been going since, like 97 probably, when Alexis and Joe as a duo self-released some stuff in the UK. And then they had an ep out on a very small label called Victory Garden records in the South of England in 99 or something like that. The switch to a more electronic bass kind of poppy sound was only just before Coming on Strong, which was when they started to get the band together. Since weíve become a band itís obviously become a different entity. Hot Chip, as people know Hot Chip, has only been going for just over three years.
Q: Whatís your favorite song to play live?
Doyle: New songs, I suppose, is always going to be the obvious one. Weíve got new songs in the set Ė one is not really a new song for us because weíve been playing it for about seven or eight months, but itís not released yet. Thereís one particular one which is quite pacy and fast and itís a lot of fun Ė youíll probably notice when we play a new song because weíre all a bit more animated. I enjoy playing "Over and Over" because the crowd reaction that is always amazing. We play it at the end and people always seem to really go for it in that song. We get to do our real, sort of rocking out Status Quo stuff on that song. Weíve also been enjoying playing a lot of new acoustic songs. Weíve been doing some radio sessions here in the US and Europe. For those sessions itís just me, Joe and Alexis, just a guitar, one keyboard and some percussion Ė very stripped down versions of the songs.