Hot Chip's Al Doyle

Hot Chip's Al Doyle
Hot Chip are stalwarts of England's electro-dance scene. With five records, countless side projects, and nary a near-breakup scandal in their decade together, almost every interview with the band tells the same story: nice blokes (Alexis Taylor, Joe Goddard, Owen Clarke, Felix Martin, and Al Doyle), friends-turned-family, fooled around with computers and music and kept getting better until they got good and then suddenly they were kind of great. Sold out shows, epic tours, and a major label shepherded Hot Chip at their peak, but once the band's popularity levelled off, it was time to reconsider their options. They returned to their indie roots and kept making records, each arguably better than the last. About to embark on tour to support Hot Chip's newest effort, In Our Heads, released June 6 through Domino, guitar/synth player Doyle spoke candidly with Exclaim! over the phone from his London home about the band's ups and downs, his time with LCD Soundsystem, and how James Murphy's recent trip to the doctor convinced Doyle to put down the bottle.

Are you gearing up for the tour?
Yeah, we're rehearsing at the moment, trying to get some new songs in the bag, 'cause we're going a little insane playing the same thing over and over again, and we've been the States already, so we didn't want to go back with the same songs, so we're desperately trying to learn some new things. [Laughs] It's gone pretty well. We're trying to mix in a few older songs, which we haven't done for a long time, so that's quite exciting to come back to some very early, in one case very, very early song, in our repertoire. So yeah, we've been practicing in the studio around the corner from where I live the last couple days. We've got one more day tomorrow and then yeah, we'll play them sort of for the first time a week before we go to North America. Then we've got the Hollywood Bowl and then we're coming up to Vancouver shortly after that.

You guys just released your album a couple months ago, so you must get bored very fast.
It was March when the album came out. Wait, when did it come out?

In North America in June.
Oh, okay, but we started rehearsals in February and have been playing shows since March. So yeah, we've been playing a long time. Especially the older material as well. And you know, it's difficult because it's not the kind of band where it's sort of pick up the bass and play another song when you want to. We've made it very stupidly complicated for ourselves. Like, in order to change or learn anything new, we've got to do a lot of boring, kind of housekeeping tasks involving programming and you know, sorting those things out. So now we'll be able to move things around a little bit, which is exciting for us and hopefully for the audiences, too.

Your shows are so popular and fun. I interviewed Joe back in 2008 and the show sold out so fast. Everyone seems to love what you guys do.
Oh, well, thank you very much. That's nice of you to say. [Laughs] We've had some great shows in Vancouver. They always seem to take off, and we've managed to do two in a row this time, which is really crazy. We'll see what happens there. It's a place I look forward to going to. I would have like to do a few more shows in Canada. At one point we were scheduled to play a show in Edmonton, which would have been really fun. I've never been there. And it would have been nice to play a smaller place, but that didn't come off for various reasons. So on this little leg, Vancouver's the only Canadian date. But there's two of 'em!

You've been involved with Hot Chip for a long time, but in the beginning it was a little bit more casual. At what point did you feel like you transitioned from hired gun to full-fledged member of the posse?
We were never hired guns in the sense of being paid to play. I mean, if only! [Laughs] There was no money to do that. Hot Chip's always been a band ― we split everything five ways apart from publishing, which Joe and Alexis split, but otherwise it's a five-piece entity and it has been since I joined, which was before Coming on Strong came out. Before that, Joe and Alexis had been making music as Hot Chip as a duo back to '96 when they were teenagers. But the Hot Chip everybody knows and loves begins when I joined, I like to think. [Laughs] I don't know that that's entirely fair, but ― you know, correlation is not cause but at the same time... I think that we have definitely become a lot more of a professional outfit over the years, just by necessity. At the start, we genuinely didn't ― it happened fast. We were playing shows outside the UK without a tour manager or any kind of apparatus around us to show us the ropes. We'd show up at South By Southwest or whatever, the five of us, with equipment in rucksacks. After that, we realized that we had to learn our craft a little bit more, and I think the live show and the recorded output has taken on a slightly more accomplished feel to it that we're very proud of, because we worked really hard at doing that. I really like the arc of our career, so I feel quite lucky that we didn't have that, you know, stratospheric level of success. Like for instance, the Arcade Monkeys or something like that, who were suddenly huge and had to play these amazing huge shows ― I mean I think they totally nailed it ― but I just feel as though it was nice for us because every step seemed like the right move to make, that we were ready to make it, so it's been sort of satisfying all the way through, and there's been a nice sense of progression because of its incremental nature.

And the fact that the band's career has gone the way that it has and you're all still, seemingly, friends speaks volumes about the lack of massive external stresses.
Yeah, and I mean we've been lucky to work with some really good people. And adjusting the core team around us and changing a few things around over the years. We sort of feel ― and not that we had a terrible relationship with EMI, they made some really good decisions and we had some great albums that came out of that relationship, but we felt that moving to Domino, we feel a lot more comfortable there. It's a much more personal relationship that we have with people there. That's been kind of cool. And yeah, the relationship with the band is ― we're just sort of lucky that we're not a particularly volatile bunch. [Laughs] I mean there are various frictions, but there's a familial feel to it, just by virtue of spending so much time together. We learned how to deal with each other a little bit and give people space. It's a nice little thing that we've got there.

There haven't been fisticuffs on stage to my understanding.
Weeeell, that's not quite true. Definitely between Owen and I, I mean, it's very good-natured, but we were both borderline or pretty much alcoholics, so we would get way too... and out of it, well it gets kind of ugly and a little physical sometimes, but not so much that we've drawn blood or anything. [Laughs] It's forgotten in the morning. But it's ugly now, too, we're fattening, middle-aged guys with receding hairlines and getting ugly and brawl-y on the stage, we're trying to put a lid on that. [Laughs]

Minus the alcohol, that sounds like when my sister and I would scrap as teenagers.
Yeah, I didn't have a drink yesterday, you know.

Well, that's good.
Thank you.

Sorry, but it's hard to tell when we're both laughing: are you serious about having a problem with alcohol?
Yeah, I think so. I'm going to hang out with James from LCD tonight, and he's just had, like, a shocking report from his doctor. He was just sort of laying there, and he was like, I've got ten years on you, and you need to you know, this doesn't last forever, was basically the shape of the argument. I'm going to see him for dinner tonight, it was my birthday yesterday, so he's taking me out and he's not drinking tonight and I'm going to see how that goes. I think it's going to be ― yeah, you know there are a lot of guys our age, early 30s or late 30s, it's time to think maybe about possibly having a go at slowing down. I don't know whether it's going to have to be replaced by something else, like, I know people seem to be getting into KeepFit, like replacing one addiction with another thing. Like, really into, you know what I mean? I just wonder if I could ever do that? I haven't really exercised since like, 1998. [Laughs]

You can track it all on your iPhone now and obsess over it.
Yeah, all the technology to help you out. Jesus. I need all the help I can get it. Yeah, that might be something. Wow. We really got off piece in this conversation. I feel like I'm talking to my analyst. I should be paying you some money right now. [Laughs]

No, no. If anything, I may owe you $5 by the end of this.
Okay. Wire it.

Going back to music stuff...
Yeah, let's do that!

You mentioned LCD Soundsystem. So you've been part of these pretty important indie acts. How do you create a place for yourself and keep your identity going between the two?
Well, I don't have to do that anymore, because LCD is over.

Of course. When you were, I mean.
Yeah, it got kind of difficult. There was definitely some scheduling issues, blah blah blah, all that boring stuff. And there were a couple of tours we did where we were actually playing together. It was like a little crossover period of two weeks and that was tough because both shows are physically demanding and demanding musically. It's just a lot to keep in your head. The two bands are quite different onstage. I felt very honoured and happy to have had such a long stint with LCD, and to do those final shows was a real treat, and I'm sure that group of people will play music again together sometime soon, but in the meantime, obviously Hot Chip was my primary gig. I always felt that my first loyalty was to that set of people. There was never really any danger of me leaving Hot Chip to do stuff with James or whatever. It was just a really nice relationship. We're all really good friends. James put out our first record... It's just one of those things that doesn't really happen very often to have had so much interplay between two bands at that stage in their careers. So much shared experience, it's just kind of a really nice thing to do. I'm going to be doing something similar later this year. I've got another band I'm in with Felix from Hot Chip called New Build and we're just starting out, so we're going to do a few shows with Hot Chip in Europe and possibly later next year. So Felix and I will be doing double duty. We're just gluttons for punishment, I guess.

Everyone seemed to have their own side projects in the break between records, and sometimes those take over everything. At any point did you think, well, maybe Hot Chip is done?
Well, for me I'm so excited about the stuff I did with Felix and my other friend Tom that writes music with us. Joe and Alexis are quite protective of the songwriting relationship, which I totally respect. They've worked very hard to get where they are and I think that really works, the two of them, and it shouldn't really be messed with. But at the same time, I feel very capable of writing pop songs, so it's nice to have that outlet, even though it's on a totally different level. I really enjoy playing the shows with those people, and we've got some really good musicians playing with us. Despite the fact we have to drive around in a van and lug all of our gear around and stay in crappy hotels and do all that sort of business, I totally love the shit out of it. It's my favourite thing to do. So yeah, it's those kinds of things that you do to keep yourself sane and grounded. Hot Chip has got to a stage where ― you know, we're traveling around with two busses, an articulated truck, a huge level of production, and lots and lots of people working around us, people relying on us basically for their income, and it sort of becomes a much higher level of responsibility, not just as a musician, but almost like being a company director. You can totally disappear down that line if you're not careful, or become disassociated or aloof or whatever. I think none of us want that to happen to us and lose the fire that makes it interesting. But it's something you really have to work at.

It would become a big machine rather than individual working parts.
Yeah. It's just a very seductive lifestyle. You see other bands, legacy acts shall we say, just touring around and doing a show, and that's totally fine, but we're always interested in not doing the easy thing.