Alexis Taylor is well-known for synthy, multi-layered grooves as part of British band Hot Chip. But he’s also got a pretty impressive solo catalog—including Beautiful Thing, released this year. Taylor’s going to be at the Empty Bottle tomorrow night, and I chatted with him about everything from what inspired his new sound to how he’d spend a day in Chicago.
Third Coast Review: Beautiful Thing just came out, and you’re coming to Chicago in support of that. How did you create this new solo work of yours?
Alexis Taylor: I began writing some songs and soon after, making this companion record called Listen With (Out) Piano that went with my Piano record, and I had about half an album’s worth of some ideas in demo form; some of them in just piano form, and some more fully fleshed out in the electronic direction. I wanted to reach out to somebody else as a producer who would have the role of being a producer for the entire record and who would have a responsibility to help me see this through to an interesting conclusion as an album. I wanted to work with someone who I trusted could bring something creative and interesting to the process and who could also get where I was coming from.
So I thought about who that could be for a while, I thought about what I wanted the record to sound like, what I wanted for the approach, how to actually make it, whether that would be with a group of musicians performing live in the studio with me or whatever that would be, and eventually I ended up asking Tim Goldsworthy. So I called him up and he was planning to retire from making music altogether, so it was a strange time to invite somebody. But he said no, he would like to do it, and he would make time for it. I hadn’t spoken to Tim in probably 10 or so years and the last time we worked together was the early days of working with Hot Chip.
This is your first time bringing in an outside producer. Was this hard to do? What was this process like?
The only thing that was strange about it, was once I decided to do that, to invite someone else in, I found it very hard to finish things on my own. Whereas up to now, I’ve done everything on my own. It felt really good actually. I think if I’d chosen the wrong producer, or not felt excited by their suggestions or ideas, it might have been a bit of a challenge. With Tim, I felt very trusting in him. We clicked musically. It was just really rewarding to have him, and it felt very collaborative. It wasn’t actually challenging to include somebody else in the process. I do think it came down to choosing the right person.
I know you mentioned using different sonic techniques on this record—what was new on this record?
I suppose something like the title track “Beautiful Things” was new to me to try to aim a track toward the dance floor, because I don’t think that’s something I’m particularly good at doing on my own. I wanted to make something with quite a unique sound, that’s how I think this record comes across. I do think this record sounds a bit harder to pin down than other things I’ve done before in any other context. It doesn’t sound like other things to me. It sounds like dreaming in another life. I can hear an influence, but things have gotten abstracted along the way. And I think that’s good, and it’s something I’m proud of about the music. I wouldn’t want to just reiterating things that have happened before. I also found that Tim was good at knowing about bits of equipment to use or bits of software to use, and how they work, and what they do, and suggesting them to me in ways to do something intriguing, so that was really fresh for me. If left to my own devices I would use things that I really love, but maybe I got familiar with using them.
Were you intentionally creating any theme throughout the album, whether in lyrics or sound?
There was a bit of a theme of deconstructing what I was doing as I was doing it. So singing about making music and songwriting. In some ways, that makes it a bit introspective to be thinking about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. And that was a bit of theme. Another theme was dreaming and being in this state of tapping into our unconscious or creative ideas and immersing yourself in the possibilities of writing something that is perhaps a bit hidden away in the unconscious and bringing it out to the forefront. It focuses on where things come from in dreams.
When you mention dreams, do you try to interpret your own dreams and integrate that into your own music, or do you try to infuse that into your music?
Rather than the songs being about dreams which are narrative-based dreams where this happened and that happened, it’s not deconstructing those kind of dreams, it’s more allowing songs to form whilst asleep, and remembering those song ideas. A bit like Paul McCartney remembering when he talked about “Yesterday,” he just so dreamt that song, it just had different lyrics about scrambled eggs. He had the melody, he just didn’t have the words. For me, I do dream not a whole song, but a whole bit of a song with words, or at least a melody. I try to capture that, like record a demo of that when I’m half asleep and turn it into something proper later. I suppose it’s less about my dreams but letting songs emerge from dreams.
You’re coming to Chicago—if you had to spend one day here, what would you do?
I have enjoyed walking around in Chicago; I’ve done a lot of walking around with bandmates and on my own and with family when they’ve been over. I’ve enjoyed eating Chicago-style pizza pies, which you don’t really get anything equivalent to. I’ve enjoyed record shopping in Chicago. I like the architecture in Chicago. I would like to go to a baseball game, but I’ve never managed that. I’ve done quite well DJing in Chicago at SmartBar, this time around I’m going to be at Beauty Bar the same night I’m playing the Empty Bottle, so I’m looking forward to hanging out and DJing and having fun after the show, too. It [Chicago] is one of the Hot Chip favorites on the tour schedule.
See Alexis Taylor at the Empty Bottle this Thursday, June 14, with support by Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone. Tickets are $15, and the show is 21+.