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‘It’s like an extra marital affair’: Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard on new solo album

On July 12, Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard releases his new solo album Harmonics, a genre-spanning delight featuring a raft of special guests, including his Hot Chip cohorts Alexis Taylor and Al Doyle. Headliner caught up with him for an inside look at the mutual benefits found in extracurricular pursuits, the Shoreditch studio he runs with Doyle, and the enduring influence of the late Steve Albini…

You can listen to this interview here or read on below. 

Joe Goddard is sitting in the spare room-cum-studio of his London home. From the view we have via Zoom, it’s an anonymous, sparsely decorated space. The handles of a treadmill or exercise bike peer out over his left shoulder. There are no obvious traces of the creative hive it has become for Goddard, whether in his capacity as one half of Hot Chip’s creative engine alongside frontman Alexis Taylor, or indeed as a solo artist.

“I actually began a lot of these songs in the space I’m in right now,” he says, detailing the genesis of his kaleidoscopic third solo album Harmonics. “It’s a simple setup. I have a mic and a nice preamp, so If I think of any words or melodies, I can record them nicely. But it’s basically a computer and some speakers. It allows me to have a bit of clarity about what I’m doing, so I sketch ideas and write chords in MIDI, I use software synths. And these sketches will be brought to life later in our Shoreditch studio.”

That Harmonics is such a cohesive, unified body of work, whilst encompassing so many different artists, styles, and genres is testament to Goddard’s skills as a writer and producer. An exercise in untrammelled creativity, its 14 songs glide somehow seamlessly between house, hip-hop, pop, UK grime, and disco. Among the collaborators to feature on the record are Ibibio Sound Machine’s Eno Williams, UK rapper Oranje, former Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe, Tom McFarland of London dance-pop group Jungle, Bronx-raised singer Fiorious, Guinean vocalist Falle Nioke, UK jazz musician Alabaster DePlume, and, of course, Hot Chip’s Taylor and Al Doyle.

“It wasn’t an intentional thing,” says Goddard of the eclectic line up of guests that have wound up on the record. “But I guess the way it works for me is that, as I’m beginning to write a demo, depending on the musical styles, I start to imagine who a great collaborator would be for the song.

“I start to make a checklist in my mind of people I know, and that often becomes Alexis from Hot Chip. And as I become friends with some of these other vocalists, I start to imagine finishing the tracks with one of them. I have lyrical and vocal ideas less often – it doesn’t come as naturally to me – but sometimes there are a bunch of songs where it’s me singing, so if I come up with a vocal idea I like then I’ll tend to finish the song myself. It’s always just about how I can successfully finish an idea to make it the best it can possibly be.”

The studio is massively rewarding. We're in love with it. Joe Goddard

While the array of guests inevitably coax Harmonics down various creative avenues, it is Goddard’s vision that prevents the record from feeling more like a mixtape than a bona fide album. The space created for collaboration with each and every guest is measured with precision, providing a platform from which new ideas can flourish without ever uprooting the foundations of the song.

“We’ve had situations in the past where there is a specific moment, like with Hot Chip where we wanted a hip-hop thing, so we asked Posdnuos from De La Soul to write a 16 bar verse and slot it into this gap (2015’s Love Is The Future), and that was an amazing experience,” Goddard explains. “But with most of the collaborations on this record, I feel like if I open up a track to a collaborator then everything is opened up to them - the arrangement of the song, any musical ideas they have.

“On the song I sent to Ibibio Sound Machine (Progress) I sent the instrumental over and Eno wrote some words and Max arranged some brass parts, and there were some synth arpeggios, and it all became part of the track. That’s my way of working, generally, but I’ve had it in the past where someone has come to me to write something and it’s nice to be given quite a specific set of guidelines as to what someone wants from you. It makes it easier to write in a way.”

In bringing together so many different artists, Goddard says he was determined to capture the collaborative spirit as authentically as possible; by bringing as many contributors as was feasible into the Shoreditch studio he runs with Doyle, as opposed to making it an entirely remote affair.

“It feels very nice when you can sit in the same space as someone, so with most of the collaborators we were in the same room,” he elaborates. “And it can help the decision-making process; you can get lost in this soup of versions flowing back and forth over the internet [when working remotely]. You can’t just sit and talk together about how the track should be.

“On the song with Ibibbio, they sent over some vocals that they thought would be like a demo that we would finish in the studio, which I was really looking forward to. But I really liked the quality of the demo vocals and didn’t want to mess with them. One of the guiding principles of this album was working in an intuitive way and following your heart, for want of less cheesy words, so if something felt right, I didn’t want to change it.

“But it’s a case-by-case basis. The current single featuring Barrie (Moments Die), we’ve never done a session in the same room together. I just sent her the instrumental of that track, but that’s a normal way of working in 2024.”

Since emerging with their minimalist debut album Coming On Strong in 2005, Hot Chip have released eight studio albums, been a regular fixture on the touring circuit, and have written and produced various works for other artists. Outside of his two solo records prior to Harmonics, Goddard has also released four albums with his other outfit The 2 Bears, a collaborative project with producer Raf Rundell. Was there ever a temptation to simply take some time off rather than embark on a third solo outing?

“This is something I’ve done between all that different creative activity,” he explains. “And working on so many different things gives me some sort of inspirational energy to start things of my own. I learn something from an artist that comes into the studio or from a great gig we do or hearing a DJ. It often leads me back here to create something. I’m quite happy creating an album like this between projects, amidst other stuff.”

As he sees it, the art of flexing his artistic muscles in so many different settings can only be of benefit to both Hot Chip and his solo pursuits.

“In Hot Chip we have a wealth of techniques or experience,” he continues. “That’s definitely the case with Al when he goes off to play with LCD Soundsystem; he’s learning about playing disco and punk music from James Murphy who is a real master of those things. He really knows about the techniques of how a bassist or drummer should do certain things, and he’s very fastidious with the band about how people should do their jobs. So, Al has learnt a wealth of information about playing and recording with him.

“It’s the same with Alexis, he does freer jazz music and more folky music outside of Hot Chip, and that’s all very healthy. And it allows you to scratch that creative itch, like an extra marital affair to keep you interested. That kind of thing is important in the band. The only thing is everyone can sometimes be a bit knackered!”

It allows you to scratch that creative itch, like an extra marital affair to keep you interested. Joe Goddard

We turn our focus to the Shoreditch studio Goddard runs with Doyle. Conceived during Covid, the studio has become a hub not only for Hot Chip, but a space which the pair use for all manner of project and collaborations.

“It was inspired by the pandemic,” Goddard recalls. “That awful period also gave people a moment of calm in some ways, to make plans and make changes in their creative lives. So, Al built that space around the pandemic, and I moved all my gear in there, and we’ve been working there ever since.

“We produced a record by Ibibio there, which led to me asking Eno and Max to collaborate with the song they helped me with on the album. That’s been the same for a lot of the other artists on the record.”

Goddard also explains the different roles both he and Doyle have adopted in running the studio.

“Al does the bulk of the more traditional engineering stuff, he’s really studied that from LCD,” he notes. “He’s heavily involved when James makes LCD records so he’s learnt a lot from that I do more mixing and look at the computer engineering side of it. That’s how we generally split our roles. Al is definitely the person in charge of keeping it running, technically. There is no one else we hand that over to. We both really enjoy it, getting bands in making records with them. It’s massively rewarding. It’s tiring as well, but really fun. We’re in love with it.”

In discussing technical roles in the studio, our conversation turns to the late recording engineer Steve Albini. The iconic engineer behind beloved alt rock records from the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, and The Breeders to name a mere few, had died just seven days before our interview (Albini’s final interview was with Headliner and can be read and/or heard here). For Goddard, Albini’s much-lauded ability to capture the purest essence of a band in the studio, is something that has left an enduring impression ever since he first came across his work as a teenager.

“His records are so powerful,” he says. “I have very strong memories of hearing his work for the first time. When I was in school, I became interested in Palace and Will Oldham and the record Arise Therefore that Albini made came out, and I remember taking it home, putting it on, and it’s just the rawest, most intimate, natural sounding album.

“When I first heard it I couldn’t believe how emotionally raw it was too. It’s quite down, and some of the songs are very dark. It took me a long time to get my head around it, but it became a total obsession, and Albini’s sound is all over it. You really feel like you are in the room with these musicians. That album was massively important to me. And then the Pixies stuff he recorded was just magical, the sound of the drums on those records was unbelievable. He was an amazing musical figure, and philosophically as well.”

For now, preparation for a series of live shows and festival appearances over the coming months are Goddard’s principle priority.

“There are a few shows around the release and I’ll be doing more of a headline tour in the Autumn, and a few festivals around Europe and the UK,” he says. “This week I’ve been developing the show and working out what I’m going to be doing specifically on each song. It’s exciting.”

PHOTOS: Louise Mason