Hot Chip’s Owen Clarke talks creative process, recent festivals and new music

Owen Clarke of acclaimed London-based synthpop band Hot Chip speaks to Headliner about the group’s latest single Fire Of Mercy, featuring Yunè Pinku, their songwriting and production process, and headlining the recent Scorrier House Festival in Cornwall over the August Bank Holiday weekend...

How has your summer been so far, and what have you guys been up to?

Well, we just got back from Barcelona where we played a festival called Brunch Electronik, which is held in the forum area of Barcelona, and we were also in Belgium for Lokersefeesten – so two big summer festivals in a row. This summer we’ve been keeping busy doing festivals most weekends, bar the extreme weather events and whatnot.

In many ways it feels like you make for such a perfect festival band. How enjoyable are festivals for Hot Chip?

Yeah, well, that's showbiz [laughs]. But seriously, we really enjoy festivals and they make sense for us. We have the electronic dance aspect of our music, and we also have the indie pop thing going on, so that just works in a festival environment. It means you get people from different crowds and different musical cultures coming together to watch a show. We’ve been doing this for quite a while as well, so we’re well versed in what works and what doesn’t, and things come together nicely.

We still kind of get slightly miscast. It's happened more in the past, but it still happens from time to time where we turn up and we're a band, and that's somehow a surprise to everyone because maybe it's predominantly a dance music festival that we've turned up to, and everyone that day has been a DJ. That's a super cool thing, but when they hear that we’ve got in excess of 42 channels going into the desk, their heads explode, which is fair enough because they've got a lot on their plate! Although we’ve had various changes in personnel over the years it’s been fairly consistent. We appreciate the difference between festival shows and our own shows, and ultimately just try and have a good time, because that’s what it’s about.

Production and songwriting very much go hand in hand when it comes to Hot Chip.

You headlined the Scorrier House Festival in Cornwall over the Bank Holiday weekend, which is only in its second year. Is it always an exciting thing for you to play new festivals, as well as the longer running, more established ones?

It's always fun to play new festivals, because every festival at some point was a new festival. I remember we played Bestival when it was in its infancy, when it was super small and took place at a holiday camp. It grew and grew and moved onto the mainland, so these things evolve and some go on to become great big things, and some fade away. It’s all an ecosystem, so it’s important that these new ones happen and we go along to support and see what it’s all about.

How did your latest single with Yunè Pinku, Fire Of Mercy, come together from a creative perspective?

It's a standalone thing, and it's quite different from the mood of the record that came out last year, which I think is a good thing. That last record was to some extent in the shadow or the fallout of the pandemic. This new track I think is probably a reflection of being able to be out and be with people, reconnecting – all that sort of stuff. It’s still reflective, but feels like a better mood.

Joe kicked off the track with a working demo. Felix was away in San Francisco, so the rest of us were all in London and the writing that happened in the studio felt quite natural. Felix was able to offer an exterior view of the track, which was really good, because he was able to send some bits across that clicked in nicely. I was actually present for Yunè’s contributions, which was another nice surprise. After being on tour for a while it's always nice to come back and do something without the weight of a whole record on it. It makes it a bit more nimble, and allows it to move under its own steam.

Tell us about the band’s usual songwriting and production process, and how that may (or may not) have changed over the years.

Everyone knows that there's a sort of central songwriting team in Joe and Alexis when it comes to the band. Usually the rest of us come in and we write in the studio as well. Some songs will come in and they'll be a completely Joe one; others will be completely Alexis, and then some will be demos between the two of them. Sometimes an idea will arrive in a very embryonic state with not much, and we’ll all write that together in the room, so it’s always been a bit of a mixture I suppose. Either way, it’s very much found its groove over the years.

For Joe and Felix especially, production is very, very important. Alexis is classically trained, so kind of has a different look on everything, but he’s also got quite heavily into production in the last five or so years. When me and Alexis are in the studio together things tend to get a little more exploratory. Production is a large part of what we do, so that and the songwriting aspect very much go hand in hand when it comes to Hot Chip.

What’s your favourite instrument to play on stage?

For years it's been the Roland SH-101. It’s a very simple, versatile synthesiser with great arpeggios and melodies. And then I've got a boutique version of it, which is basically a small version. The big one hasn’t been retrofitted, so I use the little one to talk to the big one with MIDI. For any poly stuff, I usually have a Dave Smith synthesiser to my side, which is actually in a bit of disrepair at the moment – some of the filter knobs have come off so I need to get that fixed! I've recently tried to play tambourine, which turns out to be harder than it looks! Percussion looks very easy and very fun, and they can be, but you can sound very wrong if you get it wrong.

What have you got in the pipeline?

We have a bunch of shows coming up, which is exciting. The album came out a year ago, and the new single is out now, so I feel like there’s a nice new energy in the group. So basically, I'm looking forward to new things!

Images Credit: Matthew Hawkey

Listen to the full interview with Owen Clarke of Hot Chip at Headliner Radio, here: