One of Hot Chip’s original two members alongside Alexis Taylor, and the other key singer and songwriter, Joe Goddard hopes his new solo album Electric Lines will bring people together through their love of music and dance culture. The album is a celebration of music’s ability to connect and unite people. He spoke to LARA FOX about his process of making ingenious electronic music, his love of London, and his views on music’s power in a politically dire landscape.
You have said that new album, Electric Lines, is about community, bringing people together and feeling connected. What role does music play for you in these ways and what role do you see it playing in society in general?
I have seen music help with assimilation a lot in my life. I grew up in central London, I went to a comprehensive school which was full of people from different cultures and backgrounds. I have found that music is one of the best ways for people to bridge differences. It doesn’t matter what culture or race you are, music can bring you together. It is things like music that create a happy multicultural community.
London is actually a really good example of a harmonious multicultural city, it is a successful community of people that care for each other, generally. I feel like music has a huge role in that. Whoever you are growing up in London, you are dancing and listening to music and having a good time. It is such a musical city. When I grew up I would be sharing grunge tracks or hip hop tracks or dance tracks with other people and we would listen to them together and through that, you learn that you have a lot of universal similarities with people. No matter where your mums are from, you can still enjoy the same music; music bridges gaps.
I have found that when people do have issues with other countries or other cultures it is usually just because they have not been exposed to them. They haven’t had a chance to share an experience with them, to share a dance, a song, or a meal with them. This is really made evident in small towns as opposed to big cities. A lot of major cities around the world don’t have many problems with race relations, people are much more assimilated because they have shared experiences with each other, experiences like music. There are people around the world who think there are issues with the free movement of people, and I just don’t understand that. I think there are other things that we could point the finger at, economically and politically, but I just don’t think that immigration is the issue. And that comes from my experiences with other cultures.
How do you find that balance in creating music that pushes you creatively but is also accessible and can be largely enjoyed?
My favourite songs are poppy, melodically pleasing, simple songs that also have something about them. They are also a little bit experimental, or unusual or a little bit wonky in some way. They have to have something interesting – whether it is unusual instrumentation or software used, synthesisers or vocal work. Sometimes it can also just be a really creative or original idea and rhythm. I like music and I want to make music that is really accessible with its melodic hook or vocal hook, but that has clever layers underneath all that catch. That is what I try to make, I try to make melodic simple songs and add interesting layers and elements to it.
To accomplish this is relatively straight forward, you have to work hard for a good melodic hook, and then you work with different elements to try to find a sound that you feel like you haven’t heard a million times, whether it is with keys or synth, you need to find a way to add a personal, inventive touch. I feel like that is what I have always done with my music, I would like to think now that I actually might be okay at doing that.
Hot Chip are a globally adored band, they epitomise that early 2000’s indie-electronic scene and as such have a die hard following. Does releasing and creating music under your own name allow you to be less restricted by the expectations of die hard Hot Chip fans, and allow you to be more creatively free?
That is hard question to answer. When we go to make Hot Chip record we don’t consciously think we feel any constraints or pressure to make a certain type of music. But, I think, subconsciously, we probably do think about the audience and what they are into and definitely subconsciously there is a part of your brain that wants to keep that audience happy and fulfilled. But on the flipside, that shouldn’t be your main concern when making a record. Really, you are trying to keep yourself creatively sustained. But naturally and perhaps unfortunately, it is in the back of your mind to make music that the audience will like. So yes, when I make music under my own name, that pressure isn’t there. I can take that hat off and I can just create without an audience in mind.
The music is really creative and technically explorative. With so many possibilities available to you through computers, how do you stay true to your creative vision and not get lost in all the options?
That is the trickiest part of making music on a computer. It is actually really, really difficult. It is difficult whether you are a young person making music on your laptop or whether you are someone like me who has been doing it for a long time.
You definitely have tracks that at a certain point through the track you realise you are kind of losing sight of what you are trying to create. But there are really simple and practical things you can do to try to stop that from happening and losing sight completely. When I am creating a track I will work on it for 4 or 5 hours or for a few days on and off, and if I mentally think I am still creating good stuff, I will keep going, but if I get to a point where I don’t think that is happening, I will close it down. That would be my advice; at the first sign of slaying it, close it down. Do something else. Completely remove yourself. Open something else up. Do something that makes you think differently. Or listen to a completely different sound, and see how it sits.
I think it is like anything creative really, whether you are writing an essay, a poem, a film script – if you stop for a week or so and give yourself distance, for some reason, the answer just becomes much clearer. I suppose it is a fresh perspective, you can be more objective. There is also another type of song – the type of song that you do not have any creative vision for, it just comes along as you are tinkering away on your software. If it comes like this and you just discover it as you go, then you are free to do whatever, there is no vision to stick to. The track might not cut it, but it might give you ideas for other songs that do end up making it.
You have been making music for such a long time now, what has changed for you in life, thematically, or just musically now for Electric Lines compared to 15 years ago?
In a lot of ways my approach has not changed for me at all. No matter where you are in your career, you are just trying to make a song to the best of your ability, and that never changes. So in a way, when I first started out with Hot Chip to now, my approach is still the same. What has changed is my ability. I know more about music and songwriting, and technically I know more, so I have more to draw from. But this isn’t always a good thing. When I first started out I was coming from a really wonderful place, I was really naive and I wasn’t used to the industry and I wasn’t as influenced by other artists and songs, so I was kind of creating in this vacuum of purity. Though, once you have been doing it for a long time you understand the landscape of what you are creating, which can be a little restricting. Also, you become harder on yourself, your expectations get higher and you understand more what perfection is for you and you strive for it so hard. So through Electric Lines I was trying to make music to the best of my abilities but I also understood the terrain much better, so that made it more difficult. When you are making your first few records it really is a lovely process, it is so easy and lovely and free. But now, it is much harder.
The album is really upbeat and has an optimistic and idealist spirit. Is it important to you to stay positive in these politically dire times times, with your music and personally?
It is. I am of the opinion that times are really very tough. Personally, I find it really difficult to stay positive. At the moment we are surrounded by really greedy, corrupt, capitalist people in power in a lot of different places and it’s really very depressing. I honestly believe we are in a really dangerous and scary period of human history. But, I don’t like it when people are faced with something like this, something so sad, that they feed it with negativity and complaining; I am just not into that as a response. I think a better response it to stay positive and to rouse yourself.
I think Jamaican music is a beautiful example of this. Jamaica is a place of such hardship, but they have this uplifting reggae music. Those reggae tracks aim to look at something positive, try to look at ways forward. A lot of the time with those songs its about religion, and through religion they are trying to find a way to move past the negative. I am into that as a musical message. For people facing adversity to use music to see past what is happening in the world, to see ways forward and to find the good and in music discovering reasons worthy of moving forward. So that is the message I am trying to send with my music. That is not to say that I am trying to gloss over what is happening, I am not. I am happy to talk about them. I would like to think that I am a well-informed and politically engaged person, and that I do my part on a personal level. But when it comes to music, for me it makes sense not to wallow in that kind of thing. Music should be a positive thing in society that brings people together, so it makes sense for it to be positive, especially now.
The album sounds really British in style. It’s diverse and dense and obviously echoes that famous London clubbing scene. Do you think if you didn’t live in London you would be making vastly different music?
It has to a huge degree. I grew up at a time when all recorded music was not available online. I grew up when it was different to that. Now, you can be living on a tiny remote island and still be so musically and culturally connected. I was so lucky because when I was growing up in London I could go and see David Rodigan DJ on a Wednesday night, or I could go to Notting Hill and watch Metalheadz or go to East London for some drum & bass or go watch some live hip hop. I would go to festivals on weekends and watch bands like The Beastie Boys and I would go down to Brixton and watch Pavement or another indie band at the Brixton Academy.
As a teenager I was out and about in London a lot, and I was so lucky that there was so much available to me. I really do feel so lucky that I got that opportunity and I think that that has definitely shaped my music, it’s diversity from just so many genres being divulged and it’s density from being surrounded by music, packed venues and people constantly. More importantly though, it probably inspired me to make music in the first place. Seeing all these great bands and gigs and passionate musicians really drove me to make music. I was just a sponge taking it all in. If I didn’t have that, didn’t have London, my music would be hugely different… or perhaps I wouldn’t make music at all. Who knows?