Home Schooling: Alexis Taylor

The Hot Chip and About Group man invites Port into his inner sanctum, a home studio packed full of boot-fair bounty, to discuss his new album

If you’ve ever seen the band Hot Chip live you’ll know that they’re an act that need space onstage. They like to gyrate and groove behind various inter-changeable instruments like the socially adept nephews of Kraftwerk. So it feels strange talking to frontman Alexis Taylor, also of About Group, in his cramped home studio in an unassuming terraced house on a residential street in North London. I’m expecting chrome, futuristic gadgets and racks of Google Glass. I get vintage gear, shoeboxes and Walnut.

This is the studio where Alexis wrote, recorded and mixed his second solo LP Await Barbarians, entirely on his own. Port was invited into his home to discuss the work/family life crossover, car boot sales and being a hoarder.

How long have you had this studio?

We’ve been in the house for about six years. I’ve always needed to have something at home, so I can get on with ideas whenever they come to me. The cliché is that those ideas come in the middle of the night and that’s why people have a home studio, but I don’t do that much nocturnal recording. I do work most days and I sometimes wake up in the morning having dreamt the beginning of a song idea. It’s really important to be able to get straight on. I have a piano downstairs too.

Do you have a specific routine?

Not really, but if you’re working at home and trying to finish at a certain time in order to collect your daughter from school, or maybe she comes home and wants to play with the keyboards, then… In some ways what you’re writing about is to do with that family life. There are a couple of songs on the new album that talk about the immune system and the school system. So I think a home studio and being close to whatever else is going on in your life does impact on the type of music you’re making. Ultimately it’s convenient. I’m recording here because I have everything set up and it’s relaxed.

“ a home studio and being close to whatever else is going on in your life does impact on the type of music you’re making”

In terms of songwriting I tend to start on the piano, but sometimes it’s a drum machine and I also use congas and live drums. I’m just looking around the room and realising I actually start in different ways. I’ve probably written a fair few songs on that guitar over there .

Studio of Alexis Taylor
Talk us through some of the equipment you have. There’s a lot of vintage gear in here…

This drum machine made by Sequential Circuits is something I’ve used with Hot Chip, About Group and on my own. I love that you can tune all of the drums as you’re hitting them. I’ve got an old Teisco analogue synthesiser – that’s the first keyboard we bought in Hot Chip. You can hear it on Coming on Strong and The Warning and I used it a little bit on the last Hot Chip record and a bit on this record. Myself and Joe (Goddard) bought it together. We had two of them, but the other one broke when we took it to Brazil.Those brightly coloured Conga drums, I got at Chiswick car boot sale. They were all over the Nayim from the Half Way Line EP and this album. All the drums you see and the cymbals and hi-hats were bought on different occasions at Chiswick car boot sale.

So Chiswick car boot sale is the place to go for instruments?

Yeah, it’s been a good source of instruments for me. This red acoustic guitar’s from there as well. You don’t know if things are going to work, but you can usually tell when you’re speaking to the seller whether they’re lying or not. ‘Untested’ is what they say if it doesn’t work.
James Rawlings Alexis Taylor
Would you say you’re a hoarder?

I really am, I have a problem – records, clothes and little weird things. There’s a room downstairs with the piano in it and my record collection. The records in here are only the overspill. There’s probably three thousand records downstairs, plus trainers.

There’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding…

I don’t know where one stops and the other starts. My wife and I probably encourage each other to go to boot sales and amass things. I think if I was to remove all this stuff it could, in a technical sense, alter the sound in here, but sometimes I do want to work in a more minimal space.

Alexis Taylor James RawlingsRight now it’s going a little overboard. There may be something that you want to use and you can’t get to it quickly. I’m very impatient.

Are there any other objects in here that are particularly important to you?

I use this coke bottle to make percussive sounds. On Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough’, the Jackson 5 are all banging coke bottles. This McDonald’s cup has all the things I need, like little connectors and things that you are always scrabbling about to find. Nick Relph made the stained glass window piece for Hot Chip, for our last album cover. That’s a nice thing to be looking at when you’re working. I collect fabrics and clothes by a Finnish textile and clothing company called Marimekko. Some of the pieces get used to dampen the drums, like the old school idea of putting a tea towel over a drum. So they’re tangentially linked to the music making.

Do you indulge any habits whilst working?

I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t really drink alcohol whilst I’m working. Tea, I do like, but as soon as I bring a drink in here, I’ve knocked it over on the equipment, so it’s not a great idea. If I want to switch off for a moment, I listen to records or go on YouTube. I’m often on Discogs trying to buy records, but I get back to things pretty quickly. Working time is quite sacred. Since having my daughter and since she went to school, I try to be fair to the time I can spend with her and my wife. I work whilst she’s at school and then stop, go and collect her and be with my family.

Interview Tom Jenkins
Photography James Rawlings

Await Barbarians is out now. For tour dates, click HERE