Photo: Sylvain Deleu (Courtesy of Irascible Music)

20 Questions: Alexis Taylor

Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor finally gives in to his pop instincts on his new record, working with an outside producer and then telling us why Rubbermaid bins remind him of Star Wars.

Beautiful Thing
Alexis Taylor
20 April 2018

For fans of Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, his solo career — a winding, surprising, and difficult-to-pin-down thing — may have finally arrived at its inevitable spotlight moment.

While he’s known as the frontman of the beloved electronic group, his very first solo record, 2008’s Rubbed Out, was a quiet, introspective, and acoustic affair, featuring songs of wildly varying lengths and even a McCartney cover to boot. Then there was the matter of his 2016 piano-and-voice solo effort entitled, simply, Piano. It scratched his artistic itches and very clearly couldn’t have worked under the Hot Chip moniker, but were still very much curiosities, bold as they were.

So for Beautiful Thing, Taylor has perhaps succumbed to his poppier instincts, working with an outside producer for the first time in the form of DFA Records’ Tim Goldsworthy. The result is a surprising pop-heavy that goes for full-band instrumentation and doesn’t shy away from some of the electronic elements that one would find on his day job. Overall, it’s a very accessible, bright album, with songs like “Oh Baby” featuring a sense of fun and optimism which is wholly unique in his solo discography thus far.

To help celebrate the occasion, Taylor has sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, revealing why the Beach Boys’ Smile affects him so much and why Rubbermaid bins remind him of Star Wars.

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I found This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay quite painful to read, in places very moving and in others just uncomfortable. Very funny also. I can’t remember it making me cry but I cry during lots of film scenes, listening to music and reading generally. Ben Watt’s Patient memoir made me cry. This is about someone becoming very seriously ill and the process of going through the NHS system to discover what is wrong. Not dissimilar from Adam Kay’s book but less funny.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Maybe Bartleby from Bartleby, The Scrivener by Herman Melville. Sometimes I do feel like all I could utter is “I would prefer not to”. To be honest I actually try to please and appease fairly often — perhaps I am more like Bartleby within my internal monologue/thoughts.

I worry a fair amount and could be compared to any number of Woody Allen’s fictional anxious individuals (not that one wants to compare oneself to Woody Allen these days…) — or Charlie Brown.

3. The greatest album, ever?

I think Smile by the Beach Boys might be it for me. It is melodically rich and beautiful, is playful and inventive in terms of timbre, it is lyrically dense and oblique and yet somehow I find it moving. I hear myself justifying it as I write, but really I just find it incredibly powerful and joyous as a work of art to listen to in one sitting. Maddening at times, maybe, but still far beyond the ambition and achievements of most recorded popular music. But then again I would probably take Sign O’ the Times by Prince with me if I could only take one favourite record.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I don’t especially like either but I remember finding Star Trek quite boring when I used to watch it quietly on TV, after school, whilst my mum ran psychoanalysis sessions in the room above the living room.

I like the sandy colour scheme of Star Wars and often refer to things that I see in a similar shade (Rubbermaid things like bins often, or clothing) as being “a bit Star Wars“, so I do feel affection for it in that sense.

I like how Yoda looks, but I re-watched The Empire Strikes Back recently and was surprised by how much his character is played for laughs on his arrival. I prefer his legacy, particularly the way he is referred to in Raising Arizona when Nathan Arizona describes his missing son’s pajamas as having “Yodas and shit” on them.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Conversation with Oliver Payne and his own artwork itself is always illuminating, stimulating and very inspiring. It needn’t directly relate to anything I am working on but I tend to come away from conversations with him with lots of ideas and my mind feeling really excited at the idea of creating something. I think it is his vivid way of expressing an obsession with something, as well as the intelligent and articulate nature with which often leaves me “buzzing”, to use one of his phrases.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I’m proud of my latest album, Beautiful Thing. It represents a lot of what goes on in my dreams and inside my head, without sounding too much like a diary, whilst having a sound of its own — a murkiness, and submerged quality, that I like.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

I’d like to be remembered (in terms of music) for being open with my love for music and music-making, and for being myself when singing and playing.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Alex Chilton for being melodic but anarchic, Prince for being entirely open with his private and strange world of inventiveness, and offering his genius to us, and Crystal Gayle for singing beautifully.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The wheel would be pretty good I think. Or the discontinued Cadbury’s “Spira” bar.

10. Your hidden talents. ..?

I’m OK at basketball, and offering advice, and listening (I think?).

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

“Offer me less.” This is not advice I was given directly, but something that was quoted as having been said by Ivor Cutler, when he was being offered a fee for a gig. I think it is a pretty inspiring motto to take with you.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I borrowed — without asking — a friend’s CD player remote control to lend it to another friend who could then switch his “MEGA BASS” setting off his CD player, and then returned it rather sheepishly explaining what I had done.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or. ..?

I do wear old pairs of Levi’s a lot and have a fairly big collection, as well as one favourite pair I have been trying to replace for years as they fall apart, but are the best colour/fade and fit. In terms of Armani, I have one jacket, some boxer shorts, and some trousers, given to me from DJing at a corporate event. I don’t wear these as often as the Levi’s, or even my Devo boxer shorts.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I would invite the mouse I heard about from Katy Perry who stayed there and was charmed by its presence in the hotel. I would like to know if it has any insider stories from through the years. Or if it is part of a new generation staying there.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Parliament Hill Lido, the summer when it was first built and opened.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I like to swim (not very well), or be in water generally, to relax.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or. ..?

Music, salt and vinegar crisps, walnuts, water, “easy peelers”, and punctuation.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Hydra, Greece, walking around at night time.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

“See it, say it, sorted.”

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

A voiceover for a film about a rare Finnish beetle, and a new Hot Chip album.