Matthew Crawley chats with Alexis Taylor, who saved many a dancefloor in Hot Chip and now tours the world playing solo songs on the piano.
Once was a time when you couldn’t hit a dancefloor without being treated to a sweet little Hot Chip party gem. Over the years, many a flailing DJ has rescued the mood with ‘Over And Over’ or ‘Ready For The Floor’, but did you know that lurking behind the Hot Chip party mask was a pensive singer-songwriter just waiting to escape? Alexis Taylor the Sensitive has always hidden in plain sight. His party anthems are more often than not tinged with moments of melancholy, and with the 2016 release of the ultra-spare, piano-based album conveniently titled Piano, the world was introduced to the Hot Chip frontman’s tender side.
Now, after spending the past year taking the solo show to sympathetic souls around the globe, it’s finally our turn: Alexis Taylor plays solo at The Tuning Fork on Wednesday, October 18th. And, thanks to a delightful turn of events, he made himself available for a quick early morning chat with The Spinoff to drum up some interest for the big gig.
Hello! How are you?
I’m fine, thank you. Just about to take my daughter to school, but yeah I’m good!
I resist the urge to make a joke about how Alexis used to be a boy from school, and now he’s dropping off his daughter to school and does it make him feel old and instead ask: So, uh, have you been touring solo a lot?
I’m not doing lengthy tours, like six-month tours back to back, shows every night, but I am travelling quite far and wide doing it. It’s such a quiet record that I made, quite a niche thing in a way, although the songs are fairly melodic, it means that it’s had quite a nice slow reach, it’s reached people who are interested in that kind of intimate setting for the songs.
The show has kind of evolved a bit over time as well, so that I’m playing quite a lot of the piano music but also playing some other things that weren’t necessarily originally just at the piano, and also playing some guitar and using some of the more electronic elements from some of my other records. Some Hot Chip covers, some other covers, taking requests… it’s quite loose at one end of the spectrum, and it’s also quite precise and based around the actual Piano record.
So I think it’s something that I think is nice for people to see, people who know me through Hot Chip, but also people who know the solo stuff and the About Group stuff.
Do you throw the covers of Hot Chip in there to appease the inevitable one leery person in the front row demanding the hits, or is it more to do with reconstructing some of your favourite songs?
For me, it’s just that I just play things that I want to play. If I was just doing it to appease people they would probably want slightly different material anyway, like ‘Over and Over’, or ‘Ready For The Floor’, that I haven’t yet worked out a way to play on the piano. So it’s much more natural than that, I like to sort of shine a light on some of the songs that I’ve written over the years that maybe work in this piano context, and also songs I’ve written that just haven’t really had much of a live performance up til now. So it’s fun to dig into it; I tend to enjoy other people’s concerts that have a feel like this. Somebody like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, somebody that I’ve loved for years and years, he often plays quite long shows where you never really know which bit of his catalogue he’s gonna be selecting from.
Does it scare you playing solo, or are you pretty tough about it?
I just find it really natural for me to do those solo shows. I began playing solo shows before I did Hot Chip gigs. Although I took a break from it for a long time and focused on the band, it’s still something that comes naturally to me, and I enjoy being up there on my own. Not only do I feel quite confident and comfortable in that environment, but also I like quite a lot of music that is as stripped down as that, other people on record or other people solo live: Neil Young, Richie Havens in the past, all kinds of different people… Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy as I mentioned, Smog… It doesn’t always seem to me that you have to have a backing band or lots of layers of sound necessarily.
I guess with Hot Chip there are layers of performance there to guard anyone from realising you’re an actual person. With the solo thing, it’s a lot easier maybe for people to say “Oh, he’s got feelings!”
I’m alright with feelings, I’m alright with people knowing that I’m a person. I’m not trying to pretend otherwise, really.
I’ve been picturing a giant grand piano and white tuxedo… please tell me that’s what we’re in for?
I tend to play piano when that’s what the venue can provide, so hopefully that’s what it’ll be! I’ve done some with a Wurlitzer electric piano, but it’s basically a grand piano or upright piano if the venues can get that, in combination with a few other elements, so that’s what you’re in for.
Sorry… I have to just… get my daughter out the door… to get to school…
No worries Alexis, thanks for your time! Just before you go, though, you know how you’re dropping your daughter to school, so like… you know how you’ve got a song about being a boy from school, like, there’s a joke in here somewhere eh?
Alexis Taylor plays the Tuning Fork at Spark Arena on Wednesday 18 October.
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