June 23, 2017
“I love playing stuff that other DJs might just fucking hate.”
When Joe Goddard takes the stage at Prince Charles, an intimate dance venue in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood, he seems almost sheepish, crouching behind his keyboard on the side of the stage. It’s the same position he assumes when performing with Hot Chip, his band of 15 years, but on those occasions he’s surrounded by his four bandmates, his mellowness contrasting with the dance party encircling him. Tonight though, it’s just Joe, and it’s almost crazy to think that this soft-spoken man is responsible for some of the most indelible dance-pop of the last decade—but when he begins to play, and the crowd begins to sway with the beat, everything falls into place and within minutes, the whole dancefloor is a writhing, sweaty mess. Like any good dance musician, Joe hold his audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go, which is even more of an accomplishment here since he’s exclusively playing songs from his new solo record, the sharp and effervescent Electric Lines.
While Hot Chip are a band that have always been the sum of their parts, Electric Lines lays bare Joe’s immense contribution to the band’s success—as their principle composer, the album is a deeper exploration of the kind of disco, house, electro and pop tracks that are such a huge influence on Hot Chip’s sound. Tracks like the genre-pushing lead single ‘Home’ which marries a massively joyous ’70s funk sample from the Detroit band Brainstorm with a throwback to the days of the Paradise Garage, are a testament both to Joe’s encyclopaedic knowledge of dance music, and his ability to never let his finger off the pulse.
A few weeks after the Berlin show, we caught up with Joe in his London home, where he took us through his notoriously gigantic and jumbled home record collection. He touched upon everything from classic disco, to Japanese indie rock, to the enduring legacy of ‘Straight Up’ by Paula Abdul.
What’s on your turntable at the moment? Have you discovered anything new while on tour?
Let me think… I had to do a little bit of promo in Sounds of the Universe in Soho, the Soul Jazz shop. I picked up loads of good stuff there, like stuff reissues on Sam Floating Points’ label, Melodies International. There’s a single called ‘You’re a Melody’ [by Aged In Harmony], which I think is a classic one that he’s been playing out all the time. It’s kind of one of his big hits for the end of his DJ sets. I picked up all of those reissues, I picked up a Yellow Magic Orchestra record that I didn’t have before called Technodelic, I’m a massive fan of them, and all of their music, really.
There’s a reissue of this crazy compilation called Computer Disco, of very early, rudimentary computer music. Super basic sounds, but very satisfying and gentle. I picked up one of my favourite records, which is ‘Love is a Hurtin’ Thing’ by Gloria Ann Taylor that was reissued recently. I gave one to Alexis for his birthday on Friday. It’s just one of my favourite deep soul tracks, really gentle, Balearic, amazing groove. Quite raw-sounding. It’s just wonderful.
I’ll have to check the details of it, but I picked up an awesome Japanese cover of George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ [by Tomatos]. Do you know this Japanese group called Maher Shalal Hash Baz?
No, I don’t!
They’re kind of ’80s, ’90s guitar band, that Stephen from the Pastels puts out through Domino. They’re a bit like the Pastels, not the greatest players but they make this wicked indie music. This 7″ sounds like Maher Shalal Hash Baz covering a disco track. So it’s got the really nice, really loose groove. They don’t sound like proper disco players but it makes it even more charming.
Do you remember when you got into collecting vinyl? What in your life triggered that, other than a general love for music?
It was actually quite late for me. I had this amazing summer when I was like 17, when my family moved into a new house around the corner from our old place, and it needed tons of work. So for one summer, these guys that were friends of our family came around to do all the building work, and I just kind of helped them out each day. I’d be lugging bags of broken up rock out into the dump, and breaking the concrete in the back garden with a pneumatic drill and shit, and having that real amazing feeling of doing physical labor all day.
And then at the end of the day, having a beer is so amazing, and you sleep really well because you’re tired out. I was doing it with one of my absolute best friends whose name is Charlie Fieber, he makes music under the name Fracture, he’s a drum ‘n’ bass producer and an amazing musician. We’d get paid £30 a day and then on Friday, we went across the bridge from where I live in Southwest London to Putney, and there was a Beggar’s Banquet record shop. That’s when I had a bit of money, and that’s when I started buying vinyl. And it was at a point when I was listening to a lot of US indie stuff like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Beastie Boys, so I was picking up a lot of the records that were on Grand Royale. Even the stuff that wasn’t so good like—
Don’t say Bis, because I love Bis.
I love Bis!
Actually, Grand Royale was a big touchstone for me too, because right before they closed down they had like, a mail order sale. And in the back of some magazine, I bought all those records — Bis, Buffalo Daughter, some other stuff. That’s all I listened to that summer because I couldn’t afford anything else.
Yeah, they had one group called BS 2000, that was crazy MPC demos and shit. I actually heard that James Murphy was involved in that record because he was involved with Beastie Boys in the early days. I think he did sound for them for a little bit before he was a producer. They have one group called Butter 08 that had Russell Simins from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on drums and [Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda from Cibo Matto] on vocals. Actually, Bis is a funny one because we used to go some of their early gigs in London and fucking loved them. Kieran from Four Tet was massively into them.
They’re one of those bands that’s a weird thread with people. They had their moment, but so many people, bands, journalists have Bis in like, their top 5 favorite bands.
Their gigs were so fun. Everyone dancing madly. I remember we went to this old music festival in the UK called Phoenix Festival, and me and Kieran went to see Bis and just jumping up and down — I mean, we were teenagers, that’s what we did at gigs back then — fucking awesome.
Do you have one record you treasure above all others?
The records that are deepest in my heart are classic albums that are just with you for your whole life, like Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush or the third Velvet Underground album. I have a lot of love for some kind of expensive disco record I play out all the time but those just super classic records are the ones I feel like are going to stay with me for my whole life. Always very comforting, and make me feel calm.
As a collector, I love buying vinyl, and I buy it a lot, but I’m not a person that’s good at looking after their records and obsessed with getting first editions and then keeping them pristine. My records have got footprints all over them, and literally all of them are in the wrong sleeves. I’m not good at taking care of them like some people are. I wish I was, but I just don’t have that in my personality so much. It completely bums me out and I wish that I didn’t do it, but I’m just kind of disorganized like that.
What was the last record you bought on a whim that ended up surprising you? Something you didn’t quite know about, but ended up being really good?
This probably isn’t surprising, but recently I wanted to see what all the fuss was about Childish Gambino, so I picked up that record without ever having listened to him and that blew me away. But I had seen that it had gotten amazing press — I read that Questlove saying that he woke up D’Angelo in the middle of the night to tell him how amazing the Childish Gambino record was, and I was like, “Shit, I need to hear this record!”
You know, I do do quite a lot of that, spend money on just random things and then let them sit at my house and try them out. I can’t remember the name of the shop but there’s this really good shop in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, this tiny record store around the corner from Rough Trade, and the dude in there wrote these amazing descriptions of the records.
That’s Earwax! I love that place.
It’s super funny! I bought a lot of stuff the last time I was in there. And one of them is this compilation of cosmic French prog music from the ’70s and ’80s, and that was actually really surprising. All the tracks are like two or three minutes long, crazy, all different styles, but they sound super heavy. They sound like they’d be amazing samples for hip-hop records. That’s blown my mind. I’ve digitized some of the tracks I feel like I could play in DJ sets, other ones are going to be wicked for sampling.
What records do you own that you would consider guilty pleasures?
I’m just a sucker for pop records, completely. One of my earliest memories of pop music and how awesome it can be was when I was really young, I picked up one of those Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations, late ’80s, maybe early ’90s. It had Paula Abdul, ‘Straight Up’, and to me, at that point, it was like, the sexiest thing I could imagine. I remember seeing her on Top of the Pops, and she was doing this super sexy dancing with a chair. I was jamming that song on my headphones when my family was going camping or something. I fucking love it. I don’t even know if that’s cheesy. It’s pretty cool.
The last time I was here at this venue, I came to see Horse Meat Disco. They play unashamedly big, epic disco records that sections of the dance music community would call cheesy, but for me it’s just fucking awesome, and I love it.
Italo disco, I’m a sucker for that stuff. My collection is full of it. I love playing at weddings! I love playing stuff that other DJs might just fucking hate. There’s a place in my life for like, heads down, dark minimal techno but not a very big place. I like DJ sets that have a touch of that but then will burst into some amazing pop record.
It’s better to have fun.
Yeah! I need vocals and songwriting, you know.
Speaking of vocals, where did you source all the great samples for Electric Lines? Are they all from your personal collection? I’m thinking particularly of the single ‘Home,’ which is chock full of great hooks.
Absolutely. I was in Vancouver with Hot Chip years ago, and there are some awesome second-hand vinyl shops there. I bought tons of stuff of a dude, who was a real record dealer type dude who was talking about selling a lot of records to like, Coldcut and classic crate diggers like that. And I bought that Brainstorm album that has [‘We’re On Our Way Home’] on it. That was a long time ago—five, six years ago I think.
But whenever we’re on tour, all of us in the band pick up tons of vinyl. For me, that’s a big part of it, it’s a resource. It takes me fucking ages to get around to digitizing those records and thinking about them sometimes, but yeah, a big part of it is finding samples, and that’s where that came from.
Sampling is something that we never, ever used to do in Hot Chip. For years, we never sampled anything. And then, I don’t know, I just got into it. I like the sound of everyone playing together in a late ’70s disco or soul record. The rest of the Brainstorm record can go a bit too jazz funk, it goes a bit too noodly at times, but the playing by all the musicians in the band is fantastic. Just the way it’s all glued together, I feel like it gives vibes to the music that you can’t get any other way. I guess working with Raf in The 2 Bears was my introduction to sampling. That’s where he comes from—more of a sampling background. That’s where I learned it.
One of the things I really liked about ‘Home’ is that is bridges the gap between a sample-based house track, but also having live vocals on it, which is actually kind of rare, because most people would either do one or the other. How did you go about writing and producing that song, structure-wise?
Actually, I have to credit Kieran for that, really. I was working on the instrumental of the track before I got Daniel Wilson involved to sing on it.
Daniel’s great, by the way. Last year a song of his randomly popped up on my Soundcloud and I was obsessed with it.
Same for me. He just got in touch with me about a year ago and said ‘Let’s do something together,’ so I checked his Soundcloud and just heard such a pure, beautiful voice. I think he’s an amazing singer. He comes from near Detroit and I love the history of that city as any music fan does. When I started making the instrumental of ‘Home,’ it just seemed like he’d be the perfect person for it.
But it terms of the structure, I was looking for ways to fit the sample into the song for ages. I was trying all different things, and what kind of elements it should be with, should it be buried in the mix, or what. And then I was playing all the demos to Kieran when he came to my studio last year, and we were just talking through all the demos. He’s a really good sounding board, he’s always got good advice. He was just like, “This sample sounds good on its own, why don’t you have a part of the song where it’s just the sample?” At first, I was like, “Can I do that? Is that allowed?” [Laughs]
But it feels modern to me, for the track to be divided up like that. A bit of it essentially feels like a modern deep house thing, and then it breaks into the sample alone, and then there’s a kind of synthesis later of the sample with all the other stuff. But for instance, when Kanye West samples a track, he’ll sometimes do it in that very blatant manner, like the track is just a Can record with him rapping over it, and nothing else. It’s not hundreds of layers of drums and synths; it’s raw and kind of on its own. I feel like that’s quite a modern production style. So, I like it for that reason. It’s a great hook in its own right, so you don’t really need tons of stuff over the top of it.
The title track of the album, ‘Electric Lines,’ features your Hot Chip bandmate Alexis Taylor. What was it like bringing your longtime collaborator into this project as a solo artist? How did it differ from making music within Hot Chip?
It came together in the way that a lot of Hot Chip tracks do, where I make some instrumental music, and then I send it to Alexis and he writes words for it. Like, that could be a Hot Chip thing. But if it had been Hot Chip, then after Alexis had written the words and we’d kind of talked about the song, we would take it to a studio with everyone in Hot Chip, and everyone would bring something to it and bring ideas and plays stuff over the top. So that differentiates it from Hot Chip, but in terms of the way that we write together, quite often it’s like that. [For ‘Electric Lines’], I wrote the instrumental when I was really obsessed with ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead. And the Kendrick Lamar track, ‘How Much as Dollar Costs’ has some of those same chords, and that’s a fucking awesome track as well.
So I was just like, “Shit, these chords are so good!” So I was looking into what the chords were, and used some of the same notes, and made this big instrumental, put all these different synths and stuff on it, and then at that point just thought Alexis would A) like it, and B) be able to bring something really good to it. He’s so good over melancholy, electronic backing. He’s drawn to that kind of music, and those kinds of melodies, so I just really thought that he’d like it. It was amazing because I sent him the instrumental and literally the next day, he sent it back to me with all the words recorded and everything done. He must have listened to it and then immediately recorded it. It was brilliant, and it hardly changed at all from that moment onwards.
Joe Goddard’s Electric Lines is out now via Domino. Order the vinyl here.