Next month sees the release of Harvest Festival, the debut solo album by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard.
A collection of largely instrumental tracks that range from house and UK funky-inspired club tracks to more doleful ambient miniatures, it’s a playful but quietly ambitious record, and it will be released on Greco-Roman, the label and party collective that Goddard’s been associated with for the past few years. Here, the London-based musician tells us about the recording of Harvest Festival and the origins of its fruity theme, his love of raw-sounding dance music, the direction that the new Hot Chip album will take, and much else besides. Oh, and we also have an exclusive mp3 of Harvest Festival track ‘Sour Grapes’ for you to download – get it here.
Where did the whole Harvest Festival theme come from? Did you used to celebrate the Harvest Festival at school?
“Harvest festival meant being asked to take tins of food from your cupboard to the local church and placing them on a special table at the front. One morning all of the children from your class in primary school would do that. I thought that putting this album together was a little bit like taking the tins from the back of the cupboard so I thought that name fitted, I like it as a title as well. The song ‘Tropical Punch’ dates back to 2000-2001 but I’ve always liked it a lot and so decided to include it on the record.”
What were you listening to when you were making this album? Were there any influences – musical or otherwise – that you felt exerting themselves?
“The last few years for me have been a process of discovering and sifting through different kinds of house music and garage. I didn’t really listen to house as a teenager, in fact I thought a 4/4 kick was the most boring thing I could imagine. I was much more interested in Wu-Tang and Photek, Squarepusher, Aphex twin, Pavement, Will Oldham- a lot of things, but nothing 4/4. In the last few years I’ve been working my way through house music, inspired by seeing people like Theo Parrish and by learning about Ron Hardy, Arthur Russell, Patrick Adams, Walter Gibbons…I find people’s reverence for the past a little annoying in house music but I’m simultaneously drawn to these figures and really like a lot of the things that they did. So the more upbeat tracks on this record are my take on house, techno and garage. In terms of more recent producers there are bits influenced by Jesse Rose, Todd Edwards, Wookie, et cetera…”
The track titles, artwork and so on suggest that Harvest Festival is – to some extent – a playful record. Do you worry about people not taking it too seriously enough?
“I do worry about people not taking it seriously, yes. It’s a semi-serious record musically and I hope people aren’t put off by the titles. But on the other hand I find the area of song titles and artwork in dance music a little overly serious sometimes – it’s a very ‘boyish’ area filled with dark foreboding artwork and titles that seem to be designed to suggest authenticity and coolness – I’m not interested in trying to create that, I’m happy to be more lighthearted about these things. Also I feel that track titles in dance music are really only useful in order to identify a particular track in the most perfunctory way- from an audience’s perspective in a club environment most of the music is untitled and names are pretty much irrelevent to that experience. I don’t remember the titles of all of the instrumental tracks that I play out as a DJ, I know them by their sound and by the colour of the sleeve or the scrawl I wrote on the white label.”
Tell us about your involvement with Greco-Roman. How did G-R come into being, and when did you become a part of it?
“I’ve been a part of Greco-Roman since it started three or four years ago. It began with a few parties in different parts of london, the most memorable of which occurred in a warehouse space on Belfast Road in Stoke Newington. We then decided to release music by some of the artists that played at the nights. The thing that I like about Greco-Roman is the fact that I can learn from other DJs that I respect – Ross Allen, Raf Daddy and Alex Waldron particularly. It’s also great to feel when making music that there’s a particular club that will be perfect for that music, that it has a home where people will hopefully appreciate it. That idea has influenced this record a lot.”
Was this an album that came together in fragments, in snatched bits of spare time, or did you actually set aside a period to compose and record it?
“Some songs have been completed for a long time, others I finished this summer after taking a break from making the new Hot Chip record.”
“I wanted to work with a smaller palette than we had been using for theHot Chip album and to work on more instrumental and minimal music ingeneral.”
Where did you record the album? Did you limit yourself in terms of equipment/set-up, or did you use anything that came to hand? What single piece of equipment – beyond your main computer – was crucial to the execution of this record?
“The album was made at home, in my bedroom, where almost all of my music is made. I did try to limit myself in terms of equipment when making the more recent tracks for the album. I used a Sequential Circuits Drum Traks drum machine for a lot of the drums, as well as samples from an 808 that had been recorded onto cassette tape. The synthesizers are either my Doepfer modular or the Arturia Moog Modular plug-in. There was definitely an attempt to limit the sounds on the record to primarily those things. I wanted to work with a smaller palette than we had been using for the Hot Chip album and to work on more instrumental and minimal music in general.”
What single piece of equipment was crucial to the execution of this record?
“I would say that the Moog Modular plug in was the most crucial thing apart from the computer itself, it generates a lot of weird sounds and is good for drums and all different kinds of things.”
“I think producers like Madlib and Theo Parrish were always slightly inmy mind when making these songs – I tried to leave things unquantised, let the rhythms be human and alive.”
I distinctly remember you playing ‘Frontline’ at our FACT party early in the year, and there’s a certain tribal swing to some of the beats on Harvest Festival that suggest you’ve been listening to a fair bit of funky. Is that fair to say? What else has had an impact on the way you think about and structure rhythms?
“I love Funky stuff at the moment, it’s influenced this record and it features on the Hot Chip record in some ways, and we are commissioning remixes from some producers in that scene. My first proper introduction to the more minimal, dubby, funky sound was through the Roska Mix on FACT at the start of the year which also features ‘Frontline’. since then I’ve been buying the white labels of these records and playing them out all over. I really like the way that [funky] has filtered into everything else this year and things like [Donaeo’s] ‘Party Hard’ were some of the biggest records at the King Tubby’s stage and all over Carnival in August.
“I’ve always tried to play old 2-step in my DJ sets but in a lot of places outside London people don’t go for it so much, funky is much easier for people to get into as it has the 4/4 but still has the London feel of garage, and the tribal percussion. In terms of other things I’d say that Jesse Rose’s insistent brand of house was in my mind when making ‘Strawberry Jam’ and Armando and Smith ‘N’ Hack were big influences on ‘Pear-Shaped’ and ‘Pineapple Chunks’. More generally I think producers like Madlib and Theo Parrish were always slightly in my mind when making these songs – I tried to leave things unquantised, let the rhythms be human and alive, and imperfect – as these producers do. I think I was thinking of someone like Villalobos when making the track ‘Sour Grapes’- that track has some of the clicky, clouds of percussion that some of his music has.”
With the drum machines and so on, it sounds as though you’ve triedto keep a certain rawness to the sounds, they don’t soundover-produced. Is that something you were consciously going for?
“Yesabsolutely, and I would distort the drum machines in order to make themsound more ‘raw’. That’s a feature of old house music that I reallylike. I hate the ‘perfect’ sound of modern dance records, the harshtreble and the glossiness of modern synths – it just hurts my ears andmakes me dislike a record immediately”
What, if push comes to shove, is your favourite song on the album and why?
“I like music that puts me into a kind of trance, I find songs that do that calming. I think ‘Apple Bobbing’ does that; I like listening to things like that on the tube, I start to feel like I am observing the other passengers as if I’m in a film. I also really like ‘Tropical Punch’ for the same reason. The song ‘Lemon & Lime’ has the line ‘I smelled the play-doh, it smelled good, so good, like my childhood’- this makes me smile and relates to a late night party that happened after a great Greco-Roman at Shunt a few years ago, so i’m fond of that.”
Would you say that Harvest Festival is in any way a reaction to the sound of [Hot Chip’s] Made In The Dark? Or more of a compliment? Or…?
“I think that solo projects are almost always a reaction to the more demanding and time-consuming group projects that people are involved in. It seems to me now that having some solo output is pretty essential to keeping a group project going because it gives you a chance to express things that arent necessarily suited to the group. Hot Chip’s music is generally filled with hooks and words, and layers upon layers of instruments and it is nice to do something less busy than that sometimes, as I’m sure Alexis would agree.”
And the album is largely vocal-free. Was that a decision you made from the outset?
“Not really, I had a feeling that I wanted to make some instrumental music but if I had thought of words for something I probably would have included them. I am quite self-conscious about the sound of my voice and that was probably a factor in leaving out vocals.”
How – practically and spiritually – did recording HarvestFestival differ from your experience of recording of Made In The Dark – or previous Hot Chip albums?
“I think that making all of thedecisions myself was the most difficult thing to get used to in doingthis. There is a comfort in being able to ask for help and advice frombandmates that is obviously removed when doing something yourself.”
Download: Joe Goddard – Sour Grapes [Greco-Roman]
How is the new Hot Chip album going, and when do you imagine it will see the light of day? There was something about Kano recording some vocals…?
“We have been working separately with Kano for his new album but not for the Hot Chip album. The Hot Chip album will be out early next year and we are very excited about it and about touring again.”
“The next Hot Chip album is maybe more ‘up’ than Made In The Dark but it definitely has sombre moments.”
Made In The Dark felt like quite a sombre work. Do you think the next Hot Chip album will explore similar emotional terrain?
“The next album has different moods, as each of the albums have had really, the next album is maybe more ‘up’ but it definitely has sombre moments.”
Have you ever been torn over whether to use a tune for Hot Chip or to keep it for one of your other projects?
“Yes occasionally, some of the songs on Harvest Festival were originally planned to be Hot Chip songs but were never completed properly, or sometimes they just seemed to work better as instrumental pieces.”
The album feels like a fairly even split between dancefloor bangers and more reflective, melancholic pieces. Did you ever feel tempted to release two different kinds of albums, or was the juxtaposition of moods an important thing for you?
“I like records with a range of moods; Hot Chip albums have always had this variation and I find it natural and more satisfying to make albums like that. Sometimes I wish that I had the patience to make a record dominated by a particular feeling, that’s something that I would like to try in the future. Perhaps Harvest Festival would have made sense more as two different projects, in the end very few people listen to albums so I don’t think it is worth concerning yourself with too much.”
What have been your favourite records of the past few months? Club jams, home listening, whatever…
“I really like the Osborne remix of BLK JKs’ ‘Mystery’. I really like ‘Digital Fauna’ by Zomby, the Hot City remix of Dan Black’s ‘Symphony’. Pepe Bradock’s ‘Path of Most Resistance’, the Joker mix of Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘Cruel Intentions’ , Zed Bias ‘Dub Spot Riddim’, Busy Signal ‘Da Style Deh’ and Beenie Man’s ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’, the Mickey Moonlight mix of Jack Penate’s ‘Tonight’s Today’. In terms of home listening I’ve been so focussed on finishing Hot Chip that I haven’t listened to much other stuff to be honest.”
Largely instrumental, electronic dance albums are historically a hard thing to pull off. Were there any shining examples that you had in mind when you were assembling this record?
“Not really. I like [Aphex Twin’s] Selected Ambient Works and early Theo Parrish stuff…A Walter Gibbons compilation including his version of ‘Treehouse/Schoolbell’ by Arthur Russell has been good on the bus recently and is largely instrumental. Kraftwerk albums I suppose, or Another Green World by Brian Eno.”
What are you looking forward to in 2010?
“Seeing Pavement play live again, the World Cup, touring, living with my wife in our own house, new funky and post-garage music, the 2 Bears album.”