Something Very Personal:
Hot Chip Frontman Strips Down the Sound for New Solo LP

Words by Steve Melone
Photo by Stuart Leech

With the majority of today’s music aiming to get in the face and ears of the listener, it seems rare to find artists searching for more pure, simpler means of song to connect with audiences. Alexis Taylor’s Piano, strives in this category of truly quiet, calming and soulful songs, both covers as well as originals. His excitement as aggressive as his newest release, “I’m excited about it, but it’s not a big brash new record. It’s something that’s going to find it’s way to people slowly.”

Piano, marks Taylor’s third solo release, by far the most specialized in approach and execution as a piano album accompanied only by voice. Alexis has jumbled several projects throughout his career, mainly Hot Chip, About Group as well as his solo work that first took root in 2008. “The solo stuff and About Group share my songwriting as a subject matter, where as Hot Chip, more often then not involves collaborative song writing and collaborative production”, he asserts.

Taylor’s triad of projects differ in genre and sound, from electro/synth pop to singer/songwriter and even jazz inspired works. With Piano, all the bells, whistles and synthesizers are intentionally stripped down to the bare essentials. “It was always the plan before I started recording to just make a record with piano and voice”, he says. “[This is] the only time I’ve made a record where I’ve known in advance the concept of the record and stuck to it.“

It’s a bold choice to put out music that refuses to scream, ‘Look over here, look over here!’ Something reminiscent of over-branded entrepreneurs internally shouting, ‘Hire me, I’m the best!’ It’s a certain luxury that an established artist can call upon from time to time, and rightfully so. In many entertainment circles it seems more often then not there are those who cash in on unoriginality. Sticking to a formula and being repetitive rather than taking a leap of faith in something completely different. Taylor isn’t afraid to make that jump.

Process changes too, steering clear from the electronics of creation into more analog terrain. “Some of the records that I’ve made that aren’t like this one have all begun from just playing around with synthesizers and drum machines. Kind of hitting on something by accident.”

That same spirit carries over, but with a greater focus. And unlike those other records there was a time and place just right and seemingly fateful that would bring Alexis’ project to fruition. “It was only going to happen now because of the circumstances of being in a studio where the piano and the microphone were so good that I wanted to try it out there and then.” London’s Hackney Road studio was the vehicle for that musical voyage that let Taylor explore an alternative route of creativity.

For many artists there is a certain instrument that’s a primary point of inspiration and creation that grabs hold, never letting go. Taylor’s has been the piano since first touching the keys at seven years young.

“I’ve been connected to piano as a main instrument for a number of years”, he explains. “I don’t think of myself as a fantastic piano player, but I really like the mood you can create on it. I’m not into the flashy piano playing. I’m much more into something a bit simpler and more of an accompaniment. I like the piano because of the kind of shapes you make with your hand and the things it makes you come up with harmonically. It’s the best instrument for me in terms of writing.”

And the writing for, Piano is in the music as well as the lyrics, since both originals and covers are present throughout the record. Taylor admits that there is a story underneath that weaves the album together in a simpler style then one would think. “In a way this album of mine has a story of falling in love with a piano at this studio, feeling compelled to make a record at that piano as soon as I possibly could, and not being able to get enough of it.”

Another part of the story that has an impact to consider is the absence of, Vince Sipprell, a collaborator and friend who took his own life prior to finishing the album. Sipprell added string arrangements to five Hot Chip records over the years as well as Taylor’s previous solo release. “His absence, his disappearance from my life and being able to work with him was something that affected the fact that the record stayed as an empty piano record rather then fleshing it out.”

In collaboration with Alexis, many times strings or other elements will be added after principal recording is finished, though this time that stage was left out. Sipprell’s presence was felt in other ways. “I made a cover version of a song called, “Just For a Little While,” which was a song he used to do”, he shares. “When I was at school with him he was in a band that were contemporaries of Hot Chip. When we were starting out we did loads of shows with his band on the same bill. That was a song he used to sing.”

While the album remains bare and rather straightforward in how it’s been carried out, of course an incredible amount still goes into making a record from start to finish. This time around Taylor took his engineer cap off and played the producer’s role, letting another take the technical reigns. Taylor’s last solo release, 2014’s Await Barbarians, had him sitting in the chair as creator and engineer, completing the project at home instead of in studio. Piano is the first solo project he’s completed outside of his home with more traditional means.

Though Alexis has a great admiration for Piano, having taken such influence from it as a musician and creator, he would be remiss not to credit what the spirit of the record is truly about. “It’s about the songs regardless of which piano you play on. They all stem from something very personal to me. It’s about showcasing those things from a whole career of mine. Some of them brand new, some of them older.” | Piano