Interview: Alexis Taylor
Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:01:51
"You'd hope you have your own identity as a musician, but you're not making records that tread the same ground at the same time," exclaims Alexis Taylor. "To me, feeling that way is consummate."
On his new solo record Await Barbarians, Taylor definitely preserves the identity fans will recognize from Hot Chip and About Group, but he also paves a new path. It's a delicate balance he reveres and respects. As a result, the record remains some of his most enigmatic, entrancing, and emotional work to date. It's undeniably powerful as he delivers each word and note with genuine truth.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Alexis Taylor discusses Await Barbarians and so much more.
Did you approach Await Barbarians with one overarching vision or vibe in mind?
What I was trying to do was pick up where I left off with another record I had just made—which was an EP called Nayim From The Halfway Line. That was a solo release. I had been enjoying making music by myself and the different types of things I was doing. Really, I wanted to write a whole record continuing from there. That record was made using drum machines, electric pianos, guitars, and other things on my own at home. On this album, some of the songs ended up being more ballads rather than drum machine- or rhythm-based tracks. I was working on a continuation of that Nayim From The Halfway Line sound, and I ended up putting it elsewhere and starting anew. I wrote some of it at the piano. Some of it was comprised from ideas that came in my sleep. I had dreams of songs. I tried to record them when I woke up in the morning. That was how I was making it. I didn't have a vision of Await Barbarians beyond it being a self-contained solo album.
It's futuristic and organically classic at the same time. Is that an accurate assessment?
That does make sense. That's what I hoped it would be. I haven't really heard what anyone thinks of it in a way. That's a good take on it. I tried to combine modern technology and textures from synthesizers with less modern equipment, older drum machines, and classic sounds. I tried to put all of those things together. If you're working on your own and working away at something that interests you, you can make all of those things gel and work together. You're listening and thinking all the time, "How is this going to fit together with the rest of the record?" I guess that's how that ended up happening on this occasion.
What's the story behind "Without A Crutch (1)" and "Without A Crutch (2)"?
Well, I think "Immune System" and that one were the first I had actually written for the album. "Without A Crutch (1)" an outpouring of your usual self-analysis and anxiety about everything going on in your head. I was dealing with the lifestyle I was leading at the time and trying to make sense of it all really. I was trying to make sense of whether or not it was appropriate to think of all that and put it into a song as well. The other version "Without A Crutch (2)" is an attempt to map out what it would sound like if it was a band rather than just me on my own. On the first recording, I just got a vocal take, a simple guitar, piano, and harmonica. The arrangement was all about the relaxed vocal delivery. I did it very quickly. It grew up on that. I wanted to try it with drums because I could imagine it with drums. I did a new version, and I played it with those parts. I brought in a combination of Hot Chip and About Group. That didn't really work for me though. It sounded hurried. So, I went back to "Without A Crutch (2)" and thought, "I won't try to do this with Hot Chip because it's very personal and it was always part of my making the record". I got a little distracted by the idea of trying to do it with Hot Chip. That tells you a little bit about those two versions. There's a vocal performance on "Without A Crutch (1)" I thought was better than any other recording I've ever made. I wanted to keep that. I suppose I can hear the influence of Neil Young and Paul McCartney on that song. I'm not really hiding from those classic influences. The song itself is a little bit darker than the melody suggests.
Where did "Am I Not a Soldier?" come from?
It's about trying to hold on to a musical collaboration and an ongoing relationship with my band members and trying not to sabotage what we have in our connection together by doing things on my own. It's a weird song written by myself about trying not to be distant from those around me. You're pouring everything into the music while you're doing it, but you realize it may not mean as much to everyone else. The song discusses the idea that, "Okay, now we've made music, but is there actually anyone out there to listen to it?" Do people still put on a record? Does that mean anything anymore? I'm still going to do it even if I'm chipping away at something anachronistic. It's about that and the relationships between Hot Chip as a band and the need to continue.
Your lyrics are evocative, but they're still subtle. There's almost a wintry feel.
Yeah, I think there is a bit of that in there. We use metaphors all the time to describe what's happening in music. Music is something that doesn't really make sense in verbal language, but we try our best to explain what's going on. Some of those Mellotron sounds maybe slightly have a wintry quality. It's quite a slow and sad reflective record in some places. In other places, it's quite joyful, but still reflective.
If you were to compare the album to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
There are films I can think of that I really like, but I don't know if they have anything to do with this record. I tend to think of Planes, Trains and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin [Laughs]. I don't know if it has much to do with my style of music. Maybe it's about being on some kind of journey. I could probably name lots of pretentious serious films, but they don't have much to do with this record. It's an album made in isolation from other albums and influences other than influences that are quite deep-rooted and I've had for a while. It's not inspired by a brand new artist or film. It is related to things going on in my life.
Have you heard Await Barbarians?