While electro pop act Hot Chip is Al’s day job and he’s enjoyed live stints with James Murphy’s much missed disco punks, New Build is a sonic vessel for him and fellow Hot Chipper Felix to wholeheartedly pour their own songs into.
The pair have been writing independently of Hot Chip for some time but it wasn’t until 2012 that New Build (who also feature engineer Tom Hopkins) released their debut album Yesterday Was Lived and Lost via their own label Lanark Recordings.
The year included a trip to the SXSW festival, two sold out shows in New York, a string of sold out dates in the UK including a rammed album launch party at London’s Corsica Studios with Hot Chip band mates Alexis and Joe in support.
After a short break, New Build are ramping their activities up again having recently performed at Glastonbury. They've also got a London show at Concrete next week (23 July) in support of their new single False Thing.
M caught up with Al to discuss New Build, their approach to songwriting and how it feels to get complements from their musical heroes…
Can you remember the first songs which inspired you to pick up an instrument?
I started off very early on the piano but I was a teenager when I picked up the guitar. I was listening to Nirvana and the Velvet Underground. My dad was an Americana fan so there was a lot of Neil Young in our house too. I decided to teach myself the bass and drums mainly as a way to avoid PE. I would escape to the music department. It was my own little haven.
In recent years, the musicians I’ve worked with have been inspiring. Being in LCD was an amazing experience. And joining Hot Chip and working with those guys and the various people we’ve encountered over the years. We’ve worked with some of our heroes like Peter Gabriel and Robert Wyatt.
How did New Build get together?
Felix and I met at uni so we’ve been making music since before Hot Chip. We’ve continued all the way but because the band got so busy we didn’t have the head space or the time to concentrate on other music. It was a year break between One Life Stand and the last album In Our Heads which allowed us to.
We had a studio in east London we’d been using since 2007 and worked there with Tom. He’s a very old friend who used to work at Warp Records. He had some really interesting ideas so we opened the whole project up to him.
We’re working towards a second album as we speak and we’re six or seven songs in. The single [False Things] was released as it was too good to sit on. We’ve been working with Mark Ralph who co-produced and mixed a lot of the recent Hot Chip records and Franz Ferdinand.
So it’ll be early next year for the release of the all conquering, completely under the radar New Build album. It’s exciting for us to think about that.
Does songwriting come easier as you write more?
Some songs present themselves very quickly with the structure and the sound. A lot of the time I’ll have the whole thing written in my head before we get to the studio.
Difficulties come in the mix and final presentation of the song. Tiny technical issues of something not quite working have been historically a problem.
One of the things we’ve discovered recently is that we don’t have to toil away at the mix. We take things to Mark Ralph. He’s more experienced and has better equipment so solves our problems much easier. I’m pleased to have found a working process which allows me to a little bit more nimble.
In terms of the songwriting process for New Build, I’m writing and singing all the lyrics. The boys give me a hard time about that so it’s pressured but I’ve found that I do like it. There have been many cases when I’ve written verses and choruses which they haven’t been into. So I’ve had to go and do it all over again. Which wouldn’t really happen in LCD or Hot Chip. When Alexis or James come in and say that’s the song, then that’s the song. But I didn’t want that in New Build. I like the idea of trying different things out.
Tom sometimes comes up with more experimental techno ideas. Me and Felix will craft that into more of a pop song kind of structure. It is a pop project although quite experimental. Our first album was a classic first album by a band with lots of different ideas. However, people have reacted most to the more dancey, electronic material which is what were gonna go for with our new album.
Are you releasing the New Build material yourselves?
Yes but I’m not sure how much of a good decision that was. The control levels are good with having our own label. But if we had more time outside of Hot Chip we’d have more time to devote to it. In the end everything was very pressured. There aren’t enough hours in the day being in two international touring bands, running a label and trying to release this music.
If the right label was on our side and they weren’t concerned by the LCD and Hot Chip connection, then we’d be really interested in that. I’m resigned to that angle but it would be good to get someone who was more into it on its own merits.
What’s the song you’ve been most pleased with?
The most rewarding recording was the time we spent with Robert Wyatt in his studio. He was singing on some Hot Chip songs and I brought my cello into the sessions. I don’t play it very much despite being classically trained. But Robert Wyatt was in the booth listening. Afterwards he came out and said: ‘That was a really good session. If Brian had been here, he would’ve said that was the best thing we’ve done all day.’ Meaning Brian Eno!
The other thing was getting to remix Kraftwerk and receiving an email from Florian Schneider saying the remix was ‘excellent’. It was the best forwarded email I’ve ever had!
Have you any advice for aspiring songwriters?
It’s so tough at the moment. Hot Chip were lucky in some ways to emerge at the point when people still made a little bit of money from selling records. I feel sorry for the bands coming through now as unless you get through to a certain level, you’re not going to make much money. It’s a nice life style. It’s amazing. You get to travel around and make people happy but it’s also very punishing. It’s a bit like being an athlete where you have a certain window of time where you can make some money. You don’t want to be touring nine months out of 12 when you’re in late 40s.
Ultimately you just need to make the best thing you can but don’t expect anyone to help you out. Eventually, if the music is good enough, someone will take notice.
The band perform at London’s Concrete on 23 July while Hot Chip perform at Latitude this weekend. Watch the video for False Things below.