Cutler and Gross’ In Conversation series celebrates the brand’s customers and their personal style. We look closer at their work and how they ended up in their individual creative field, what their specific craft looks like, the style journey they are on, and how their Cutler and Gross frames fit in with their unique aesthetic. We continue our In Conversation series with Alexis Taylor, lead singer and musician of British band Hot Chip.
When Alexis Taylor opens the door to Domino Record’s Brixton HQ, it’s like being let into a physical manifestation of his band, Hot Chip. The four-storey building, a short walk from the south London tube station, is covered in pink, turquoise and yellow. Each room makes you happy, the pastel shades help brighten up the day and puts a smile on your face – much like most of the music produced by the electronic pop group since its incarnation in 2000.
Set up by Alexis and Joe Goddard while still in school, Hot Chip has made happy music for more than two decades, joined along the way by fellow musicians Al Doyle, Owen Clarke and Felix Martin. As a band they set the bar high early on with era-defining singles like ‘Over and Over’ and ‘Ready for the Floor’ but have since consistently turned out albums that have gained them both critical acclaim and a dedicated global fan base.
Alexis has stayed busy releasing six solo albums (the latest one, ‘Silence’ is out now on Orbister Recordings) and starting another band. About Group is an improvisational jazz band that Alexis founded with band members from Spiritualized and This Heat. Somehow Alexis have also found the time to also release four albums with this band.
Thankfully he managed to catch up with Cutler and Gross in-between touring dates and we asked him about meeting Joe, developing his taste in music and collaborating with Jeremy Deller. But there was no beating around the bush, we went straight for the jugular with the first question…
Right, let’s settle this: what are the top three best-ever-made albums?
‘Sign O’ The Times’ by Prince, Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’ and the complete recordings of Washington Phillips.
Do you ever listen to your own music, by choice?
Occasionally to remind myself of how things were mixed or recorded, or to learn the words for a live set. But the most time I ever spend listening to my own music is whilst writing, recording and mixing it.
What Hot Chip album is your favourite and why?
I like ‘Why Make Sense’ but I can’t make sense of why it might be best. I think we got some things right on that album with songs like ‘White Wine and Fried Chicken’ and ‘Huarache Lights’.
Alexis Taylor’s top three albums of all time:
Sign O’ The Times by Prince
Tonight’s The Night by Neil Young
The complete recordings of Washington Phillips
Going back a bit in time, how and when did your interest in music start?
I loved pop music growing up, be it Stevie Wonder, the Beach Boys or Prince. I also liked playing along with those records. I had a Farfisa organ that I’d inherited from my step-grandmother, and I remember improvising on the keyboard on top of a Peter Gabriel or a Stevie Wonder record in a way that made me feel like I was almost playing music with real people. I was old enough to have had some lessons by this point in the piano, so it sounded okay, it was in the right key, and I would work out what the cords were to one of these songs. I started playing music for real at about seven or eight, and then by the time I was in secondary school I would play with other people in a school band at lunchtime, and it was always instrumental.
How and when did you end up adding vocals to your repertoire?
I never thought of singing but a couple of years later I wrote a song at school, and thought, ‘Oh, maybe could I sing this one instead?’ And then I started singing cover versions of Prince and Oasis songs, or whatever else I was into as a teenager.
When did you meet Joe Goddard, and how did that turn into a musical partnership?
Joe was at the same school as me and one day, maybe we were in sixth form, he asked me if I had written any songs that he could record, because he had just bought a four-track tape recorder. He was also writing songs, but he was showing quite an early interest in being a producer – he wanted to do the recording and work out what you can do to produce it into a record. So that’s how I got into music: it was a love of other people’s music, then learning the piano but realising I want to play the keyboard more than classical music on the piano, and just being around other people and going to concerts every day as a teenager, just absorbing music … that was my real passion.
Did you and Joe share a general taste in music, or did you come from different schools of thought when it came to the sound of your music?
We started making music that was a bit more fun and playful, influenced by our favourite pop, R&B and hip-hop records. But we also listened to a bit more eclectic stuff like Aphex Twin. I had never tried to make music that sounded like that, but Joe was good at saying ‘Well, I like the drum programming in that garage record, maybe I can learn how to do it’, and then I would basically write a song, the keyboard parts and the vocals and the cords that went with that.
You and Joe have been friends for a long time, how important is that today, to have that long term relationship to stand on?
I think the friendship and the musical partnership is a strong foundation. We’ve been friends since we were 11 or 12 years old at secondary school, and then in that long period of time since then, whatever that is, 29 years or something, it’s developed to be a friendship but also running a band together, running a business together, regularly writing together, regularly making records together, and it sort of feels like we’re quite committed to each other. Generally speaking, I think all of us get on well in the band, there are obviously times when you don’t, you have differences of opinion about how to do things or whatever, but broadly speaking we like what we’re doing enough, and we like each other enough that it works.
I really liked the Jeremy Deller collab on the ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ album artwork, did he work on stage-wear as well?
My friend Demi Amber who has her own clothing label, Workshy, made the clothes using material she sent to graphic designer Fraser Muggeridge, and he and his team made the designs. These designs were based on ideas and artwork he and Jeremy made for us, for our album artwork.
Style and fashion seem to be important to you, or how much of that is for pure stage impact?
It’s very important to me off stage as much as on. I’m just passionate and excited about clothing, shapes, design, vintage objects, vintage clothing, Finnish designers like Vuokko Nurmesniemi and, of course, Bernhard Willhelm whose clothes I have worn for years. I like what outfits can do to your silhouette and how you can present yourself on stage – elevate things or bring some juxtaposition to the mood of the music or create something larger than life or zingy or pop or fun.
How would you describe your style?
Recently I have been a bit more understated in my dress sense, wearing more classic shapes, 60s inspired jean shapes, jeans that fit me in length and that are tapered, and don’t need turning up, denim jackets, plain vintage sweatshirts.
But back on stage I’m a bit bolder with oversized shorts, a bit like I’m wearing boxing shorts.
Where does frames fit into that?
Frames are so particular to your own face. I love my two new Cutler and Gross shapes – one pair in particular I feel really suits me and it feels like I have always owned them, but I have never had a frame like them before. They’re chunky and a bit flatter along the top rather than curved, and they are transparent but in a nice subtle goldish tint. I think the frames need to go with whatever else you are wearing, like a cap, or outfit generally, just as shoes need to work together with an entire outfit. I know what feels right to me but also will ask my wife, Kerri, what she thinks. As Dr. Alimantado would say, she’s the ‘Best Dressed Chicken in Town’.
What is about Cutler and Gross that makes them a good fit for you?
They are classic and dedicated to making stylish, timeless frames and I get the impression they appreciate people taking an interest in shapes and styles of frames without necessarily being outlandish or attention-grabbing. I think it’s nice to work with brands that have a history and care commitment to what they are doing and show real skill and craft.
Finally, give us a rundown of what you’re listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of records at home in my basement room, as I recently found some old sound system speakers which make all music feel very fun. The current list includes ‘The Mother’s Best Gospel Radio Recordings’ by Hank Williams, Neu! 1 and Neu! 4, Lola Kirke’s ‘Better Than Any Drug’ and ‘Tolof Tolof’ by Kadialy Kouyate.
Alexis Taylor’s new album ‘Silence’ is out now on Orbistor Recordings.