New Build is the brainchild and side-project of Hot Chip’s Al Doyle, Felix Martin and Tom Hopkins. They’ve just released their debut album ‘Yesterday Was Lived & Lost’ (reviewed on these pages a little while ago) on their very own label Lanark Recordings. We sat down with thirty-somethings Al and Tom in the Botanique restaurant just before their gig in the Rotonde to talk about their new record and constant references to Hot Chip (which they don’t mind, really)…
Usually New Build has three core members, how come you’re such a crowd today?
The songs are very multi-layered and we didn’t want to use too many backing tracks. And it’s just so much fun playing with a big group. Eight of us went on tour, but we’ve been reduced to six. Felix became really ill and had to leave very suddenly, right before a gig at a festival in the US. On top of that, it was the kind of festival where you only play for 30 minutes and have to change and setup the equipment super fast, so we were all very stressed, but it was good training. Felix usually plays drum machine and synths and we had to change a few things due to his absence, but it’s all good.
In every article I read about you, the name Peter Gabriel pops up. Is it true that he is one of your biggest influences?
We definitely are Peter Gabriel fans! Don’t you like him? As Hot Chip we even worked with him and did a cover together of a Vampire Weekend song. He’s not our main influence, though.
I have the impression that vocals are very much in the foreground on your album. Was that a conscious choice, a tribute to voice?
It’s surely something we really enjoy. Layering up vocals, working with the different textures…especially backing vocals are a lot of fun. We worked with the singer from Planningtorock who lives in Berlin right now, she helped us with the backing vocals.
“We are still experimenting and trying to find out what we want.”
Al, you are the one writing the lyrics. What inspires you? I have to say they sound a little depressed, should we be worried?
Haha no, I’m fine. Just look at me, I’m happy! And happily, the music balances that out. Writing lyrics can be so hard, this feeling when you are sitting in front of a blank page…but I enjoy it. We usually write the music first and add the lyrics after. I don’t know, I wish it was a choice what I was writing, but actually it just comes out. Sometimes I try to get into a character, a guy who’s 40 and has a family, a lonely priest, whatever. Sometimes I just focus on what rhymes: I was looking for a girl’s name with three syllables and now we have a song called Miranda. I also get inspired by literature, our album title for instance comes from a book by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa: ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Now that I think about it – it’s also very depressing, haha. But it really makes you want to move to Lisbon right away!
You must be amazingly busy with Hot Chip, how did you find the time for New Build? When did you make the album?
It actually took as almost three years, because we would have time for it three days here and four days there. The earliest song is from three years ago.
Was it possible at all then to keep some kind of consistency on the album? Three years is a long time…
You can feel that it was recorded over a long period. It includes lots of different styles. We’re still trying to find out what we want. There’s some classic band stuff, but also more electronic tracks…We are actually already really excited about our next record, because it will be much more focused. We promise it won’t take three years again!
What direction will you take? I have to admit I prefer the electronic side you show on the record.
Yes, that’s probably what we’ll do, because the more electronic songs are also the ones that work really well live. But then you never know!
Where did you record the album?
In our studio in Eastland, the same one where we recorded ‘One Life Stand’ with Hot Chip. We also worked with Mark Ralph, who we also know from Hot Chip. We built the studio ourselves and actually live in the same building. Like all studios, it’s windowless and dark and you tend to lose sense of time. That’s why we like to hang out in the garden, especially in the summer. We don’t want to overdo it and take a lot of breaks, eat, drink wine, … There are lots of people living in that building, and many artists. There’s a wood workshop, a radio station and we all hang out together.
That’s interesting. Many bands go somewhere very remote to record their music and close themselves off from the world.
Yes, but we don’t work like that. We are very social and like to be surrounded by people.
“Of course, we could have tried to bring our ideas to Hot Chip, but we didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.”
No one ever mentions New Build without referring to Hot Chip. What is it like for you personally? Is it easy for you to distance yourselves from Hot Chip when you write music?
Hot Chip will always be a part of us and we’re very proud of what we’re doing with it, so we’re happy of being associated with it. It would be too paralyzing to constantly think about it in that way. We’ve never been worried that we might sound too much like Hot Chip, the voices are so different. When you think about it, everything we do is because of Hot Chip. All the experience we have is very useful and it makes us more relaxed.
Why did you decide to start a separate project?
Joe and Alex are Hot Chip’s main songwriters and the band is their baby, somehow. Although the last album we did together was very collaborative and shows what we are capable of, we didn’t want to mess with their work. Of course, we could have tried to bring our ideas to Hot Chip, but we didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.
How’s playing live with New Build different? Do you have a different audience?
It’s smaller, haha. Hot Chip is super established, and a completely different vibe. With New Build, we’re happy if people actually turn up! People usually only know one or two songs because we haven’t been around for long. They expect us to win them over and usually it works!‘Yesterday Was Lived and Lost’ is out now on Lanark Recordings. Available from iTunes here.