Joe Goddard is a wealth of knowledge on club culture.
A renowned DJ and producer, his role in Hot Chip allows a fluid conversation to take place between underground music and pure, unbridled pop.
Returning to solo duties, new album ‘Electric Lines’ is out now and it’s a real delight. Lead single ‘Music Is The Answer’ lead the way, a piece of sunshine house with an inspired vocal that provided one of Spring’s real musical ear-worms.
Fresh from playing a packed out, sweat-drenched show at London’s Heaven venue, Joe Goddard picked up the phone to chat with Clash about his new Shoreditch studio, synths, and his love of a crisp pop banger.
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You’re a busy man, Joe! When did you kick off work on this album?
Well, I started doing it probably about 18 months, which was after we’d made the last Hot Chip record. I had lots of time in between Hot Chip touring periods I moved into my own studio in Shoreditch. And so that was the first time when I had all of my equipment out and used it all.
It just felt like the right moment to try and test myself with finishing music on my own. I’ve always been about collaborating, and I wanted to push myself to make all those creative decisions myself, and see if I was good at that. And also, in a nice way, to be able to make all those decisions without compromising.
Did you lay down any ground-rules for what you wanted to do?
No. There were no hard and fast rules. I think the aesthetic that I wanted was of never over-producing and never over-working the music, so I tried to work it in quite intuitive ways. I tried to work it in quite a free way, and let the music be quite free where I could. I feel like it’s important to not iron out all the creases in the music, so I try to live by that principle. And I try to do long, live takes on my Eurorack synths.
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It just felt like the right moment to try and test myself with finishing music on my own.
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Is this a hardware record, as opposed to a software record?
I don’t have any hard and fast rules about hardware vs. software. I use software when I feel like I would get a better result with it. I’m pretty obsessed with beautiful old vintage gear – or indeed modern gear… I’m basically bang into gear! It’s the slight inconsistencies in the sound. One of my big old Yamaha synthesisers is slightly out of tune, certain voices are slightly wavering in terms of their tuning but it makes the finished thing a bit richer and more rewarding, I think.
One of the benefits of lengthy takes, I suppose, is that it breaks down song structures into different aspects, like tone, feeling, or colour.
Absolutely. I guess my ideal was that people often do these long synth improvisations in more experimental electronic music, and I was just really excited to try and bring that exploration of synths into pop music more. It’s probably obvious to Hot Chip fans but I love that weird, left-field aspect to electronic pop, so this is just maybe continuing with that and bring that into my music.
‘Music Is The Answer’ lead the way – did that track feel slightly different right from the start?
The way that it came together was really nice. It began – as a lot of my tracks do – with me writing sequences of MIDI notes and chords at the computer and that developing into a loop of 16 bars containing different chords that I started to feel as though I really liked, and was getting a good feeling from. And I found that the Selina sample just fitted really naturally with those chords. I think I had to pitch it a little bit, but then it just melodically worked really, really well. So I felt like I had a whole section of music and a lyric that really worked.
At that point I started to get really, really excited about the possibilities of the track and from then on I wrote little bits of words, and then I got Jess Mills – who sings on the track – involved, and she wrote the verses and helped me write the chorus of the track. It developed from there.
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That’s really the most crucial thing to learn as a producer, really.
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But from the moment I had the initial chords and the vocal sample I had that wonderful moment of feeling super positive about what the track could develop into. That’s one of my favourite parts of the whole process, I guess, when you feel like you’re onto a winner and you’re developing it, and developing it as you go.
There is a risk of over-developing something, and you spoke about wanting to leave the mistakes in the recording. How do you reconcile that approach?
That’s really the most crucial thing to learn as a producer, really. It’s the biggest part of your job, starting to understand when something needs changing and when it is as good as it’s going to be. And it’s a really, really tough one. You can ruin tracks. I guess most producers know that feeling when you’re like: oh my God, I had a great idea but now it’s been over-worked to death and now I’ve lost interest in it and I’ve lost the kernel of the idea! That’s happened to me 100s of times.
I think with certain songs it’s just incredibly difficult. You have to maybe break up your work – so work for a little bit, and then be able to step back for like a week and then let your more objective mind come back into play again with those fresh ears, and then work out whether what you’ve done is good and try to make some clear decisions on how to move forward. I find it really difficult. I don’t think anybody ever gets to a point where they find that particularly easy… like, deciding whether something’s done or something needs changed.
I guess you get better at it, and you get a good idea from close friends and people that you really trust and respect, getting their opinions on what you’re doing as well.
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‘Music Is The Answer’ seems to rejoice in music as a form of inspiration in itself.
Absolutely. If you go out at the weekend and have a really extraordinary night where you’re hearing a barrage of good stuff, I definitely come back into the studio on Monday generally inspired and excited about making something.
What answer does music provide in your own life?
It’s a pretty physical, complex subject, in some ways. I’m well aware that music is not the answer to all the difficulties that people have from day to day. There are a lot of problems that can’t be solved with music. So I don’t want to make light of more serious issues, but in my life music helps me in a lot of ways.
Genuinely. Those transcendent moments that you have, like an amazing reggae or soul track, or disco track, that someone plays, they give me little moments of respite from the rest of my brain. You can kind of switch off any negative feelings, or depression, or anything that’s going on in your brain. Any recurring worries, or whatever. And you can kind of just go to a place that’s much more positive, and joyful.
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I feel like London is a very successful multicultural place...
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You need that release valve, and music definitely does that for me. And then in terms of just the way that it can bring people from different walks of life and different backgrounds and different social situations together, I feel like music does that brilliantly. And growing up in London in the 80s and 90s I feel like music brought me into contact with a lot of people from all around the world meaning that I don’t have these fears or worries about foreigners and immigrants that some people seem to have.
I feel like London is a very successful multicultural place and part of the reason for that is that people have been living together, culturally celebrating together, dancing together, singing together for a long time in London. London doesn’t really have that many problems in terms of xenophobia, or problems with ‘foreigners invading our country’ and all this stuff that some other parts of the UK seem to have. I think music’s important to try and deal with all of that stuff.
The phrase ‘Electric Lines’ reminds me of the pattern on a microchip, like when you open up a synth.
I think that’s a really good point. I agree with that. ‘Electric Lines’ for me relates to the fact that the album is quite varied, stylistically, so I think there’s a line through the whole thing in terms of the fact that it’s all music that I’ve loved as I’ve grown up. Things that I’m passionate about. All different types of electronic sounds.
The variety and eclecticism of it is what I like. When I go out I like to see people play eclectic sets. That’s just my thing musically, I guess. And also ‘Electric Lines’ in terms of the wire that plugs together the synthesiser. Making connections in that way is something that I really like to do.
And in terms of collaborating with different people, bringing different people together on tracks, that’s a big part of being a producer and a part that I really enjoy because it’s about bringing the best out of a group of people and working in a joyful way together. It’s about these nice connections you can make.
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I was learning about using the equipment, trying to get more out of it...
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Is this also about re-connecting with yourself? Is sitting in a studio with all these undulating electronics a means of switching off from the outside world?
Yeah I’d agree with that to a large degree. I’ve spent a lot of time in my studio. I honestly never really feel happier than when I’m just working with a synth, messing with it, modulating it, and trying to make new sounds that excite me and inspire me.
I can be happy just interacting with a synth like that for hours. And I did a lot of that on this record. I was learning about using the equipment, trying to get more out of it, learning about trying to put these synths in the mix and make everything sound as good as it possibly could.
Learning more about being a producer, I guess, and how to make things work together. And just having fun – enjoying myself, getting into experimenting with all of this stuff. I’m just blissfully happy when I’m doing this basically.
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'Electric Lines' is out now.
Photo Credit: Marc Sethi