Alexis Taylor is a musician that truly won’t sit still. Or rather, he can’t sit still as art seems to pour out of him at any given moment. Taylor’s been in the industry for nearly two decades, most notably with his critically acclaimed band Hot Chip, but there’s not an ounce of fatigue in his voice when I talk to him. One might think that after nearly 20 years of sitting through mundane press questions explaining the album and going through the details of the writing process, it’d make answers robotic, but with Alexis, there’s still a sense of proud eagerness in his voice. The London native has a pure sense of love for his craft and the music he creates only furthers that truth.
Taylor just released his 3rd solo album, Beautiful Thing, a dreamy, electronic record with harsh, cutting instrumentals keeping listeners on their toes. After working alone on his first two albums, Taylor made the decision to bring in Tim Goldsworthy, founder of DFA records, to help some of his ideas come to full fruition. Although it’s a slight shift in his solo endeavor, the music is still very much an extension of himself. The record never lacks what Alexis has cultivated so well over lengthy career; innovative instrumentals and otherworldly themes.
I had the chance to talk with Taylor before he set out to embark on his U.S. tour starting in Los Angeles at the lovely Troubadour. We spoke about the fast album making process, working with Tim Goldsworthy, and the struggle musicians face nowadays. He also told me an amazing story involving a disc and Pippa Middleton that needs to end up on Viceland’s “Party Legends.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your process of making your latest album, Beautiful Thing?
I’ve made three records before, solo records, almost entirely on my own. On this one, before I even started writing I decided I wanted a producer to work with me. At some point, I came up with the idea of working with Tim Goldsworthy, who I haven’t worked with in probably 12 years or so after I had one quick session with him during Hot Chip when he was still apart of DFA. My idea behind getting Tim involved was just to see whether that person could help transform what I might do on my own, into something else. To perhaps bring it to more people, which doesn’t mean mainstream. I wanted it to feel fully 3 dimensional. Tim’s very imaginative and could get where I’m coming from. Sometimes collabing with a producer, it can be stressful, but it was very fun. We’re enjoying the process and surprising each other a bit with what we came up with. The record was made quite quickly with just sessions between the two of us. The 10 track album is somewhat dreamy and ambient.
When you started to write Beautiful Thing, did you sit down and say “I’m going to write this album?” Or do you wait for the songs to come together?
I tend to wait for song ideas to come to me, but if I decide I’m ready to write an album, then the songs tend to come along in that period of time because I try to tap into the ideas I have. I do things that help me get going. A lot of these song ideas began, usually as soon as I release a record, that’s when I generate new song ideas. It’s the sense of closure when your mind is ready to start something new. Like maybe just standing in the playground with my daughter after a show, I’ll write ideas down in my phone. I wrote things when I began working with Tim too. Midway through a record, it’s creative because you realize things the record might need. I also write dreams down too. You’re allowing your subconscious to do some work.
If you dreamt of a song would you wake up and record it on your phone?
Sometimes when you’re asleep and you know you’re having a good idea, it’s hard to wake yourself up! But I try to have the energy to go downstairs and record on the piano. The nice thing about doing it acapella, you don’t have any idea how the instrument will sound. tHen you can start again.
Have you ever thought of something in your sleep, and when you go to record it, it just sounds crazy?
Oh yeah. Most of the time. You can’t understand why you ever found that interesting.
I know you mentioned earlier, you’d draw inspiration from being with your daughter at the playground. Do you go out into nature or do anything specifically to get inspired?
I don’t deliberately seek out inspiration. I’m always listening to music wherever I go so I’m open to being inspired by that. Talking to friends who are artists and just being inserted in what they’re doing, that can be inspirational in itself. They get my mind going sometimes thinking in an abstract way. I tend to watch films, but I don’t feel like it directly inspires me. Visual art is a bit of an inspiration.
You’ve been in music for a bit now, have you noticed a shift in the way music is being created and how musicians are being seen now?
I’ve noticed obvious things of course, like musicians finding it hard to make a living. People have to cut corners in terms of how many band members they can bring on tour, not everyone, but most people I know have to adapt. I’ve noticed people having to strip down their live set, so I think that affects what kind of music people can make. It affects the enjoyment of it. Not trying to be negative. People are trying their best to figure out how they can carry on doing this. Those are real things that I experience, think about, and face. I’ve noticed younger generations growing up, releasing music… there’s no taboo attached to working with advertising. Whereas our generation would be quite weirded out by that. There’s acceptance with Redbull, or a phone company, or alcohol advertisement, the embarrassment of that is much lower now. Is there anything you’ve noticed?
I was actually going to ask about social media too. I’ve noticed newer musicians are either really for social media because if you have a cool aesthetic or you’re good-looking, it might be easier to gain followers. Then I know musicians who are absolutely against it wondering why Instagram popularity matters.
Yeah, I think that’s true. Some people historically have been well known, and have sold a lot of records. Then they have a small social media following and you wonder why they haven’t made use of it all. It’s interesting to see what it means. I’m not exactly looking. As an artist, you don’t think about marketing yourself generally.. Unless you’re George Michael who looks at the big picture. I enjoy using Instagram, not to advertise what I’m doing, but I’ll use to just post photos or tell people what I’m doing because it seems mad not to tell people what I’m doing.
Have you had any bizarre touring moments?
I was once DJing for charity, in a stately home in west London. It was all very official, but the neighbor, some billionaire living in the other stately house, appeared in front of me while I was playing and unplugged all the plugs one by one. In a matter of fact way without appearing cross. I asked him if he was alright and he said he was “trying to get some bloody sleep.” As he walked off Pippa Middleton was in front of me and started playing the bongos over the top of the music, so I carried on. Maybe 10 minutes later the power was turned off. By this point, some very posh people started demanding various types of music and I got so wound up by them that I took the disc and threw it like a frisbee. That’s when I realized I could have beheaded Pippa Middleton if I was careful with throwing that record.
Who would be on your festival lineup? Living or not.
I would have Miles Davis, Neil Young, Alex Chilton, Bjork, Crystal Gayle, Moodymann, and Liam Hayes of the band Plus. Maybe Funkadelic circa 1970.
Listen to Alexis Taylor’s new album ‘Beautiful Thing’ on Spotify. Catch him at the Troubadour tonight in Los Angeles.