Many things in life are not what they seem: Koala bears aren’t actually bears; peanuts aren’t technically nuts; and sweetbreads, as delicious and nutritious as they may be, in no way resemble bread. And as anyone who’s ever been savaged by a kitten, duped by the innocent smile of a child, or tried nibbling at one of those irresistibly colourful and sweet-scented Lush soap bars can testify – appearances can be very deceptive.
Surely then, by this logic, the bespectacled and bejumpered Hot Chip – as nice and demure looking a band as is possible – would turn out to be hell-raisers of the first order? Well, actually – no. As soon becomes apparent as I chat with Owen Clarke (keyboardist / bass-player / percussionist of the band), they’re actually just really nice guys.
I ask Owen whether they’ve ever smashed up a dressing room or thrown a TV out of a hotel window. But if it’s tales of rock & roll excess you’re after, Hot Chip aren’t the band to provide them.
‘We’ve been known to break things’ he confesses, ‘but it’s usually just our own stuff! I would like to say that I trashed a dressing room in Amsterdam once, but I more kind of intensively tidied it up! Everything we’d used, I crammed in the bin. Which isn’t that exciting…but I was quite excited at the time – I’d had lots of espresso Martinis’. That’d be a ‘no’ to the TV-out-the-window question then!
What is clear is that, despite being in the middle of a world tour, Hot Chip haven’t let all the fame and success go to their heads. Owen describes with child-like enthusiasm when, at a festival in Texas, David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) was spotted in the audience watching their set.
‘We couldn’t believe it! They were filming it for all the displays, so we watched a DVD of it back on the bus, trying to spot David Byrne. We were all like, “there he is, there he is! There’s his leg!” In the end we found a clear image of him, proof that he was there. That’s very flattering; he’s one of our personal heroes’.
While very humble about his own band’s achievements, Owen is also cautious about criticising others. He is happy to talk about all the artists he really likes, but can’t bring himself to say anything against those he doesn’t. ‘There’s plenty to cringe about in modern music, but you’ve got to find the things you like’, he chastises me, ‘otherwise it can send a man mad’.
I try a more direct approach and ask him what he thinks of Kate Nash, who Hot Chip recently played a gig with. He is flummoxed at first – ‘that’s a good question!’ – but wriggles out of it and talks about Chaka Khan and Brian Eno instead – both of whom, incidentally, he likes a lot.
“I would like to say that I trashed a dressing room in Amsterdam once, but I more kind of intensively tidied it up!”
It would be easy to be cynical and put this refusal to criticise other acts down to record company briefing. But Owen comes across as sincere, and I get the sense that he is genuinely concerned not to upset or offend anybody. When I ask him about the US election (Hot Chip have just returned from the American leg of their tour), he is more forthcoming with his opinions.
‘Is anyone actually with McCain? I mean, we’re not exactly political but do you want a gabbering tortoise in charge of the world or a guy who actually knows what he’s talking about?’
This is as close to a proper insult as Owen comes during the whole of our interview. What, I wonder, does he think of Sarah Palin?
‘We watched one of the debates on TV and we had Sarah Palin bingo cards, which was fun. Every time she said a phrase that was on one of the cards, you could tick off a box. Someone had ‘maverick’, and she said it about 9 times I think’.
I venture to suggest that, despite her limited vocabulary and unwholesome attitude towards polar bears, there is something uncannily attractive about the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate. Owen is reluctant to agree however, so I put the question in cruder terms and ask him who he’d rather sleep with – Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton?
But Owen is, of course, far too nice to answer it. ‘Well’, he replies, ‘ideally neither. I’d be wrecking homes if I did that’. I don’t push the matter any further; it’s clear he feels uncomfortable answering my immature question, and I feel I ought to bring the conversation back to Hot Chip, which is the reason he’s speaking to me after all. What then, I ask, can we look forward to when Hot Chip come to Brighton on Guy Fawkes Night? Any fireworks?
‘Well, I don’t think we’re up to pyrotechnics’, Owen replies, ‘but for a while I’ve wanted to do those indoor fireworks, those very small ones. I was thinking of doing some of them, but projecting them up onto a massive screen or something. So maybe we’ll try to rig something like that for the Brighton show. Indoor fireworks! Come along!’
It’s a sweet idea, and Owen proved during our interview, if nothing else, that he’s a very sweet man. Indoor fireworks, it seems to me, are rather appropriate for a band like Hot Chip – they’re not big or brash or in-your-face, but are good fun nonetheless. I know I’m certainly looking forward to catching the band when they play The Dome in Brighton this Wednesday, indoor fireworks display and all.