All About the About Group
Though he may be more primarily known in the music world as one half of Hot Chip, the sonic reach of Alexis Taylor goes far beyond the dance floor. In fact, as leader of About Group, you could even say his scope veers dangerously close to jamband territory. That is, of course, if your kind of jamming is mashing up Krautrock cool, Motown soul and DJ Shadow-esque looped atmospheres in an improvised style. The band—-rounded out by Spiritualized guitarist John Coxon, avant-jazz bassist Pat Thomas and This Heat drummer Charles Hayward (who has since left the group)—-have a great new album out called Between the Walls on Domino Records. Taylor recently took the time to speak with Jambands.com about the creation of this excellent sleeper of an LP along with other happenings in his world both inside and outside of Hot Chip, including his upcoming solo album and keeping up with the legendary Soft Machine drummer/art rock guru Robert Wyatt.
I love how free the music you made on Between the Walls is. Were a lot of these tracks born out of improvised jams like your previous works or was this a more composed affair?
The original songs were written by me and then we recorded them either unplanned in the middle of long improvised sessions of continuous group playing, or separately as studio recordings where we did them in a couple of takes. The covers of [Willie Nelson’s] “Nightlife” and [Burt Bacharach’s] “Walk On By” just came about without planning whilst improvising. “Walk On By” was just an instrumental improvisation which reminded John Coxon of Isaac Hayes’s version, so I overdubbed a vocal on it afterwards.
Most of the record comes from improvisational sessions, yeah. But to be clear, the actual songs are not made up on the spot, just the arrangements, as we had not played them together before or talked about doing them.
What prompted you to cover “Walk On By”?
I love a lot of the Bacharach/David songs and we had done an improvised live performance of I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself at Glastonbury one year. Also I had made a re-edit of the Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield versions of that same song, plus I had been listening to Isaac Hayes a lot over the last few years. John is a big fan too, and Charles’s drumming is reminiscent of the Isaac Hayes sound at times too, even if not intentionally, so I guess it was all just building up somewhere in our subconscious.
I really dig the About Loops bonus disc included with Between the Walls. What was behind the idea for adding it to the package?
John was always keen to make loops out of long improvisations we had made. I guess it’s part DJ Premier inspired, part Teo Macero inspired… It’s nice edit things together in new ways.
My favorite Hot Chip thing is the EP you guys did with Robert Wyatt and Geese. Do you ever look to expand the scope of Hot Chip to create more music like that or do you generally consider About Group your outlet for headier excursions?
I like that record, too. I guess About Group might take up a bit of that “side” of things – and I certainly was listening to both Robert Wyatt and This Heat a lot around that time, but my hope would be that Hot Chip includes more collaborative and quieter/more experimental moments, too.
Do you still stay in touch with Robert Wyatt, by the way? And what would be your favorite album by him?
From time to time I have been in contact but not really. He lives far out of London and I’m sure is pretty busy doing his own thing. I saw him last at Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown, where About Group also played. Coincidentally, Robert had just recorded a record with Charles when I first was getting to know both of them. I’m really in a RW phase again at the moment; been reading about and listening to Dondestan again most recently. My favorite album is probably Old Rottenhat and the Works In Progress EP. Also his collaboration with Epic Soundtracks, “Jelly Babies”, is amazing…
When did you first discover This Heat and how did you link up with Charles Hayward?
An engineer who was assisting [Four Tet’s] Kieran Hebden in mixing some tracks of ours played me “24 Track Loop” and bits of the first album and I got really excited by it. This was when we were doing [Hot Chip’s] The Warning. Then when I worked at Domino we were always listening to Deceit in the office (as you do!) and I got more and more drawn in. I went to some of Charles’s solo gigs for quite a while. Really good gigs; always in South London where he’s from and has remained tied to. I then met him through John Coxon and Pat Thomas—we met essentially to try to make an improvised record, and then became a group after liking it.
Do you have any plans to follow up your solo debut Rubbed Out any time soon?
I’m making a solo record now and also released a 12” EP in December.
What are some new and/or old albums you’ve been digging lately and are they having an effect on your creative mind?
Bob Dylan ‘s Another Self Portrait. It’s got some amazing performances of some of my favourite songs on it. Bob and just a Wurlitzer version of “Went To See The Gypsy” is beautiful. Also the Isle of Wight concert. Great underrated performance. Moodymann’s recent album, which he gave away free online. “Pray 4 Love” being the best song of last few years, in my opinion. Neil Young Hawks and Doves, American Stars and Bars, and the film Trunk Show as well…
Have you ever considered releasing a Hot Chip live album? Is Hot Chip live similar performance-wise to what you do in About Group?
Yes we have. Never really got round to it. About Group quite often involves us literally just sitting down and playing without any discussion. So it’s quite far away from Hot Chip live as we rehearse tight arrangements of our songs in HC. About Group has started rehearsing for live shows now, too, though…