Last year, Alexis Taylor released perhaps his most intimate and vulnerable work. Sitting down at a piano with just three microphones, Taylor produced a stripped-down, almost confessional LP that presented a different side of an artist most would associate with the chart-friendly, dancefloor bangers of his band Hot Chip. Now twelve months on, Taylor has revisited the Piano LP, but this time with the help of eleven of his favourite musicians.
Listen With(out) Piano acts as a companion album to 2016’s Piano, featuring new versions of Taylor’s songs from artists including Papa M, Rupert Clervaux, Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, Zongamin and Brian DeGraw of Gang Gang Dance. What’s more, each record can be played on its own, or at the same time as the songs on Piano, with these reinventions acting as a perfectly-timed accompaniment; these aren’t remixes or covers but rather, a response or “echo” to Taylor’s original tracks.
“I do like the fact that it engages with the very real way people listen to music”
“I thought it’d be interesting to hear what happened if other people gave their input into something that was so sparse and so bare,” he explains over the phone. “It seemed almost like it was inviting other elements to come in at a later date. Normally people get remixes made but I made some music that wasn’t really re-mixable; I didn’t imagine it being turned into some dancefloor-filling tracks. So instead of that I thought, what if people made something that could contribute to the songs, almost like overdubs or production for the tracks, that have come after the event. It’s some kind of echo of the music that I’ve made.”
Taylor says he would love fans to listen to both albums on two turntables – “I know not everyone has access to two turntables and I know that’s a bit of a niche thing” – describing how this process would engage the listener into becoming a part of the albums themselves.
“That in itself is quite a tactile way of exploring and experiencing music. You’re involved in how the two things sync up together. You’re involved in lining it up correctly or incorrectly, you can have control over the relative volume of my Piano record compared to the new one,” he explains. “If they don’t have access to turntables, then all you really need is two people with a smartphone or a computer with the album on a streaming service; you both hit play at the same time and you can still explore it in that way.”
“It’s some kind of echo of the music that I’ve made”
Taylor has been releasing music for over 10 years, and with the ever-changing nature in which fans listen to music, I ask whether this collaborative project was a way to re-engage his audience, as a comment on today’s overwhelming options. “I didn’t intentionally do it for that reason, no. I’m not so kind of high and mighty to say listen to music in a different way. But I do like the fact that it engages with the very real way people listen to music,” he offers.
“On the one hand I think lots of people do just listen off of their phone and that’s fine, so this is a way to get two pieces of music and two or more people to hear it in that way. I suppose if you are going to listen to it at all, you’re probably going to think about the fact it was made to have two sources put together, so that might make you sit and listen to it more closely? It might make you kind of think about the fun and the sort of pleasure you can have in being involved in listening to music. I just hope that people hear it in lots of different ways.”
Utilising his work in such a way allowed Taylor to become more open to the idea of collaboration. While his work in Hot Chip sees him team-up with school pal Joe Goddard, Taylor’s solo work has always been just that – solo. “I think it encouraged me that the solo music could go in a different direction with other people’s input, so that in itself was a really nice thing,” he explains. “That’s why right now I’m working with somebody else as a producer.”
Taylor is speaking from the studio, where he’s already working on album number four with Bristol-based producer Tim Goldsworthy. “I’ve never had a producer work with me before,” he reveals. “I think that it’s down to [Listen With(out) Piano] in a way; I suddenly heard what happens when you work with other people.” And while he can’t give too much away concerning the new project, Taylor does explain its diversion from his previous work. “This is just quite different sounding – more expansive and much more interested in synthetic textures, rather than the kind of the naturalism of that piano record.” With the hint of a new Hot Chip record on the way too, Taylor continues to be an important and prolific artist, and one who proves imperative in pop’s ever-saturated market.
Listen With(out) Piano is out 3rd March via Moshi Moshi. Alexis Taylor plays The Lantern on the 21st. Check out a Listen With(out) Piano demo below.