New Build


Monday 13th October 2014

If the name New Build seems unfamiliar, then you might recognise the people involved, Al Doyle and Felix Martin. Close friends for 15 years, they began making music together in 1999 during their first year studying English at University. After graduating they went on to form Hot Chip with Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor. In Hot Chip, Al plays guitar and sings and Felix handles the programming. This past decade, on the road and in the studio, they've seldom been apart. "I've probably spent more time with Felix than any other human being," says Al, "including my wife and my mum."

On one level, New Build is an outlet for the songs Al and Felix write together outside Hot Chip, but as their second album Pour It On roundly attests, it's very much its own entity, furnished with a distinctive sound and progressive attitude and framed by a shared philosophy. "New Build has ambiguous connotations;" says Al, "there is the optimism of building and newness, and the mild depression associated with new-build homes."

Much like Hot Chip, New Build draws deeply from a well of collective inspiration and communal ideas to push the pop song into striking new territory. Whereas Joe and Alexis write the nuts and bolts of the material in the other group, New Build's driving force is Al and Felix, whose interests and beliefs shape Pour It On.

This new set takes as its starting point New Build's overlooked outsider anthem "Do You Not Feel Loved?", the stand-out track from their self-released 2012 debut Yesterday Was Loved And Lost, a record that found Al, Felix and occasional third member Tom Hopkins tackling a range of styles with no little sophistication. "That album was instructive because we worked out what we enjoyed doing and now we've concentrated our efforts to produce this expansive, more electronic music," says Al. "There are some songs on this new record that don't sound like anything I can put finger on immediately, so in that sense I'm pleased."

He's right, too: Pour It On taps rich seams in unexpected places. The songs work best when seemingly radically different ideas are juxtaposed. Steered by the pair's love of new-age folk music (Richard and Linda Thompson, Incredible String Band), vintage British science fiction (John Wyndham) and modern techno (they DJ all over the place), the messages woven into the likes of "Strange Network" and "Weightless" are poetic and political; in some ways harking back to a time that never was, to those halcyon days of the golden future.

"Even though it has elements of Chicago house and Detroit techno, there's definitely an eccentric, English feel to the record," says Al, 34, who played with LCD Soundsystem as a guitarist during time off from Hot Chip. "I was interested in getting a sense of pathos into this actually quite uplifting music."

"There's definitely an interest in old versus new, to put it vaguely," says Felix, 34, whose father, the illustrator Andrew Martin, drew a picture a long time ago that had a profound effect on New Build. In an agricultural scene, people dig in a field, but rather than pulling up vegetables, they dig up strange geometric shapes. This weirdly harmonious mix of the pastoral and futuristic captivated Felix.

"The idea of discovering something with perfect form that had lain in the ground and no one knew anything about, we wanted to have that feel to this music," says Al. "We wanted the music to feel as if it wasn't really made, that it was discovered. We wanted to take the idea of agency away from it."

As theoretical as this sounds, this ethnographic approach provided practical application for certain songs, Al discovered. "On some days, I wouldn’t think about what I was playing and would literally go into the studio and the first thing I played would be the song. The riff on "Look In Vain" was the first thing I played that day for instance."

Recorded at Al and Felix's beloved Lanark studio, situated in a communal workshop not far from Brick Lane in east London, Pour It On was mixed earlier this year at long-time Hot Chip producer Mark Ralph's Club Ralph studio in Kilburn, northwest London. So intense were the sessions that Felix preferred to rent a room in Kilburn rather than to travel back home further afield in the capital. As well as playing most of the instruments, Al takes on frontman duties in New Build, while Felix is responsible for synthesisers and sequencing. Regular collaborator Joy Joseph provides steel pan and backing vocals on some numbers.

A key moment for Pour It On came with the completion of the title track, the euphoric folk-rave epic that builds and builds into the album's staggering finale in the heartfelt manner of Mike & The Mechanics. Based on a set of chord changes Felix wrote in 2002, Al developed the track to address contemporary concerns. "'Pour It On' is about relentless pressure in any aspect of life, but particularly life in this country for most people these past four years. It's about those times when something you think is not going to be taken away from you is taken away from you," he says. "That song gets really intense and then gets turned up a notch."

For a group who last year released an electronic version of Bob Dylan's "Disease of Conceit" as a scathing attack on the Tories' clandestine dismantling of the NHS, New Build keep their politics close to their chest on Pour It On, but wear their hearts on their sleeves. Like the protest songs of Robert Wyatt, New Build would rather raise questions than shout solutions. For example, the song "Strange Network" came to Al in a dream and refers obliquely to the NSA scandal. "The lyrics are about someone who is imagining a relationship between the state and the people as an abusive domestic relationship," says Al. "And it's also an attempt at a kind of pop song."

As Al embraces his new role as lead singer, he's all too aware of the pitfalls of the job. "I find it really off-putting seeing other musicians who have a political message," he says. "But writing in the time we're writing, if you don't address things it would be untruthful because this is something I think about every day and it affects a lot of people."

Pour It Onaddresses very human concerns – broken lives, frustration, fear and confusion – but it does so in a way that celebrates the sheer bloody-mindedness of the human spirit.

"These songs guide you to a certain place and keep you there, and people can lose themselves in it," adds Al. "Hopefully, in some vague way, it's uplifting and comforting."


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