From the lilting country of 'Without a Crutch' (both versions), through the doom-folk of 'From the Halfway Line' to the fragile R&B balladry of 'Immune System' and 'Elvis Has Left the Building' it's clear we're in very different territory from Hot Chip's dance music on the second solo album from that band's Alexis Taylor.

It's not just musically, though. On Await Barbarians we find Taylor in introspective mode, tenderly looking at his life, questioning where he is in the world while also meditating on death, loss, absence and the nature of music and what it means to the singer. The title of his album is taken from the poem Waiting for the Barbarians by Greek writer C.P. Cavafy which discusses expectation and the consequences occurring when that expected thing doesn't happen, and that theme can also be found across the record. On one hand you can look upon Await Barbarians as a slight record not saying much, but that would be doing it a great disservice. The stripped-back nature of it perfectly suits the simple questing of Taylor's lyrics and themes, and it's often a very touching listen.

We spoke to Alexis just before the release of the record, his first as a solo artist since 2008, to find out a little bit more about what's going on in Await Barbarians...

I guess the first place to start is, why another solo record now after such a long time?

Why now? It's hard to remember, now that it's finally out. The easiest answer is that I always record; some of that is working towards Hot Chip songs, some of it towards solo music, some of it's for About Group...some of it doesn't become anything!

So you've never not been writing?

There could have been solo albums before this one, but other things seem to happen. I did make a solo piano record before this, but then I ended up doing all of those songs under the name About Group and so I thought I'd save the piano versions up for another time [we do hear the lovely 'Piano Ducks' on Await Barbarians]. The reason I say that is because it wasn't out of the blue that I decided to make a solo record, rather it's all just a continuation of something I'm always doing, which is making music. After making the EP Nayim from the Halfway Line, I was spurred on to making more solo music because I'd really enjoyed that.

Is it hard for you to decide where the songs you write end up, given you've also got Hot Chip and About Group?

Sometimes you just believe in songs and you don't want to risk them getting lost; the point of Hot Chip is to make music together in that band, and it may be that a very good song doesn't come out because it doesn't fit with the mood of the record or it doesn't make it on the album because you've got twelve songs and another four that don't make it on the record - and for me I've seen that enough times for me to think, well, I'm quite happy with these songs being part of another project where I could just decide exactly what is meant to come out where.

It definitely feels like more of a personal project...

I wanted to express how I feel about things in a very personal way, and for it not to be shared with other people. The songs felt private and personal in some ways, and that's what I tend to do when I'm recording on my own.

And it is a solo record in every sense of the word isn't it? You play everything on the record, am I right?

I played everything except for two songs which have a tiny bit of viola on them, and those were done by two old school friends who record together as Geese. They've done string arrangements on most of the Hot Chip records and the one we did with Robert Wyatt [they also appear on Jon Hopkins' recordings]. On a Hot Chip record we'd maybe get a drummer in, but on this I decided to drum myself - just trying things out really. There are a lot of great records out there made by individuals on their own...but most don't sound like this one.

Are there any ones that inspired this record?

Todd Rundgren did a series of records where he played everything himself, Prince obviously did that a lot....Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney. I mean, these are all an influence for me but I'd say that I take inspiration from them in ways that don't mean I was trying to make a record that actually sounds like their records, and I don't think I'm as accomplished and engineer or musician as those people...but the approach and DIY aspect was quite important to me.

One name you didn't mention there was Neil Young; that's the first influence that jumped out at me - not just for the two versions of 'Without A Crutch', but because it really sounds like On the Beach in places. Did he come into your thinking?

Well I love On the Beach, that's my favourite Neil Young record! When I was writing 'Without a Crutch', when the chorus without any words came into my head I thought 'what is that Neil Young song? That must be a Neil Young song'. So I sat down at the piano and worked out the chords to go with it, but I couldn't get it out of my head that it was just 'Cripple Creek Ferry' or something off After the Gold Rush...so I asked other people if this was somebody's song and everyone said it was familiar but couldn't think what it was.

Did you manage to work it out?

There's a Neil Young song on Comes A Time called 'Lotta Love' which has that [sings] lalalala lalalalala refrain so it seems to be influenced by that - not deliberately but I had been listening to his music over the last couple of years. Then there's the Bob Dylan song called 'The Man in Me' from New Morning, that's also got a similar refrain...so what I worked out was that it's not someone else's melody, but I am trying to get the feel of a Neil Young recording, just where it sounds really simple and all the drummer is doing is keeping the beat and everything sounds really natural.

How much of On the Beach hangs over Await Barbarians? Do you have favourite moments on it?

The song 'On the Beach', the beginning of that song with the guitar chord that he's playing - 'From the Halfway Line' reminds me of that....'Ambulance Blues' and 'Motion Pictures', those two songs are my favourite things he's done. I have a bootleg, a live concert of him playing in New York before the On the Beach tour and it's just Neil Young acoustic, nearly playing the whole of that album and a few songs that didn't make it on to the album. There's one called 'Pushed It over the End' which is amazing and I tried to cover it for this record. It's not that well known a Neil Young song and I thought I could do something interesting with it....but anyway! I can acknowledge that he is an influence.

What strikes me most about Await Barbarians is how simple and innocent it sounds right across the album - was that intentional?

I think I'm someone who likes things not to be too cluttered in sound, and I try to make songs sound simple, pure or unadorned...I don't know if that's what you mean, or the actual sentiment of it?

Well, I meant in sentiment and tone as much as how it sounds....

It just felt certain tracks like 'Closer to the Elderly' or 'Immune System' had their own logic to them and didn't need multi-tracked vocals and they didn't need loads of words or loads of parts. It felt like there was a purity to them...but you have to get the balance right, y'know? Songs still have to sound finished and I think to some people's ears a lot of what I do sounds like it's not completely finished or something, but to my ears it sounds just like there's just enough of everything.

Do you think people tend to focus too much on your music and forget about the lyrics and sentiments? I'd even apply that to Hot Chip's music...

I think there's things going on in the lyrics that people tend to overlook quite a lot, which are not slight - I think they're saying something that I hope is fresh to people and is said in an interesting way and that emotionally resonates with people. Sometimes journalists are so shocked - I'm not saying you are - by it not being like a Hot Chip record that they haven't got time to take in what it actually is, y'know? I've always wanted to make music like this and I've always made music like this so I'm hoping it's going to be written about or reviewed on its own terms...it's just missing all of the dance music.

Well, there were a couple of things in the lyrics that jumped out at me. First of all, there's a lot of questioning going on and it seems you're asking questions of yourself - but also of the nature of music at times? I say that as it could be read as the nature of love, but I'm not sure it is...

That's quite insightful of you to say that, I think! 'Where Would I Be?' is about music. All of the questions that are asked are relating to where I would be and what I would do without music. That song is trying to understand the effect something non-physical and non-tactile, i.e. music, can have on you. It's a dialogue with something that can't respond - but I am aware that when I'm singing it can sound like I'm talking to a person, and that it can sound like a religious or gospel song...like singing about the great entity of God.

It's there on 'Dolly and Porter' too, isn't it?

There are questions in 'Dolly and Porter' too, yes; that's written in a very direct sense about trying to provide music. Trying to make something for yourself at the same time as offering it out to the world, and kind of saying to critics who don't seem to understand that there's an emotional investment in the music from me.

Do you feel like people always regard your music as tongue-in-cheek and lacking sincerity?

I've noticed that the way we present ourselves in Hot Chip, means that people are mistrustful of our sincerity and might believe we're not being sincere - and I find that depressing. I suppose in that song I was trying to say that I do put my heart first rather than something more cerebral...and asking, 'do you not listen?' I wrote it from that perspective, and all of the verses are like that...but after it's done and you give it the name 'Dolly and Porter' it kind of takes on its own meaning - either to do with the strained relationship between Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, or it could be me talking to a woman or talking to a partner saying something emotionally raw about a relationship. There are other songs to do with the questioning of things that are to do with me trying to find my place in the world, or find out where I stand, and that's what 'Without a Crutch' is about...so I think you've understood it well.

The other theme I noticed was this idea of absence; I know that the C.P. Cavafy poem Waiting for the Barbarians is about expectation and how to cope when this expected thing doesn't happen, and I feel that's a kind of absence - and of course 'Elvis Has Left the Building' seems explicitly about absence or loss. Are the two connected?

I've thought about the idea of absence before, quite a lot, and I've thought about and been affected by loss - and that's been a subject of some of my songs in the past. With this record, I wasn't thinking about the poem in connection to 'Elvis Has Left the Building', I've never made that connection before you mentioned it. Me thinking about that poem comes up in 'Without A Crutch' but I can see what you mean because the whole of 'Elvis' is about noting the passing of time or people passing away, or people being absent...or some kind of pivotal moment of passing.

There's quite a series of stories going on in there, isn't there? We hear Elvis, Bob Dylan, Prince, and Whitney Houston...

Elvis supposedly met Bob Dylan, and Dylan wrote this great song 'Went to See the Gypsy' which may or may not be about Elvis, and I love that song. But I guess I was having a sort of stream of consciousness approach to writing; I woke up from a dream where I'd had this song idea and the opening line was 'Elvis has left the building' and I was thinking about losing such a legendary figure. But he [Elvis] had taken the place of God or someone so I was saying in an offhand way that someone should tell Jesus that Elvis has left the building! It moves on to Dylan, and he's linked into Jesus through his period of finding God...but then he left that behind.

Is the song more about a general passing, of time or of an event, rather than specifically about the loss that comes through death?

It's all about these movements and things passing, and I kind of wanted to move on to someone closer to me. Whitney Houston became this kind of figure who I felt wasn't really respected as a musician and singer so much in her later years; so I was trying to speak in the song about the emotional impact her music can have on me and the fact that it is a loss, that it shouldn't be treated as this inevitable thing that she passed away. All of the lyrics in her verse are me quoting, in one way or another, Bobby Brown lyrics.

Well I think we should end on those lyrics - what are they from and what do they mean in the context of the song?

I think it's from 'Control' [it is] and I used them to say that without Whitney and the realisation that she's gone we're left to take control of the situation in music and try to find something to replace that... but it also talks about everyone being on their own and being left to deal with being alive and dying.


Await Barbarians is out now on Domino Records.