A seemingly reticent but brilliant British producer, and a bawdy New York songstress, Joe Goddard of Hot Chip and Amy Douglas possess the underpinnings of a legendary pop duo. One is a master of electronic music; the other, a rock and jazz performer and a self-confessed “Brill-Building-nerd-level singer-songwriter.” But these two apparently disparate identities have plenty of overlap (a love of pop music and great songwriting being paramount) and they collide in a gloriously theatrical manner as HARD FEELINGS.
It all started with a tweet. Not long after the release of Róisín Murphy’s mesmerizingly slinky “Something More“—which Douglas wrote—Goddard hit up the artist, tweeting publicly, “Amy, can we make a thing?” What began as a couple of songs and then an EP, the project grew into the eight-song banger that is the album, HARD FEELINGS (out 5 November). The record is nothing if not dramatic. It’s crying at the disco, lamenting under flashing lights, heartbreak on the dance floor. Douglas aptly describes the album as “an opera of sad bangers.” With the NYC native’s big delivery and swagger, Goddard’s impeccable and vibrant production, and plenty of disco and ’90s house influences (including sparkling synths, thudding bass lines and blissful piano chords), the record is a big, sarcous, audacious powerhouse.
In 2019, Douglas visited the UK to work on what was then still intended to be an EP. The duo had written a few songs (including lead single “Holding On Too Long“) and they were all taking on a tone of despair. “The funniest thing is the conversation that I had with Joe in London—the one time we could get together in the studio,” Douglas says. “The first thing I asked Joe is, ‘Are you OK?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, are you OK?’ Why are we writing these songs? I looked at him and I said, ‘Clearly we’re trying to say something.'”
When the team at Domino Records started hearing some of the early mixes, they presented the idea of a full-length album. “They saw a potential for a bigger, longer vision so we had to rise to the call, which is frankly very exciting. That was when Joe said, ‘Do you have maybe some songs that are already demos that I can put my magic on?’ Of course I’m sitting there going ‘Oh my god, do I have songs that the wizard can make into bonafide pieces of art?’ I was so excited and that’s when ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Sister Infinity’ came about.” (Douglas initially wrote the latter as a duet for herself and Róisín Murphy, after the Irish artist requested a song about infinity that included “ad infinitum” in the lyrics.)
From there, the duo embarked on what would be a “loose conceptual” album. “Everybody wants to make a big honkin’ piece of art, but loose conceptual—that’s something lost. I love it because loose conceptual, it’s almost like a bunch of soap opera watchers; you’re inserting a little bit of your own personal inference into the art,” Douglas explains. “It almost becomes like therapy.” She lists albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors and Eurythmics’ Savage as flawless examples. “If you listen to the songs—even song by song—there’s a story coming through them, but they’re not saying ‘We purposely crafted this to tell that story.’ It just kind of leaks out… You can’t help but feel it. It’s the arc. I said to Joe, ‘It would be so dope if we could do something like that.’ And that’s how the opera of sad bangers was born.”
These songs—from dark to melodramatic and lascivious—combine elements from all kinds of genres, sounds and eras, but HARD FEELINGS music is, Douglas says, really a sum of its parts. “This is just the result of who Joe is and who I am. In the case of who Joe is, I feel like anything I would have to say is accessory at this point,” she tells us. “His legend, I would think, has already been very well-cemented. I have said this many times: I believe Joe Goddard is one of the greatest producers of modern music.”
If we were a Venn diagram, the overlap in the middle is wide
From his work with Hot Chip and The 2 Bears (with Raf Rundell) to his solo releases, Goddard is indeed a significant player in the world of dance music—a world that Douglas was, admittedly, not part of. “Joe is a master of electronic music, electronic pop music. It has a dance focus. But I’d also make the argument he’s an indie-rock kid who loves punk and hip-hop and classic rock. He is a fully formed animal capable of making a highly explosive bomb in anything, but its foundation is generally going to be electronic. So my background is not electronic; it’s about sitting down at a big hunk of wood and pounding on it. But here’s the thing: if we were a Venn diagram, the overlap in the middle is wide. We both love pop music. We both love great songwriting craft. We both love big work. We both like drama.”
From the album’s thumping opener “Love Scenes” to the theatrical spoken-word verses on “You Always Know,” there’s plenty of drama on HARD FEELINGS. Believe it or not, much of that theater comes from Goddard. “It comes from his natural inclinations as a producer and his use of ostinato and his use of arpeggio and everything having this very operatic, Bach invention, classically leaning thing,” Douglas explains. “So my natural inclinations were to lean into that and go deep into the drama.”
“We also both love Giorgio Moroder and we love Eurythmics. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, and Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer are the two best examples I can think of a producer and a singer changing the game,” she says. Eurythmics come up several times during our conversation; it’s evident the British pop duo influenced and motivated the HARD FEELINGS project. “When you take a great producer and a great singing-songwriting vocalist and musician, and you pair them together, you can create magic that way. But no one has touched Annie and Dave. So I said to Joe, ‘I want to top Annie and Dave.'” Douglas pauses, cutting herself off to explain. “I am a brazen creature. I know that. It gets me in trouble sometimes… I’m not saying this to be cheeky, so Annie and Dave challenge me to a bar fight. Her eyebrows could kick my ass! She doesn’t have to do anything. Her body walking through the door would kick my ass. She’s Annie fucking Lennox. And she’s godly.”
“But I said it to light a fire,” she continues. “I’m standing in London, thinking about being a kid; the first time you ever see the video for ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of This‘ and you hear that song and you see Annie Lennox and you think to yourself, ‘Wow, this is a very different world I’m standing in right now.’ I’m thinking about how much of a hand she had in what I do. I’m sure Eurythmics—Dave Stewart in particular—had a hand in with Joe does. So I said to him, ‘That’s the goal.’ Let’s see if we can do it. Let’s see if we can make banger after banger after banger. He probably thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into with this girl?’ But I will say this, I think the music speaks to honoring that sentiment.”
Aside from that one studio session in London, the majority of the album was created via email and Zoom, with the two swapping ideas for lyrics, beats, melodies and moods. “There was no, ‘I want you to do this very specifically,’ it was always ‘I have an idea’ or ‘Do you think we can do this?’ and then when I would write something to him, I would turn in an email with a dissertation,” Douglas laughs. “We just wrote. It was very old-fashioned, which, to be honest with you, shows what zone we were both in. We were really using the force. We were tapping into the energy. We were tapping into something that existed outside of ourselves.”
Now poised for the album’s debut later this week, Douglas says it feels different from other releases. “There’s definitely been a feeling of suspension and suspense. It’s been a tense feeling, even though we’re getting near that time to give birth and give it to the world and let it affect people’s lives,” she tells us. “When we wrote it, it felt like such a moment encapsulated in our own personal gestalt or angst. Because of where we are… I think I still feel very entrenched in it and in the music. Even as I work with other people, even as I work on my own things, even as I assert my own identity. I don’t know that I’ve necessarily distanced myself from this project yet. That’s also probably because I have not had the opportunity to perform live yet.”
As for what a HARD FEELINGS show might look and feel like, Douglas and Goddard are still figuring it out. But the full-throttle nature of the music lends itself to various performances—from 3AM in a sweaty nightclub to an opulent disco Broadway show. And, while she’s first and foremost a rock and jazz vocalist, Douglas has—over the course of her career—demonstrated that she can be a disco queen, club music chanteuse and house diva. “A Broadway show is not something I’ve contemplated before, but it actually may be. I’m saying it here, right now: that is a vehicle worth exploring,” she says. “I’m a Broadway baby. I’m a New York City girl. That’s a very fundamental part of my upbringing. That’s a very fundamental part of my life as a songwriter… My whole thing is pop craft and rock the hell out and bring drama, passion and blazing glory.”
Hero image courtesy of HARD FEELINGS