!! OMG, a Q&A with Hercules and Love Affair's Andy Butler !!
The world is a much more exciting place now that Hercules and Love Affair is back on the scene. After releasing an acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2008, our favorite dance act is on tour this summer to get club audiences hyped for their sophomore effort Blue Songs, due out in January 2011.
Best known for the dance classic "Blind" (Pitchfork's #1 song of 2008), Hercules and Love Affair is the brainchild of songwriter/producer Andy Butler. While the band's first album referenced a classic disco sound and featured the vocal stylings of DJ-turned-singer Kim Ann Foxman, beloved torch crooner Antony Hegarty and high-energy R&B vocalist Nomi Ruiz, this time around Butler has a new line-up of singers and is looking to dance music's future, rather than it's past, for inspiration. Blue Songs, he says, will feature the modern pop-house bangers we've come to expect from the band, but also softer, stranger compositions.
For the summer tour, he's pared back the set-up to focus on a glammed-up club experience that feature Foxman alongside two new vocal personalities: Shaun Wright and Aerea Negrot.
Last week we rang up Butler at his home base in Denver to chat about the tour, the new album, his new label MR.INTL Records, remixing Madonna and Gaga and his fabulous new hair. Read the Q&A after the jump and check back tomorrow to see photos from Hercules and Love Affair's Toronto show.
You are kicking of a summer tour in Toronto. What is the look, feel or theme for the new Hercules stage show?
It's just spectacle, glamor, spectacle. More than ever I think the show is star-studded and I'm doing a lot more work behind-the-scenes with Mark Pistel, who is a new guy to the band. He co-produced, recorded and engineered a lot of the album in San Francisco. He is an electronic music pioneer of sorts in that he's been doing it since '85. He had a band called Consolidated, which was on Nettwerk Records, and then he did Meat Beat Manifesto. So we've got this real, proper old school guy who's making this monstrous club sound for us. And then I'm constantly sequencing things live and playing drum machines. There are so many steps that I have to remember ⎯ probably like 400 steps in every show. Its' a different show entirely but the focus is these three singers and these three singers are out of this world.
Who are the singers?
Kim Ann Foxman we all know and love. She's a constant and she's extremely loyal. I'm actually putting out a solo EP for Kim Ann Foxman in July, which sounds really cool.
What's it sound like?
It sounds like deep house but in a 1992 Larry Heard kind of way, in a Fingers Inc.-not-very-acidy-or-aggressive way. It's much deeper and beautiful. It's really great actually and we've got some slammin' remixes. Kevin, I don't know if you know this but I have a record label called MR.INTL Records.
Yes, I saw that you released a Madonna remix on it.
Madonna was our pre-release. We decided to do a little cover of sorts, it's not exactly the official first release because you know, we can't exactly just rip Madge off. To my knowledge it sold out already, which is really cool. It's pretty much like techno "Get Into the Groove".
And then you did that remix for Lady Gaga.
OH MY GOD. Do we really have to talk about that Kevin Ritchie?
Ha, we don't have to.
No we totally can! When I heard the song I thought ⎯ I mean, I called my management and I said I don't think there's anything I can do for this. And they said, 'It's a good opportunity. We really think you should take it. We know that you can do it.' And I was like, fine I'll do it but I'm not going to turn it into some sort of vacuum cleaner-sounding electro disgusting beast. And what I ended up doing was much more along the lines of a softer, mellower Frankie Knuckles version.
I have to say aloud ⎯ and I want to imprint ⎯ her voice is amazing. The harmonies on the song are amazing. She's a really interesting artist on some level but it was a challenge. And I knew I was going to get some heat for trying to make it a little smart.
Heat from whom?
The critics and the fans. They don't want smart. You don't attach smart necessarily to Lady Gaga. You attach immediacy, grandiosity, flamboyancy, brashness ⎯ there's no mincing words with Lady Gaga. What I wanted to end up doing was present something more subdued, a little subtle and to bring out the fact that she did a beautiful vocal performance and there was a pretty message behind it as well.
CLICK TO PLAY:
Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance (Hercules and Love Affair Mix)"
So what are you planning for the releases on your own label?
The label is called MR.INTL and the focus is strictly classic house and techno. I want to evoke strictly that sound on this label. So I've already been pretty hard-ass with people in terms of what the output is. I don't want anything that sounds pre '85 or post '94. It's really about the golden days of house music and techno.
That first release ["The Groove"] an aesthetic collaboration between myself and my ex-lover Jason Kendig, who also happens to be an amazing DJ. We have a KiNK remix and a D-Tron remix on the first release, which I'm really happy about because both of those names are going to spark the interest of quote unquote tech-house listeners and that's the aim. The aim of MR.INTRL is to explore the current dance music world and Hercules is my opportunity to get as soft and beautiful and ambient, and get as funky and disco-y and house-y as I want to. That freedom with the Hercules project is really important to me.
So when do we get to hear the new Hercules music?
The album? It's been pushed back to January.
We're having issues with the American release. Moshi Moshi is releasing it in the UK and Europe and they're totally on board, supportive and into it, but America -- we're still trying to figure her out. She's confusing us.
Do you have a title for the album yet?
The album is called Blue Songs, which is kind of a sad title but not all the songs are blue. It's also the title of a song I wrote before the first Hercules record, and it's a song that I sing on. So it's funny, I'm naming the album after a song that I am the singer of.
Why did you choose that song for the title?
Well, honestly if I had a mission statement with this record or with dance music or with Hercules and Love Affair in general, it's that dance music is a very legitimate form of music. It is not confined to a kick-drum and a computer. Of all the songs on the album, it's probably the one that's going to throw most people through a loop because it is the strangest, most unusual piece of material on the whole record. So I just wanted to draw attention to that. And, you know Kevin, I want to draw attention to the fact that I am a songwriter outside of just, you know, 'Boom! Boom! Boom!'
Do you feel you've been pigeonholed with that reputation?
No, it's not that. It's just that I have a mission to do things: to write film scores, to write pieces of music for really cool dance companies and to write musical theater. Yes, there is a fully-rhythmic aspect to it ⎯ it's kind of cosmic disco but it's not really cosmic disco. It sounds more like cinematic beautiful.... [thinks]. I don't know Disney music or something. [laughs] So yeah, that's the reason. And also because there is a fair amount of blueness [on the album]. If we can apply the color and equate it to a range of emotions, it's a little blue.
Any particular reason why?
Well, the past two years have been hard. I'm not gonna lie. It's been a really challenging two years. What started out as me having friends come over and sing and play around and goof around all of a sudden turned into business and work. There were a lot of moments that weren't fun, and a lot of moments that were intense or confusing and sometimes heartbreaking. It's not like it's a depressing album at all. There's a track on the new album that's 125 bpms, which is faster than anything that was on the old album.
What song is that?
That song is called "Visitor" and generally the audience loses their shit when that one is played. You'll know it when you hear it. I was being a little egotistical too. "Blue Songs" ⎯ I wanted to draw attention to the fact that I'm singing on that song. I'm really proud of that composite piece of music and I think it displays versatility and an ability to write more than just a four-to-the-floor dance track.
You collaborated with Kele from Bloc Party on a track for the album. Can you tell me about that track and how you met him?
Yeah. Kele was really fun. It was one of those things where my management was like, 'Oh you should really meet this person.' They're constantly trying to say, 'What about doing something like this?' For instance when the Gaga option came in there was a push from people behind me to do it. Kele had just released the last Bloc Party album and I was really enjoying that first single ["Mercury"] off of it and they were like, 'You should meet him.' And he'd just come out of the closet not long before. I thought that'd be fun. I should meet him. So we met at this little, sort of chi-chi but very inexpensive café in New York and he was very shy. He had a very unassuming personality, which I found very charming and within moments I knew we were going to go into the studio together and we did. The song we recorded is called "Step Up". It's a really fun pop-house track. It's probably the pop-iest song on the whole album and it evokes '90s Londonbeat, Black Box, that kind of thing.
Hercules and Love Affair perform "Step Up" with Kele at Loveboxx in July 2010.
What do you like about Kele's voice?
I love the delicacy of it but then also the break in it, you know? He has this thing when he injects emotion, his voice breaks in these really interesting ways and I really think that's cool.
In your opinion, what makes a singer a great singer?
Well confidence is one. Major, major thing... [thinks] I think honey if you are singing all the wrong notes in all the wrong time, but you just up there doin' it, you're gonna convince me more than if you are a little wallflower that's barely peepin' out a sound. I think great singers have a certain kind of self-awareness. Singing takes a lot of self-awareness. You have to reach for your instrument inside. You don't have that ability to look outside and play a C-sharp on the piano or on that fret. You really have to look inside. It's an internal process. I think that there's a fair amount of internal awareness that has to be present for a really great singer.
And then lastly emotion ⎯ that's probably the most important thing. You have to be an emotional person. I know a couple of really unemotional people and I think hearing them sing would be so awful. They don't have anything to say. You don't necessarily have to be a fucking histrionic, off-the-cuff crazy person but I definitely think you have to feel emotion strongly and you definitely have to convey that. Those are the things I think make a good singer. But then, of course Kevin Ritchie, the obvious answer is you have to have good pitch and you have to have a nice lung capacity.
I have to say one thing: I'm so excited and proud of is Kim Ann's voice. It's finessed so much over the past two years. We did an XX cover of a song called "Shelter" which will be released in November and Kim Ann sounds so beautiful on it. The XX girl has such a beautiful voice and I felt so proud that Kim Ann covered it. I feel really proud of that cover.
Did you guys have any emotional moments in the recording studio while working on the Hercules record?
Yeah there were. I mean it took a long time, you know? I spent two years working on the record and there were moments where I told Kim Ann, moments when she was pissed and I was like, 'Right now I know you're pissed and I'm gonna need you to put that into this song.' And she did. It's a heavy process working with so many different singers with different singing styles; the capacities of the tension in terms of lyrics and instruction, it's very draining. Sometimes it can get almost conflictive where you're fighting with each other and you're really trying to get them to do what you need them to do and they're not capable of remembering it or they're just doing their own version of it, which is something you don't like. Or sometimes they're doing their version of it, which is something you really like. There were a lot of moments like that, but there were also a lot of moments of dancing and jumping up and down.
So what will you wear on stage during the tour?
We do have this wonderful girl from Vienna named Roshi Porkar who is studying under Bernhard Willhelm and did all of the costumes for Björk's Volta. She took it upon herself to make costumes for us. Those are in progress but in general there's such an amazing level of style content coming in from each individual that it's a smorgasbord.
But how would you describe your personal on-stage look? I noticed that you've been rocking a sailor hat lately.
I'm probably gonna wear as little as possible on top and then fun baggy things on the bottom. Just today I picked up these antique pieces of jewelry ⎯ like '50s, '60s, '70s pins and things I've had turned into necklaces. So I have a little bling but not too much. It's more about my hair this year Kevin. I'm growing it out a little bit.
Hercules and Love Affair 2010 summer tour dates:
July 27 - Montreal @ Le Belmont
July 29 - Boston @ Great Scott
July 31 - Moscow, Russia @ Afisha Picnic
August 3 - Washington, DC @ Rock n' Roll Hotel
August 4 - New York @ Central Park (with Hot Chip)
August 10 - Vancouver @ Venue
August 11 - Seattle @ Neumos
August 12 - Portland @ Doug Fir Lounge
August 14 - Los Angeles @ Echoplex
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