a re-run of our 2008 exclusive in expectation of their show @RNR Hotel tomorrow-ed
Photos by Sexy Fitsum.
Hercules and Love Affair has set dancefloors on fire across several scenes and dance music genres this summer. I’ve heard “Blind” played at hipster soirees, while also rocking deep house crowds. Andrew Butler, the man and means behind the music, has put together a wonderfully sexually ambiguous 8-piece live band to take the show on the road along with resident vogue dancers. Butler brings Hercules and Love Affair to the Rock and Roll Hotel Tuesday August 3rd. I was fortunate enough to spend 15 minutes with Butler before the group’s performance last time they came through town with Gnarls Barkley.
Welcome to Washington. Politics aside, what are some of the first thoughts/experiences that come to your head about our city? Have you had any positive or negative experiences/stories here before?
I grew up here. I have alot of cool memories of Washington, D.C., like going to the Smithsonian, doing all of the museums, spending time on the mall. My father used to manage a Au Bon Pain when I was 6 or 7 years old and he used to dress us up in berets and we used to serve the customers. I remember the DC, Baltimore, Rockville area very well.
When did you move to out west to Colorado?
When I was 13 years old.
You’re doing a short two-date stint with Gnarls Barkley tonight and tomorrow in Boston before heading back to New York, then launching a blitzkrieg on the European festival circuit. How did this connection come about and what kind of reactions are you expecting from the mixed bag crowd tonight and tomorrow night?
I don’t know what to expect in terms of the audience. I think Gnarls Barkley, on the whole, are a more open minded lot. Gnarls is pushing the envelope when it comes to more traditional hip-hop and club music and they have a real sense of history and retro feel to their music so I think its an appropriate match up. When I found out when we were doing the dates I was super excited because they are one of the voices in contemporary pop music and hip-hop that I actually can relate to.
I did some backlog on other interviews you have done and you have spoken before about the importance of Yazoo’s “Situation”, which you recently remixed and have noted as an important track to your musical development. What other “classic” tracks can you pinpoint to your own vision and creations?
Inner City “Big Fun” is definitely one, also Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, with their most well known song being “Cherchez La Femme.” Generally records that felt like a built-in party that transferred on to vinyl. The spirit of fun and dancing and community and those kinds of things on recorded material. Those are the kind of things that act as models for me. Also, music like Massive Attack’s first album “Blue Lines” was another record that felt the spirit of a community got put on vinyl. Just emotional content, lyrics, strong melodies, interesting voices – those are the key dots that I think have gone into and will continue to go into making my music. Those are some of the key points.
On a similar note, your own sound and remixes that have come out from pioneers such as Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter and Kevin Saunderson have reinforced the importance of historical dance music foundations laid down in your music, such as the sounds of the 808 and live orchestration. Do you think the exposure you are bringing to the table is going to influence your new and younger fans to seek out and start digging records and getting back to the roots of American dance music?
Yea I hope so. I totally hope so. I think that would be genius and it would be really needed in terms of contemporary pop music. I think people need to recognize that shit extends far beyond the 1990s and that the 80s and the 70s weren’t just full of bell-bottoms and its not something to be made fun of. There is a lot of substantial, legitimate music in those eras. I think and hope that it triggers people to dig deeper and also to really find those artists that were taking the risks originally and pioneering – [those] that meant so much to me and made an impact on music in general. I came into disco second-hand through all these house music producers, so that crop of house music producers were doing the same thing.
What era are we talking about?
So all of the Nervous, Strictly Rhythm, Sound Factory style stuff?
Exactly all of that stuff. Those guys were bringing in the classic sampling into their tracks, which in turn prompted me and a lot of other people to dig up the old tracks they were sampling originally. So I got a history lesson out of those producers. If something similar happens with my record and the same kind of vibe takes place, that would be great.
Cool. Right now what producers are getting you hot and bothered when you got out to dancing and to the club?
I am really excited about some kids in Brooklyn that I have been producing and working with. [They are] phenomenal musicians, some of them play in the [live touring] band. Their name is Midnight Magic. They have a really interesting vocalist and their songs are just ace. Really catchy disco-pop, afrobeat at times and very jazz influence but hooky and poppy. Those are young artists I am really excited about. [In terms of] more established artists, there are some in Belgium I am interested in at that moment, like what Eskimo records and Tirk records are trying to do.
Such as what is considered the “nu” cosmic sound?
The cosmic sound I appreciate. They are trying to inject a new spirit on the dancefloor and are reminding people there is a lot more to dance to than just a kick drum. There is [also] a producer called Deetron from Belgium that is a Detroit Techno kind of sound and I like that stuff.
You’ve been involved with three remixes this year, the Yazoo “Situation” remix, the Chaz Jannkel “Get Myself Together” remix which was a track that was unearthed, and your most recent remix of Aeroplane “Whispers.” How is your approach to creating remixes similar or different to creating original music?
I approach them very similarly. Obviously I don’t get to start with the freedom of choosing the key the song is written in. But at the same time I get to figure out what key the song was written in and what keys are relative to that song. In general, writing music to me is about finding simple motifs and groups of notes and putting them over a number of harmonic structures. So, I approach writing my music very similarly to remixes. Basically I get these melodic ideas and I get to see how I can re-contextualize them and how I can create a new backdrop that will hopefully bring something new to the table, inject a new sound into the thing. I think Frankie Knuckles did a great job with my remix of “Blind” and that illustrates it. I think that Frankie Knuckles remix took the melodic idea, the main vocal, and played that piano line in the onset of the song. You could hear that he was listening to the melody, the individual melody, and taking it somewhere else. So it’s really about what those artists give you and figuring out what you can add or spin to it. That Yazoo remix was so important to me. When I was asked to do that remix I was kind of like “What do you do?” It’s such a perfect song, so I wanted to stay really true and really classic in the sound. So in that song’s remix I stayed really close to what was going on in the original.
Nice. So I have to ask the inevitable one question about Anthony Hegarty. I think his involvement with the album and background definitely gave your project an incredible platform to launch from. But now, you’ve got your own thing going, gaining steam and you’re touring live with Nomi and Kim Ann doing vocals. Do you think you are just going to carry on with them in the future or do you plan on going back to work with Anthony on another LP?
It’s really up in the air. I think the spirit, like that Massive Attack approach, where it’s a collective, a shifting cast of characters and an open door like where different voices appear on different songs on each album as they progress – I am in to that. I like the idea of keeping the focus on music and on the songs and the number of voices plentiful.
On that note, is there anyone you’d really like to work with vocally or instrumental wise?
You know, being such a kid of the classics and a fan, of course I am excited for the potential to work with older singers and classic house vocalists such as Robert Owens and disco vocalists. But it’s strange because I am mostly interested in working with younger artists that have set out to really find their voice or a unique voice, so not that many people you might know. Maybe some emerging people or people that exist in the other realms, such as performance artists or in a different genre of music. Anthony was nice because it was taking some who doesn’t exist normally in dance music or disco and seeing what he brought to the table, which was so much. I’ll probably continue to do it like that. But again, Kim Ann and Nomi are some of my closest friends and they’ll be with Hercules for as long as I can keep them.
What do you plan on doing when you wrap up touring this Fall?
Hopefully I’ll be able to write more music. Focus on writing again because that is what I enjoy most.
Have you been writing on the road?
I have been writing on the road. It’s an interesting process and a challenge, but I have been doing it. It’s weird, you don’t have much privacy when your touring with eight musicians and sharing rooms. I often find that I write in solitude and alot of my work comes from being alone. But I am finding those moments and making the most of them, so I’ve been writing on the road and I look forward to a different pace, environment and atomosphere and being able to return to that.
That’s all I have. Thank you and right on!