Interview: Hercules and Love Affair
Fri, 31 Oct 2008 15:23:36
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In a year when most dance music blurred into a hegemonic electro-malaise, Hercules and Love Affair rose to the top of the scene as one of the genre's defining contemporaries. Avoiding the bombast and ironic hooks that most artists fell back on, their self-titled debut contained songs with intelligent, tasteful composition and an emotional depth that imbued the band's revived disco aesthetic with a modern voice and timeless appeal. While a great deal of attention has been paid to the vocal presence of singers Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons, Nomi and Kim Ann, songwriter Andy Butler is the true core that the group's poignant lyrics and celestial grooves revolve around. After a sound check for a show at the Yerba Buena Art Center in San Francisco, we caught up with Butler to discuss his future endeavors, the wonders of the human voice and finding identity through music.
You're playing a show tonight with Rogue Wave and Mos Def. That's a pretty diverse lineup; how did it get setup?
I think that they just wanted a diverse show. It's this event that happens—I think annually—for the Yerba Buena Art Center. I think they just wanted it really diverse tonight. They wanted to bring a lot of people, so they brought us all in. I think it's a lot of fun to play with a creative hip hop band like Mos Def.
Do you ever have any anxiety about bringing your music out to such a wide audience, especially when some of the fans might be there for a completely different style of music?
Initially there was a little bit, but we played so many festivals this summer all across Europe that were so musically diverse. We played with tons of indie bands and audiences that I would not classify as disco or even dance music fans. So, initially there was a little bit of hesitation or wonder what these people will think of us, but I think that we've had a pretty good streak. We've had a lot of luck in terms of winning crowds over. I think the fact that we are playing a lot of the stuff live is appealing to people who go to see other artists that are doing live music, like rock bands. The fact that there is a fair amount of funk and soul kind of helps with the hip hop crowd. I think that we have faired pretty well, actually, amongst diverse lineups.
You moved out to New York from Denver when you were a teen. What was that experience like for you and how do you reflect on it now?
Well, I went to New York because it felt like the only thing to do. I went there because I got into to school there, and the school I got into looked really good and fun. I knew that New York was the epicenter in terms of club culture and theatre and performing arts—those were the things that I was interested in academically. It's funny, the decision was more of an academic one than it was me getting the bug to move to New York City. What happened was, I was in Denver and I started going out really early. I started DJing pretty early; I started learning a lot about underground dance music at a pretty early age. I really lived a full life as a teenager in Denver, Colorado. It just felt like a big city was the right way to go, and New York just ended up being the city. I knew so many producers that were making music out of New York.
I couldn't have expected the shear number of people I would meet or the friendships I would make or the artists that I would encounter immediately in my world. I didn't really realize that you go to New York, and you go out to a bar, and you are rubbing elbows with producers. I was already rubbing elbows with producers that I was buying records from as a teenager right when I got to New York. Within a year, I was sitting in bars talking to artists that I had been fans of. That was something that was unexpected and kind of amazing. New York is great for just bringing all these people together.
That's how you met Antony, right?
That's where I met Antony, yeah. He was rooted in the East Village performance art scene. I knew a hand full of people in that world as well, and we met through those people and became friends. We bonded over things like music that we loved and culture and artists and filmmakers and all sorts of stuff. We became fast friends, and many years into our friendship we entered into a creative relationship.
What was the writing process like when you started your creative relationship? I know you brought him "Blind" quite a few years ago; were you creating musical compositions and approaching him as a way to add vocals?
For "Blind," I brought the track, I brought the melody, and I brought the lyrics. Basically, Antony sung a song that I wrote. In the studio, he harmonized and did things, but the melody and the lyrics and everything I wrote. Then, we went to the studio one time and I was like, "I really didn't write lyrics," and he was like, "Oh, let me write some," so he wrote the lyrics, and he wrote the vocal melody for a song. It was a whole–hearted collaboration on a couple songs, like "Time Will," has lyrics and melody written by him, as well as "Raise Me Up." We co-wrote that melody. It just evolved naturally, but initially I had this song all mapped, and I wanted to hear a voice on it, and Antony was willing to do it, so he sang "Blind" for me.
After listening to Antony and the Johnsons for so long, it was a bit shocking to hear how well Antony's voice worked over dance music. What was it like for you the first time you heard his vocals on your music?
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