Interview: Hugo talks "Bread and Butter," Psychedelica and More
Mon, 23 Aug 2010 08:00:39
Hugo's just the kind of anomaly that could flip pop music upside down.
He's signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation, but he's way more Jim Morrison than "Hov." His debut album, Old Tyme Religion, is evocative of '60s pop with a heavy dose of modern attitude and an in-the-moment, no-frills hip hop approach to songwriting. The first single "Bread Butter" slides with a slick and sexy groove that's undeniably catchy but still soulful at all the right moments. He maintains that old school integrity, but he's palpable for the modern ADD ear.
Hugo sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about Old Tyme Religion's psychedelic leanings, working with Roc Nation and why pop music doesn't have to be about clubbing…
Your music has a very classy feel but, at the same time, it's very modern.
I'm glad you think so. I try to stay pretty isolated from the mainstream, but I have every intention of being a part of it at the same time [Laughs]. The stuff that I rate as pop music has just acquired this revered status by being really good and old. It was music for the people. It wasn't music for critics or an elite sector. It wasn't even an underground thing. It was meant to be for the majority—for everybody. I consider The Doors to be pop music. Jim Morrison was a pop star. That's fucking great, dark, brooding, mysterious and a little melodramatic but that's pop music! Therefore, all pop music doesn't have to be about hanging out nightclubs. Not everybody does that.
You can also cover a wide variety of emotions within that landscape because there are no boundaries.
Exactly! Why not put a banjo over a certain part? Why not try anything? I used to be a much more conservative guy; I'd only record with live instruments, real drums, prepping the rhythm section at the same time and all of this shit. I was starting to get too wrapped up in my retro thing, and I needed to break out. That's when working with Roc Nation and producers like Shea Taylor and Syience really opened up my mind to the hip hop way of making records. In many ways, that method is very rock 'n' roll, very fucking punk and very blues. It fit. Ignore the obvious questions that might raise in some people's minds…
What's the story behind "Bread and Butter?"
That song was very spontaneous. The record was pretty much done. We painstakingly made these sounds and brought this diverse thing together. There was a unified theme that was discernible by the end. I was out celebrating the fact that the album was finally done after nearly five years of work. However, I got a call that we still needed one more song. I went into a session the next day, and I wanted to make a food song because Howlin' Wolf always used food in his songs quite a lot. There was all this old school dirty talk using food [Laughs]. I thought "Bread and Butter"—I'm going to spread you like butter. I'm walking around New York, and it's what's going on in my animal inner mind. It's not even ego; it's an id song. It's a straight-up sex song [Laughs]. It's about what goes through your mind when you're walking around late at night and you see girls all dressed up to go out, honestly.
What's up with "Mekong Delta?" It gets a bit psychedelic.
When I was in Thailand playing with a Thai band, it was difficult not for everything to look psychedelic as well [Laughs]. There's a natural link between the countryside of Southeast Asia and the music that I liked which is mostly from during the Vietnam War period. I spent a lot of my childhood up on the banks of the Mekong River. It was the place to go in order to get out of the city. Sometimes, when we're on tour, we'll stop by there and hang out by the river for a few days. It's isolated. Part of me thinks, "Oh fuck, I should just throw all this bullshit in and just move to a shack by the river and call it a day!" But, I'm not going to do that because I need the action and all that other stuff. It's like this promise that you can't really fulfill. The Mekong Delta is also where the golden triangle used to be. It's a very evocative place. It's leaning towards psychedelica in terms of era.
Is there one consistent thread for Old Tyme Religion?
I'd say that American Roots Music is my main inspiration as far as song structure. A lot of them, at their bones, are country or blues songs. My songs are actually at their core quite traditional. You can't fight it! A lot of people view music as these fits and starts of great innovation. Really, it's one long curve that's been coming out of West Africa for thousands of years. It settled in America for awhile and settled in London for awhile. That's what I feel a part of. The three-minute-and-thirty-second pop song is rooted in the tradition of country and blues for me. Basically, it's the same West African beat in every fucking human [Laughs].
If you were to compare Old Tyme Religion to a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
Probably Apocalypse Now meets a bit of Easy Rider and a bit of The Godfather. There's a lot of romance in the lyrics but I can't think of a romantic movie off the top of my head…
Maybe Taxi Driver?
Yeah, definitely! [Laughs] Even it were anything, it'd be a road movie or a Vietnam war movie. Apocalypse Now is probably what I was going for most of the time especially with "Mekong Delta." That's going to be the genre.
Have you heard Hugo yet?