Andy Butler of Hercules and Love Affair

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It’s been a hell of a year for Hercules and Love affair, the Brooklyn-based (though soon to be San Francisco-based) disco revival project helmed and founded by DJ Andy Butler. Plucked from what would have been obscurity on the strength of enthusiastic reviews for their eponymous debut album, Hercules and Love Affair recently traveled the globe. On the Chicago leg of Hercules’ tour, I sat down with Andy on the most fantastic tour bus I’ve ever seen to talk about the New York music scene, the San Francisco music scene, and everything in between.

IMPOSE: How you been?

Andy Butler: I've been okay.

You just got in from San Francisco?

Yeah I did.

What was going on out there?

I just sort of relocated to San Francisco.

How do you like it?

I love it. It's my favorite city. I'm having a romance with it. My boyfriend is going to grad school out there, so we got a beautiful apartment with this unbelievable view. And yeah, I started to work on music out there. I found a studio that I feel really good in, working with some artists and such.

So this is your first North American tour?

Well, we've done some costal things. We did New York a couple of times. We've done LA twice. We've done San Francisco twice. We've done San Diego once. So this is the first time that we're hitting mainland North America.

You've just been kind of relocating for the last couple of weeks?

Well my stuff is still in New York for the most part but I've been working in the studio a lot in San Francisco, so I'm not really relaxing. I'm enjoying it as much as I can but I feel like I have creative stuff I want to get out. I've been trying to go to the studio as much as possible and working a lot still.

Are you working by yourself?

Actually, I've been working in this guy's studio who used to be in an industrial band. He's just got a great studio. It just so happens that I randomly found him and we have a really good connection so I've just been tracking a lot and recording new material.

How were you looking at this tour as opposed to the festival circuit?

Club dates are so much more fun, because you know it's like our audience. I mean, I enjoy playing for people who wouldn't normally hear us, because I think we win people over sometimes. But I think in general, club dates are a lot more of a controlled environment. We get to have a sound check. We get to really create a vibe that is our own, as opposed to being thrown on after some band that we might not have anything to do with. That kind of a scenario is less attractive to me in some ways then just playing club dates.

So, Antony Hegarty is not HALA, but he does do the lead on a couple of the tracks. How do you deal with his absence live?

Well, we split the vocals among both Kim Ann and Nomi. That's how it's been since we started, the past five months of touring. At this point, they've kind of turned into different songs. It's a very different version of “Raise Me Up” that you hear with Kim Ann singing. Antony has a very specific delivery; there's so much sadness and melancholy in his voice. There's a fair amount of it in both Nomi and Kim Ann, but I think they bring it to a kind of party place, a different kind of vibe. Which is good for the live show.

How have the audiences been responding?

I think the show's been pretty well received. In terms of audience reaction and participation, it's been really good. The album was very much a studio project, but after the album was finished, this live band just came together based on some of the session players that played on the record, some of their friends, and then some of the vocalists. The first time we ever played a show was May [of 2008]. Ever. It's been interesting, because initially there was kind of a learning curve for us, but I think we picked it up pretty quickly. But we went through phases: the way that the band worked together, the way that the songs are presented, it's very different now than of course it was initially.

It just you in the studio, and then bringing in session musicians.

Yeah, it was exactly like that. [DFA Records'] Tim Goldsworthy was awesome. He co-produced the record. It was like, “Okay, we're having the horn players come today.” We never had a live band play any of the music until we really got it going. We had started rehearsing a while before May, just because it was a big project to have so many people on stage playing music.

If you had been told a year ago that you'd be sitting on a pretty fancy tour bus in twelve months time, would you have anticipated it at all?

No, none of it. In October [2007], I wasn't even entertaining the idea of a live show. My experience has thus far been in a studio, writing music, layering tracks, being able to do all sorts of stuff in a studio setting where you can create this huge sound just by spending days recording different instruments. I couldn't imagine putting a live band together; it was more than I could imagine, too grand of a vision, you know? And then, before I knew it, I had these session musicians who had played on the record saying, “We'd love to play this live, and we know someone who'd come with us.” So, before I knew it, we had all these people, and it was like, “Oh, Jesus, we have a live band.”

Has it been, like, “Oh, this is everything I could ever hoped it could be!” Or like, “Ah, this is something different than I thought it would be, but still great,” or…

Yeah, the latter. What it is, and what it has been for the past year has been great, but I didn't envision any of it, really. To be honest with you, before DFA got involved, and EMI picked up the record, I didn't really have a vision of the record being distributed on a global level, even. I come from a dance music background. I was writing and making this music thinking, “Oh, maybe a 12 inch will come out, and maybe it'll be some underground thing that DJs will be hip to.” Then I had the opportunity to make an album, then I had the opportunity to have it released on DFA/EMI. It became a bigger thing than I had initially ever dreamt of.

What exactly do you feel like DFA brought to the album?

Well, DFA… the fact they had been flexing their muscles in the world of combining live music with electronic music for so many years made the process of recording very easy. It was a very efficient process. If I wanted an electric piano, Tim Goldsworthy immediately knew what electric piano I should be using. The gear was there and he had the direct route to it, as he had been doing it for a while.

I think the thing that they really contributed was making it happen immediately. The thing took a long time. “Blind” was a song for five years. So when I got into the studio with Tim, it was like, “So let's put a clavichord on it.” And it's like, “Well, there's the clavichord. Let's get the player.” Done tomorrow. The horns are there. It was amazing, because before it was like, “I think at the end of the month I'll be able to hire a trumpet player.” The DFA facility was just so major. In terms of the impact, they had already established themselves. Like I said, they'd been doing this forward thinking dance music, and for so long. People know that a DFA record means you're going to get an album of dance music that fuses interesting live elements. I think there was an audience built into it partly for that reason. Antony also brought a built in audience.

So, who are you bringing in for your next studio album?

I've been working with this unbelievable singer in Berlin. I've known her for a few years, and she's into dance music and minimal techno. Finally, after three years, I said, “I want to spend a week with you in Berlin and I want to work.” We had a really productive three weeks, and she's definitely going to be with us next year. Apart from that, that's the only new edition.

Regarding music scenes, you guys have a lot to do with NYC and Brooklyn. There isn't quite the hold up over smaller shows in NYC that there are in Chicago. Like, DIY venues are far easier to come by in Brooklyn.

I've never played anything like that. Completely disconnected with any other live music scene happening in New York or Brooklyn.

What are places that you DJ'd?

I DJ'd at places like Studio B, ATP, the dance clubs. Fire Island. My New York experience is one much more in the dance music tradition, not in the live music tradition. I'm not coming from a rock and roll background. The first time I came to New York, I made my mother stay at the hotel and let me go to the Roxy. I was 17 years old, and I was like, “Armand Van Helden is playing tonight, and I want to go see what he sounds like.” So my experience was in clubs, in New York, searching for that kind of “paradise garage”, sound factory club experience. That's what I knew.

DFA for instance: before working with them, I think I had like, one LCD [Soundsystem] 12 inch in my bag. I wasn't really paying attention to what they were doing. I knew what they were doing, and I was appreciative of it. I was like, “Oh, yeah yeah, those guys are exploring post-punk disco music.” But all that music had existed in night clubs forever. DJs here in Chicago were playing post-punk disco music at the time that DFA was kind of figuring it out.

I learned a lot about disco music and post-punk music from Derek Carter, and came to New York operating with that scene in mind. The whole thing about New York… I don't know, and the live music scene and whether there's a Brooklyn music scene; I have a hard time with it. I know for instance, bands like TV On The Radio, Telepathe, CocoRosie, they all have some sort of crossover; they know each other; even MGMT, those kinds of people. Dance music people existed totally separate from any of it. Until this year, we were like, “M…G…M…T?” It's like it was created in some sort of a bubble.

What do you have going on out in San Francisco?

It's interesting. Within my first week of being there, I was in the Castro; ground zero, where gay counterculture was born. I wanted to be in San Francisco because I knew that in the 90s there was a ton of great dance music going on. There were unbelievable DJs coming from San Francisco, and there was just a serious dance music tradition. So going there recently, within a week, I'm walking down the Castro, and I notice that there's a big advertisement for a disco party at the Trocadero Transfer, which was San Francisco's equivalent of Studio 54, or Paradise Garage.

There's a whole sound of disco music that came out of San Francisco, specifically. Patrick Cowley, who was like our American equivalent of Giorgio Moroder, and produced all of Sylvester's music, a more high energy Euro-disco sound. That music was specific to the Trocadero, and I just happened to notice that they were doing a huge party there, remembering all its past music. This is what they're playing, this is what they're selling: this authentic, underground disco music. I was like, “This is so funny; I'm here, and I've found all this within a week.”

I've met all these kind of older people who are like, “Hi, I was the lighting designer at the Trocadero in 1982.” I went and I saw this disco singers, like, a woman called Pamela Stanley who had a couple of hits in like '77-'78. She did a performance for basically a bunch of old gay men at a hotel, and just the history, the amount of knowledge around, it's crazy. I'm in Castro, and I'm looking that way, and this guy I just met is like, “You know, Sylvester used to live in that house right over there.” For me, that's what I'm after in my life. That's what I'm after in my musical journey.

You're kind of one of them, right? “Hey, the guy from Hercules and Love Affair lives over there!”

Well, it's funny, because I went into this shop, and they were like, “Oh, you're Hercules and Love Affair! You were on our bestseller list for like, three months!” I was like, “I noticed I couldn't find my record in here at all. I'm glad to hear that – I'm assuming you're sold out.”

My experience going to New York was similar. I wanted to go to New York. I knew that club culture was born there, that so much came from there, that there was history there, that there were these people who lived it, and that so much amazing music had come from that place. But I'm not one of these people who thinks that New York is the center of the universe, that all roads lead to New York. I'm the sort of person who believes that every city, in terms of being an artist, it's more important that you take the creativity with you, and the city inspires you and informs your experiences, and shapes you.

For me, San Francisco is just great, because I'm getting all of what I got in New York initially, and a whole new thing has been unearthed. It's very nice, and I feel the same way about lots of other sounds. I mean, Chicago is a legendary town. Tonight, Kim Ann and I were thinking, “When we start the set tonight, I wanna just have a list of names of important musical people that came from Chicago. You and I are just gonna rattle them off tonight. All of the house music guys. Little Louis, Cashmere, Marshall Jefferson, Ibana, Franky Knuckles… there are so many unbelievable artists and important dance music people that came from the birthplace of house music. For me, I could come to Chicago and just learn tons and tons about house music.

A city just creates the backdrop. I think a lot of people wish that we were saying that “New York is alive and kicking, and there's an amazing dance music scene happening in New York.” There's this romantic notion of it, but the truth is, no, it's a shopping mall. It's great for certain things, but that is my tirade.