HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR: FEAST YOUR EARS
Hercules & Love Affair’s new album features songs about heartbreak, love, freedom and feminism.
It might be a long time since the word discotheque was shortened to ‘disco’ and nightclubbing became ‘clubbing’, then ‘raving’, but in all that time, the reason for going out and dancing to music has remained the same.
“Whether you’ve had a long week, a tough day, you’re feeling happy or suffering a broken heart, there’s a bunch of those old disco and house songs about waiting for the weekend and coming together to celebrate. That’s almost religious or spiritual,” says Andy Butler, the ginger-haired, tastefully tattooed, 30-something man behind US disco house project Hercules & Love Affair. “It’s like the nightclub turns into a church, and everyone is there to worship. That’s what this album is inspired by.”
‘The Feast Of The Broken Heart’ is Hercules & Love Affair’s third album, out now on Moshi Moshi, and the 1990s house and garage-influenced follow up to the 2010-released 'Blue Songs' LP and the eponymous debut album that came out on DFA Records in 2008.
Since that first LP emerged — packed with leftfield, nu disco anthems including pounding groover ‘Blind’ (the first Hercules single, featuring vocalist Antony Hegarty from Antony & the Johnsons) and the original ‘Hercules Theme’ (another version appears on this new album) — the line-up for Andy’s motley crew of musicians and singers has changed, mutated and transformed.
The initial live line-up was nine-strong. Andy had produced the album in a studio in New York City, where he was living at the time. He’d drafted in musicians and singers to work with him. “When DFA signed the album they were like ‘Right, what you going to do for the live show?'” says Andy. “I was like, ‘What live show’?”
In the few hectic weeks that followed, Andy gathered together a band, ready to go on tour. For the second album, 'Blue Songs', also recorded in New York and produced by techno head Patrick Pulsinger, just four people joined Andy when the time came to head out onto the stage.
Gone was transsexual singer Nomi Ruiz (who sang on the second-ever Hercules single ‘You Belong’) and taking her place in a surprise Lovebox appearance was Kele Okereke. And when they trooped up onto the main stage on that hot afternoon in July in Victoria Park — on the billing before the mighty Grace Jones — no one in the audience knew quite what had hit them.
Andy was bare-chested, wearing a sailor’s cap and smoking a fake cigarette that looked more like a tampon applicator. Kele sang ‘Step Up’ and the crowd became riotous. The rest of the Hercules crew were dressed in flamboyant costumes, looking like they’d just stepped out of a New York disco to sparkle in the blinding sunshine.
“The line up for Hercules is always changing, just like the albums,” says Andy. “For this round of live shows, Mark Pistel and I will be manning the rig — which is a mishmash of software programs with controllers, synths and drum machines.”
BACK TO THE ESSENCE
The live show this time around, says Andy, will be a lot less showy, a lot more techy. “In previous records I’d been very inspired by that cosmic freedom to making music, kind of like ‘Let’s do a downtempo track, let’s do an experimental track, let’s do a disco track’, but for this album I was just like ‘let’s just go four-to-the-floor’. I wanted nasty basslines. Ragged, old school house production sounds. I wanted to make music that gave in to where I really come from — house music and nightclubs of the 1990s.”
One mix CD Andy listened to a lot when he set about recording this album, he says, was ‘Goa Aum With Yourself’ by Doc Martin.
“Doc came from hardcore techno, he was one of these guys willing to take an Altern-8 track and mix it right up next to a Blake Baxter house track,” enthuses Andy. “So, for that mix album, you had tunes that sat in between techno and house. It was very in-between. Super moody, super vibey. That really inspired me for this album.”
Andy recorded his album in Vienna, where he’s lived for the past couple of years. The studio he used — belonging to Viennese producers Philipp Haffner and Constantin Zeileissen — is “full of real studio gear: analogue synths, drum computers, old samples and FX”.
To record the album they used gear and production techniques that were created and used in the '80s and '90s to make the original house sounds of that time.
“We used old synths and samplers from Ensoniq, Emu or Yamaha,” adds Phillip. “And of course we also used the classic Roland stuff for drums and some melodies.”
The resulting album is club-ready, perfect for the kind of bijoux underground spots Andy DJs in. And while it’s music you can dance to, harking back to old school house and garage sounds, the subject matter for the lyrics heads a little deeper.
“For this album I really wanted to make a 4/4 song that explored that word ‘cunt’,” says Andy, talking about ‘My offence’, the tune featuring vocals from Krystle Warren. “There’s that quote by feminist thinker Germaine Greer that says ‘my essence is my offence’ meaning, as a woman, your sexuality, your sex, your cunt, is your offence.
I wanted to turn that on its head. When I was living in New York I spent a lot of time with drag queens who used the word ‘cunt’ in a positive way, as a compliment. If they said they were ‘feeling cunt’ it meant they were feeling fabulous. So I found Krystle. She has a strong identity, she’s queer and I wanted her to sing about the word cunt’.”
In the poppier ‘I Try To Talk You’, singer John Grant (who recently released his own 'Pale Green Ghosts' album to critical acclaim) adds his baritone vocals; working lyrics he wrote following a request from Andy to write something he had to “dig deep for”.
“I decided to write a song inspired by the process of starting to deal with my HIV diagnosis,” says Grant, who recently went public about contracting the life-threatening virus. “The words I wrote are focused around wishing I could have listened to the good voices in my head, instead of the bad ones, when I found out my diagnosis.”
Heartbreak, introspection and dealing with the more challenging emotions in life are strong themes in Andy’s songs. And the music is influenced by everything from disco to house, synth-laden pop and post-punk/ industrial bands, including the likes of Skinny Puppy.
“I still play all of that stuff when I DJ,” says Andy, who recently guested at hedonistic London gay party Caligula, in Kings Cross in April. “And DJing is still where it all started for me.”
Andy grew up in Denver, Colorado and started going to warehouse parties when he was a teenager. “I was learning piano when I went to my first warehouse party and heard techno for the first time, and it blew my mind,” he reminisces. “After that I went regularly and started to encounter DJs who were bridging the gap between soulful stuff and techno. I later found out they were DJs for the Tonka soundsystem in the UK.” At those parties, Andy met “a whole group of gay men”.
“They were involved in the San Francisco gay scene too so I went to a couple of parties there,” remembers Andy. “Then, when I was 15-years-old, I started dating the guy who owned a record store in Denver. Through him I got my first gig at a local leather bar.”
Andy was underage, much younger than most of the people in the bar, hosted by drag queen Chocolate Thunder Pussy. “That night I played alongside this straight boy called Matt, a Chicago kid who was friends with Mark Farina, Derrick Carter and all that crew,” he says. “I was so excited I played records at the wrong speed, I played whatever I wanted. I remember playing Yazoo ‘Situation’ and I still love that song so much. I just love the synth line in it.”
Just as Andy was getting to what he felt was the pinnacle of that first set, that night, the police turned up. “I was only 15 so they had to hide me,” remembers Andy. “As soon as the cops came in Chocolate Thunderpussy took me into the men’s bathroom and hid me in a stall till they left.”
What followed was an “exhilarating” few years. And then Andy moved to New York, to study contemporary dance at a college outside of the city while living in Yonkers, just bordering the Bronx. “I remember calling home and saying ‘Mom, I’m going into New York City to hear Armand Van Helden play at the Roxy’, and she said ‘You’re 17-years-old, I don’t want you to do that’. She still had no idea about my lifestyle at that point,” admits Andy. “After a while I transferred from studying dance to studying electronic music, and that’s when I started experimenting with production.”
For a while, Andy says, he fell out of love with house music. “I loved what Armand Van Helden was doing but felt like a lot of that mid-1990s house was becoming hyper aggressive,” he says. “It was too epic, too dark.”
Not long after that, Andy met Alex Gloor from In Flagranti. “Alex was one of my biggest mentors in New York,” says Andy. “I was only 19 when I first experienced what Alex and his crew were doing. I was disenchanted with house music. I’d found my first Italo disco collection on the street in New York City. I heard mix-tapes where the guys weren’t beat-matching perfectly.
They were playing songs on the wrong speed. All these records were pre-1985 and super obscure. I was like ‘What is this’? It flipped everything I knew about DJing and club music on its head. It was freedom. All of a sudden programming trumped technicality. I heard DJs playing Prince records on 33 instead of 45 and making Prince all of a sudden sound like Ozzy Osbourne. And it made me question what it means when a DJ breaks all these rules. That’s really when I got together my idea for Hercules & Love Affair.”
This idea translated itself into actual music when Andy started making melodies using vintage synths, pitching his tempos down to create mid-tempo grooves to add lyrics to.
Now, 10 years later, with three albums under his belt, Andy’s gone back further; reverting to the house sound that first gripped him, as a naïve teenager, living at home with his parents in Denver nearly 20 years ago. And that’s exactly what he’s distilled into this new album.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SONGS
The new Hercules & Love Affair line-up talk about working with Andy on the latest album…
“Usually I write alone, so working with someone else was a challenge. All I did was sing on two tracks and play piano on ‘I Talk To You’ – Andy and his team did everything else. I also think it's necessary to get out into the world and see what's going on and just accept that challenge of dealing with the fear of working with others, because you almost always learn a lot from the people you are working with, and you get to know your own strengths and weaknesses better. And it can be very inspiring. Working with Andy definitely was.”
“Our first project together was a Hercules remix of Cut Copy. Since then we've done countless productions together, including the majority of the last album 'Blue Songs'. This time around we were talking about doing something a little darker... something that would conjure up a kind of early '90s vibe influenced by industrial music.
So I got out my old Akai S1100 and starting building minimal loops of odd percussion bits like I would have back in the day. One loop I made was a rhythmic sound made by bicycle spokes, another was this old reverse guitar loop I'd made years ago for a different track that never got used. From those sounds we made the basic track for ‘The Light’.”
“Andy wanted to go to a more 'aggressive' place and wanted the music to be more in-your-face for this album. ‘Do You Feel the Same’ was inspired by '90s house and club music. But we also wanted to add a deeper, emotional touch to the song. We both came out of confusing relationships and we wanted that to be reflected in the song. Vocally, I was really pushed to go full-on house diva on this track, which I thoroughly enjoyed.”
“Andy said that he wanted to write a tune called ‘Cunt’ but hadn't gotten further than the chorus. He wondered if I'd be up for filling the blanks and I duly accepted the challenge. John Grant reached out to me by way of our mutual pal, Teddy Thompson. John sent this beautiful message over and after reading it, I was sold and we came up with ‘My Offence’.”
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