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Interview: Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler

We rather like the new Hercules and Love Affair record (Read Seb Law’s review of ‘Blus Songs’ in Notion 049 at www.notionmag.com). It’s rammed full of addictive fun-time songs that have a 4/4 beat and a sparkling rhythm. He liked it so much that we thought we’d get Seb to chat to Hercules main man, Andy Butler about the record. Here’s the result, with which Brian Eno record changed Butler’s life, why he loves Slayer and how the Hercules sound has devleoped.

PlanetNotion: Afternoon Andy. You’re coming over the London to play a show – are you looking forward to it? Have you played in London before?

Andy Butler: We’re definitely looking forward to it. We were there for Frieze Art Festival last year and there was like a 2000-strong crowd. We met Holly Johnson (of Frankie goes to Hollywood) and they all came backstage. The audience went absolutely crazy, it was almost like a riot; we had a power outage near the end of show until we exploded back on when the power came back on…it was a total hoot.

PN: So you’re the head honcho. How does Hercules and Love Affair work as a band? Do you write everything and call in people to work on the tracks?

AB: That’s kind of how it happens. I write the tracks and the lyrical content but it depends on the collaborator really. My whole approach developed after a couple of times working with Antony. With ‘Blind’, I had the lyrics, the melody and tracks; with other tracks like ‘Time World’, I wrote the track and he did the words. We kept it fairly flexible and it definitely worked out for both of us.

So it totally depends on the collaborator, really. I like both ways of doing things; some people take direction well and others don’t. But it’s kind of fun when you have to struggle with an artist! On this record, mostly everything was written collaboratively.

We had five years to write the first album and no crew to make music with; we didn’t even a have label or the ambition to find one. Now the recording process has changed so much for me because I’m on tour in multiple countries. On my days off I absolutely have to get to the studio and write; I’ve no choice but to be productive and produce! It seems funny that it has taken so long to put out an album but I’m like, listen honey I’ve been on tour for 2 years, gimme a break! I’ve not been in front of a piano for a year! It’s a completely different writing style from before, but I’m really proud of record that I did produced.

PN: What were the aims with Blue Songs, after your previous releases?

AB: The aim was to deliver as much emotional authenticity as possible while still maintaining the aesthetic of house. I was basically drawn back to the music I grew up on, which is what makes Blue Songs so very different to the first record. I wasn’t born until 1978, so I missed out on Arthur Russell’s entire career! The first record was about all the retro stuff I’d learned about and fallen in love with, like the slower numbers on the first record, for example ‘Easy’ and ‘Iris’. I loved Eno’s ‘Another Green World’ which was given to me I was when 15: it changed my life, as did Ultramarine’s ‘Every Man and Woman is a Star’.

Hercules & Love Affair started with all of this deep house music I’d listen to and then I mixed it with this psych-folk, which was interesting and exciting to me. That was the basic point of the last record.  This one is different. It’s less referential and so not as easily pegged: For example, track 3 on the first record referenced Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Nights in White Satin’, and track 5 Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’)

Blue Songs is intended to be more about my compositional voice which I started exploring at 11. There’s even a song on the record (‘Boy Blue’) that’s been made using a riff I wrote when I was 15 that I carried around for 17 years until I could make a song out of it. I wanted to assert my voice in a way I might not have had as much chance to on the first record.

PN: There’s talk of a more ‘organic, live sound’ – what does this mean to you?

AB: That’s where I started: writing on the piano as an 11 year old.

PN: And do you find the method of composition for an album is similar?

AB: Blue Songs is definitely inspired by the classical and romantic eras of music, for example the composers Clementi and Mozart. As a 15 year old, they were hugely influential on me, to such an extent that I don’t like experimenting with 20th century composers now. In any case, they’re not so bound by structure. I’ve played modals and written some, but I always prefer the stuff that I played when I was learning the piano.

PN: Then you got turntables and everything changed?

AB: It was the biggest influence sonically. It’s the farthest reaching because my records are so schizophrenic. They can take you take to so many places. I want to say the theme is my own compositional voice, but the thing that I prayed and hoped for was that someone would hear that the same guy wrote each of the songs on the record, even if they were different genres (disco, house, folk). Adventurous, early ‘90s stuff like Ultramarine provided a really cool model for me.

PN: Your sound (and disco of course) is so intrinsically linked to NYC, what triggered the relocation to Denver?

AB: A couple of things. We were travelling so much and my heart rate was permanently racing. I was at the same frenetic pace all the time and I think it was starting to show in my voice that I wasn’t entirely well, so I decided to get out of NYC. Luckily, my mom had an apartment to rent in Denver. Being close to my brothers and sisters has been a really good thing for me, and it’s been really interesting to connect with people that I’d known since I was a child. Denver has a different feel, it’s in the mountains, the air is good, it’s a tremendously forward-looking place. I’m from Colorado originally and coming home to see that my friends who were all partying now own cool clubs or really nice clothing shops was great fun to see.

There’s a certain luxury aspects to it Denver as well. Aspen is nearby, and a destination for the wealthy, and mountains are some of the most breathtaking in the US. Technically there are 300 days of sunshine; like right now there’s six inches of snow on the ground, but the sun is blazing. I love that. Lots of people from California have moved here, it’s a desirable place to live. I’ve just finished a tour with The Gossip; they came from Portland and just stayed there. It’s not about New York, London or Amsterdam; It’s about the world. New York doesn’t define my record. I define my record.

I do feel like I’ve grown up. I’ve lost this immature fear that I can’t leave the city or else I’ll lose my edge. It’s exactly like the LCD Soundsystem track. I feel like a citizen of the world now more and more, and I have to view my art as coming with me where I am. The city doesn’t define what I do. It informs, but it doesn’t define it.

PN: I read something about a metal/rock influence – do any metal acts have an influence on Blue Songs?

AB: Not for this record. ‘Visitor’ is the hardest thing on the record, or ‘I Can’t Wait’, an in flagrante-inspired stomping track. My love for metal exists outside of Hercules, and has done always. On the record I got really into Bolthrower and so on, I still absolutely love crusty death metal. I’m fascinated by its history, and in some ways those musicians are some of the bravest that there are: they will sing about the about the stuff that no-one else will. I’ve been listening to Master, this Chicago metal band since about 1985, they’re like Motorhead x2000. Paul (the lead singer) has been singing about things that people don’t want to hear about for so long, and I respect him for confronting things that the rest of entertainment won’t confront. Not so much the blood and gore aspect, but more ‘why has she made me so fucked up?’, ‘why do we cause wars?’, ‘why don’t we understand what freedom is’, those kind of things that reflect a punk influence.

PN: And are you influenced by the way they discuss politics in their records?

AB: Sure. I am by some bands. I mean I don’t know if I’d get along with all of them. Slayer are Republicans, but I love their music and respect their right to speak just as they should respect mine.  I like it when bands go to extremes. It’s interesting when it’s personal, when it means something to them, or when they think that people need to hear about it– that’s great and that’s why I am a Slayer fan.

PN Can you tell us a bit about working with Patrick Pulsinger in Vienna?

AB: I had the best experience working with him ever. I don’t want to diss Tim Goldsworthy, but his attention to detail is unlike any I’ve seen. His ear is so finely tuned. He brought a level of sophistication to the record. He knew, as a great producer should, how to snap me out of it and get me out of my seat. It was a beautiful experience; Patrick and his girlfriend are tremendously smart so we had lots of interesting conversation. He’s such a great person and I’m so lucky to have him as a friend: he was the one who added a lot of the nuancing to the record.

PN: Also Shaun Wright, the singer on the record, is a “fan-turned collaborator ” how did that come about?

AB: I saw him at a show and thought he looked fabulous so I decided to play the show for him. At the afterparty, we came up to us and said that he thought we were the coolest thing in the world, and I said “Girl, whatever! We thought you were the coolest person there, and we played the show for you!” Well that’s when Shaun said he could sing. So he sent us a demo, Andy could tell he could sing, and we spent ten days together in California at Andy’s dad’s house, just recording and writing and putting some of the album material together. Shaun has the best moral compass, and is such a beautiful person. His voice is totally, completely unbelievable voice. What can I say? Something special just happened.

PN: On the subject of collaborations – you worked with Kele from Bloc Party – did he approach you or vice versa?

AB: Kele and I had been hanging with some similar people and they all asked if we knew each other. We hadn’t already met, so they set up this funny cute little lunch date.  I approached him about singing; I love that even though his voice is fragile at times and authoritative at others, it’s always emotional.

PN: What’s your favourite track on the album & why?

AB: My favourite songs are Blue Songs or Leonora. They make me feel absolutely chuffed.

PN: What are the plans for Hercules this year – a summer tour? Working on a new record?

AB: Will you chill with next album? We just did one! No, but seriously, we’ve got tons and tons of touring coming up, and we will see you guys soon.

- Interview by Seb Law

Read Seb’s review of the Hercules & Love Affair record, ‘Blue Songs’, in Notion 049 at www.notionmag.com.

Blue Songs is out January 31st.

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