In 2008, the world seemed ready for Hercules And Love Affair. With dance music becoming increasingly synonymous with secluded, individual producers splicing together songs through a variety of beat programs, there was a growing nostalgia for the human connection of dancing and a tangible band.
That’s what they offered – personality, emotion and connection, on top of the beats and loops. They took disco and made it an entirely modern phenomenon, inspiring a lot of kids to go through their parents’ record collection again.
We recently caught up with project mastermind Andy Butler, and found him to be exactly what you would expect – opinionated, artistic, fragile and sweet, with a deep, astounding love for music and its performers.
musicOMH: Blue Songs is the second Hercules record. Did you always envision Hercules And Love Affair as a band that would have multiple albums and make music over a long period of time?
Andy Butler: That’s a fun question because nobody has ever asked it, and the honest to god truth is no, I didn’t. I’ve always been a songwriter. I knew that what I’d do with my time, when I had time, was write music. So when I was spending years in New York, writing music and asking my friends to sing on the songs – and all of a sudden I had the album deal – it was like “I have something! I have a project.” After the tour and the album were critically acclaimed, people were like “what’s next?” I supposed I’d just write more songs, because that’s what I do. So I wrote two different batches of songs that were quite diverse, and that’s where the album came from.
OMH: When you formed Hercules, what did you primarily want to accomplish?
AB: I just wanted to bring live dance music to audiences, and have a party on stage. I wanted to play a concert that I would want to go to. I didn’t have any foresight beyond that; I just thought it would be cool if it could happen.
OMH: Do you think that’s still your core goal in 2011?
AB: I think is, though I think it’s changed a little bit at this point. In terms of the live show I think I have a little bit of a different agenda. I’m more interested in pushing people’s buttons, hitting frequencies that will sink deeper into their chests, and evoke even more ecstatic moments – whip them into a frenzy. In the end, just to have fun on stage and do something people haven’t been doing in a while.
OMH: After the first album was so highly acclaimed, did you ever feel overwhelmed? Did you ever feel like leaving the career at one album?
AB: Oh my God, totally. I want to do it every day; I’m ready to give it up every day! I won’t, but I feel like that every day. I just feel like that body of work involved so much personal history, so many emotional relationships. I put so much into it and I just felt that “that’s good” and now I’ll just write music for myself and fulfillment; and that will be that. I don’t want a record label, I don’t want people telling me what to do, I don’t have to worry about schedules…and the truth of the matter is my friends are deeply involved in this. We all have invested interest in Hercules And Love Affair, and we all want to see it go somewhere, and I think we have a vision that’s bigger than most bands. What we see evolving is a musical project that could span several years and encompass multiple, multiple vocalists – like 30 vocalists over the arc. And in retrospect it would be like, “what was that? That wasn’t just a band.”
OMH: Do you see Hercules And Love Affair as more of a concept than a band?
AB: I think it’s more just a vehicle for my songwriting. I know I keep going back to that personal fulfillment I get from songwriting and that’s the reason I’m doing it, and it’s exciting when you pick up a mag and you see your picture and they’re asking your questions. But it’s not about that for me, it’s the process of being in the studio, it’s seeing someone with a beautiful voice sing lyrics that I’ve written.
OMH: You keep going back to the personal fulfillment you get from songwriting, with the first record the songs were written over such a long period of time, do you still feel that personal connection with the new stuff?
AB: It’s strange; I feel a more personal connection to them than on the old album. I was collecting disco records for so many years and I was having so much fun trying to channel the spirit of that scene and make modern dance music with live performers and do what New York hasn’t done for so long. On this record it became much more personal, there are lyrics on the record that literally came from arguments I’ve had with people. The cover of It’s Alright that we do is on there for extremely personal reasons. The title track, Blue Songs, is about – and I don’t want to overdramatize this – my childhood that was occasionally very violent, and about the protection of children in general. The song Leonara is literally written for an artist named Leonora who I love to death in Berlin, so it’s got a much more personal vibe.
OMH: Is it weird hearing other people sing these lyrics that are very personal to you?
AB: No it isn’t, because I try to write in an obtuse way. I try to write in a poetic way that leaves a lot open to interpretation, so if someone thinks Blue Songs sounds like a lullaby to someone, that’s okay. The song Falling is about a classic Greek myth that I’ve loved since I was a child, and if someone hears the lyrics “I am free / I am free” and just connect to that, that’s okay. I find the fulfillment all myself, and I’m happy and appreciative that people find their own meaning or perspective in it. I actually think it’s kind of fun when someone gets something different out of my songs. They can pull out ideas that could’ve been but weren’t in my head – but a really good idea nonetheless.
OMH: Have the sessions for Blue Songs differed from the sessions of the first album in any way?
AB: Well they’re different because I wrote most of this album on the road. When I had a day off from touring I’d go into a studio in wherever city I was. I was writing most of the music on a bunk in a tour bus, I was isolating myself a lot to do all of this. On the first record I’ve been quoted as saying I was “writing songs naked in my room” and I didn’t get to do that this time.
OMH: Did you feel that writing on the road was as rewarding or cathartic?
AB: At moments, some of the more defiant or angrier moments on the album, like the first single My House, I had to really think about that song and putting it on the record because it came from a place of defiance. I felt a little uncertain if I wanted to capture that on recorded material that would get heard over and over. It’s a sentiment that I don’t regret, but I don’t want to relive. In response to it being cathartic I would say it is very cathartic, sometimes more cathartic than the first record, and that goes back to it coming from a personal place. Catharsis is a special thing, it doesn’t just happen – catharsis happened for me listening to a rough version of It’s Alright on a plane, looking at the clouds and crying because of it, remembering the person who first sold me that record and acknowledging that he had passed away.
OMH: Do you ever feel pressured to write another Blind?
AB: I’m not interested in writing Blind II, if you asked me to do it I won’t do it, if you paid me millions of dollars I won’t do it. It happened so naturally, it was born out of such affinity for two people – Antony and I – and I was in a very specific place when I wrote the song. It was the first time I had written a song that was so personal and recognizing what I was going through as a child, what I was going through as a teenager and what I was going through as an adult. So people can wait for Blind II but it will probably never come.
OMH: Do you still collect records as avidly as you used to?
AB: I don’t have as much time but I do, when I get a chance to dig I dig. My younger brother is a vocalist in a very specific sub cultural movement – death metal. What’s been my focus recently is I tend to go to record stores that have a rock section and find the most obscure thrash, proto-death, crust punk records I can, so it’s just a genre of music I’ve changed my focus to. But I just bought a huge record collection of about 5,000 pieces, so I have a lot to dig through!
Hercules And Love Affair’s second album Blue Songs is out on 31st January 2011 through Moshi Moshi. More about the album and up to date information on the band can be found at their website. Interview questions were posed by Luke Winkie.