review by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Doron Gild
What does a young boy growing up in Denver, Colorado, with a love for Greek mythology and the rich stories of world of gods and goddesses plan do do when he grows up? Start a disco-adoring dance band that is one of the biggest parties to happen during 2008, what else?! Meet Andy Butler, the driving force and pulsating heart behind Hercules and Love Affair. “When I was little I entertained this idea a lot that Athene was my patron goddess. Looking back, I identified with and appreciated her because she was a strong, just woman.” He pauses. “I kind of equated her to my mum. She was the goddess of war, the goddess of wisdom.” Very wise indeed, Andy’s music is so brilliant and enjoyable that after he bringing his first demo to DFA Records he was shortly thereafter signed and captured. Their self-titled album saw wide release in March and the band has been trying to keep up with the pace of their success ever since. Testing out their material live, their debut performance at Studio B in May the eight-piece ensemble kicked off a tour across Europe playing the extensive summer music festival scene and has plans to perform in November at Hammerstein Ballroom with the B-52’s and James Murphy’s new band. Not bad for a boy whose love for techno, disco, jazz, electronic and pop music has led him to collaborations with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, one of the most distinguished voices of our generation.
Accompanied by his pure creative talent and an affinity for the world the Greeks created layered with love, war, politics and destiny, Andy has been working on some of the songs featured on the album for years now. The hit single, “Blind” showcases Antony’s blood chillingly crystalline talent with him crooning over lost love and raising his voice towards the heavens backed by the most upbeat back beat and sharp horn section that it makes it impossible for one to stand still as you journey along with the progressive rhythms. Although Antony was a poignant feature on the album he has yet to perform with the band live in front of an audience and instead Nomi Ruiz and Kim Ann Foxman lend their own unique smokey and sultry voices to the mix. Antony even helped write two of the tracks on the record, “Time Will” and “Raise Me Up.” “Antony is phenomenal… It’s amazing watching him in the studio… magical. He has explored his voice so much and for so long that it’s amazing to watch him use it. He internalizes every bit of rhythm he hears in music, so he was dancing the whole time he was recording. He physicalises the music he makes and the music he sings. He would work up a sweat! Way before encounters with Antony, Andy was armed only with a DJ history under his belt from the age of 15 upwards and a pure love for music. When it came to making this record, Andy thought much about all of the different components that go into creating a successful disco album he also understands the chemistry on an intimate level making the album one of the most exciting debuts of 2008. In addition to DJing, and studying music during his early career and Andy also studied dance at Sarah Lawrence College and understands deeply what it takes to make the masses move which you can sense just from the pace with which he his pushes his songs along and towards. Where someone else would think it sounds good enough for dancing Andy comes in and shreds the whole scene to pieces. Admitting to being upset by the lack of a dance-able New York experience, Andy, if we are all lucky, will have a pivotal influence in making sure we are all dancing again to his catchy beats sometime soon. In the meantime, don’t feel too terrible about playing the album on repeat for a whole week straight at work, anyone who might complain just doesn’t understand.
Sheryl: Andy, you are from Denver, Colorado, and were discussing on the air with Cheryl how you really got into the dance scene there and since moving to New York have been a bit disappointed by the situation here. Are you excited by the opening of new spaces such as Santos, the DJ nights at Hiro Ballroom and Studio-B re-opening?
Andy: I am excited about stuff like that and there are some rumblings about new spaces opening too. I think there is the potential for a good night life here again. It was really hard to find a good party where you could just go and let loose and have fun and not worry about over priced drinks, and a coat check, and a door charge, and people not dancing or just being there simply to mindlessly party and hook up. New York’s night life is so superficial compared to so many other cities that have a great dance nightlife. I think it is a shame because at one point there was such a vibrant scene and we were producing so many artists and DJs. I think there is the potential for that again and forward thinking dance labels like DFA are helping to make that happen. Forward thinking dance music producers and labels such as Italians Do It Better with people thinking of a more diverse sound and incorporating live instruments and involve real sound instead of stuff that is produced and manufactured. It seems like New York is coming back around.
Sheryl: When you worked with James Murphy’s partner, Tim Goldsworthy, did you ever have break sessions where you would geek out over records and 70’s music?
Andy: Oh my god, yes! A lot of the process was about sharing music with each other and sharing inspiration with each other and helping find and hone in on what the direction was for making a record. A lot of it was spent hanging out and talking like nerds about music, talking like nerds about gear and technical stuff. It was fun. That’s my favorite thing to do.
Sheryl: I read in another interview that it took you a couple years to re-work “Blind” before you reached the finished product that we hear on the album. I was wondering how you met Antony, and when you became friends did he just fall into place as the perfect presence you were envisioning for the sound on that track?
Andy: I met Antony eight years ago and initially we just bonded. It was not anything music related. When I first met him he told me he was a singer and it wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I heard his voice and was like, WOW, you are MORE than just a singer, so I was a fan of his work. So initially we were just friends and we got close and a lot of our friendship was borne out of the same elements as mine with Tim, a shared love for music and for art. It wasn’t until two or three years into our friendship that I brought it up to him that I had a song. I approached him with the idea of having him on the song. I was very surprised when he was so willing to do it. He was like, “Of course, I would love to do it.” So we went into this studio and at the time there was this very cheap studio on the lower east side. In four hours we recorded the vocals for “Blind.” Then years went by and I was taking the vocal and re-arranging the song and putting in different instruments behind it and just kind of imagining it in as many different was as I could. Actually Antony heard a version of it and encouraged me to start bringing in more live musicians and so I did and I got it to a place where it was sort of a raw version with a trumpet, a bass player and a drum. At that point people really started saying, you should bring this to your label. Before that I had versions that were techno or industrial, many different sounds you know? New wave, it was very different.
Sheryl: You should release them all as a B-side.
Andy: It is funny because when I played the earliest demo for James and Tim they were like, “we love this, we should put this out.” I was like, “nonono, I want this to go in a different direction!” Yeah, they were fans of that very first demo. It’s funny I put it aside and I haven’t listened to any of those versions in a very long time. Perhaps at some point I will release some un-released general versions.
Sheryl: Everyone has reacted so well to the album, I think your fans would really enjoy it. So, you have been touring a bit and you have an upcoming show in November so what are your plans for after that?
Andy: We have four more gigs in America and then we go back to Europe for another run for a month. It should be fun, it is all club dates this time. This summer it was all festival shows which can be a bit grueling. I love club dates because then it is our night and it feels like we can really create a vibe as opposed to be one of many bands. So I am really excited for Europe and then we head to Australia and Singapore. It should be fun, we get to play with some really cool bands like Cut Copy and the Presets.
Sheryl: The two of those bands together are so much fun.
Andy: We just got to play with both of them in LA two weeks ago. It felt like a really good line up and they are very sweet. I just finished a re-mix for Cut Copy that I am very happy with and they are very happy with. As far as pairing us with bands goes, they are a good match.
Sheryl: Have you had anytime to enjoy everything that has been happening?
Andy: Yeah! It’s been really busy but it’s been great. This will be the first New Years and it’s going to be a lot to take in. There’s so much wonderful stuff to happen this year and I feel very fortunate. We’ve had a lot of fun.
Sheryl: You and your band seemed like you were really having a good time performing, just a good energy all the way across as a performance and as music.
Andy: Thank you, it’s a good group of people. They are really really lovely. That’s the thing that made it work in some ways especially because all of the personalities involved were so easy going amazing and easy so touring was just a breeze. Normally you would imagine touring with eight people stuck on a bus would be chaos with all these different personalities but I have such wonderfully beautiful people in the band that it is easy.
Sheryl: I understand you are very well studied in Greek mythology and I was wondering if you would carry out that theme for the upcoming album or if that was a one time thing.
Andy: It is interesting, I’ve thought about it because so much of the album about looking back in time on so many levels. I was looking back in time in terms of dance music and the spectrum and evolution of dance music. I was looking back in time in history. I was looking back in terms of personal history and at what defined me as a person, as a young person and Greek mythology for some reason was something I was obsessed with as a child and it meant so much to me. I started thinking about it a lot during the process of making this last album. So for the next album, I’ve been thinking…it’s funny because I have these jerky thoughts. I really like Norse mythology too. But, I really don’t feel like I can write a song about Thor or Odon using Hercules and the Love Affair.
Sheryl: I think you should try.
Andy: I might try (laughs). I think mythology in general is just a really fruitful place to draw from in terms of lyrical content there is this fertile landscape because the stories are universal and they are so old an so deep and resonate with so many people. There’s the thing that where in every culture mythology exists and the same stories are being told in different ways so I think I would consider it for an upcoming album. It’s a good place to draw from in terms of finding substance and beautiful lyrics.