The 2008 self-titled album from Andy Butler‘s New York disco crew Hercules and Love Affair gave us the Antony-sung dance classic “Blind”, Pitchfork’s #1 song of that year. The album itself also landed in our year-end top 10, so we’re excited to hear what Butler comes up with next.
As recently posted on the Hercules blog, the new album is now finished. Butler expects to release the as-yet-untitled disc this September. (Sample song titles: “Wonder Woman”, “Step Up”, “Boy Blue”, “My House”, “Falling”.) We talked with Butler about the new album, the work he’s done with Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, and the fact that he’s living in Denver these days.
Pitchfork: Are you done with the new album?
AB: Yeah, I’m totally done. It’s trippy. It’s been five days since I’ve been done, so it’s still kind of like, “Am I done? Wow, I’m done. Yeah, I’m done.” So I’m done. In my world, I love this notion that songs are never finished, that they can be remixed endlessly, that there are a million ways to listen to or to present one song. In some ways, that’s part of the fun of the live show; you can sort of do that kind of thing. But a record is a record, and it’s finished. I did have some anxiety, and after I was finished, I wouldn’t listen to any of it for five days– literally until yesterday.
Pitchfork: How’d it sound yesterday?
AB: I love it. I worked with this co-producer, Patrick Pulsinger, who’s amazing. I’ve admired him for a long time, since I was a teenager. He’s a techno producer. He used to run a record label called Cheap Records in the 00s and late 90s, but he’s been producing since his first record came out in ’93, I think. I first heard about him because he was the resident DJ at the Limelight in New York with DJ Keoki when Michael Alig and the whole Club Kids thing was happening.
I went to his studio in Vienna, and he had everything. He had the 808, the 909, the 606, the 202, the 303, the 101. I was really excited. We did a little test run on some club-oriented stuff. I just wanted to do a really classic techno-sounding track, and I had a really wonderful experience with him. He facilitated the process perfectly, and he’s a really wonderful person. I decided to do the whole album at his place in Vienna, and when we were done Patrick looked at me and said, “Okay, it’s finished.” He was like, “You’re not calling me for a week.” I’m just glad I don’t have to call him and say, “But please! Track three!” I’m happy with it.
Pitchfork: You’re living in Denver right now. That’s interesting, since the first Hercules album was such a New York album.
AB: When the first record came out, I had been living in New York for 12 years. I had somewhat of a developed ear in terms of dance music when I moved to New York. House music had infiltrated all of the smaller cities in the Midwest. I was close to California, where some really great DJs took house music in this other direction. These were the guys that inspired me; they were playing lost classics, and they were huge admirers of the Hot Mix 5 and the Chicago people and the Detroit people. I really learned a lot secondhand from these guys. I went to New York knowing Arthur Russell and Masters at Work’s seminal tracks.
When I got there, I was in a bar ordering and to my left was Lem Springsteen from Mood II Swing. I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m in New York City and all of these people actually are here.” New York was genius because I got to meet all these artists that I really admired, and I also got to dig through record collections that didn’t exist in Denver and other cities. The education in terms of the sound of New York came alive while I was living there. But I’m a songwriter; I’ve written songs since I was a kid. This record is more of a testament to the fact that I just write songs; I’m not interested in just being a historian who’s making referential music.
Pitchfork: So this album is stylistically less referential?
AB: I would say so. It’s always trippy because I’m a trippy dude. But there’s definitely jacking house on it, and there’s definitely even more full-blown disco, but there’s also more experimental soft music. When I was 15 years old, someone gave me Brian Eno’s Another Green World, and that record became one of my favorites. For this record, I wanted to be able to assert myself and say, “Brian Eno can write simple, beautiful songs that really resonate, and I feel like writing those songs, too.” They might all pale in comparison to the simplest soundscape on that record, but I wanted to explore and just take more liberty as an artist.
Pitchfork: Did you work with any of the same vocalists as last time?
AB: I did. Kim Ann Foxman is the one vocalist who stuck with me. She’s probably my dearest and most loyal friend in life, and it was this aesthetic bond that we had from the moment we met. It’s been tremendous, tremendous working with her over the past two years because she’s developed into this really great singer and an amazing personality publicly.
Pitchfork: Does Antony sing on this one?
AB: No. It was a trip working with Antony because we were just hanging out over the course of five years, going into the studio every now and then. There was no intention of an album. There was no intention of even a single. I was just like, “Oh, Antony has a good voice.” This was before I Am a Bird Now. He knew I liked electronic music, and we went into the studio and worked and worked and worked. Then, all of a sudden, an album came to pass.
There was definitely some hesitation on his part. He was like, “Wow, five songs on your record. I feel a little bit like I’ve pushed my way a little too much.” I was really honored to have him on the record, but I knew and he knew that it was important that I establish myself outside of his participation. His career was big at the time the first Hercules album came out, and it’s now even more monstrous. I mean, he’s touring the world with 40-piece symphony orchestras and shit. So Antony is not involved, but I feel really fortunate in the guest vocalists I have on the record. I feel like they’re some of the most unbelievable raw talent. I really lucked out. Magical stuff happened.
Pitchfork: Who else do you have on the album?
AB: There’s a woman called Aerea Negrot. She’s born Venezuelan, lived in Berlin for six years. She’s a classically trained singer, but her voice is just ridiculous. It spans numerous octaves, and she evokes some of the classic, classic singers– female divas from even pre-disco times. Her hero is Yma Sumac. She’s a very Latin big-voiced kind of lady, but what she’s done for me sounds like I have one of the best, most ferocious disco vocalists from the 70s appearing on a record, which is really fucking cool. She’s a solo artist, as well. She’s in the works as well with the label BPitch Control, a Berlin techno label. Her own thing is very experimental, very improvisational, and very performance-oriented. This girl comes from a similarly performance art background, the same way Antony does.
I’ve also got a vocalist named Shaun Wright. When we played Irving Plaza for the first time, we had all of our dancers and it was really fun. I was looking out into the crowd, and I saw this boy. He had this really great ‘do. They’re dreadlocks, but they almost looked like shoulder-length braids with a fringe, very Sylvester or Rick James. In the middle of the set, I just thought to myself, “We’re so lucky to have a boy that’s able to express himself and look so cool in our audience. We’re going to play this show for that boy right there.”
After the show, there was a party at a store called Opening Ceremony, and he showed up. I told him I saw him at the show and I thought he looked like Sylvester, and he said, “Let me tell you something. I can sing like Sylvester, too. Maybe it’s a little bit more like Jeffrey Osborne, but I can sing.” A month later, I got a demo in the mail. I could tell that the boy could sing. I started having him come over to my house and sing and sing and sing, and we started writing songs. His mother was a singer growing up. He sounds like he grew up singing in church. It’s the kind of voice that was lacking on the first record– a really truly soulful, big, beautiful voice. And on top of it, he just looks so goddamn cute. He’s the sweetest person in the world.
And just as a side note, I’ve been working with Kele from Bloc Party.
Pitchfork: Is he on the record, too?
AB: There is a chance. We became quite fond friends this year, and we’ve done some really interesting, cool stuff. I really hope something comes of it. I think something will. That’s probably as much as I can say about it.
Pitchfork: He’d be an interesting fit for you. He’s a great singer.
AB: He is. He’s got such a pretty, special, wild voice. It’s almost untamed, but it’s so beautiful. We were in the studio at one point, and I was having him sing on dance tracks. He picked up an acoustic guitar and just started singing because he was bored. I swear to god it was like hearing Joan Armatrading.
Pitchfork: Do you have any idea when the new album will come out?
AB: Yeah. It looks like it’s going to be a September release, with potentially a single or two in the summer.
Pitchfork: Do you have a name for the album yet?
AB: I have a tentative name. I don’t really even want to say it because it’s tentative. I sing on a couple of songs on the record and I’m more proud of them this time than I was on the other one. One of the songs I sing on might be the title track.
Pitchfork: And are you looking forward to touring on this record?
AB: Yeah. I’m so excited about it. Touring last time was a little scary for me because it was the first record and it was such a studio project. I’d never really done anything like that before. The first year of recording, I spent most of the time in San Francisco working in the studio with one of the guys from Meat Beat Manifesto. He was engineering and helping out and co-producing a little bit, and he helped me put together the new live show. It’s turned into a more, in a way, spectacular techno-y live club show. The response thus far has been really, really positive. It’s just these three singers that are so striking and different, but they have such a wonderful rapport onstage. It’s showing off for fun and all in the spirit of good times. In some ways, it feels a lot less like work than the first time. Maybe touring just gets easier as it happens.