“As a kid I was reading every music magazine, paying attention to my favourite bands and I was aware of what critics would term ‘the sophmore slump’. I knew that there was this curse on the second record”.
Andy Butler sounds worried. Sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and in this case knowing the impact Hercules & Love Affair had on the nascent disco revival was almost crippling. Recorded in studios across the globe with a host of guest vocalists, second album ‘Blue Songs’ has an almost palpable edge. On the phone from Denver, the songwriter stops now and then to locate a certain track, a long lost house cut which has disappeared from everyone’s view apart from his. A vastly experienced DJ, the songwriter returns to the decks in order to gain inspiration for his second album.
“I definitely was pushing myself to not only find new music and connect to what is happening currently but it made me look back at my record collection and really find those jams which made me crazy as a 15 year old” he explains. “The first record, people heard ‘disco’ and they really went with disco to describe it. But I was born in 1978 so I didn’t live through disco but I did live through house music. The nature of DJing changed for me in that I was playing bigger clubs with more prominent slots and I had to find those tracks which would hit hard.”
Stepping outside the confines of Hercules & Love Affair, Andy Butler made contacts across the globe. Stumbling across crazy new sounds at every corner, what retained his concentration was the house scene which initially inspired him. Packed with references to the classic house era, ‘Blue Songs’ is sublime retro-Futurism, both an exercise in nostalgia and a continual search for identity. “It is retro, I’m not embarrassed to admit that” he asserts. “It’s funny that people use the word accusation when you’re described as retro, I don’t think being retro or looking back is a bad thing. I think that we embody a new spirit, there’s a new spirit which inhabits the song and that video. It’s not just a complete rip off of the 90s. I don’t worry about that, in terms of making music which might reference earlier days. If you want to call it retro it’s not offensive to me.”
Driven by guest spots from Antony Hegarty and trans-sexual diva Nomi, Hercules & Love Affair’s debut album was a shimmering, euphoric affair. Stripped basic down to their basic elements, the collective have returned with a decidedly edgy album. With more street sass on show, ‘Blue Songs’ swaps straight ahead ecstatic abandon for a defiant attitude. Recalling the recording sessions, Andy Butler reveals that ‘Blue Songs’ was driven by a difficult time in his life. “There were changes in my life – personal changes, relationship changes. Friends shifted, changed, left, came. The reality of music as work rather than music as just this passion which I have had since I was a kid inspired maybe some of the frustration which appears lyrically on the record. There’s also some sort of sad, therapeutic process involving thinking about sad moments in my life in general”.
However rather than dwelling on the past, Hercules & Love Affair push their energies into the transcendent power of house music, matching emotional tension to the kick of an 808 drum. “When we were recording ‘I Can’t Wait’ Kim Ann and I had a big fight that day. We went into the studio and she didn’t want to be in the studio so I was like “dude we have a studio, we need to use this I know I was being a dickhead but please channel it into the song”. So she ended up writing up half of the lyrics and if you listen to them they say things like: “I’m always by your side”. She’s singing to me, basically, saying don’t take me for granted because I’m a good friend and you’re really fucking up right now. It ended up on the record, and it’s a very personal moment which she and I had in the form of a banging house track.”
Far from a straight forward house record, ‘Blue Songs’ contains some startling guest slots. Leaving behind Bloc Party, Kele Okereke recorded his part before working on his own electronic project ’The Boxer’. “With Kele, he has a very, very British voice – the accent is very present” Butler explains. “He sings in something of an almost post-punk style, but in the best of ways. For me, when I heard Kele or thought about Kele it just reminded me a bit of Ian McCullough from Echo & The Bunnymen. That voice is a voice I have always loved, and always wanted to put on a dance track. Kele offered the same kind of longing and vulnerability, just a really great British post-punk voice. It just made sense. Then on top of that, which is usually key, is that we were really friendly. We had a great rapport so going into the studio was a joy, so that was kind of what made that work so well.”
Also working under the Mr Intl moniker, Andy Butler is directing his energies in completely distinct directions. Hercules & Love Affair are set to tour later this year, while Mr Intl is a more club-heavy sound. “I wanted to take a back seat, I thought this was an opportunity to create a vehicle, a forum for other artists who are interested in the same era, aesthetic of dance music as I was” he explains. “I wanted to help them get their music out, whether that meant co-producing it or just releasing it. Mr Intl is going to provide that for me. The other thing is that I only really got to bang bang bang when I got to do remixes for people. Hercules & Love Affair albums I want the freedom to be able to write a song like ’Boy Blue’ – a slow song which involves weird instruments and isn’t intended for Panorama Bar or Fabric. So Mr Intl offered an outlet for me to focus on something which would go over at Fabric. It was all about dance tracks.”
Ultimately, this is what drives Andy Butler. The ever expanding universe of house music takes in so many influences, such a disparate sonic panorama that there seems little sign of him surfacing. Throughout the interview the songwriter names specific records, at times inspired enough to hum synth lines down the phone, tapping out drum patterns on a nearby table. “It’s funny because if I go through a catalogue in my head of my favourite records. Why do I love those Little Louis Vegas records? Because there’s just so much joy in there, the uplifting piano riffs and the vocals are just so awesome and make me want to dance dance dance. Then if I go to Chicago I think about Ron Trent and some of the abstract house productions which were coming out of there, it’s like there’s so much depth and substance. It created an atmosphere and mood which wasn’t being explored even in disco. It went deeper, it was more subterranean. If I think about the San Francisco sound which was a bit groovier, maybe even a bit more psychedelic” he reminisces.
“There’s a lot of different reasons. Generally it’s the emotional content which house music can evoke, which is a lot wider than some people think. One of the issues I had with the first Hercules record is that disco was about a lot more than just ‘toot toot blow your whistle, get on the dancefloor!’ House music similarly has a range of emotion in it, you could hear songs which would make you cry. It’s really about the emotional content and how it works on the dancefloor.”
Hercules & Love Affair’s new album ‘Blue Songs’ is out now.