I’m kind of aiming for that place where house, techno and trance all meet, and they all become friends, and they invite you to a really special vibey place that feels a little bit like hell. But it’s not hell...
Hercules and Love’s self-titled 2008 debut was a glittering house- and disco-tinged collection of tunes with a studio-buffed sheen that, paradoxically, worked in synergy with main man Andrew Butler’s obliquely personal lyrics. The band’s follow-up, Blue Songs, is perhaps even more emotive in nature: “I will write the blue songs now/Mine will sing the song unsung,” as Butler writes in the almost-title track “Blue Song.” There’s also a more varied template of sounds on the new album, with plenty of delicate, downtempo cuts mixed among the floor fillers—but Hercules and Love Affair is at heart a party band, and they’ll prove it when they perform live as part of the Identity Festival. Magnetic recently caught up with Butler in the midst of an early summer tour of Europe.
How’s Europe going?
Really good. Right now, I’m so happy—I just bought a DVD of Divine Live at the Haçienda, which is really cool because I haven’t seen that before. It’s a pretty special thing, I think.
One can never go wrong with Divine. Speaking of the Haçienda, I’m guessing that you’re a fan of the music that was coming out of Manchester at the time.
Yes, and also the stuff that came after that, like Greg Wilson. A Guy Called Gerald…I’m even a fan of the Madchester sound. Happy Mondays played a little role in my life when I was a 15-year-old—I used to dance around to them as much as I was to house music. I was definitely into that indie-dance thing, that whole Summer of Love thing, stuff like the New Fast Automatic Daffodils.
Does the Madchester sound have any relevance to Hercules and Love Affair’s music?
Yeah, I think there’s an indie…well, I hate to use the word indie, but lets say there’s a rock sensibility to what we do. It’s very song-oriented, and dance music from the late ’80s and the ’90s became very track-oriented. House music was exploding when the Summer of Love thing was happening, but most of that house didn’t even have full vocal takes; they were just nasty acid-house takes. But the Madchester bands all had actual songs.
Didn’t you set up your label, Mr. INTL, specifically for that more old-school, track-oriented sound?
Yeah. I’m doing a lot more productions that are geared towards the Fingers Inc. end of things, the deeper end of the house and techno spectrum. I’m kind of aiming for that place where house, techno and trance all meet, and they all become friends, and they invite you to a really special vibey place that feels a little bit like hell. But it’s not hell—you just have to convince yourself that it’s not hell, but that it just feels a little scary.
I’ve never heard house music described in quite that way before.
It’s a very sophisticated, seductive sound, you know? I always think about that old Ron Trent song, where he just keeps saying “seduction” [“Seduction,” from 1995’s A Dark Room and a Feeling EP]. It’s that kind of middle-of-the-night vibe that’s a little creepy, and you’re a little freaked out, but at the same time you’re super excited. Mr. INTL is all about exploring that moment. But also, it’s not limited to that; we’ve had some releases that have been more fun, earlier-in-the-evening tunes, with vocoders and things like that. There’s room for a lot of different stuff. The period that we’re milking with Mr. INTL—’84 through ’95—is quite broad, musically speaking. There are so many places you can get inspiration from. There might have been an amazing record that came out on [industrial label] Wax Trax, and I can source that as inspiration just as much as I can source [late Chicago house vocalist] Darryl Pandy. People are always asking me, “oh, don’t you feel limited by sticking with that ’84 through ’95 thing?” And I’m like, “Dude, do you know how much music actually happened in that period, and how diverse it was?”
Hercules and Love Affair is about to tour the States as part of the Identity Festival. You guys are becoming old pros at this festival thing, aren’t you?
Oh yeah—we’ve played tons! Our festival experiences are in general really, really good, in both America and Europe—even if we’re playing in the afternoon, which can be annoying because we’re jamming out to dance music in the middle of the afternoon. But since we’re basically having a party on stage, people realize they should have a party, too, so it always seems to work. For instance, we were playing in this very heterosexual, potentially homophobic place—not the most open-minded place—but even there, we had hundreds of people dancing in front of us freaking out.
Do you think the fact that a band like Hercules and Love Affair can succeed in a place like that says something about the way society, or at least youthful society, is evolving?
Well, the key is the music (mimics the horn line to “Blind”). That’s always the hook. They’re generally well-crafted songs, if I must say so myself. But what keeps them there are the personalities on stage, and the fact that so many things are represented onstage that they might be curious how it could be like that. How is it that there’s a black man with dreadlocks; a little boy or a girl…I think it’s a girl; an amazing operatic singer who’s dancing and singing her heart out; and this butch-looking dude in the back, and they’re all together? People might kind of look at that and think, am I in there? Do I fit in? Ultimately, if you’re an authentic person, living like a good human being, doing some self-reflection and trying to be positive in the world, then you do belong there and you are part of it. I guess that would be our message. We all have a very positive attitude. We’re all very different, but are all very authentic, and we all love each other. People dig that, I think.