Andy Butler’s relationship with electronic music grew from a passion for early disco. The musician started collecting disco records for seven years before he penned “Blind,” the dance hit that would take him and his musical collective, Hercules and Love Affair into the Billboard 200. He fell in love with the genre because of the way it fuses electronic and organic sounds, so he continued to experiment with both.
The musician got his start writing and performing music for art projects while attending college at Sarah Lawrence in New York City. The city was on the tail end of a ’90s disco revival and Butler was caught up in the heart of it.
Fellow performer and former Hercules contributor Kim Ann Foxman booked Butler for his first-ever DJ gig as part of her notorious series of theme parties, Mad Clams. After Butler DJ’d for a while, Foxman asked him to start writing some of his own theme songs to enrich the atmosphere.
Soon, Butler started having friends sing over his instrumental creations. Most notably, he paired up with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons to put together the instrumental masterpiece that would become “Blind.”
“It truly is a lot about friendship [and] getting a good vibe from the person I am potentially collaborating with, whether it be a keyboard player or a singer and going from there,” Butler says.
After a couple years of casual collaboration with other musicians, Butler’s friends began to suggest that he take his tracks to a record company. Butler went label shopping, and he was soon signed to DFA Records, the dance-punk and disco label fronted by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
Butler and his musical collective released their very first self-titled album soon afterward. The virtually unknown group exploded, crashing the best of lists for the year 2008 and the dance scene at large. In their well-trained hands, the genre was brought back to the mainstream music world for the first time since the ’90s.
Butler and his Hercules project have now migrated to indie label Moshi Moshi and Butler has moved to Denver, away from the hustle and bustle of the New York City lights that seemed to inspire the group’s first record. And the new album, Blue Songs reflects that departure.
The record has left behind much of the modern disco sound that made the group’s first self-titled release so popular. The Hercules line up has changed dramatically since the group’s premiere. Collaborators Nomi Ruiz and Antony Hegarty have been replaced by Shaun Wright and vocalist Aerea Negrot.
But the music the group is creating is as innovative as ever. Genre-rocking tracks like album opener “Painted Eyes” feature Negrot’s awe-inspiring vocals. Single “My House” brings back the catchy dance sound with a hook that’s impossible to dislodge.
Much of the record was recorded in San Francisco with electronic producer Mark Pistel who’s worked with musicians such as Grace Jones and also occasionally performs live with Hercules. Then it was off to Vienna where Butler used famed techno producer Patrick Pulsinger’s skills to rework the album. “His attention to detail was essential on the record,” Butler says.
Butler wanted to make a traditional-sounding techno song and Pulsinger’s experience as frontman of label Cheap Records till the early 2000s really helped him get there. Butler’s experience with Blue Songs was colored by something a little different than the group’s first record.
“I had many different influences,” Butler says “But [mostly] straight up house music, the Detroit techno guys, electro funk, Sly and Robbie Productions, Sinead O’Connor, Brian Eno, Ultramarine and polished disco music.”
Butler says despite the changes on the new record, he’s not nervous about following up the group’s smash hit self-titled release. “I think our fans are pretty specific people, and honestly, they will get it,” Butler says. “Our new live show is way more mesmerizing and fun than the first so, I expect only the best.”
Blue Songs pursues dance innovation by revisiting the past. There is still heavy disco influence, but much of the record seems to be inspired by the disco-related organic sounds of early Chicago house music. The industrial and mechanical sounds of Detroit techno greet them head on. It’s game-changing, but there’s much more to come.
“I need much more time with just a piano before the next Hercules record comes out,” Butler says.