Andy Butler is an electronic artist who makes sure to push as much weird creativity into his music as possible. His band, Hercules and Love Affair, has covered more ground than most acts I have ever heard while maintaining a loyal fan base. His cast of characters changes, enough to make you wonder if it’s even the same band, with Budgie from the legendary Siouxsie and the Banshees, or the LGBTQ favorite John Grant. His new album In Amber is something from a different universe.
Jeremy Hinks: Hello Andy, thanks for taking the time, I guess you are in G(h)ent Belgium right?
Andy Butler: Yeah, I’m in Ghent, and you even pronounced it correctly.
JH: Yeah I have always had a great time over there, especially where you are, you have Front 242, K’s Choice, Lords of Acid, and I’m sure you’ve rubbed shoulders with Praga Kahn.
AB: Not knowingly, though I was listening to his music, buying the industrial music, Front 242, and all those guys, I have sat down and interviewed Luc Van Acker, from Revolting Cocks, and I learned a lot about the country and the music that emerged from here till I moved here. I didn’t realize how eclectic and artful the music from Belgium is and what’s come out of here for the last 40 years. But, no never met Praga Kahn.
JH: Well, I have seen them a few times, Shot their shows, they are a huge sex fest. I think Praga Kahn decided he would tell dirty jokes and stand behind a keyboard and call it “Lords of Acid” and people would pay money to see it.
AB: That’s interesting to hear, I liken that to “My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult” yeah, a heavy dose of humor in both bands.
JH: Oh man, my interviews with Frankie and Buzz, those guys are great. Total champs.
AB: Yeah, hearing those early WAXTRAX records, it was definitive, it was live altering in a way, I got a shock and a buzz out of it, which became much more enthusiastic about electronic music. And Al Jourgensen is a big hero to me, but he is a huge inspiration, getting on stage with a motley crew of characters and just raging and going for it. In that Chicago scene, I encountered as a kid, I had never really met any of those folks. I saw Al Ministry in 1992 with Helmut and Sepultura, it was an absolutely terrifying experience in terms of the energy in the room, and the way people were responding to the music, it was something I’ll never forget. I participated to the degree that I felt like I wanted to, then I was like “I’m out” going to the back of the room. I don’t remember a whole lot coming out of his mouth in terms of interaction. He was there for business, it was an amazing show.
JH: Congratulations on the new album, by the way, I have been listening to it, and enjoying it. I was expecting stuff like “Blind” in the earlier work, cause every song and album was different, but this new stuff, I was shocked, it was so different. Took a while to digest it, I asked myself, “What happened in this guy’s life to make THIS album.” But when your publicist said, “I got Andy from Hercules, do you want to talk to him, he got Budgie on drums.” I was FREAKED OUT, of course, man. I mean last time I met Budgie, I had hair. So, anyway, I put the album on, and it got more and more intense, and then now, it’s some of the most cerebral work you have ever done, also the darkest.
AB: Thanks, I guess I wanted to explore and I did, Anohni joined the party early on in the making of the record. You and I talked about industrial music and living in this town, near a 13th-century castle a 3-minute walk away from me, cobblestone streets, you talk about the intensity or the shift may be dealing with different topics than I have ever dealt with, and exploring sounds I never looked for on a Hercules record before. I think a couple of things happened, I have been Djing for 30 years, and I had my first DJ Gig when I was 15 years old. Dance music has been a huge part of my life, I was an avid record collector, and lover of all things house music techno and disco, and I felt and I feel like on some level I started to experience a rigidity, nor a formulaic thing, I just wanted to break free from. On this album, some songs are written in different time signatures. Before I was locked into this four-to-the-floor kind of thing. But I need to challenge myself as a musician, I want to take risks, and this is something as you said, the records have been varied, they have involved lots of different singers. They have gone into different sonic fields and influences you can hear across different records. This one was taking some bolder steps. I have been focusing more on the spiritual life, I started to explore different sorts of contemplation. For over 10 years I have been working on other projects, my younger brother is the singer for a great death metal band. He and I have been collaborating along with the guitarist from his band “VASTOM”, who toured with me for many years. We have been working on songs for almost a decade that is ten times heavier than anything on “In Amber”, this is also an aspect of me, I guess music journalists and fans want to easily digest you and limit you once you have expressed yourself and made an impact. And people want you to say the same thing over and over. I wanted an outlet, we have all lived through some weird years. Things are speeding up faster than ever have. This record asks people to slow down in ways that are different from than ways they were accustomed to. There is a lot of rages, and a lot of things to be angry about over the past 5 years. It’s just as reflective of my inner journey as well as my influences.
JH: Yeah, I LOVE that, how artists can do what they want, and snub their noses at their fans. For example, Peter Murphy and Bauhaus, HATE goths, he even sings songs about that. I love that you can say “This is the music I am going to make, I appreciate you dropping $30 to see me in concert, so, since I don’t make money on streaming, I hope you come to the shows”.
AB: Yeah, it’s not to say NO to the early work, you come to my show, you will hear “Blind” but you will hear it through the lens of “In Amber” you are going to hear a lot of the music that you know, but you are not going to hear it as you might expect. Maybe it’s the remixer in me, a remix can go anywhere, and great remixes specially re-imagine things. I don’t look over the body of work at this point with the new record and think “How is this all making sense together?” to me, it makes sense because I lived it and expressed it all, but the live show reflects and sort of maybe connects the dots and could and would connect the dots for people.
JH: What happened for me, when I pushed play, and I thought I was listening to late 80s Julian Cope, at first, this is NOT “Blind”, he has clearly gone somewhere, so cool and so bizarre. Like your song, “Grace” was like Gavin Friday on a good day with a Strangler’s bassline.
AB: Oh thank you, that’s sweet, I’d say my partner is a bigger Stranglers fan.
JH: Well, you are crossing so many genres here, I thought it is going to be a wild ride. The powerful lines in that song. I’m showcasing this record, but it will take you into a darker place, but lets at least have something to dance to.
AB: Yeah, grace on some level ended up being more bouncy and up-tempo because Budgie got involved, once he got playing the tom drums, and giving a rolling bouncing moving tracks. Then it became the “Dance” track from the album. I guess in some ways uplifting, there is this little synth line at the end, I put the SH101 I added the synth “Oh that’s brightening the whole drastically”. I thought it was like this poppy Cure track “Close To Me” in my head The Cure is a band that played with emotion well. They could brighten things in this shiny fun kind of way while maintaining the fundamental gloom. Of course, the lyrics are pretty dark, but it’s one of the brighter and more redemptive “Make you feel good” on some level kind of song.
JH: Yes, different from the rest of the record, but my fave song was “Dissociation”, it was the mix of everything, all the noise at whatever levels of uptempo, downtempo that was the balancing point there. The lyrics “I’m, here, reel me in, I am at war with reality and the horror it’s become, we are the color in this greyscale world” I’m looking to dissect.
AB: Well, “Dissociation” was very much written from the perspective of staring at screens and losing a sense of reality, information disinformation, what’s true, my sense of self my sense of virtual self. Disorientation and the need for grounded-ness more than ever in my life. Feeling like it’s so easy to be thrown off your game if you just are constantly staring at a screen and living virtually. And then thinking a lot about young people growing with that as their norm, so it was very much a song about reconnecting, connecting, “Look at me in my eyes, I am here next to you, I’m here, just come back”. Melodic hooky, on some level, we veer to extremes, like Anohni on “Christian Prayer”
JH: Yeah she’s one of those voices that grabs your soul, she is up there with Lisa Gerrard, the kind of voice that refuses to go pop, because pop wouldn’t do her justice, pop can’t handle what she would give us.
AB: Yeah, when we met one of the first conversations was our mutual love for Elizabeth Fraser, you know Lisa Gerrard, Liz Fraser, Sinead, these voices, just untouchable.
JH: Do you know Azam Ali?
AB: No I don’t.
JH: She is a Persian vocalist, from Iran, who sang in “VAS” and on the “Children of Dune” soundtrack, a must-love for all fans of Lisa Gerrard and Liz Fraser. You’re welcome.
AB: Thanks for the rec, taking notes. Yeah, Anohni told me how much she loved those voices, and that was a starting point for us.
JH: In your song “Who will save us now” I would have thought I was listening to Nina Simone. You know who she is right? Wait, a gay man of course you know Nina Simone, never mind.
AB: Interesting that you say that, I can see that now, obviously with much less of a virtuosic piano to the music, but yes the journeying and the space and vocal delivery.
JH: Yeah I loved it cause of what it sounded like, I didn’t care what it was or where it was coming from, I just loved it. She could have been singing about opening a pickle jar, it was just wonderful. Though the lyrics are way too dark. “Whip and slash, live as great lords, if we are caught and hang on the gallows” What was that one about?
AB: I think that the writing process was a very unusual one, Anohni is very spontaneous, I can’t speak to her lyric writing, truly her unique expression, the chorus we wrote together, the sort of overall sentiment of the song is just about this endless consumption, this need that compels people to reap and sew and reap and sew, to immerse yourself, where there is no real nice endgame. When all that’s driving you is this pit in your stomach “I need more” it doesn’t end well. That was more or less it, “the fear of having nothing compelled me to take it all” is one of the lines from the chorus, I think that encapsulates it.
JH: There were some real nihilistic end-of-the-world lyrics in this. I didn’t see that there were any boundaries of where you were gonna go with this record. Again “Oh yeah Hercules and Love Affair” then WHOA, well, its’ got all the right names on the credits, I enjoyed it, and I hope the fans are ready for it. Might not be a dance record, but very introspective.
AB: The audience, and how they consume and appreciate it or DON’T, it did cross my mind, but Anohni has a very wise sense when she said “let them decide for themselves”. My audience expected change, maybe not THIS much change, but they expected multiple collaborations and new characters popping up. And they are smart and open-minded music-loving people, so I’m hopeful.
JH: Ok, so your song “Do You Feel The Same?” was rather homoerotic, the video was, and watching everyone dancing in front of the barn in the desert, then dancing in front of the boat with the PVC pipes piled up. Dancing next to a desert next to the swing set. Then the lines “The next time I make it to heaven, I’ll make sure I’m not alone”.
AB: That was a piece of dance music, speaking to heartbreak. Another thing I wanted to break free from with this new album, I had written a lot of songs, not just love lost, or heartbreak, but there is this very classic storytelling that takes place in a lot of dance music. And that one is a lot about unrequited love, “Do you feel the same?” but also not making mistakes that you have made before in relationships, which I think is very relatable for most people.
JH: Then “My Secret Love, My secret love of the man, my secret love of the fight”, was that part of the anxiety of coming out?
AB: That is another one of Anohni’s lyrics, so I can’t speak to that one. The writing process varies, I will present a song, with lyrics, like on “In Amber”, there was hardly any co-writing in terms of lyrics. That was one example of her bringing in these sets of lyrics. So it’s funny because some of the songs, I can’t entirely tell you what they are about.
JH: But that could easily have been about that, the young kid who is gay and can’t get through it.
AB: YES, that interpretation makes a lot of sense, and people probably have that interpretation, but that song also has later in the lyrics “I slept with rocks, I slept with stone, stone was my home”, these lyrics were stark and dark against the disco. She comes from that history and tradition of darker music. She has a very different approach to lyrics that is very different than mine. While I write in a kind of obtuse way, she had this amazing ability to provoke with few words somehow saying so much with so little. It is also so varied with this record. I am taking seven musicians out on the road, all of which have collaborated on different projects. In Amber is representative of the nature of how far I’ve explored.
JH: So can you tell us where “Hercules and Love Affair” comes from?”
AB: Well, I grew up loving Greek Mythology, and I went to this sort of, progressive school, and there was a class “Homosexual Representation in Greek Myth”.
JH: Ah, that’s totally your bag then. What more could life be about?
AB: Yeah I learned these other stories about Hercules, one was this great love of his life that drove him to insanity and it was another man. I thought here I am learning this contradiction, in society being told that being attracted to men is a sign of weakness, and in line with femininity, and femininity is bad, and how interesting to see it this way.
JH: Yeah, the strongest man on earth having sex with other men, not very masculine.
AB: Not only that, but that it was his weakest vulnerability, something about it just felt right. At the time I was a self-professed disco nerd, and there was a disco ring to it. There was this hedonistic idea.
JH: You know, I told Thelma Houston that there is no such thing as good disco made by straight, white, men. Case in point was The Bee Gee’s album “Spirits Having Flown”, that album is what KILLED DISCO. BUT, I associate great disco with the marginalized communities.
AB: In Europe, It wasn’t that heavy “Burn the disco”, it didn’t have the same impact in different cultures here. So Eurodisco carried on. There were a few heterosexual disco artists in Italy that were good.
JH: YES, Ken Lazo, Gazebo, I can listen to that stuff all day long, but “Tragedy, when you feel so low and you’ve got no soul,” that is crap.
AB: But, on that, when I was able to recognize those things about myself that I was attracted to men, it was those goth and punk kids that were helping me, they were the ones I was identifying with. That was the first place I saw all that messaging. So in some ways, this record acknowledges this was for me to accept outside of myself, was in those communities.
JH: Yeah, for me in high school, we were the punk, goth, new wave kids, going to punk shows, everyone was welcome, we welcomed the gay kids to punk shows, “You are loved, but we aren’t really sure where you fit in, or where you will stand, but … welcome”. We were not trying to be insensitive, but not sure how they clicked into the dynamic, but you are loved here. But back then “Punk” was “Hey FAGGOT”.
AB: Yeah, it was great where they welcomed us, the goth, and punk places, “Hey come sit at our table”, despite that discomfort, there was “you are one of us”. That had a big impact on me, that simple act of acceptance didn’t need to go much further than that. It’s hard to find an ally these days, and this record shows those spaces where we were trying to find that.
JH: Yeah, there were situations where I was REALLY uncomfortable being around gay people as a young teenager, finding my own place was hard enough, but we would TRY, even pretend not to be uncomfortable at times. Looking for common ground, it was easy when we were all at the same club dancing to Divine and Depeche Mode. Here is my final question, What would your message be to the young queer kid who is in the closet, and afraid?
AB: I would say take your time, I would say that your value is not determined by anyone else, anything else, you have an intrinsic eternal value. You have people in your life that will be there and support you when you do make the step to come out. It’s scary, but you have to recognize your own value and live your life for yourself.
The full audio of tangents, and ramblings of record stores, and even costume shops can be heard here