In Conversation with Hercules & Love Affair

Originally published in HISKIND Autumn ’17, out now.

Recovery is a subject no stranger to music. For Andy Butler, the process of rebuilding ones-self ultimately shaped his whole life around him, resulting in the finest record of his career.

The founding member of prolific queer dance collective Hercules & Love Affair, Butler’s struggles with addiction and the road to repair feed into fourth record Omnion like direct diary extracts, making for an emotional and all-round enlightening listen. Together with regulars Rouge Mary and Gustaph, Butler’s project mark their return with one of 2017’s most anticipated, acclaimed and deeply personal records.

The artist divulges on the relapse, recovery and stimulating conversation surrounding his most crucial record to date.

In what ways did the process of making Omnion differ from your previous records?

I wrote most of the first record at a moment in my life where I was choosing to stay in all the time and my fulfilment was from writing all these little songs. It’s a similar case for Omnion where I set up a small studio in Brussels and I’d just spend my days writing.

Sharon Van Etten and Farris Badwan (of The Horrors) both appear as collaborations on Omnion, how did these two wind up on the final record?

I approached everyone, other than people I’d already worked with. I knew that a certain kind of male voice would be appropriate for the two Farris appears on so the songs indicated themselves what they needed. Sharon was someone I came across via television and I remember instantly falling for that voice.

You’ve openly spoken about building a support group around you when discussing addiction and four years of sobriety. Who was in this support group and how did they impact the record?

I’m in the place I am now because of different kinds of people from different walks of life who all prioritise my health and sobriety, not for self-serving reasons. I didn’t have that before, I had people who would just throw their hands in the air and walk away from it because it didn’t serve them any purpose. Obviously, Rouge Mary and Gustaph were instrumental in helping me get better as they’d seen a steady stream of crisis and witnessed some pretty terrifying stuff.

When I took that first step conveying to my family that I was living differently, they all joined together and extended a welcome. I also worked with a doctor who was really instrumental in getting me healthy, largely done out of goodwill. She did it out of seeing someone who was a shell of a person and felt a duty to help.

Even promoters who’d worked with me over the years came out and helped lift me up and continued to offer me work and believed in me so there were people within the industry that were a huge help. I have to give credit to my manager too as he was really my number one advocate.

Does an experience like overcoming addiction make it easier or harder to create a record?

It was truly overwhelming how much there was that I had to say. Sensitivity, pain, happiness, all things that used to be controlled by substances so suddenly I had an unyielding rollercoaster going on inside. Releasing the content this time around has felt far rawer. The Pitchfork article that came out where I discussed everything quite frankly made me feel really sick all day and then strange for a few days after. I guess I just have a heightened sensitivity to a lot of things now, I’m more emotional than I ever have been.

Creativity is really easy to get into but performance can feel harder, especially the action of getting on stage and presenting a lot of the material. I do feel a bit more vulnerable.

You recently stated that “sometimes the dance floor represents a decision to avoid dialogue with the wider world” which holds an incredible strong resonance with the LGBTQ+ community and safe spaces, like nightclubs. What changes have you noticed within LGBTQ+ club scenes over your time as Hercules & Love Affair?

There’s more diversity and inclusion and more voices demanding all of that. People are defending their safe spaces and there’s dialogue that is existing around nightlife. I’d also argue that there’s more diversity in the actual sounds you’re hearing in clubs and DJs seem to be taking far more risks with the music. There’s an acknowledgement of other cultures in the musical selection, for instance it’s not uncommon to go out and hear great African music. It’s all about stimulating thought and making conversation in a direct way and getting people talking. I am very aware that there is still far more that can be done.

How do your dreams and aspirations with music at current compare to those at the start of Hercules & Love Affair?

I wasn’t particularly ambitions with making a career out of music, it never really went past ‘I’m going to sit at the piano and make a track.’ When I did that, the dream was fulfilled! Now I’m four records in, I really didn’t know I’d still be here making music with incredible artists and making magic happen. Outside of this, I’d like to see myself working for the community, something service orientated like teaching. My dreams are bigger now, bigger than the nightclub, bigger than one genre of music. Always musical.

Omnion is out now.

Words: Bill Baker

Photography: Sane Seven

Styling: Kamran Rajput

Location: Shoreditch Platform

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