So about three years ago now, I spoke to Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair. The name of the band is kind of appropriate because I felt like we had a brief love affair over the phone and it wasn’t even till afterwards that I knew what he looked like. It felt like we totally shared a moment and opened up to each other more than we had to anyone else ever before. I’m still waiting for him to call me back….
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How is everything going?
Yeah I’m super-excited. You’ll hear me talking about my Mum a lot - it’ll sound a little weird. I’m a 32 year old who lives in the same building as his mother. She lives 15 floors above me. So I see quite a bit of her. She’s very hip and really proud of me. This morning I saw and she asked me how I was doing. I said ‘I’m ok, I’m just very very busy.’ She was talking about this black cloud hovering and I said I don’t feel like there’s a black cloud so much as a tornado blowing around me. It’s not scary, sometimes it’s really wonderful exciting moments that are happening. I’m really excited.
Was that a Wizard of Oz reference?
I don’t know if you know this but, aside from Miss Piggy and the Muppets, I have a deep deep love for The Wizard of Oz….
It was just a guess.
No, truly. I used to have a sign in the style of an old picket fence which said, ‘No one gets in to see the Wizard. Not no one. Not no how.’ A reference to the Emerald City. Once my Mum had got over my first tattoo and I was on to my eighth or ninth, she suggested I get a pair of ruby slippers on my back and in Olde English written ‘There’s no place like home’. I was like ‘Mum, you have become really cool.’ We went from an issue of me having anchors on my arm as my first tattoo to now suggesting really cool, massive tattoos so it’s a pretty big change.
Did you get the ruby slippers done?
No. That’s a bit too gay but I love love love The Wizard of Oz. I could probably give you a fair, theoretically sound argument for why it is such an important story and movie. So if I did get the tattoo I would be able to explain the hell out of it. But I haven’t got it.
Mine would be a goat puppet from The Sound of Music. Not quite so glam.
Oooooohhhhh….See we should go on a movie date! I saw The Sound of Music way too young I don’t remember a thing about it. I do remember my Father and I went on a trip once, he was in the resort industry, and members of the Von Trapp family were performing. I was a seven year old watching them sing some yodle-ye-yay-hoohs. That’s my connection to that movie.
What was it like going back into the studio to record your second album?
Well, we didn’t stop. I had five years to write the first album. I didn’t have a label or anything. I was just writing songs. I ended up with a handful of songs that made an album. Then when I went on tour I became acutely aware that in one or two years time people will be expecting another album. Therefore I wrote and recorded most of the record on the road and in various cities around the world.
‘Step Up’ will be a big gay anthem, right?
I don’t know. I am too close to all this material. I will say that ‘Step Up’ evokes some of my favourite house-pop moments so I could see it doing well and being played on video. You can really sing along with it.
I was thinking about how it applies to Kele’s publicly coming out.
It’s interesting - this is why I think interviews can be so fascinating to me. You articulated something I never even thought of. The lyrics ‘Baby, you might just be like this, baby, this might be who you are.’ They were written about someone I was seeing who just couldn’t show up in the way I needed them to. It was really like maybe I just have to accept that is who you are. I never ever thought that ‘Well, yeah, Kele did have a public coming out and in some ways he may have had to say this kind of thing.’ So I guess in some ways it could be about being gay. You’ve informed me of that now. Isn’t that funny? I just wrote it from a really personal standpoint where I was really sad and frustrated about the way this one person was behaving in our relationship and Kele sang it so beautifully and he re-wrote some of it. And now it’s taken on a totally different meaning. You’re making me want to think about the lyrics now because I want to see how you interpreted it. It says ‘There is pain in being real, it’s not about how great it feels.’ So there again it could be a coming out story, you know? But it’s true, being authentic and being who you really are doesn’t always feel the best but it’s not about feeling good, it’s about being real. We’re examining my lyrics together…
I was obsessing over the track yesterday.
Yeah see, that was one of the first ones I loved. When Kele and I first did that track, we finished recording and he looked at me and said ‘Girl, I think we just wrote a Madonna song!’ I was like ‘Is that a bad thing?’ He was like ‘No, that’s not bad.’ My Mum heard it - see, I’m talking about my Mum again and she bumped to it in her car for like a month. It’s so cute she can sing the lyrics to all my stuff.
Like a soccer Mom?
I think she is more of a disco Mom! It’s weird she is not at all from that era. She was having children and a family. I won’t mention her age but she is in her 60s and she’ll come out to a nightclub and she will literally take her heels off and dance in front of the DJ booth with her hands in the air. I’m amazed when I look out and see my Mom dancing in the crowd.
Where did the name Hercules and Love Affair come from?
In Kindergarten in first grade, our teacher was reading us myths instead of reading us Dick and Jane. Then I went to Yale University and the interest continued, I studied homosexual representations in renaissance art from Classical times. Like Michaelangelo for example would use a certain motif of the myth of Zeus and Ganymede, where Zeus came down and grabbed this young, beautiful boy, took him up to heaven and raped him. Michaelangelo was obsessed with this story and drew fifty versions of it or something.
Then I came to look at the story of Hercules and of course I knew most things about Hercules before I got to college but then I found out he was homosexual, he had a couple of torrid love affairs with men. One of which drove him crazy, he lost his love on a journey and the rest of the crew needed to leave the island but Hercules said ‘I won’t leave without my lover.’ But I liked this image of the strongest man on Earth being broken over his love for another man - it was something that just really inspired me. I thought it seemed like a really catchy name and to me it sounded like a disco band. Those were good enough reasons.
Do a lot of people put the word ‘the’ in?
Oh yeah they do. Does it piss me off? No, because I mean gramatically it should be there but I didn’t want to make it Hercules and the Love Affair because that’s really going to draw attention to the gap between the two. Someone is Hercules and someone is the Love Affair. I don’t want to be Hercules, my intention wasn’t to involve myself, with me as Hercules and everyone else as the Love Affair. I wanted it to be more obtuse and open to interpretation. But if people want to put ‘the’ in there, they can, they are just not saying it right.
What made you want to collaborate with everyone and not just keep it yourself?
It happened very organically. It sounds really pretentious or weird and I’m not like Charlotte Church but since 11 or 12 I’ve been writing music and my parents got me involved in writing music with a teacher. Then I was doing it on my own as a songwriter. I continued to write at University. Then I came out and I wrote in isolation. I write myself and then I just made some friends, one whom had this really good voice and happened to be called Anthony. He found out that I was a songwriter. I played him a song I wrote and I asked him if he would be willing to see it and he did and that was ‘Blind’. then I wrote a couple of other songs with my friends around me and I was like ‘Well maybe you want to sing this?’ So it just kind of turned out that all my friends sang on the record.
How was your coming out?
I’ve been examining it a lot in therapy recently. I grew up in a very macho household. My father was a semi-professional football player, I had three brothers, one of them was a State Champion wrestler. While I was playing American football, I came out of the closet and found a group of gay men who were partying at these warehouse parties on the weekend. They were older than me and they introduced me to a lot of stuff very early on. So by the time I got to 17 I was like ‘Oh yeah, crystal meth’, ‘Oh yeah, bath houses’ ‘Oh yeah John Waters movies.’ These guys really gave me gay culture and Gay Subculture 101 - the tough stuff really fast.
How did you handle that?
Well that’s the thing. Welcome to therapy, Andy Butler. I had to really look at what was going on. Some of it wasn’t great. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened in my life. I’m grateful that I didn’t lose control of my life, that I’m HIV negative and pretty much capable of expressing myself through my art. But coming out was wild, fast, angry and at points dangerous for me. That was my coming out story. My Mum said first of all ‘You know Andrew, this is your choice.’ And I said ‘You know what? It is my choice and I am happy to make that choice.’ Is it a choice? Well the only thing I will say is that I believe in choice. I like the idea that if one day I want to wake up and be gay and one day I want to wake up and be straight I should have the right to that choice. If I want to wake up one day and get my body tattooed I should have that right. But my mother found out because I kept bringing fag mags into the house. And one day she said ‘You need to stop bringing this trash into our house.’ And I said to her ‘OK, but you should know that I’m gay.’ This was when I was 15. Then later when I was 17 we had our moment and my Mum just really opened up to me. I had an uncle who died of AIDS. I didn’t even know he existed for a variety of reasons - partly because he was gay. My parents didn’t really let us know him. She loved him to death. He was her favourite sibling so she was just really scared what was going to happen to me. She had this irrational fear that I was going to die, that I was going to be alone forever, that I was going to be beaten up - all of those things Moms worry about when they find out their son is gay.
Did you worry about it?
No, I wasn’t scared about being beaten up. I was so used to being beaten up when I was younger that I wasn’t scared. I had a real punk attitude. It’s funny because when you look at the origin of the word punk, it used to mean fag. I was a punk in the sense that if you had an issue my sexuality then fuck you and my next line of communication will be my fists. I had a very angry attitude when I came out.
Are you political?
Yeah but I have a different take on the political spin. There was a period in my life where I was like ‘If you want to have sex in public, that’s cool, because that’s de-sensitising heterosexuals to male on male contact and they need to see that.’ Nowadays I think it’s more about having healthy gay role models, let’s try and offer alternatives. I’m much more interested in offering healthy spaces for young gay people, helping them find out who they are in ways other than drug use and things like that.
What kind of guys do you go for?
I like darker features. I don’t know. I like all types of man. I’ve dated so many different types of men. Generally I like tall and I like smart and of course a face is extremely important. I mean a body is kind of important to me but I like a chubby boy if he’s got a great face.
Are you seeing anyone at the moment?
No. That’s the why it’s going to be for a while. It’s about being time to just hang out with Andy…