When August Met Andy (Sort Of)
KID CREOLE AND THE COCONUTS, SADLY SANS ANDY BUTLER.
When Hercules and Love Affair released their self-titled debut album in 2008, many heralded them as the leaders of disco-revival, a return to pure dance music. Before them, though, came Kid Creole and the Coconuts, whom Hercules creator Andy Butler cites as a source of inspiration.
Kid Creole, composer, songwriter and bandleader for Kid Creole and the Coconuts, is August Darnell’s stage name. Originally called Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Darnell and his brother, Stony Browder Jr., combined elements from world music to create a new fused sound. Their 1974 self-titled debut album garnered a Grammy nod and Darnell continued to push out albums nearly every year. The latest Kid Creole and the Coconuts album, I Wake Up Screaming, is a collaboration between Darnell and Butler, and revisits not only the funk and groove sounds which made Darnell famous, but the legacy he has left on the dance music world. It was a long-distance partnership, made possible by the wonders of the World Wide Web: Darnell and Butler never worked in the same room.
Butler recently caught up with Darnell on the phone—the two still hadn’t met in person—to talk about the new album, dance music, and trying to top your own work. —Steven Gadzinski
AUGUST DARNELL: Hey, Butler!
ANDY BUTLER: Mr. Creole, how are you?
DARNELL: Are you in London?
DARNELL: Oh, I didn’t know you were in London, I thought you were calling from New York or something. [laughs]
BUTLER: I’ve seen you in person, but I’ve never met you in person. [Darnell laughs] I got to see you onstage at Central Park in like, God, 2000… the end of 2000. 2001.
DARNELL: That was a long time ago, man, that was like 2000. You know, it was before the Twin Towers fell, as a matter of fact.
BUTLER: It was.
DARNELL: We did manage to have a Skype session.
BUTLER: Yeah, we met in person on Skype.
DARNELL: Exactly. [Butler laughs] This entire project was the brainchild of Mr. Quinton Scott, bless him. And he was the one that first said to me, “I’m thinking of a collaboration between Mr. Butler and Mr. Darnell.” And he has a series, I forgot what the name of the series is, you might remember it, on his label that has collaborations. What was it called?
BUTLER: Oh yeah. It’s something, the essence of it is “meeting of the minds” or something. I don’t know what it’s exactly called. It’s interesting, though.
DARNELL: Yeah, it was interesting. But in other words it was a concept he had of two artists getting together and creating. It was basically Quinton Scott’s baby. He turned it over to both of us and we obviously got along famously, and said, “Hey, what the hell. Let’s do this.” And obviously, when I listened to Hercules and Love Affair and Andrew Butler’s output of work, I knew immediately that he was from the same world I was from in terms of dance music, in terms of groove, in terms of magic and love of lyric and music. So I knew immediately that the idea was going to work. The difficult part was because we were so far apart, I was in Sweden and—
BUTLER: And we were both touring all the time.
DARNELL: Colorado or Africa or California or somewhere. [laughs]
BUTLER: Yeah. Now, when I was asked by Quinton to work with you, I was immediately… well, it took a couple days for me actually to digest it. Because the history of his work – his body of work extends so far back—you hear it in everything, from Machine, “There But for the Grace of God.” All of these things I think a lot people don’t even realize that August had a hand in, or that you had the hand in. So, I can be, for instance, at my mom’s house dancing to a disco CD that has Machine on it, and my mom’s dancing with me, and then all of a sudden Quinton’s asking me if I want to do a record with you. And I’m like, “Whoa.” His records are some of the most-sampled records that have ever been sampled in house music. I mean, the samples, Machine, “There But for the Grace of God” was sampled so many times by the Masters at Work, by Chuck Perry, all of them. Out of sincere homage, of course. But then also the hip-hop community started to embrace, the “Cherchez la Femme” and everything came to fervor in the 2000’s. So your musical impact has been very far-reaching. And so for me, it was kind of like, “Whoa. I have a lot to live up to.” But that said, we went and it was just, “How are we going to do this? I’ll start writing some tracks, you’ll start writing some tracks, let’s just send them back and forth.”
DARNELL: That’s when the modern era took over for us. You obviously were doing your thing with the band, I was doing my thing with the band, but we still managed, out of respect to each other, actually, to send these tracks across the ocean to each other and to embrace the music as it was coming in. The interesting thing about the project for me, obviously, was the fact that I had never worked this way before. So this was a new adventure for me. I’m old school, I like to be in the same room with a bunch of musicians, creating, because that’s the way I started out. All those years ago with the Savannah band and with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, being in the same studio and jamming and jamming until you get it right. But this was a new adventure and I love new adventures. And as you started sending over these dynamite tracks, I got more and more excited because I knew that this album was going to take the Kid Creole journey into an entire new universe. And that’s why I’m so proud of the new album, because it’s obviously Kid Creole, but it’s Kid Creole plus something else.
BUTLER: Yeah, it’s definitely Kid Creole. For me, when I was writing or when I was starting to create tracks I would of course—I was really trying to evoke the essence—I mean, I danced around so many times to songs like “I’m Corrupt.”
BUTLER: No, like in my underwear, at my house. I had so many moments dancing to Kid Creole’s music that, for me, it was really about, “Okay, I have to channel exactly—as best I can—what he’s about.” Like, Dr. Buzzard’s. God, I mean, I remember listening to some of those records with an ex-boyfriend of mine. And we were listening to, maybe it was “Sour and Sweet,” and we were listening very, very closely. We don’t smoke pot or anything, but we were incredibly tuned into the song for some reason, and I remember being like, “How is music like this made?” [Darnell laughs] It literally felt like—and I told you this, Kid—but it felt like it had been beamed in from a satellite radio station in outer space. [Darnell laughs] And it had influences of Dixieland, of jazz, of calypso, of disco, of funk, and I was just amazed at how, how. I don’t know. How perfectly everything fit together and how it’s such an authentic sound.
So when I was writing the stuff, the tracks, the basics, I had a lot to live up to, and I was just trying to remember those essences, those moments when I was like “Wow, I experienced the essence of Kid Creole at that moment when I danced to ‘I’m Corrupt,’ or when I listened to that song with that boyfriend, or when I was at Central Park and I was in the conga line that just happened to form in the middle of New York.’ I mean it’s not normal in New York for strangers to embrace each other and actually have a conga line. And I remember being 20 years old—of course I always thought when my parents did the conga line I thought, “Oh my God, that’s so cheesy” [Darnell laughs]—and I ended up in the conga line at twenty years, and I was completely sincere, I was having the best time and I was like, “This is genius. This is community. This is Dominican families, this is gay men, this is black people, this is every sort of person and we’re all dancing together.” So I tried to remember all of those things from my history of knowing your music and then I just tried to impart as much as I could into the tracks.
DARNELL: Well, you were very successful. You were very successful in evoking the magic of Savannah Band. And I wish my brother was here to hear those words, because he would be very proud to hear you say that music sounded like it was beamed in from a satellite, because he used to describe it that way. He used to call it “cosmic dust,” and so he would be very happy to hear that description.
BUTLER: When I talk about your discography—of course I can go on the computer and look at all the things you’ve participated in, which is everything from Funkopolitan to the Z records—there’s no real pigeonholing. There’s no real… like I said, you blend so many different sounds. It could be a rock track, it could a disco track, it could be a hip-hop track—anything goes. For instance, “Rocking Down the House.” I loved when I heard his guitar soloing and his Prince sound. I mean, I felt there was a bit of a Prince influence. I don’t know if you would agree with that. Would you agree with that, Kid?
DARNELL: I think a lot of people have said that, so I would have to agree with it, because if I didn’t, it would sound like I’m deaf. [Butler laughs] But so many people have said, “Oh, there’s some Prince in that track.” But I think the interesting thing about that influence is that he’s obviously a pathfinder. Prince is a great pathfinder, much like yourself and me and my brother Stony and Coati Mundi and all the characters that helped form Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Savannah Band and Hercules and Love Affair—we’re all pathfinders. We’re all about finding that road less traveled. That’s why from the very first track you sent over, I knew—you talk about anything goes; that is exactly right, because when I reviewed your track right then, anything goes. The solo trombones on that track made me say, “Okay, this guy is just as crazy as I am, let’s get together.” [laughs]
BUTLER: One question I’ve always had for you—I remember when we first started talking about doing the record, you made a funny joke about Cory [Daye, vocalist for Savannah Band]. Not anything mean, just that she wasn’t available, or she wasn’t gonna get out of bed today. Which was very cute. But, Cory, is she still pursuing music or is she doing other things with her life? We never really got to talk about that.
DARNELL: If you think back two years ago, we wanted to put Cory on one of the tracks. You and I spoke about it, you asked me if Cory was available. I tried to reach out to Cory but couldn’t find her, she had gone underground for a while. But she’s still singing. I think she sort of has a bad taste about some of the activities that occurred after my brother passed away. Because of course Stony’s story and Cory’s story is a real story. They were truly, truly connected in a fantastic musical adventure that led to a romantic adventure that led to other things. So I think she needed time to just go underground and to chill. I’d love to reach out to her in the future. I hope she hears the song and realizes it’s from the heart.
BUTLER: That would be so cool. So you’re basically the little brother of her ex-boyfriend.
DARNELL: That’s it, that’s the story right there, my man. [laughs] Absolutely, and these two characters created. They would sit in the music room all day, all night, creating songs, and she would be singing her heart out. She had that incredible, stylized replication of her idols—Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee—all the greats, all combined into this new sound Cory Daye brought to the Savannah Band. She was just the best.
BUTLER: Cory Daye is definitely hair-on-end, you know, the hairs pop.
BUTLER: There are few singers that have that.
DARNELL: She put on a stamp on “Cherchez la Femme.” That was it, man. That was the first number one record in my life and the gold record and I can’t imagine anyone else delivering that song the way Cory does.
BUTLER: I haven’t heard about remixes coming out for the record, but I hope there are some. I hope we get to hear some of the songs on the dance floor.
DARNELL: Absolutely, absolutely, my brother. The dance floor, the dance floor is… [laughs] that’s heaven, man. There’s no greater feeling then when you’re on the floor and you hear your jam. It’s just a wonderful experience. Dance music in and of itself is a powerful, powerful genre that is not taken as seriously as it should be taken in the universe of music. Even the original dance bands, people forget this, the original Duke Ellington and Dorothy and Count Basie bands were dance bands, that’s what they were hired for. To go into great halls and clubs and make people dance. Of course the dances were different then, but it’s all about the dance. It’s all about letting your hair down and having a good time and enjoying life. And you know we have so much of that on the new album, it’s a powerful dance record as well.
KID CREOLE AND THE COCONUTS’ I WAKE UP SCREAMING IS OUT TODAY. FOR MORE ON AUGUST DARNELL, VISIT KID CREOLE AND THE COCONUTS’ WEBSITE; FOR MORE ON ANDY BUTLER, VISIT HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR’S WEBSITE.