If Hercules & Love Affair’s previous album The Feast of the Broken Heart was a revelatory compilation of dance floor anthems, their new record Omnion (out Friday, Sept. 1) is a collection of glittery nu-disco hymns to queer sexuality, loving oneself, and repenting for past mistakes. It begins with a heartfelt appeal to the divine and comes around again with a hopeful look at the world with brand new eyes.
The project, helmed by DJ Andy Butler, is a revolving door of sorts that welcomes talent both embedded within the queer community as well as its allies, taking the highs of lows of life and weaving them into funky, danceable tracks with nuance and sincerity. Omnion is at times sexually charged, introspective and mournful, but no matter the subject matter it’s always stitched together with thumping disco beats. It’s an experience best devoured all at once.
We caught up with Butler about Omnion, spirituality and why he decided to stopped collaborating exclusively with queer artists: “I thought in a way this would be an exciting and interesting way to approach people outside of my immediate identity and enter into a dialogue.”
Omnion is a multifaceted album that explores themes of spirituality as much as it does queer sexuality, and often the lines can be blurred, as with “Controller” and “Omnion.” For some, expressing their identity is as freeing as believing in a higher being. Was it your intention to give both songs double meanings, with that in mind?
It was not conscious, but during the writing process, some of them sort of appeared, and it was like, “Wow, that’s cool” with Faris [Badwan], specifically on “Controller.” I knew I wanted to use the metaphor of being led through life when talking about spirituality for instance, and even the other song that Faris co-wrote with me. But it wasn’t until he started writing it and put pen to paper that I saw things like the words “use mem” and “show me all of your power,” and things like that. There was almost a double entendre, like an S&M meaning that could be read into all of the lyrics. It was something that appeared during the process.
If the song “Omnion” is a dialogue between a broken man and a deity, “Epilogue” brings the spirituality flowing through the album full circle with a children’s choir and a hopeful-sounding sendoff. In the end, after all the darkness, you’re ready to look forward again. Was this an intentional theme?
It’s so funny, not at all. For the album, I ended up having quite a few intimate conversations with myself and in certain moments had a very personal conversation with a higher power, sort of like writing prayers. These songs happen to be kind of like prayers in a way. “Epilogue” was born out of just having a really beautiful experimental piece of electronic music that I knew I wanted children’s voices on.
Initially I was exploring using sample voices of children. Then, it was revealed to me that I had a group of little girls learning how to sing in the studio next to me once a week. I was encouraged by the guy who runs the studio to ask them if the girls were going to sing on the record. What I ended up doing was just writing a sort of prayer asking that they go through life with courage and with an open mind. That’s sort of what the lyrics really say, essentially a hopeful sort of request from the divine to remain open, flexible, and courageous. It was really cool to hear [the girls] singing those lyrics.
There’s a dreamlike quality to the album punctuated by ethereal voices, and this time around you’ve chosen to invite queer allies like Faris Badwan on “Controller.” Is it important to you that you include not only queer voices but others who lend their support to the LGBTQ community as well going forward?
Yes, this was the first time that I actually ended up working with people who don’t identify as LGBTQ, but rather would put their hands up and say they’re allies. I felt disheartened that there were so many factions, or there was a struggle to find allyship or alliances between different groups. Just the insanity of something like the gay pride parades not wanting to allow trans people to walk in them, or people not supporting other groups’ issues. Or like members of the queer community not recognizing the importance of a movement like Black Lives Matter.
Why is it harder now for us to come together? I thought in a way this would be an exciting and interesting way to approach people outside of my immediate identity and enter into a dialogue. It’s a little self-serving because it will make me feel a little bit better, and it will make me feel a little more hopeful. Hopefully, that will transmit and be shared with others.
“Rejoice” sends a funky, soaring message about pride in oneself, whether it’s your sexuality or your life in general. As a result it’s one of the most “in your face” tracks on Omnion. While the rest of the album is content with mostly quiet introspective, “Rejoice” appears to be a self-acceptance anthem. Did any particular situation inspire the song?
I went to one of my regular collaborators, Rouge Mary, who lives every day with a very firm faith, her feet on the ground, with strong beliefs. It’s been amazing to see Rouge on tour and to collaborate with her on these last two records and just to become closer and become friends with her because I am reminded so much that there’s stuff to be grateful for, and that there’s hope to be had. The message of “Rejoice,” is essentially, in spite of what you feel you’ve been presented, the challenges you’ve been presented, there’s always a reason to be grateful. That’s all her.
“Running” is empowering, with lines like “My feet won’t touch the ground,” referring to cutting the ties that weigh you down. It goes along with the themes of both spirituality and sexuality on the rest of the record. Are there any specific sentiments behind that song?
“Running” is a collaboration with Sísý Ey that came about during the height of the coverage of the refugee crisis. The idea of war-ridden areas was really hard to process. I hope that I don’t see the day where my home is bombed to bits and I have to leave everything I know, the people I love, my home, my identity.
It was just a moment where we said “Let’s try to imagine what these people are going through.” We wanted to highlight what that experience must be like. For all of us, I think it was a means of accessing the real story instead of the fake stories that have been so shoved down our throats in western media.It was a moment where all four of us artists try to inhabit, voluntarily, this incredibly terrifying existence, which, I guess, was a means of us processing.
Do you have any advice for any young queer artists looking to infuse their music with more introspective and thoughtful views while still making their music accessible?
The best piece of advice I could offer if you want to touch people is to be real. That’s the best for me. I tend to like real and raw things. I also think the other thing in terms of making the greatest work that you can is to make sure that you challenge yourself. When you feel like a song is done, there’s often more work to be done. Just push yourself. You might end up having to take a few steps back, but I think that’s something that all young artists should really try to do. Ask for more, fight for more, creatively fight for more. Just keep it real.