Original Source: pitchfork.com
When Andy Butler’s debut album as Hercules and Love Affair was released nine years ago, it was a big deal, bringing disco and house music to an indie audience only beginning to explore new genres. Butler had been quietly writing songs for some years, never releasing them until his friend and collaborator Anohni pushed him to do so. He signed with James Murphy’s DFA Records and saw his music embraced critically. He hadn’t counted on this. After months of touring to promote the self-titled record, the pressures of a more public lifestyle became too much for Butler. After struggling with drugs and alcohol through his formative years, Butler had gotten clean at 21, but his newfound success led him back to substance abuse.
Now sober, after a harrowing period in his life, Butler has written about his experience as an addict on the new Hercules and Love Affair song, “Fools Wear Crowns,” from his upcoming fourth album, Omnion. It’s a quiet, slow song, as many of the best Hercules tracks are. Butler sings it himself, muted, over small digital gurgles, before a buoyant string section takes over. “I’m a fool when I’ve been drinking/I’m glad that I didn’t today,” he says, very simply. Here, in his own words, Butler explains how his life in music played into his addiction, and how music now helps him to share his path to sobriety.
I walked into a nightclub and the world of illicit underground parties at 15, and very quickly drugs became a part of my story. By the time I was 17 I had experiences with almost everything. I was pretty familiar with crystal meth. I was spending nights in bath houses when I was not old enough to be in them and not old enough to drink yet. By the time I was 21, I had gotten into a lot of trouble, and I was mandated to go to rehab. There were a couple moments in outpatient rehab that were important. One was this woman asking me, “Can you imagine your life without drugs and alcohol?” The first thing that I heard in my head, before I had a moment to process the question, was: No. No way. Impossible. I didn’t say it out loud, but I heard it in my head and that’s very scary. I acknowledged something was off with my relationship to substances so I got sober.
The way I talk about it is that I was thrown into a blender very young and I came out this mush by the time I was 21. It was a very strange experience, because it was of course peppered with these beautiful musical experiences in nightclubs. I had a very real—and have a very real—sincere relationship to dance music. It’s something I’m very passionate about, and I was all through my teenage years, but there was something else happening alongside it all that was really not right, not healthy.
I took that moment and at 21 years old I found myself on Friday and Saturday nights at home doing laundry and writing music, and not going to clubs, not being in bars, and not DJing for a long time. I spent three or four years making songs before Anohni said, “What are you doing with these songs?” And that whole process began. The [debut Hercules and Love Affair]record came out [in 2008]. Here I was just writing songs, not the most ambitious of musical artists. I was very pleased with the simple activity of writing a song. Before I knew it, I had a record deal. All of a sudden, the album struck a chord. [The record label was] looking at me like, “What are you going to do with the live show? You need to go play this music for people.” I was like, “Live show? What are you talking about?”
In the span of two years, my life went from being a waiter to playing Rock Werchter and Glastonbury—faking it, really, just trying to get through. It was terrifying. I put probably 65 shows behind me, but I hadn’t earned a cent. I won’t go into too much detail, but I had business people around me who were very pleased to be working with this green, naïve person. I hadn’t taken a drug or had a drink in seven years, and all of a sudden I found myself on this really grueling touring schedule.
We played a late show and the next day I had a 4 p.m. festival slot. I couldn’t sleep and someone on the tour had a Xanax. I felt so freaked out because it made me high and I hadn’t felt like that in a long time. I just didn’t tell anyone. Possibly, if I had talked it through with people… You have to understand, when you’re on the road and you have a support network back home in New York, it’s easy to, over time, lose touch with them and find yourself drifting. I decided that what I would do was figure out how I could get a prescription for Xanax. I can’t stress how intense it was for me at the moment to have all of this stuff going on. I felt a ton of pressure. There were fractures in [Hercules’] lineup. I was in a position where I had to mediate so many relationships and negotiate the well-being of people around me without ever really looking at my own well-being.
In retrospect, it’s not that unique of a story, but it’s kind of crazy that it happened to me. It started on tour [and over]four years, things got progressively worse. People came into my life who noticed a vulnerability and were pretty happy to maximize on that. There were other people who walked away for their own reasons, and they’re allowed to have their own reasons, but I lost a lot of people in that moment. There was no one who sat me down and said, “You have a problem.” My family even said, at one point, “You can’t contact us anymore because you’re a junkie and you need to go to rehab.” My response to my family was, “Well, I’ll just move to Europe.” I just left. I didn’t talk to any of my family for about a year and a half.
In that period, things just started getting way worse than ever. At one moment, violence started happening a lot. I found myself in fist fights all the time. I found myself mixing alcohol with various pills. I was having regular overdoses, finding myself in ER rooms. I had the moment where people were pounding on my chest to get my heart moving again. I was a shell of a person. I felt like this very small, simple, innocent activity that gave my life meaning—which was to write songs and make music—was gone. All of the business attached to that overtook it.
There were a couple of horrible things [that caused the drug use to stop]. I had a seizure on stage. In the middle of a show I fell to the ground, bit my tongue in half, and had to be dragged off stage. It was bad then, but like a month later it was way worse. I was in San Francisco trying to reignite a lost relationship. It didn’t go the way I wanted. Of course. I very quickly learned that it wasn’t going to work. So I found a group of people to surround myself with who were very happy to encourage my self-destruction. [They were the] wrong group of people, let’s just put it that way.
I invited a couple people into my hotel room who I didn’t know were of a very criminal nature. They ended up having a gun on them. I found myself in the midst of a sexual assault and being robbed. I was left to pick up the pieces after that. I went back to Europe and presented myself to a doctor because I needed to make sure I was OK. I had actually attempted to get drugs from this doctor a year before and she had told me to leave her office because I was a junkie. This time, she was willing to see me. She sat me down and the first thing she said to me was, “Something’s very wrong with you.” I was like, “Yeah, I need to get an HIV test.” She was like, “I can tell in your eyes that there’s not much life left, and I’d be willing to sit with you and do some of this energy holistic work.” Over the course of a year, she helped me get off of all of my medications. I found a support network in Vienna, Austria, where I was living at the time, and I got sober again.
“Fools Wear Crowns” was an opportunity for me, in a small way, to express some remorse. It was a little attempt at [making]amends for a specific relationship, but also many of the relationships in my life that suffered during that period. The lyrics acknowledge that we as humans enjoy, in a weird way, watching people fumble. But it’s not always buffoonery that you’re seeing. In my case, I think there was an illness at play. The song examines lens through which we look at people’s messiness. It’s like saying, “I’m vulnerable, prone to mistakes, and I’ve made some.” It also acknowledges a certain amount of denial that I operated in. There’s a line in it that’s like, “Why yell at the sky? It’s going to rain, don’t be foolish.” It’s about wanting so much for your life but knowing you can’t have it when you’re living like that. It’s about those little choices. It’s about honoring your limits—[having]the ability to say, “You know what, I don’t need to take this gig this weekend.” I wasn’t versed in all of that stuff. If anything, there is a sadness to the song. It is a bit imbued with shame. It would be great if I could just go, “You know what, it was the disease or it was stuff that I couldn’t control. It’s not me.” I feel like I have to get real and say, “I did do some fucked-up things and I’m sorry about it.” I was crying about it when I was writing the song. The studio experience was really intense.
In some ways, my dreams have shifted. I think it’s actually a normal and healthy thing to, at almost 40, have different dreams and different aspirations. I’m okay with that. I’m also really happy to welcome the right kind of people into my life, and I’ve made some wonderful new friends. I have a really rich, stable, lucky life at the moment. Who would have thought, coming from some of those really messed up, terrifying scenarios… I couldn’t have imagined landing on my feet, so I feel really fortunate that I did. It is dance music that I’m making still and I’m happy to be making songs that are imbued with a substance to them. This record wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t removed all of that stuff that was numbing me or killing me, and allowed myself to feel some really unpleasant stuff. There was also some really amazing joy. That’s how I feel in the world.
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