Interview: Nomi from Hercules and Love Affair
I know that Hercules and Love Affair is basically the brainchild of Andrew Butler, so when did you first get involved with the project?
I got involved more than a year ago. I came in towards the end of the making of the record, as they were mixing and putting some final touches. I just came in for two songs and punched it out in the studio.
How did you and Andrew first meet?
I met Andy through Antony [Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons]. I’ve been friends with Antony for a while, and I knew Antony was friends with Andy. I’d always see Andy whenever I visited Antony, and Antony suggested we work together. So we did it just for fun at first, to see what would happen. It worked so well for us, that it made sense to work together on the record.
Is the music that Hercules does very different in style from your solo material?
My solo stuff is a little more downbeat. More gritty, more urban and street. These are very different tempos and melodies for me. It’s extending my experience, so I’m learning a lot.
Do you share Andrew’s enthusiasms for disco and for late 1980s house music? Is that all part of your heritage?
Actually, no. I never listened to disco, really. It’s strange, but when I listen to the record, it relates to me just as a modern, futuristic, mainstream electronic pop record. I don’t have those references in my head, so I can’t really refer to it as disco. So the way it registers in my ears is just as some new kind of pop.
I’d agree with you. Whenever we hear things for the first time, we’re always keen to find the influences – but the longer we listen, the less the influences matter. And I do think he’s created something quite new. So do you now consider yourself a full time member of the band?
I’m a guest vocalist, and I’m sure there will be many guests. I’m here as long as I’m wanted, and I love being a part of it. We have a great show and we have great chemistry, so I’m in for the ride, for as long as it works.
How many of you are there now?
There’s eight in total. Andy sings some of the songs as well, but the main singers are me and Kim Ann. We’re sharing vocal duties on the songs.
On the album, you sing on Hercules’ Theme and You Belong, and then there are four numbers that Antony sings. We know that he’s not going to be touring with you, so which of the tracks are you taking over?
I’m singing lead vocals on Blind. Yeah, I’m excited. I love to sing Blind, it’s my favourite.
Although you’re a very different performer to Antony, I think you have certain things in common. You both have a certain emotional intensity, I guess. Are they difficult shoes to fill?
Yeah, they’re very difficult shoes to fill. But it’s such an amazing song that it kind of stands alone, so I’m lucky to have that. I drop in the same place that Antony drops, and we’re both very emotional singers, so we can really sing it and put our heart in it. I really feel that I mean it in the same way that Antony does on the record, so in that way it’s similar.
Have you worked directly with Antony yourself?
I’ve toured with Antony and we’ve actually recorded a song. I love Antony. Antony is someone I can admire and look up to. He helps to guide me in the right direction.
It was a surprise for us to hear him suddenly transformed into a disco diva, if you like. Is that a part of his character that we just didn’t happen to know about before?
Antony is just a genius. Antony can do anything! (Laughs) Anything that makes sense, and that comes from an honest emotional place, Antony can relate to. Antony says it’s the spirit.
You’ve also toured with Cocorosie, who played Nottingham last year. How was that experience?
I learned so much more, on a whole different level. There was a lot of improvising, which really opens you up as an artist, and as a performer. You’re onstage, and you’re doing it as it comes. You’re so in the moment, which is really so good for the soul.
That’s what was so fascinating about their show. To begin with, I thought: oh, they haven’t rehearsed properly, it’s too random, they don’t know what they’re doing. Then as the show went on, I thought: I’ve got that wrong, there’s a real attention to detail.
Sometimes it starts off, and it’s a little rough. That’s because we’re trying to get into that one moment, which happens towards the middle. It’s like: wow, this is it, we’re really here, we’re present.
You’ve also collaborated with Deborah Harry. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
She was working on a remix to a song from her Necessary Evil album. Her producer had heard me. I did this show where I was rapping, and she really loved the way my voice sounded when I was doing this kind of hip-hop slangy rap. So she had this idea for me to do this rap song, and Deborah was kinda like the girl singing the hook. It’s a really amazing song; I’m really excited to put that out in the future.
In the UK, we hear a lot about a Brooklyn music scene. There’s an ever-expanding list of acts that we associate with Brooklyn, such as Cocorosie, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and so on. So from where we’re sitting, it feels like there must be a real creative community, who all know and respect and support each other. Is that the reality, or have we all got a rose-tinted view?
No, it’s very true. A lot of artists have been drawn to Brooklyn, for some reason. I guess it was the only place in New York where it was cheap enough to live. It used to be downtown Manhattan, but everything’s changed so much. Everything’s so much more expensive, and now Brooklyn is becoming much more expensive too. But the artists are there already, and everything has been built up, so there’s this strange circle of art and support.
Some Brooklyn acts have initially found a greater degree of acceptance in the UK for their music. The Scissor Sisters broke the UK while they were still unknown in the US, for example. As someone who has also spent some time working in the UK, have you found that British audiences tend to be more open-minded, and more receptive to new ideas in general?
Much more. There were shows that we performed at, where they put very different artists on one bill. I guess the audiences there are just really drawn to the emotion of the music. It’s the same way that I relate to music, and Antony relates to music, and Andy relates to music. I feel like the people there just feel it much more. When we do a show in Europe, audiences are so there, they’re so present.
In New York it’s very different. People are a little more into themselves, and a little more introverted. But over there, it just seems like there’s so much more energy and love.
We used to be more tribal, but the tribes have broken down. It’s generally cool to be eclectic now, which is a good development.
I’m curious to know what sort of atmosphere you get at your shows. You’ve got that lovely contrast: uptempo, celebratory dance songs, but with a private, introspective quality. How does that work on stage?
It is a celebration, but it’s emotional as well. When I’m singing the song, it’s emotional for me because the lyrics are so introspective, and I really empathise. It really makes me think so much. When I’m singing Blind, I’m really singing the words, and I’m singing to the audience. It’s strange, because I can talk to myself and use those words, and I can talk to the people and use those words.
I can imagine you looking out as you’re singing that, and seeing that some people are getting it on the level of being a dance track, and that other people are completely in the emotion of the song at the same time.
It’s so fun, because at one point you’re just having fun, you’re dancing, the band is all in the moment. And then there are the words, and the emotion where I sing from. I sing from an emotional place. I relate the songs to my life, and it comes out in my performance. It’s an interesting mix.
You’ve talked previously about growing up in a rough neighbourhood, where music helped to provide you with a fantasy world, and a means of escape. Is that still an element of how you perform now?
Yes, I still have that. It’s when I feel most alive in myself. I just feel like my existence, whoever I am, matters at that moment. So when I’m on stage and I’m performing, I just feel like: this is it, this is what I’m made of, you know?
But I hope there will also be glamour, and general fabulousness of that nature…?
Oh, it’s all glamour. I’m really curious to see how people will respond, because it’s an intense show. It’s really beautiful; people are going to be dancing and going crazy, and learning, and we’ll be sharing these experiences every day.
Oh, this is hell for me! I wanted to come and see you, but Public Enemy are re-creating theirIt Takes A Nation Of Millions album on the same night, just around the corner, so I’m down to see that. I am just so torn. I want to divide into two…
Oh my goodness, I want to go with you to see Public Enemy! (Laughs)
Maybe you could have a word, and then you could come on after they finish. That would be nice…
I’m going to play hooky that day! I’m playing hooky and I’m going to see Public Enemy!
Well, at least you could go to the soundcheck. It’s only two minutes’ walk away. (Laughter) So what about after the tour is over? What other plans do you have for this year?
I’m going to cut a solo record. I’ve been writing and recording songs, and I have a lot of material that I want to put together as an album. Keep working, keep touring, put together a really great show for myself, and still be a part of Hercules, and just be like a workaholic. (Laughs) Keep it going, keep moving!