A Fine Romance
By Jason Lamphier
Have you made Italo your own or modernized it?
Johan: Some tracks are meant to sound a bit more modern, like �I Know� or �Hold Me So Tight.� �I�ll Be By Your Side� was supposed to sound like 1984, but I didn�t want to do 10 tracks that sounded the same, so some tracks are going in other directions. �He Keeps Me Alive,� for example, is in 145 bpm, and no Italo disco track was ever faster than 128 bpm. This is nerd talk, but it couldn�t have been done in the �80s. But �Find My Soul� and �Skating in the Moonshine� are meant to be pure Italo disco, [circa] 1984.
Italo disco revivalism has been picking up speed, especially as of last year. Even Madonna was doing it with Confessions on a Dancefloor (for example, with her sample of the Giorgio Moroder-produced Donna Summer song �I Feel Love�). What do you think spurred the renaissance?
Johan: I think it died too early in the �80s. It died in like �88 or �89, when house took over. I was personally very sad because I�d been following those �Best of Italo Disco� compilations, and then suddenly there was only bad house music on them. I don�t like Italian house music so much. [Italo disco] deserves another chance, and now it�s getting it. I was surprised in 2003 when I surfed the Internet and discovered there are hundreds of Italo disco sites. I thought I was the only person still listening to it.
Sally: Well, everything is coming back sooner or later. And isn�t the whole fashion industry in the �80s? Everything is in the �80s.
Do you think people just got tired of New Wave and moved on to something else more obscure from the same era? Or do you think it�s sort of an ironic movement because Italo disco was seen by many as a cheesy musical genre?
Johan: One theory would be that electronic and dance music has become so repetitive and monotonous that there is a need for more melodic, poppy dance music. Italo disco is very dancey, but it has a lot of good melodies.
Hipsters and music snobs are really into it, too. I was surprised an album called Disco Romance was getting such rave critical reviews.
Sally: I was really surprised too. I don�t expect the average person to like this kind of music.
Johan: I think [it�s because] we complement each other. Sally has a melancholic voice, and I make melancholic atmospheres.
Yes, the music is not just about the beat, but about emotion and love and loss and pain. It cuts a little deeper than a frothy, forgettable pop song. There�s something darker deeper about Italo disco, something very �4 a.m., bar is closed, you�re coming down off your high.�
Johan: I get the same feeling when I�m listening to Chromatics. I�m a big fan of them.
Sally: I�m not sure, but here�s a theory: I like to believe that people like these cheesy �80s songs but don�t really want to confess it. You don�t want to say it out loud -- until somebody else has said it out loud. Then a hundred more [people] follow; you can say it because it�s then acceptable to say it. I like to believe when people are sitting alone at home, they�re listening to old stuff they liked when they were younger. But they�re not saying out loud, �Oh, I�m still listening to this.�
Johan: Sally, you need to tell your Myl�ne Farmer story -- that�s a good example of a guilty pleasure.
I discovered her when I was living in France. Myl�ne Farmer is basically the French Madonna.
Sally: I was living with some friends some years ago, and I was just getting to know [one of my roommates]. When I came into the kitchen in the morning, I turned on the CD player, and there was Myl�ne Farmer. I hadn�t heard her before, but the music was really, really good. I sent [my roommate] a text message to ask if it was her music. It turned out she�d lived in France too and discovered her then, but she�d hidden it because everyone said only gays in France liked Myl�ne Farmer -- only they would say it out loud. She said she was sorry, that she�d forgotten it was in the CD player, but she was happy I liked it.
The singer Robyn recently told Out that her music was pop, but that pop is not a dirty word, that there is such a thing as good pop. Maybe you�ve simply created well-developed, thought-out pop music.
Johan: It�s interesting you say that because I�ve never considered myself a pop music writer. [This album] was more of an exception. But this is pop, and I think that�s one reason people like it more than my other, more ambient music.
It has catchy, poppy beats, but your music is still often dark, rather depressing. Do you think it�s counterproductive pop?
Sally: I like happy endings. If you see it like a film, these songs are in the middle, before the good end is coming.
Johan: It�s sad, but there�s a feeling of hope in it. I must say the music that has moved me the most is the music that has made me cry. That�s the music I�d bring to an island; it�s 10 times stronger for me.
Even the name Sally Shapiro is not real. Sally, will you reveal your real name or tell me what you do?
Sally: I didn�t reveal my name from the start, and now we�re getting on with it. It won�t tell you anything. It doesn�t really matter.
Do you think your identity is separate from your music?
Sally: That�s really complex. When we were doing the first song, we were creating Sally Shapiro, a person -- based on me, of course -- but I don�t like to be an actress because I�m not good at that at all. We weren�t thinking this was going any further than �I�ll Be By Your Side.� And now, when I�m coming out, Sally Shapiro is more and more me. Maybe I won�t answer your question the same way a year from now because I don�t want to act.
Johan: Yes, you�re now sometimes admitting that you have an ordinary job, whereas one year ago you said you were only walking in the moonshine, thinking about your love affairs.