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: No.

Why not?
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.