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Andy Butler Came Back From the Edge of Death to Create His Most Personal Album Yet

Andy Butler Came Back From the Edge of Death to Create His Most Personal Album Yet

Photo Courtesy of Pierre-Debusschere

The Hercules and Love Affair producer talks overcoming addiction and his new record, Omnion.

"I think it's a very American story," Andy Butler says of his recent battle with addiction. After being sober for most of his 20s, the producer behind Hercules and Love Affair got hooked on medication prescribed to him to deal with the pressures of touring. It led to some of his darkest moments. "I had guns pulled on me," he says. "There was sexual violence--violence of all kinds. My heart stopped." Here, he discusses his dance collective's fourth album, Omnion (out September 1), which features Butler's most personal songs yet.

OUT: You've said this record is "serious." How so?

Over the past few years, I've wanted to address more challenging emotional worlds. I like dance music that has substance. Like, "Rejoice" [with Rouge Mary] is a really uplifting and celebratory song, but the message is quite serious.

Was that a conscious decision--to pair serious subject matter with upbeat sounds?

That juxtaposition has worked really well for me in the past. If you go back to "Blind" [from 2008], part of the magic of it is the sadness of Anohni's voice and those joyous horns. I always want to get into the studio and push people to dig deep. If we can bring some serious emotional content to dance music, I feel, generally, like a success.

"Fools Wear Crowns" is the only track with your vocals. Why that one?

Well, I did try to pass it off to other vocalists. [Laughs.] I sang on the first two records, then on the third I didn't. I was also in the midst of a heavy drug addiction and far too scared to sing. Then I got sober, and a lot of that song is about that--about the wreckage my addiction caused. It was definitely an art-as-therapy moment.

Dealing with your addiction is a major theme on the album. Can you tell me a little bit about what form that addiction took?

The slippery slope of medication for anxiety came into my life. All of a sudden, within reach was this whole other substance to start abusing and misusing. I had doctors around me who were offering a means to neutralize some of the extremes that I was experiencing. It's not a very natural experience, you know? I was in the midst of a lot of travel, and I just started relying heavily on a lot of medication. And before I knew it, I was back at square one.

Was there a crisis point that made you get clean?

For sure. I started having regular experiences in emergency rooms. I was overdosing. There were fistfights. And then people had to monitor whether or not my brain was going to hemorrhage. None of that was enough, until I had a really harrowing week. It's really all a blur. One day, a doctor basically said, "Something's not right here. You look dead inside, and something quite traumatic has happened to you." It just got scary.

Do you think your addiction was in any way connected to growing up queer?

[Being gay, being an addict]--they feel very intertwined. I grew up being told to live in the shadows: "Operate underground. Don't let us see it." I guess shame-based living lends itself to developing shame-based patterns of using and escapism. Is it an absolute? I don't think it is for everyone. But it definitely can make one predisposed to addictive patterns.

The song "Omnion" sounds like a conversation with God. Where does the title come from?

It was a simple appeal to some greater force. If there is one, what is it? "Omnion" came out of me wanting to make sure there wasn't a gender to the concept. It sounded neutral and omniscient--ever-present.

Have you always been spiritual, or did that come after you got sober?

I think I've always been fascinated by the kind of mythologies that humans create, the way we try to explain the world. I grew up Catholic and, while I did experience quite a bit of rejection and fear in the Church, I also was able to find moments of--I don't know if I found serenity, but I was in awe of what was going on in the Church.

I did find, for instance, certain aspects of the experience moving. Being in a congregation meant something to me, and hearing strong positive messages from someone who had read them and tried to interpret them also meant something to me, and the moment when we looked at each other and shook hands and extended peace to one another meant something to me. Those aspects I found beautiful, and still find beautiful.

You've mentioned your sensitivity to what's going on in the world right now. You're an American abroad. How has that informed your work, particularly in such an insane time in American politics?

When I think about America I feel really at odds with the culture. I can't say I feel ashamed. Sometimes I feel embarrassed of it all, and sometimes I feel like I have to make excuses. But in general I just hope that there's more and more people who are asking the harder questions back home--it still is home for me--and trying to elevate the dialogue. There are good people everywhere. There are beautiful Americans and there are things that I really miss about America. But there's a lot of ugly, abhorrent things as well, and I don't miss those things. I'm definitely, at moments, glad to be away. But it makes me sad when I think about it.

Omnion arrives September 1st via Big Beat Records. Buy it here today.

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