All the signs are there: The economy is tanking, the New York City real estate market is finally softening, and newspapers are constantly reporting announcements of company lay-offs.
It’s starting to seem like the 1970s on speed.
People are looking for something to take their mind off of the painful headlines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it appears that disco-inflected dance music is making a comeback.
Following the massive success of Hercules and Love Affair, vocalist Nomi Ruiz, bassist Andrew Raposo and keyboardist Morgan Wiley have embarked on a side project, Deep Red. (The group’s first two singles, “Fun Girl” and “Good to Go,” are available on MySpace.) Before their first live performance, at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on Jan. 21, the members spoke about their experiences with dance music, Deep Red’s musical departures from H&LA, and how when the right music is playing, walking can lead to dancing — and perhaps a full-on embrace of dance music.
This is your first live performance with Deep Red. Any thoughts before the debut?
Nomi: Excited. Nervous. But excited.
When is the first Deep Red album coming out?
Nomi: The single we’re producing is coming out in March. So it will be “Fun Girl,” and the B-side and some remixes. The album, the timing is not clear. It will come out sometime this year.
Andrew: I think you can expect some twelve-inches first, before the record. For sure.
What can we expect to hear on this future album?
Nomi: We’re all over the place. There’s a lot of dance in it.
Morgan: We’re exploring a lot of different song-writing techniques. We’re doing some stuff that’s really born out of the three of us playing, and going for a really traditional, soulful, old-school style, with live piano, live bass and horns. And then we are also building tracks with sequences, and really trying to put out a banger that will hit the dance floor. So there is a spectrum of songwriting. It’s a pretty wide spectrum, although it’s tied together. I keep listening to a lot of the songs that we have, and there’s definitely a string that ties the whole thing together.
Nomi: Some songs might sound like Kraftwerk, and then there’s an old soul song…
Andrew: And this one sounds like Nick Cave or something…
Nomi: Or R&B. But it’s all the same kind of color palette, I think.
Hercules and Love Affair is credited for combining disco with other dance styles. Nomi, your first solo album was much more of a slower-tempo, R&B/hip-hop-influenced project. Deep Red appears to be a little more like Hercules and Love Affair in that regard. Has your experience with Hercules influenced where you want to take your own music?
Nomi: It definitely got me thinking more about dance music and more about electronic music, which I never really dabbled in before. So that kind of introduced me to a whole new world. And [with H&LA], we were on tour for a while with all these dance acts, and just kind of got surrounded by that whole scene.
Andrew: And the DJs — after the show, seeing and hearing different DJs every night. It deeply enriched, for me at least, my musical language for dance music and dance culture.
Morgan: Hercules is a product of many projects of dance music that go on in New York, and all over the world it seems, so I think Hercules is definitely credited for bringing disco back a little bit, but I think it’s a result of a lot that’s going on. And we all met in that same kind of scene.
How is the Deep Red project going to be similar or different to Hercules? For example, the single “Good to Go” is a little minimal, a little sexier than the more upbeat material on Hercules.
Nomi: Deep Red is a lot less disco than Hercules.
Andrew: A lot less disco, for sure.
Nomi: We’re more hip-hop.
Nomi: Our stuff is a little darker.
Andrew: Also, I think when you’ve been on tour with a band and you’ve been working on one specific project for so long, you know, after the gig you’re hanging out, you’re talking about other records and other points of reference from music. Someone said this to me once: “If you want to make dance music, don’t listen to it.” Because then you start getting into this one train of thought. And I think that it’s pretty true. And for us, we just talked about other stuff and other records and listened to other things and wanted to synthesize that into something, markedly different than what we were doing and experiencing, which was Hercules at the time.
Who writes the songs in the group? What is the song-writing process like for you?
Nomi: I write a lot of the lyrics. But we all write together. Sometimes we’ll all throw ideas out. We’ve had some weird lyrical moments. But we all write together. I’ll write the lyrics while Morgan is playing keys and Andrew is playing bass, and our melodies will kind of just go together.
Is there anything that inspires the lyrics?
Nomi: Most of my overall writing is based on very personal experiences. I think Deep Red is based on personal experiences, but kind of looking outward and bringing that inwards more. I’m looking at characters that I see. Like with “Good to Go,” I’m kind of talking about characters that I’ve experienced in my life.
When you’re at a really good party, when everybody is dancing and having a good time, and there’s the right mood there — it’s hard to put into words, but there is something that clicks, something special that happens. Can you recall a moment where you felt that click, that very specific feeling that you might have at a great club or party?
Nomi: I remember when we were on tour at Fabric, it was so crazy, and the DJs were playing so deep. And as we were on tour and just performed there, everyone knows you. So there was a moment where the whole dance floor was packed, violently packed. And I just wanted to escape for a moment. And I dug all the way to the middle of the dancefloor and just danced and screamed with all the people. And no one knew who I was and the music just took over. That I will always remember. All ego was just chipped away at that moment.
Andrew: For me, also, I just want to add that, I don’t think I actually started dancing until, well, maybe in sixth grade when a Tupac song would come on.
Andrew: But then DFA got started in New York in 2001, 2002 and my original band worked with that label on a lot of projects for a long time. And I remember the first time I went to a club to see Tim Sweeney DJ, this guy who went to NYU playing dance records. Which is not really a vocabulary that I had. And I remember, I kind of walked, and I was kind of using my body, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m dancing. I’m dancing to dance music.” That was a very powerful moment for me. And it changed the way I thought about playing music for sure.
People I know who don’t like dancing say that they can’t help but dance when they have found themselves at a Santos party or at a Hercules show. Somehow they don’t feel self-conscious anymore. Why are these types of beats more welcoming than some other dance music forms?
Nomi: That’s great to hear. I think it’s more emotional really [on the Hercules record and] on what we’re doing here. It’s not just a dance pulse and a lyric here and there. These are actually songs that people can sing to. And if you can sing to something it can kind of get in you, a little easier than when you are at a club and you just hear a beat going. When you hear a song play, like when “Blind” comes on and people are singing along and dancing — people remember the lyrics.
Andrew: To me that’s a big part of it. The lyrics, and what you say, a story. Whether it’s country or rap, there’s a good story there. It catches you.
Nomi: When I used to go dancing, there were no songs playing. There was music playing but it was more that you just knew the DJ and maybe you knew the producer. But I never thought of dance music being made. I took it for granted that you just go to a club and you hear it.
DFA is from Brooklyn, but H&LA was really embraced in Europe before the United States. Is there a sense of place in your music?
Nomi: I think it represents all of us equally very well. So I think it comes from, and we all come from very different places, I would say. The outcome represents us equally from where we all come from.
Morgan: The three of us are really big on this idea of collaboration and the musical community. We really enjoy that aspect of playing music, and working a lot with other people. And going to see a band that we really like. And hearing a record of a band that we really like. You often hear people say nothing new is very good. But I don’t think that that’s true at all. I think there are little pockets, communities all over the world, producing tremendous music. And we just want to become a part of that. That would be amazing. So I feel, and they feel too, I would say, that we have to do it together, not just the three of us, but with other people, to make music, so art can really happen.
Is there anything we haven’t covered?
Andrew: One small thing. The mix for “Good to Go” on the MySpace page is not finished yet. That’s not the final version. So if people are listening to it and saying, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound as together as the first one…”
Nomi: But that’s how good it is, that was literally just us playing after an hour.