It hurts my brain to imagine the logistics of bringing 15 members of your 17-person band down to Austin for South by Southwest. But after seeing New York disco-funk crew Escort, it's worth it. Co-founders Dan Balis and Eugene Cho started the group in 2006 and in 2008, their video for "All Through the Night," which spliced up the uptempo disco track with clips from The Muppet Show, went viral.
After bringing in lead singer Adeline Michele in 2008, the group continued working on new material and finally released their self-titled debut last month. Fuse spoke with Cho and Michele about SXSW, the six-year-long album-making process and why disco doesn't suck.
So what's the biggest headache around getting 15 people to South by Southwest?
Eugene Cho: People understand how crazy it is in the band, so they give me a lot of leeway. But just the amount of e-mails and finding plane tickets for everyone took an entire day. I want to meet everyone's schedules, so it's not like, "All you 15 people get on this plane." We need a contract with Marquis Jets. But getting everyone to come out and do it is fairly easy because everyone has such a fun time playing with the band.
I remember first hearing about you in 2007, but you just released your debut album last month. What took so long?
Adeline Michele: They found me! [Laughing] My background is soul music and definitely funk. Somehow, I have a past life in the '70s so it's right up my alley.
EC: It's always been a slow and laborious process, because we never put just anything out. We really wanted to stand behind everything. We probably made two or three albums of material and threw it away.
Stuff we'll never hear?
EC: Unless it's some crappy remix we're contractually obligated to do. We all have our own lives. It's been a long road, but I feel like it's been worth it because we did everything the right way and never took any shortcuts. Some of the songs were written six or seven years ago.
Adeline, you joined the band in 2008. Were there vocals that were already done by someone else that you had to re-record.
AM: Yeah, there were a few songs with vocals. When I came on, we just re-recorded the album and I feel like that was my official close-up. It's good that we did a few shows before I started recording so I owned the material already. It made it easier in the studio.
So what's harder: Singing a song that’s already recorded, or writing your own material?
AM: It's definitely more interesting for me to put my stamp on something brand new and have to add my own color. For me, owning material is performing it live. The way it worked out, I had this huge chance because I performed it live before I recorded it so I owned it so well.
Was there a plan for the album or was it more about crafting each song individually?
EC: It's definitely song by song and I think you can hear it on the record. We explore a lot of different directions and facets of disco that a lot of people maybe haven’t heard until they hear this record.
Disco has so many negative stereotypes surrounding it. What's your response to people who say, "Disco sucks"?
EC: Two of the best disco albums were [Michael Jackson's] Off the Wall and Thriller. [Laughing]
AM: Disco can mean so many things. You have to hear it and see it live to really get it and I promise you once they see us and hear the album… We're in 2012 and we sound like we're in 2012.
Where is the line between inspiration and imitation?
EC: I think when we approach stuff, a lot of it is about what stuff from the 70s sounds contemporary, There are a lot of great compilations and DJs and 12 inches that could have come out today and sound amazing, so that’s where it stems from.
You have no manager or record label. Is that a control issue or are you just really picky?
EC: I think it's fair to say that we like to control everything because now there are the tools to do everything yourself. You don’t need a manager-- although it comes to a point where you definitely need one-- but we released 12 inches on our own and found a deal working directly with a vinyl distributor. Once we got used to doing that, when it came to getting a label, people said "We can do this and that for you, give you this money, but it wouldn’t have been as good as we could have done ourselves. They wouldn’t put the same amount of time into it. Escort Records is a better label for us.
What can we expect from an Escort show?
AM: An escort show is just an event. Every time I'm about to perform, there are so many people on stage and it's high energy. It's this magical formula; people in the crowd feel like it’s a dance party. They dance and go crazy and just let themselves go. It's like a big party.
EC: But there's no patchouli or anything. We still keep the songs and it still feels like an album instead of a jam.