Kid Creole and the Coconuts

Flaunt Magazine Interview with August Darnell

Written By:  Maxwell Williams

Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist, argued in his famous book Rock of Ages, "Science and religion do not glower at each other." He called this theory "non-overlapping magisteria," and it was basically to argue that you cannot prove the existance of god through scientific methodology. They are mutually exclusive. Alas, Kid Creole, if you're anyhow indebted in your musical maturation to the crackling grooves of a dusty disco plate, is proof of the existance of a god. Born to earthly parents on August 12th, 1950, Thomas August Darnell Browder, later August Darnell and even later Kid Creole, came up the ranks under his brother Stony's tutelage with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band in the 1970s, playing bass and singing back-up on tracks--"Sunshower" and "Cherchez la Femme," for instance--that rate as stone cold classics.

For many musicians, playing bass on some of the most exciting cuts in the '70s would be plenty satisfying, but it wasn't nearly enough for Kid Creole. He started leading bands, playing on and producing some of the finest disco records OF ALL TIME, no joke, hands down. We're talking monster jams like Don Armando's Second Avenue Rhumba Band's "I'm An Indian Too," Machine's "There But for the Grace of God Go I," and The Aural Exciters' "Marathon Runner," not to mention an all-time favorite of mine: No Wave goddess Cristina's lyric-sharpened cover of Leiber and Stoller's campy waltz "Is That All There Is?," which the songwriting duo didn't appreciate, leading to litigation and suppression of the song.

In the '80s, Kid Creole surrounded himself with a harum of beautiful, strong babes, which he called the Coconuts, and a spicy comic reliever named Coati Mundi, who helped Kid Creole arrange some of the most interesting records ever to top the charts. Records that still sound as sexy and sassy today as they did when they came out. But after the initial flurry of records (1980's Off the Coast of Me, 1981's Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places, 1982's Tropical Gangsters, and 1983's Doppelganger), Kid Creole & the Coconuts' output slowed, though the quality of the albums (1985's In Praise of Older Women and Other Crimes, 1987's I, Too, Have Seen the Woods, and 1990's Private Waters in the Great Divide) remained a few rungs above amazing on the music-ladder. Between 1991 and 1997, Kid Creole & the Coconuts released four subpar (for them) albums. Fourteen years passed.

So, when the new record arrived in the mail unexpectedly a little bit ago, it came as a surprise. It set it down on my desk, and went back to my usual activities. I turned on the coffeemaker, checked my email, wandered down to road to buy a bag of chips. But, then, it hit me. A NEW KID CREOLE RECORD WAS SITTING ON MY DESK. Excitement turned to light-headed elation upon learning that the record was being put out by !K7 Records, and that the record featured work from Andrew Butler (Hercules & Love Affair) and mixing by dance genius Brennan Green.

The record is amazing. If old Kid Creole & the Coconuts records sounded like they were recorded today, the new record, I Wake Up Screaming, sounds like classic albums past, fitting seamlessly into their library of Coconut magic. When the opportunity arose to Skype with Kid Creole himself, my little heart fluttered to a spicy disco beat.

Hello, Kid Creole.
Kid Creole [noticing the name on my Skype handle]: Maxwell Williams. Hey man, that’s a cinema name, you made that name up, right?

My parents made it up.
I love that, man. Maxwell, that’s great, man! Maxwell Williams, I’m going to put that in my next song.

Oh, damn. I would go over the moon.
[Laughs.] I love it. How do you feel?

I feel great. How are you feeling? You are in Sweden?
I’m in Sweden, man.

How long have you lived there for?
I’ve been here five years.

Whoa, where in Sweden are you?
Southern Sweden, near Malmo and near Copenhagen—one hour from Copenhagen.

I’ve been down to Emmaboda before.
Oh, Jesus! There you go, you know the country. It’s a beautiful country, man

Yeah, I took a train from Stockholm to Emmaboda and we went through Linköping and close to Malmo.
It’s fantastic, man. Stockholm, what a city, huh?

I know, I love it there, I love it; I haven’t been back in years.
Stockholm—gorgeous city, man. It’s brilliant, absolutely. You’re in California, right?

I sure am.
What part of California you at?

I’m in Los Angeles.
Oh, Los Angeles. Fantastic, man, fantastic.

You used to come out here quite often, huh?
Yeah we did, man, in the good old days, when we could afford it. Now, we need a hit record in order to afford 15 musicians to fly to California, man!

Oh my goodness! Tell me about the Coconuts now. It’s a bit of an evolving group now, huh?
Yes, well, the Coconuts are legendary. The original girls left the legacy and new girls picked up on it. We have one Coconut who’s been with us for 14 years, and we call her Mama Coconut, and she is responsible for training the other girls. So, we have a girl called Aimee Brammal—she’s been with us for two years—and Jessica Forsman has been with us a year. You see the Coconuts; it’s a rough gig, man, because all the traveling and the responsibilities of being on stage and having men stare at you for hours upon hours. It’s a very rough job. We lose a lot of girls.

Are they in Sweden with you?
No, no, no, no. Just my lady is here. Mama Coconut, Eva Tudor-Jones stays with me in Sweden, because she’s Swedish, and the others are in England. They live in London.

You had a pretty big following in Europe—more so in England than here.
We’ve been blessed. We’ve been blessed with European success, and it started actually in France and then it went to the UK. UK was huge, and then Italy and Germany followed, and Scandinavia followed. So, yeah, we got stuck in Europe to be quite honest with you. That’s why we haven’t been back to America for a while, but hopefully we will return if this album does what we want it to do.

How did you hook up with !K7 for I Wake Up Screaming? It is a niche label, but it fits so perfectly with the current sound, and it has the Strut aspect.
Yeah, I’m going to change Strut into a real label. I’m going to do for Strut what I did for ZE Records. I’m going to make it a big player in the real world. You are 100% right. !K7 is a respected label out of Germany, based in Berlin, and Strut is the affiliate of that in the UK. They have a great reputation and the reason they have a great reputation is because the !K7 branch is run by a guy named Quentin Scott, and he is a great lover of music, and he reminds me of Michal Zilkha [co-founder of ZE Records] in his passion of music. And that’s why I attached myself to him, because I don’t want to waste my time anymore with fools who don’t believe in the music, or who are just going to hang you up and say they’re going to do something but don’t do it. But this guy [Scott] turned out to be a sincere lover of Kid Creole music, and I figured ‘’Ok, if it’s ever gonna be a new album, it’s got to be with somebody who loves music this way,’ and that’s how I ended up with K7.

Is he the one who facilitates getting together with like Andy Butler? Because it’s such a perfect thing. Butler is one of the great ‘disco apologists,’ if you will.
Without a doubt. It was all Quentin Scott’s baby. He said ‘Hey, August, I’ve got an idea to put you together with this guy named Andrew Butler, he does Hercules and Love Affair.’ I said, ‘Who the hell is Hercules and Love Affair?’ And then, because we live on the ‘World Web World,’ I googled him, and I found out who Hercules and Love Affair was and I said, ‘Oh my god, this guy sounds like he’s been listening to too much Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. So, I said, ‘Yeah, this guy’s is good. We can definitely do a collaboration,’ because the music was coming from the same world. He loves the 1980s, and his tracks sound like he’s still living in 1980s, so I figured we’ll get some of that with the album and combine it with my esoteric adventures, and we might come up with something original and magnificent, and I think we have.

Brennan Green is another one of those guys who dusts off the old disco records—he loves the thick disco base lines with the pop sensibility. What is it about him that gave you the confidence that he could mix it down for you?
That was, once again, Quentin Scott’s guy. He said ‘I know a guy that can do the mixes for you. His name is Brennan Green,’ and I said, ‘Who the hell is Brennan Green?’ I’ve been out of the loop in Sweden. I’m happy if I know who is the Top 10 anymore, I don’t even know if there is a Top 10. I don’t know anything about the dance market or where it’s going the last ten years, or who are the heroes and who are the heroines. Nothing. So, I have to rely on people like Quentin Scott, who’s in the record business, who better know who is in and who’s not, because that’s his business. So, he recommended this Brennan Green character. I said, ‘Okay, this guy is good,’ and then he wants to send me to Brooklyn to mix with him, but I had to tell Quentin, ‘Listen, I grew up in the Bronx; I don’t go to Brooklyn.’ So, basically, it became an internet affair between me and Brennan Green, which I will never repeat again, ever in the history of the world, because it was too ridiculous. I prefer the old fashioned method of being the same room with the guy, so that you can bounce your ideas off of each other. We got through it, but it was tedious work—194 emails per song—and he would send the mix over and I would say, ‘Fix the bass on that, or fix the triangle, and mute the triangle on that side, or bring up the vocal here.’ All the shit that you would say to the guy if you are in the room working with him, so it became tedious. I’m never doing another album that way, but we got great results. Quentin Scott is an intelligent guy. He came up with the right combination of people to make this album an accessible one, and one that’s important in today’s market.

At the same time, though, it really does sound like half of the songs could be on Fresh Fruit or Tropical Gangsters, you know?
That’s good to hear. Thank you for saying that. We were worried about that. In the beginning, we said ‘Will people realize this is Kid Creole?’ But, ultimately, I too believe it does sound very Kid Creole-ish.

Definitely. It maintains a disco-pop sound that sort of doesn’t exist anymore. The sound isn’t really a mainstream sound anymore; it’s more of an underground thing. But, do you still listen to a lot of old disco? Do you think the world is missing the funky disco?
We have to listen to it, because we are still performing live. So, we’ll go into the archives, and we’ll pull out a song and say, ‘Oh, man, this sounds grrreat. Let’s bring this back to the live show.’ Some stuff from Lifeboat Party has come back into the set. ‘Caroline Was A Dropout’ has come back into the set. So, we listen to the old stuff, and we say, ‘This would work today—it worked then, it will work now, it will work forever.’ Dance music is dance music. It’s also great to get the new listeners. We have to capture that audience as well.

Sure. And that is where Andy and Brennan come in.
Exactly, because those guys live in the current world, whereas me, I couldn’t care less.

You’ve been making music for 40 years, and you are talking about making records over the internet and mixing things down via Skype. What other things have really changed since the days working with Dr. Buzzard’s and the early days of the Coconuts?
I hate to sound old fashioned, but, man, those were the days. We would go into a studio with Dr. Buzzard’s. Stony was at the helm, of course, so he’d come in with his charts, written half-heartedly on a piece of paper—not even music paper—and he’d slap them in front of us, and he’d say, ‘These are the chord changes,’ and we’d go though the song 623 times, and after we’d gone through it so many times that we’d know it by heart, he’d say, ‘Roll the tape.’ And then we capture the goodness, all in the same room, playing together looking at each other, smiling, going to the control room, listening back to it, approving it, and moving on.

Trust me: that doesn’t happen today. I haven’t even met Andrew Butler! I only met him on a Skype session, man. I haven’t even been on the same room with Andrew Butler, so if this album is successful, now that’s a story-and-a-half to tell people. I didn’t even meet the guy who collaborated with me on the album. And Brennan Green, I just met by luck, because I was in New York doing some other business, and I called him up, and I said, ‘Hey Brennan, what you doing? Come over to my hotel, I’d like to see what you look like.’ I’m old fashioned. I prefer the old method. I like to be in the same room with the guy mixing, so we can do changes right there and then. I like to be in the same room with the musician so we can groove together. Now, some of those tracks were created in Sweden at my house, because I have a studio there, and my sons produced that. They in a group called Picture Book, and they just got signed to Seymour Stein’s label, the same guy who signed Kid Creole in the old days—history repeats itself.

How are you going to build on this?
Well, if this album is successful, and I think it will be—it’s got a great response so far—if it is, we go on the road, because we love performing. We support the album with live shows, and hopefully get back to America. But then, when the record company gets back to me and says ‘Oh my god, it’s a platinum record, man. You got to do another one the same way,’ I’m going to tell them to go jump in the lake, because doing it the same way would mean through the internet. I will insist on being in the same room with the mixer, and I will insist on the collaborator being in the same room together creating, because the other way is too crazy.

Did Andy do a lot of the string arrangements?
Andrew Butler is responsible for the foundations of four of the songs, and those four songs, you can just pick them out, immediately. They’ve got Andrew Butler all over them: ‘Stony and Cory,’ ‘Rocking Out Tonight.’ He’s got that 1980s stamp about him. The single is his, ‘I Do Believe,’ and he did the string arrangements, he did the keys, he did the base, and what he did was send them to Sweden and I would listen to them, and I would write a melody line on top of it, and I’d do the vocals, and I’d write the lyrics and I’d send it back to him. And then he’d work on that, and then send it back to me.

How very modern of you.
It’s modern, but it’s ridiculous. Thank god it turned out great, because if it didn’t, then I would have something else to say about it. But it’s the old adage: ‘It’s good how it turns out. Whatever the result is, it’s worth the method it was used to achieve it.’

‘Stony and Cory’ really stands out for me. It’s very nostalgic. You look back on your time you had with Dr. Buzzard’s, and I just wanted to know what made you want to sing this song?
That’s a good question. ‘Stony and Cory’ is a song I should have written 10, 15 years ago. It’s one of those songs that, as an artist, you keep putting it on the back burner, because you don’t know if it’s the right time for it or not, but basically it’s my way of saying: Stony and Cory, the influence these two had in my life is phenomenal, and this is my accolade to them. I’m paying tribute to the two most influential people in the entire story of August Darnell’s music business history. And I say that because without Stony, my brother, he was the guy, obviously, who taught me how to write music, how to play the bass, how to accompany him in his band—I was his right-hand man in Savannah Band, and I was the lyricist for Savannah Band, and what I got to big for my britches, I turned to him one day and said, ‘Do you know what? I want to write the music, too.’ He turned to me and said, ‘In due time.’ He is a great influence in my life.

And the voice of Cory Daye, Jesus Christ, without that voice, Savannah Band would never have been the successful band it was; she was the distinctive voice of our career. We were so fortunate to find someone who wasn’t like all the others. She had her own inimitable style—she was influenced by the greats—Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday—and she took that influence and took it to the disco in the 1970s when disco was god, and people loved her.

So, those two—they were also boyfriend and girlfriend, of course, and they had a very rocky relationship—so, I said, ‘I’ve got to write the Stony and Cory song.’ I’m glad that Quentin convinced me that that should be the first song on the album, because I fought him on that. I said ‘No, it’s not strong enough to be the first song.’ But I’m glad it kicks off the album, because it really sets up for the rest of the album.

It’s definitely strong enough. The rhyming is beautiful.
I’m glad to hear that, man. Is that your favorite track on the album?

I think it might be. It’s a beautiful song. Do you still keep in touch with Cory at all?
Unfortunately no, and I would like to. I hope that when she hears the song, she will bury the hatchet. I think something went wrong in the past, and we had a minor disagreement, because we did a song together and the record label omitted her name on the copy, and I think she blamed my manager, Ron Rainey. She blamed me, thinking I did it intentionally, so we’ve never been the same since then, but I’m hoping that we will bury the hatchet and come together again.

Just on a closing note, I actually spoke recently with the Cayre family. Do you have good memories of the label?
What label are you talking about?

Oh, Salsoul! You know what? That was never my label. Savannah Band was with RCA. RCA was the major label and Salsoul was distributed by RCA, wasn’t it? We dealt directly with RCA, thanks to Mr. Tommy Mottola. See, Tommy Mottola, before he became the big shot, and went over to Sony Records, he was at RCA. He brought Hall and Oates to RCA, and then he brought Savannah Band to RCA, so all our dealings with Savannah Band was directly with RCA. Then after that, when Savannah Band broke up, I went directly to Seymour Stein’s Sire Records at Warner Brothers. And then overseas I was with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. I do know who you are you talking about, but they weren’t a direct influence in those days.

For some reason, I always thought that Dr. Buzzard’s was on Salsoul for a minute.
No. Dr. Buzzard’s was always RCA. There is a Salsoul connection in there, but I’m too old to remember.

Okay. Well, thanks. I’m a huge lover of all you’ve done.
Well, thanks Maxwell. Keep that name and when we’re in California, make sure you make your presence known.



  • Posted on   09/29/11 at 12:38:45 PM   by Ryan  | 
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