Back in the heat of the New York summer (remember when it was hot out? Me neither), I spoke via Skype with August Darnell, a/k/a Kid Creole. I worried that the distance of thousands of miles might create a real distance in the dialogue as well, but the moment Darnell opened his mouth, I was put at ease. This might've been the easiest interview ever. Darnell is a raconteur without parallel. My prompts were few and I just let the man rap.
When were you last in New York City?
It’s at least ten years since I lived there, but I was just there two months ago. Got grandchildren there. I can’t tell you how many I have. You can’t print that. I still love the city. The best part of it is that I can get out of it in a week. I live in Sweden now, far from the maddening crowds. I’m loving it. The album was cut here in my home studio. I’m in south Sweden now.
How do you deal with the Scandinavian darkness?
You don’t deal with it. You hibernate or get out of town. We tour and don’t get stuck in the snowstorms.
Why’d you leave in the first place?
I got fed up with NYC! I was fed up with traffic. I cracked one day when I had to go to my dentist ten blocks away and it took two hours to get crosstown. And I said, I don’t need this. I’m getting out of here. I lived in England, Denmark, Stockholm and now I’m here in southern Sweden.
You have the same inspirations there?
Hell no. Without New York, there’d never have been Savannah Band or Kid Creole. NYC was everything. I love the city for what it gave me but when you reach a certain part of your life and you find you want life to be easier, rather than an everyday struggle. There’s no town that could give me the power that NYC gave me. My favorite line from my songs was “Going Places”: “When you leave New York, you go nowhere.” I’m a New Yorker for sure.
What's the biggest change you notice now?
The biggest change is Times Square. There’s nothing like Times Square. My brother and I used to just go down there for the thrill, because 42nd Street was dangerous. On every other corner was a prostitute, a bordello, a porn cinema, and people on every corner hustling. It’s so clean they should just rename it. Big business has taken over Times Square. I thought the greatness of Times Square was it was the Theater District and its rich patrons pouring out to the street and they’d mingle with the lowest dregs of society known to mankind. I used to get a thrill out of that. The danger, the edge of it is gone. Prices have gone up, but you still don’t get more for your money. You still have traffic jams, cabbies trying to kill you, but it’s still the greatest city in the world.
In the summer, I always think of you, because everyone wears fedoras.
I noticed the fedora was making a comeback there. It was amazing. You don’t have that in London, Paris, and you don’t have it here. It’s great. Fashion is still great in Manhattan. There’s a pulse in the city. I think Brennan mixing in Brooklyn an album recorded in a forest in Sweden made a juxtaposition. The juxtaposition between my forest here in Sweden and Brennan Green’s urban jungle in Brooklyn is poetry in motion.
Why did you make an album after all this time?
It was not my idea. Strut had the idea. They wanted to put me together with Andrew Butler of Hercules and Love Affair. I Googled him and went okay, he’s definitely influenced by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and Kid Creole, so I thought the combination would work. I knew he was popular in the underground dance clubs, just like we were. I trusted it.
The original plan was to write 50/50, but it didn’t turn out to be as simple as that. Our schedules conflicted and we were never together in the same part of the world. We were never together in the same room. I’ve never met the guy! I only saw him on Skype chats. We were never in the same room, which is uncivilized and ridiculous and that’s modern society for you. He sent his songs to me, I sent mine to him. A hundred and ninety-eight emails later, we’d be saying: “Can you change the bassline on the third bar of the fifteenth section of the fourth verse and can you mute the triangle on the third verse…” It became ridiculous. All the things we were doing we could’ve done in one room. That’s when technology works against you.
It took too long to do the album. If we had been old-fashioned about it, it would’ve been out two and a half years ago! To be honest with you, I got frustrated with it but I’m sure glad I did. I love the results. I’d never do it this way again though.
Speaking of Andys, did you ever hear Coati Mundi's album?
I listened to it in the car and it was spectacular. Andy came a long way and I love him and his humor. He was the zaniest character I know. I miss having a comic foil onstage. Sometimes the shows get too serious. I’m singing “Mister Softee” and the audience is taking it seriously?! He was like a Marx Brother.
You have a song on the new album that unpacks what happened with the Savannah Band.
Tommy Mottola said to me: “Savannah Band had the potential to be one of the largest bands in America back in the 70s.” It was like Rome, we fell from within. The Savannah Band self-imploded. Our sibling rivalry destroyed it. My brother and I couldn’t take it to the next level. We were huge and had a hit record, wrote well together, and we had a great songstress, a chanteuse Cory Day. We had everything going for us. We destroyed ourselves. I wrote “Stony and Corey” as tribute to my brother and the songbird, they were the two most influential people in my life in terms of being a music personality.
How does it feel to be sampled like you are?
Being sampled was a great feeling, man. M.I.A. and Ghostface? And then Cee-Lo covered “Hard Times," too. I get my royalties and I’m flattered. Artists get annoyed by samples and downloads. To me though, it’s flattering when a new artist comes along and utilizes your music so that new listeners can discover the original.
What do you listen to now?
I have my old favorites more than explore new things. I have children and they always keep me abreast. What I also miss is that you never have to leave the island of Manhattan, you just travel your block and the islands come to you. The music of every nation can be found there.
I like Rihanna right about now but my favorite is still Beyonce. She’s a goddess. She’s up there with the likes of Diana Ross, Tina Turner, those larger than life female vocalists. Beyonce is a goddess. I love her stuff.