Has it really been three summers since we swooned over Escort’s “All Through the Night” video? The clip, which cagily synched their “If you wanna sex me, give it up” sentiment to the Muppets, led our own Rob Harvilla to write, “Jim Henson is doing the Hustle in his grave” (a compliment, we think). But soon afterwards, they disappeared off the scene entirely. Which is kinda hard when you’re a seventeen-piece disco orchestra. Turns out that Escort, helmed by keyboardist Eugene Cho and keys/guitarist Dan Balis were shoehorned into a room somewhere, recording a full-length. And while its tantric pleasures remain unknown as yet, this week we did get a taste of the band’s new single, “Cocaine Blues,” which is an upbeat, tingly, fun time. In anticipation of Escort’s show at the Highline Ballroom tonight, we caught up with Cho and Balis to see what took so long.
In the intervening years between “All Through the Night” and “Cocaine Blues,” disco went through a revival while you guys were in hibernation/the studio. What happened?
Eugene: A fan once came up to me after a show throwing threats at me if we didn’t finish the record soon. But we’ve been standing our ground.
Dan: Basically, we just wanted to wait until we had a full LP’s worth of material before we started releasing singles again. Some of the new material’s been done for quite a while. But we’re never going to put anything out just for the sake of it. We’re always willing to junk something if it’s not working. Unless we’re totally behind what we’ve written, it’s never going to see the light of day.
So what’s the album going to sound like?
Dan: Expect riots. It also features the best song written to date about a French serial imposter.
Eugene: I can tell you that everything is designed for club mayhem and we’ve really stretched ourselves. We’ve spent countless hours getting it together and now we can’t wait to drop it.
“Cocaine Blues” draws on everything from Jamaican toaster Dillinger’s 70’s hit to early folk iterations of the same substance. What drew you to the song in the first place and what was it like unearthing the song’s long lineage?
Dan: We’ve been obsessed with that bassline for ages — and we used to make up ridiculous lyrics that we’d sing along to it–they generally revolved around our respective ethnic backgrounds. At some point, I think Eugene had an epiphany and decided enough was enough: we’re covering it.
Eugene: Joy Dragland –one of our backup singers in the live set-up– put down an amazing vocal for that one. But neither Dan or I thought she had it in her until one of us saw her on a solo gig after she had a few. So right before one recording session, Dan ran out and bought a bottle of Knob Creek and when Joy walked through the studio door we all just started joking around and getting plastered. When she eventually got up to the mic we started encouraging her to sing as if she was killing a bear with her voice. Then she suddenly transformed into another persona that we now call “Roy.” “Roy” is the bear-killing, hyped-up drunk Joy that you hear on the record.
Escort singles seem to cause confusion to listeners and posters on listservs; they often mistake your new stuff for something obscure, like a lost late ’70s disco cut.
Eugene: We love the fact that sometimes we’ll see a DJ playlist that’s all ’70s ‘and 80s songs except for a lone Escort track. It’s definitely a good thing. Some old music really stands the test of time and in some cases can be even more relevant now then when it was originally released. By no means are we some sort of disco purists that think that the pinnacle of all music was from 1978-1983 and that we can only strive to come close. Escort is obviously heavily influenced by dance music from another era, but we are very careful to make music that doesn’t just sound and feel old, but is actually relevant for DJs and listeners today.
Dan: I’m not sure you can subsist on a diet comprised solely of West End, Prelude and Salsoul. The most inspiring show I saw this year was Alarm Will Sound playing compositions by Caleb Burhans (our violinist). And, I suppose this doesn’t warrant a mention, but Arcade Fire also put on an incredible show.
In an age when one can replicate almost all of the earmarks of ’70s disco at home, why do you guys aim to make Escort bigger and bigger, to the point where it’s now a 17-piece group?
Eugene: You could say that we do it for the love. Our favorite dance records were made that way and even though it’s not really financially viable, we don’t care! The live show is ridiculous now. We recently added a third violinist, and it sounds awesome.
Dan: Basically, we’re masochists. We were eating once at a restaurant after working in the studio and David Byrne was there. After much anxious deliberation, we introduced ourselves, gave him a CD, and explained that we had a 17-piece band. His response: “How do you make any money?” And of course our response was: we don’t.