Going Off the Rails with Billie Ray Martin and Aerea Negrot
John Preston speaks with Berlin superstars Billie Ray Martin & Aerea Negrot about their exciting collaboration, ‘Off the Rails’ and give Polari an exclusive listen to the vocal track …
All photographs © Guille Chiprionet (Click images to enlarge)
When Polari last spoke to the extraordinary vocalist Billie Ray Martin earlier in March this year we knew something big and bad was on its way. It already had a title and was going to be a duet with Aerea Negrot (Hercules and Love Affair), that much had been revealed. The incredible ‘Off The Rails’ has now landed and it’s a riot of pop-house decadence, an elegant tribute to the on-going demands of an inexhaustible Goddess. Berlin is just about big enough for the two superstars and John Preston asked its resident chanteuses to explain their outrageous actions.
Donna and Barbra, Rupaul and Elton and now Billie and Aerea – who knew?! How and also why did this dream-team relationship materialise? Are you neighbouring disco queens who just seized what has become an amazing moment? You have very different voices but you sound so natural together.
BRM: No , there was a lot of planning, failing, planning more … but yes, we live a few blocks away from each other. Not that this made any difference, it just happens to be that way. I don’t know. I hear her voice on her recordings and I felt a Grace Jones moment coming on. I had a song I thought fitted and Aerea agreed that it was a good fit.
AN: Yes. I met Billie in Berlin, having Caipirinhas. We are obviously not the kind of girls that meet with cappuccinos at some theatre! I made a remix for Billie’s The Opiates album; the song is called ‘Dinah and the Beautiful Blue’. In so many ways I felt a connection to Billie, that kind of sexy melancholy with a little Lynch twist. So we decided to embark on doing a duet. ‘Off the Rails’ is an ode (at least to me) of the ever complaining divas, screaming for attention in a world of “one-hit” wonders. We wanted to look chic, but still dig about in the garbage for some food to feed our cats. The process was not easy, once we ended up having a cake in a cemetery talking about the track, another time after recording I ended up in a sex shop having my mobile stolen by an Albanian guy (I was doing him a favour). We recorded at my place and some windows broke. We love music. We are music warriors in our own self-destructive way. We sound indeed natural together, because we took our time to develop the characters. It was my pleasure to also create a remix of the track.
‘Off The Rails’ is hard to define genre wise. It’s obviously a defiant dance record but it incorporates many different styles- it’s not quite disco or house and not out-and-out pop. Was this something that was decided in order to enhance the feeling of losing control, of going off the rails? Through the chaos both of you still maintain this control and elegance albeit the hilarious banter in the middle eight between you both goes someway to breaking the tension!
AN: Billie is a master of posture and structure, totally admirable, whereas I improvise and play way too much with irony. The blend can be heard. The sound elements even though coming strictly from ’90s pop music, have a distinctive 2014 flash. Elegance nowadays is strictly referential, to the ’90s, to the ’70s. Today everything is trash and high definition, no budget yet flashy and with no depth.
BRM: Waterson produced this track and I added some production to it. So I guess this would be a question for him. I love Waterson’s approach to producing and programming. There is real arrangement, there is a lot going on. Different parts coming in where they should. For me this is the only way to approach a song, so this was just normal to have something structured, yet with enough fierceness to experiment to a degree. But not too much, as I’m German in approach. Write the song, get on with it. Leave it alone when it’s done. That’s me.
It has an element of abandoned fun about it and a heightened sense of personality which is in start to contrast to your last single Billie, the darkly throbbing Bowie cover ‘After All’. It is reminiscent of ‘No Breaks On My Roller Skates’ right down to the Syndrum ‘poo – poo’. Is this something that only takes over you once every decade?
BRM: Poo Poo or Boo Boo? (Grinning). There is no reason why one song is a bit more mentalist, the other more subdued. Miserablism is in all of my work, whether fast and furious or slow and moody. Here the lyric I wrote just tells someone where they can go and what they can do . So it is a little more aggressive.
In actual fact the song is inspired by the moment when Grace Jones chinned the Euro star member of staff, for wanting to kick her out of first class. I though the story was a diamond. So that’s what the song is about in a way. Waterson and I felt it was hilarious and Aerea agreed.
What’s the foreign language part and is it Spanish – a crafty homage to Bacarra?
BRM: Vive la Folie? I just needed a line and couldn’t come up with one, so I googled something french. Always works to throw a bit of French in.
The incredible and surprising visuals for the single are quite aggressive and sexual but there is a camp sensibility underlying the intimidation. It certainly looks as though you had a great time inhabiting these characters and will we see a live reincarnation and did you record more tracks together which have yet to see the light of day?
BRM: We only did this one. It took us ages so complete and me ages to edit and mix (with the help of Waterson and Steve Honest). So I guess that’s it for now. No idea at this moment if we will perform live as well.
Billie you have been readying more material that will form an album of songs that are more country and soul based and have worked with these with producer extraordinaire Jon Tiven. Is ‘Off The Rails’ a reaction to that in some way, a way of letting off steam and throwing your wig to the wind before the heavy stuff starts?
BRM: The album with Jon Tiven, which is half mixed, will be finished as soon as I find someone to give me a budget to do so. To be honest, not having money stops all my mixes and projects all the time. So there is no point for me to start many more recordings. I do however have bits and pieces that can be used either for collaborations or new EP’s etc, but again, not unless I get a budget to finish them off.
And who is each of your favourite female duo?
BRM: The Reynolds Girls. Only kidding. I don’t know really.
AN: We Love Tina and Cher … but yes sir We can Boogie!
Here is the exclusive vocal track of ‘Off The Rails’ – only on Polari magazine. Next week we have another exciting exclusive from Billie Ray and Aerea…
‘Off The Rails’ be released on October 19, through Disco Activisto and you can explore and download Billie’s back catalogue here.
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