I have never listened to a Buddy Hackett routine before and thought: “This would be a good sample for a modular dance song.” But, then again, I am not an accomplished experimental musician searching for any kind of objective artistic truth. Luckily, Nashville-based trio HeCTA are, and they have completed a concept album, The Diet, that is spiritually indebted to a Hackett Routine about diet pills.
Lead singer Kurt Wagner describes coming across an old 78 RPM LP with the sampled Hackett joke as somewhat of an epiphany. He realized that the diet pills being joked about were similar to the drugs that ultimately became synonymous with dance floor culture decades later. With a wry sense of humor, Wagner tapped his bandmates Ryan Norris and Scott Martin from the acclaimed country band Lambchop and started the side-project HeCTA in earnest.
“The Concept” is one of the first singles to emerge from the record, and it is infectiously eerie. Watching the ’30s-style animation while hearing Buddy Hackett discuss pills over repeated, programmed hooks, my mind went to a very specific place. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene from Requiem For A Dream, when the older woman loses her mind after taking too many diet pills. It is at once tragic, absurd, and darkly funny. The repetitive, gradual progression of the “The Concept” are like a compilation of all the scenes in which we see close-up shots that are meant to convey addiction, and the lunacy of doing something over and over again. That is precisely what I think HeCTA are getting at on this track.
And if that is too heady to reasonably consider, Wagner sums up the project best in a self-penned press release: “Suck it up, hippies. This music is our attempt to extend the boundaries of our expression and have some fun.” The Diet comes out September 18 via Merge and City Slang.
After you’ve listened to the “The Concept”, be sure to check out our brief email interview with HeCTA member, Ryan Norris. We discuss the band’s initial fascination with Hackett, what would be on his ideal burrito, and much more!
Nerdist: What about Buddy Hackett specifically inspired your new album? What is your favorite bit that he does?
Ryan Norris: The Buddy Hackett thing is really a question for Kurt but I’ll do my best based on what I’ve heard him say. I know he heard an old 78 RPM recording a number of years ago of Buddy Hackett doing a bit called “The Diet” that was about eating diet pills in order to lose weight. Since diet pills are basically speed in a lot of cases and because there’s a strong drug culture in the dance music world I guess he felt there was a connection and that it would be funny to explore it. That’s the most explicit instance of “The Concept” on the album (hence the name of the track that features cutup samples of Hackett) though I’ve heard Kurt say it played into some of his lyrics as well. I think he was trying to make his vocal hooks like punchlines in a certain way: “you don’t have to change a thing except your mind”, etc. I think Scott and I were mainly just trying to make music we liked that fit into the dance idiom rather than being inspired by Buddy Hackett specifically or comedy generally. That was just something that got the ball rolling. Sure we were trying to entertain ourselves but that’s what it’s all about I guess.
N: What TV shows/movies/books did you binge in the course of making the new record?
RN: Kurt and I both read a book called “Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979” by Tim Lawrence. He’d told me about it so I checked it out as well. We also both read David Byrne’s “How Music Works” around the same time. Wax Poetics #45, The Dance Issue was a big one for me. It shed a lot of light on the connections between disco, Chicago House and Detroit Techno. It also turned me on to Bohannon. I didn’t know much about that world at the time so it was quite informative and engrossing. I also went back and checked out the Wire Magazine compilation “Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music” as well as “Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music” for some perspective. I don’t remember checking out much in the way of comedians or TV shows but I found some documentaries online about the early Techno scene in Detroit. In fact a lot of my research was done online.
N: If you had to describe the record in four words, what would you say?
RN: The record in four words: Repetition. Modular. Hook. Synthesis.
N: If you had to dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
RN: Probably “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder, although it’s kind of a toss up with “Blue Monday” by New Order. I feel like they’re both as perfectly constructed as dance-y pop music gets.
N: What ingredients are in your ideal burrito?
RN: My ideal burrito would contain black beans, lots of cilantro, serrano peppers, crema Mexicana or Salvadorena, scallions, pico de gallo, Manchego and Iberico cheeses, shrimp sautéed in garlic, and olive oil, avocado, fresh lime juice, rice, fresh ground pepper and sea salt probably in a flour tortilla. I like corn ones too but they don’t hold up well under the weight of the ingredients.