We Talked To The Village People About Bringing Disco Therapy Back To NYC
This coming Saturday, October 8th, the FOLD Festival promises to bring the full force of the extravagant, neon-tinted Disco era to Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NYC.
FOLD – an acronym that stands for "Freak Out! Let's Dance" – is a relatively new festival curated by the legendary Nile Rodgers, and this year, Nile is pulling out all the stops with the formidably funky lineup he's put together.
Ahead of FOLD, Konbini caught up with one of the festival's headlining acts, and one of the most recognisable and best-selling disco acts in history: The Village People.
We were joined via conference call by original Village People members Felipe Rose (Native American) and Alexander Briley (GI), as well as newer additions to the lineup Ray Simpson (Cop) and Eric Anzalone (Biker).
The group's trademark playful energy came across even over the phone. They seem to be genuinely giddy to be back in New York City (which they lament they don't get to visit as much as they'd like to), and promise to put on a fun, rollicking, vintage Village People performance for everyone attending FOLD Festival this coming Saturday.
They want to remind everyone about the true essence of the Disco movement – forget the craziness outside and just dance! Check out Konbini's exclusive interview with the Village People below:
Konbini: What are you most looking forward to about the FOLD festival? Other acts? Why should people be excited about it?
Felipe: The great variety of the artists…
Alex: Always fun and a pleasure to work with Nile Rodgers, Earth, Wind & Fire.
Jim: We don’t get to NYC as much as we’d like, it’s always nice to play with our friends
Ray: I go back many years with Nile. Before he first broke, I was fortunate enough to hear songs he was working on before the general public heard it, before they were discovered. Anytime I get a chance to work with Nile it’s like a reunion. So proud of him and his production and the great things he’s doing.
I’m sure you’re aware of the "Nostalgia Cycle" – different pop culture phenomena come back every 30 years or so. Do you think Disco will ever make a strong come back in that way?
Crosstalk: We’re the Village People – people never stop dressing up like us! Most popular Halloween costume ever! We’ve been playing festivals all over the world non-stop, EDM festivals, we’re super happy that disco has come back en vogue…
Eric: I would say that there was definitely a HUGE resurgence of disco in the early 90s. The amount of disco festivals we played in the mid 90’s was off the charts. We were featured on the tonight show 3 times in 14 months…
How do you guys feel about being known primarily for two songs – "YMCA" and "Macho Man"?
Ray: It’s all good as far as I’m concerned. A lot of people would love to have a "YMCA" or a "Macho Man." We do what we do, we bring the energy and the spirit and make people feel better. Show people what disco was like, what Studio 54 was like. We just wanna interject our spirit and positiveness.
Crosstalk: Don’t forget "In the Navy"!
If you were starting the Village People in 2016, would you still choose the same characters?
Felipe: My legs aren’t good enough so I couldn’t be the Native American anymore, haha!
Eric: As far as stereotypical macho characters, ours still read the same as they did 40 years ago. They’re still recognisable.
Felipe, you’re part Lakota Native American, but what do you say to people who might be offended by what they perceive as the "cartoonish" Native American costume?
Felipe: What do I say to them? Snap out of it! Grow up! I’ve had some tribal members speak up against me, the headdress is certainly controversial, but I really only wear it for "YMCA" when we perform it live to remind people of the image. No one’s ever told me I have a shitty job, though.
Jim: The look is a big part of the disco movement, clothes were a big part… The look is probably as important as the music. So dropping the look isn’t what our audience would want. If we came out in jeans and a t-shirt…you sort of lose what it's all about, haha.
Ray: It’s fun to dress up! It’s a fun thing! And that’s what we’re trying to bring. And we are stereotypical! You can take your shot, that’s ok, but it’s about the music and having fun and it’s carried us a long way.
Eric: Personal opinion: I do believe that the world is moving towards a dangerous gray area of political correctness. We take everything so literally that it sucks the joy out of everything. If you remove it out of the decade we originated, you’re not being true to when we hit our mark. We’re a little campy and a little fun, so let’s leave everything at the door!
Transgender rights and non-binary sexuality have become the new hot button gay rights issue. Do you think Village People are relevant to the LGBTQ community like you were in the 70s/80s?
Felipe: I find answering that a bit of a struggle. The movement began and the group began at the same time, none of us set out to become activists. What I say to that is that I’m an unwilling activist…If there’s at all any kind of inspiration or positive feedback that we can give the LGBT community, stand taller or be more proud, we stand with that!
Jim: The relevancy when the group hit is we were a party band, not a political band… To me the sexuality isn’t central, it’s all about the music!
Sorry for the obligatory politics question, but... Who’s the better candidate for the LGBTQ community and human rights more generally? Are the Village People ready to make an official endorsement of any candidate?
Crosstalk: We try not to get involved in that... I think the choice is rather clear – go Hillary!
Ray: *Cough cough*… HILLARY… *cough* CLINTON…
Alex: Like Ray said, I think the choice is obvious. But this group has always been a slice of Americana. We’re all different, from sexuality to political parties. There have been Republicans in this group, believe it or not! That said, everyone knows who we’re gonna vote for.
If you could have everyone in the world listen to one record, what would it be? And why?
Crosstalk: Wow… Hmm… Ooh that’s hard!
Ray: Chaka Khan – "Through The Fire." Anytime you hear a song that touches you on the inside and you don’t know why? It’s just something that hits my core, it moves me. If you can move a person, what better song could you have written?
Felipe: Actually I heard the other day… I had my radio on, and "Found A Cure" by Ashford and Simpson… I started jumping around my house and remembered where I was when I first heard it. It transported me!
Alex: A lot of us will wake up with songs and find yourself singing them… The other morning, John Lennon’s song "Give Peace a Chance."
Jim: The "Purple Rain" soundtrack, actually I just bought it on vinyl. It feels so good just putting it on the turntable…
Favourite place in America? In the world?
Alex: We’ve been to once place more times than any other place in the world and that’s Australia, it’s been our second home for 37, 38 years. The people are gracious and a lot of fun and we’ve made a lot of friends here.
Crosstalk: I’ve had fun at Mohegan Sun, we do that gig quite a lot… In the middle of a big crowd of people but everyone’s really close. When we see it on the calendar we know it’s gonna be a lot of fun!
Crosstalk: New York City! I love New York City! … New Yorkers aren’t quiet, they respond!
Eric: Well first off I have to say Australia ‘cause my wife will kill me (she’s Australian)… Also, when we do festivals in England, they know how to throw a festival in England. It’s always an experience to perform at one of those festivals. They’re there to have a good time; it just bleeds onto the stage. Yankee Stadium All Star Game, walking through the guts of the old Yankee Stadium, onto that field was such a treat. That was also a special moment.
Felipe: I agree with Eric, English festivals are kinda really crazy in the sense that they love their tents. They put up villages and tee-pees all hooked up with Wi-Fi, the full “Glamping” experience...
By Evan Glazman, published on 03/10/2016