With his debut album, Honkey Kong (Dangerbird), "Boots" a.k.a. Jesse "The Devil" Hughes brings the funk like never before. Honkey Kong is a sexy and smooth sonic cocktail of swaggering keyboards, funkified beats, sly bass lines, and Boots' inimitable coitus-inducing croon. After just one listen, you'll want to shake your hips, you'll want to sing along, and you'll definitely want to get down and dirty. Isn't that what every album is supposed to make you do?
Hughes didn't simply become Boots Electric for Honkey Kong; he's been Boots for a very long time. The very first rumblings of Honkey Kong actually date back to the 1998 Desert Sessions when the plan for his other band Eagles of Death Metal was also consequentially hatched. However, his EODM partner-in-crime Joshua Homme [Queens of the Stone Age] told Hughes he would only become "Boots Electric" the day he stopped "fruit-booting" around on roller blades and learned to dance.
That day has come.
Hughes explains, "Honkey Kong really started when Joshua took me to the studio to make EODM's first album, Peace Love and Death Metal. I became a student and disciple of this wonderful thing we call show business, and Honkey Kong is my final exam."
On the sweat-drenched electro swells of the album's first single, "Boots Electric Theme," it sounds like Hughes aced the test. Groove-y keyboards slide under vibrant vocal banter between Hughes and Body Dalle [The Distillers] before the anthemic chorus kicks in.
"It's like the pied piper's song," Hughes grins. "I'm talking shit about bullshit girls because I like real ladies, and I got the realest lady you could find to sing it with me."
Keeping it real, Dalle and Hughes nailed the song on the second take. There was an emphasis on preserving the unbridled energy of the moment, and Honkey Kong certainly does that. "We decided to only do single performances," he goes on. "We made a covenant amongst ourselves to ensure that technical sophistication and technology would play a unique role without controlling everything."
To capture these takes, Hughes holed up in Dangerbird's Los Angeles studio in early 2011, and the setting definitely helped encourage him to let loose. "This studio is magic because it's a secret treasure," Hughes affirms. "It's got a built-in basketball court and all of the accoutrements of decadence you need. It's also literally in the heart of hip-ville, but nobody knows you're there. I was able to get lost in the music and not worry about putting on makeup. I came here to do something and I took it very seriously."
Working with producers Money Mark [Beastie Boys] and Tony Hoffer, Hughes paid attention to every little detail of recording. About collaborating with Money Mark, he says, "Check Your Head is my favorite album of all time so I knew Money Mark was the dude. Tony Hoffer also gave me great insight and helped me find myself."
With their guidance, Hughes involved himself in everything from flourishes of engineering to architecting an overall vision. That vision was always clear for Boots Electric. Describing the sound, Hughes confidently declares, "Honkey Kong is like butt-fucking George Clinton with Gary Numan using Little Richard and Keith Richards as a dick with Captain Beefheart as balls."
There are certainly "strokes" of each of those artists within Honkey Kong, but it's still undeniably Hughes. That's also where it differs most from Eagles of Death Metal. "Eagles of Death Metal is necessarily and joyfully what happens when two best friends get together," he reveals. "Honkey Kong is all me. This speaks to my inner techno geek. I love headphones, and I want to hear weird shit in the headphones."
For that "weird shit," look no further than the psychedelic pop of "Trippy Blob." Killswitch Engage singer Howard Jones flexes some vocal muscles alongside Hughes during the entrancing hook. As always, there's an important story behind the song too.
"It's truly my tribute to Captain Beefheart and George Clinton, and it's about how bad deeds manifest themselves in our lives", adds Hughes. "We were on tour watching an old episode of Star Trek, and the bad guy was a blob who's trippy. If they could make a trippy blob, so could I."
Other friends showed up to this rock 'n' roll dance party as well. Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen churn out a guitar solo on "In Dreams,” and Juliette Lewis sings back-up vocals on "Boots Electric Theme." The veteran actress gave Hughes a little lesson as well.
He exclaims, "Juliette was really instrumental in helping me understand how to approach music theatrically. She taught me to understand the voice as a character. I never looked at it that way, but when I saw her do it, I immediately went into ‘Speed Demon.’"
Everything culminates on the hyper-charged rock of "Speed Demon," featuring a raucous, rowdy, and rip-roaring delivery from Hughes. It's the perfect finale to Honkey Kong as it marries funk and rock in one last bombastic hurrah.
Ultimately, for Hughes, Honkey Kong is another evolution. He concludes, "I see this album as the coolest and greatest fucking chapter in my life so far and the ability to have sex in exotic places and experience outrageous useless activities that serve no more purpose than to entertain me for the moment. I'm not expecting anyone to understand it; I just want them to have a good time listening."
Boots Electric is about to stomp through your stereo (and bedroom). You've been warned.