In 1980, I went to see the film Can't Stop the Music — the biopic loosely based on the Village People's rise to success. I may have been glued to the screen with wide-eyed innocence, but I was no novice when it came to most things Village People.
I was already smitten by the aptly named "Kings of Disco" from the moment I heard songs like "Macho Man" and the way they thrust their joyful beats and moves into the hearts of gay fans everywhere. The Village People helped usher in the disco era in the late 1970s, and 36 years into their career, they have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. I talked to original members Felipe Rose (the Native American) and Alex Briley (the soldier) — the group also includes Ray Simpson, Eric Anzalone, Jim Newman and Bill Whitefield — about their new song, their LGBT fan base, and being called the "original boy band."
Xtra: Tell me about getting your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in 2008.
Alex Briley: This was one moment in our lives that we will always remember, as it is with anybody who gets honoured with such an award.
Felipe, talk to me about your clothing. It always left little to the imagination, especially when you danced.
Felipe Rose: In a loincloth and spinning and showing buttocks! I wear the chaps now with the loincloth and a leopard G-string underneath — but the butt is still looking hot.
Alex, how did you become the soldier in the group?
AB: I did the military look at the suggestion of one of the members of the group. The wardrobe mistress at the time decided to scour the city — the shipyards, the bases, the army navy surplus stores — and pull together a wardrobe representing all the armed forces.
Felipe, tell me about your outside projects.
FR: I am an award-winning artist of native music, and I have won four Native American Music Awards. I am also a culinary enthusiast and a painter with paintings in a gallery down here on the Jersey Shore. I am an ordained minister, a motivational speaker, and I've written and produced my music.
Would you guys consider Village People the original boy band?
AB: I haven't thought about it that way, but we are the original boy band! We've been told that so many times, it's nice to hear.
What makes you stick around after 36 years with the group?
FR: It keeps me young — I look like I'm in my 40s, which is great. People say, "You're not the same guy; you're the replacement." And I look at them like, "No." I started at 20 and I'm going to be 60.
Tell me about "Let's Go Back to the Dance Floor," your first worldwide release in 25 years, written and produced by Harry Casey [KC & the Sunshine Band]?
AB: You keep trying for a song and nothing seems to fit right, and then KC came to us and said, "I've got an idea for a song," and he sang it to us. It was a wonderful moment, and we said, "Let's see how this goes." We've gotten such a wonderful response from it.
The Village People are music icons to straight and gay fans. How does it feel to be icons for such a diverse fan base?
AB: It has been a wonderful experience because we've always had a well-rounded audience. At our concerts you can find just about anybody, and that's the way it should be.
FR: My personal journey to where I am, as the man that I am, is really a story of triumph. As a biracial man [Rose is half Native American and half Puerto Rican] living in Greenwich Village, here I am rising to the top of the pop charts with a band that eventually became one of the most amazing pop bands in disco history and has straight and gay audiences. We are able to ride that fence.
What do you want to say to your LGBT fans who have supported the group from the beginning?
AB: We appreciate anyone who has been a fan of Village People over the years. Thank you so much for taking the time to come to a show.
FR: As we have grown, the LGBT community has grown, not just in your city, but around our country and around our world. The LGBT community has become a universal family, and I love the fact that it's gay and has its footing in human civil rights.