By MIKE CHAIKEN
In 1982, 1983, if you were into the 1980s’ new wave music scene, you couldn’t get away from—and probably didn’t want to get away from— Modern English’s monster track, “I Melt With You.”
The song was on heavy rotation in the early days of MTV. And the song jettisoned into the psyche of many teens when it was featured in the film “Valley Girl.”
Thirty-plus years later since they first launched in the U.K., four of the five original members of Modern English are back together. They have a new album in the works. And they are opening a U.S. tour in Connecticut.
Modern English—which is Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar),and Stephen Walker (keyboards), along with drummer Rick Chandler, arrive at the Infinity Hall in Norfolk on Aug. 21 for a nine-gig tour in the States.
We caught up with the band’s bassist Mick Conroy via email from the U.K. to talk about Modern English, past, present, and future.
Observer: I see that most of the original members have gotten back together for this tour and an album is in the works. What led you guys back to each other? What did you like about the chemistry of having the old friends playing together again?
Mick Conroy: Five years ago. I bought a houseboat to live on 20 or so miles away from a small coastal town in Suffolk, where Robbie lives. We hadn’t seen that much of each other for about 10 years before then. At first, it was two old friends catching up with each other and enjoying the company. We just fell back into the idea of playing music again. We agreed that it would be fun to get the others involved. Plus, it had been a long time since we had played the songs live. I was very curious as to how they would sound. We hadn’t all played together for over 20 years. But when we did, I was quite surprised at how much I was enjoying it. Also the songs sounded rather good. Gary. on guitar, has such a unique style of playing. He brings so many different sounds to the band. He still looks for a different part to play from what we would expect. Steve also fitted right back in with his odd keyboard playing. “Odd,”’ but in a noisy soundscape way. When we played together there was a power and energy in the music.”
O: I saw some photos on Facebook of you guys playing live… what has been the response from audiences as you guys hit the road these days?
M: The response has been quite amazing. We particularly like it when people in the audience come to hear songs from our first LP and early singles. Of course, lots come because they love the song “I Melt with You” and a few others that they know. But our audience is a pretty mixed bunch. Young punk types, arty types, and your average music fan who wants to have a good time at a concert. It’s all been good, When we play a good concert, it’s always nice to meet people after the show. Many people have their own story about “I Melt with You.” I like to hear them.
O: Talk to me about the album in the works… what is its status? What kinds of things are you trying creatively to build upon where you’ve been? How has each of the members contributed to the finished product?
M: Ha! Rather foolishly, we said it would be out by now. It is coming along. We have recorded tracks in San Francisco, Orlando, Minorca, and here in Suffolk, where me and Robbie live. We have recorded quite a few songs and we are constantly writing and rehearsing. We are looking at what made us tick when we began to make music together, what sounds exciting us. Some of the new songs have a raw edge to them, whilst others are quite poppy. Having said that, we are experimenting much more with our recording methods. Technology and a live band. Only last week, we recorded four songs in an art gallery we managed to turn into a recording studio for a week. Our approach is quite flexible. Each member contributes ideas, parts, and sounds.
O: It’s always hard to talk about your own creation, but why do you think old fans and those who are not yet fans going to like the album?
M: Our first three LPs were made by the core group that we are now. This new album does return to those three albums to some degree. We play quite a few songs from the very early recordings in our live set. Those songs get a good response and, of course, we enjoy playing them. We are playing new songs as well in the set. One of which “Moonbeam” has been going down really well. It’s probably the most poppy song of the new batch so far. A friend of ours said that song has Modern English DNA. The new LP will be quite varied. But then again, what I like about the first three LPs is the feeling that you are not really sure what is going to happen next.”
O: A lot of peers from your early days have broken up the bands that made them famous or have left the music scene entirely. What is it about Modern English that feels like home for you and that it’s something you still want to be part of?
M: After I left Modern English in the ‘90s, I played with quite a few bands here in England. I was the keyboard player in a group called Stereolab. I enjoyed the time playing another instrument that wasn’t the bass guitar. I lived in New York for a period recording with various people, even doing music for commercials. But as I said earlier, I wanted to play the early Modern English songs again with my old friends. Thankfully, we all got together and it is has been thoroughly enjoyable. We recently played some concerts in the Philippines. It was a wonderful experience.
O:When fans turn out to the show, what can they expect from the set list of Modern English, 2013?
M: A mixture of our first three LPs and a few new songs. For many people in the audience, they are hearing some songs for the first time. Generally, they comment on how powerful our live performances are. Oh, and of course they can expect to hear “I Melt with You,” even sing along if they want to.
O: “I Melt With You” is such an iconic track for the 1980s, how do you feel when you reel of the opening notes of the song to a live audience?
M: I feel like I am going to be on YouTube once again. It’s nice to see an audience go crazy, dancing and singing. All we see from the stage is people filming us on smart phones. And, of course, people smiling and being happy.
O: And beyond the tour in the states and an album, what’s next for Modern English?
M: There is talk of us going back to Southeast Asia next year for more dates and some gigs in Europe. We have written so many new pieces of music, it would be nice to see what will happen to them.
Modern English performs at the Infinity Hall, Route 44, Norfolk on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $34 and $49. For more information, go to InfinityHall.com or ModernEnglish.me
By MIKE CHAIKEN