Some say that if you wait long enough that trends have a cyclical nature or that what once was old becomes in vogue again. Some will say the same about post-punk and the icons that broke down the doors of pop culture to shine a light on their moody sounds in the ‘80s. But the truth is, they probably just haven’t been paying close attention and certainly can’t have used Modern English, a band whose earliest albums sound as fresh in 2017 as they did decades ago in that case study.
This year Modern English released their first album together in thirty years, Take Me To The Trees, which was funded by PledgeMusic and released via Kartel Music Group. The album not only reconnects the band to their roots, in the fervent and fecund world of late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk Britain, but they have co-produced it with Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. In addition, the album’s beautiful cover is by venerated art director Vaughan Oliver, whose very first sleeve design was Modern English’s “Gathering Dust” single in 1980. It also reinvigorates and renews the bands reputation as wizards at conjuring awe-inspiring romantic new wave sounds, post-punk heaviness with pop polish into spell-binding albums.
The band are returning to the U.S. in mid-July to embark on the “Retro Futura” tour. Vocalist Robbie Grey; bassist Mick Conroy; guitarist Gary McDowell; and keyboardist Steven Walker, join the ‘80s package tour featuring Howard Jones, The English Beat, Men Without Hats, Katrina (Ex Katrina and the Waves) and Paul Young (on some shows), begins on July 18 in Los Angeles at the Greek Theater and concludes on August 19 in St. Charles, Missouri at the Family Arena (dates below).
Ghettoblaster recently had the opportunity to speak with Grey about the bands original intentions, place in the pop culture lexicon, and future plans. This is what he told us.
If you think back to the original intentions or goals you had when forming the band do you believe that you’ve stayed the course? Why or why not?
The original intentions of the band was just to release a record. We were heavily influenced by punk rock and then post punk. “Melt With You” blew us off course in a big way and we entered the commercial side of music. We got lost for a while due to pressures of record companies and the business, which of course it is. Now though we are our own masters and doing what we want, which is a very good feeling.
Did you expect that the band would carve a significant place in the pop culture lexicon?
No, not really. I think we have staying power when things are tough. The fact that post punk has reared its interesting head again has helped us become some kind of legends. Having the dark side of our music and the light of “Melt With You” is both an inspiration and a nuisance. That’s our lexicon.
Are you glad your music was included in such an iconic film or has it been an albatross in any way?
“Melt With You” being in that movie was a turning point for us. We don’t have a problem with that. It was Nicolas Cage’s breaking movie.
What are the predominant and lasting lessons you’ve gleaned over the course of this career?
Don’t be afraid to make the music you want and don’t give up. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it.
You released an album earlier this year in the fantastic Take Me To The Trees. Where do you feel this album fits in to the larger canon of the band’s discography?
Take Me To The Trees is a great album which I think stands as the sister album to both Mesh and Lace and After the Snow, like a bridge between them. Special nod to Martyn Young who produced it and knew the importance of each member’s sound.
Are there moments in Take Me To The Trees where you tried something you never had before?
Yes. We worked with a composer Alex Cook who wove amazing orchestrations into our music.
I think Modern English’s early influences may have been more transparent than they are now. Are there bands that have shaped your more recent writing or the way you think about recording or sounds?
I don’t think so. We have always liked the same music, mainly from before the 1980s. I am not an avid music listener. Mick and Steve are people to ask about bands now. I am listening to Bach at the moment. It’s always exciting to use interesting sounds. We will try anything. The never ending well of modern sounds and technology is great. You can have hours of fun at home. Modern English has always incorporated atmosphere in its music. It’s very important.
What are your proudest moments with Modern English?
Mesh and Lace revisited recently on a big successful tour was great! Having people acknowledge our early work as important is really fantastic. Take Me To The Trees as a body of work we are very proud of.
You actually worked with my friends from Forbidden Colors booking on a tour…
They had passion. I knew when I spoke to them they could make it happen. They had their ears to the ground. Just saw Tobias [Sinclair] in London with his band Soft Kill. It’s good to work with people like that.
What was it about the Retro Futura package that made it a desirable tour to participate in?
The Retro Futura tour gets us in front of thousands of people. We can publicize “Take me to the Trees” to a mainstream audience who may not know it. Plus the money’s good.
Are there goals or achievements you are hoping to conquer in the future?
Would love to do another Modern English album and have my heart set on doing some film music. Anyone out there interested?
Is retirement in sight or is that off of the table for now?
Retirement? Scary thought. I think my brain would explode!
(Visit Modern English here:
Catch Modern English on the “Retro Futura” tour in the following cities:
RETRO FUTURA TOUR
JULY 18 – LOS ANGELES, CA – GREEK THEATER
JULY 19 – COSTA MESA, CA – ORANGE COUNTY FAIR
JULY 20 – SAN DIEGO, CA – OPEN AIR THEATER
JULY 21 – SARATOGA, CA – MOUNTAIN WINERY
JULY 22 – LAS VEGAS, NV – DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS EVENTS CENTER
JULY 23 – SALT LAKE CITY, UT – TBA
JULY 24 – DENVER, CO – BELLCO THEATER
JULY 26 – DALLAS, TX – GAS MONKEY LIVE
JULY 28 – ATLANTA, GA – CHASTAIN PARK
JULY 29 – CHARLOTTE, NC – METRO CREDIT UNION AMPHITHEATER
JULY 30 – BALTIMORE, MD – PIER SIX
AUGUST 1 – GRAND RAPIDS, MI – VAN ANDEL ARENA
AUGUST 2 – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – THE LAWN
AUGUST 3 – WEST ALLIS, WI – WISCONSIN STATE FAIR
AUGUST 4 – DETROIT, MI – MEADOWBROOK
AUGUST 5 – NORTHFIELD, OH – HARD ROCK LIVE
AUGUST 6 – KETTERING, OH – THE FRAZE PAVILION
AUGUST 9 – NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – STATE THEATRE
AUGUST 10 – PROVIDENCE, RI – DUNKIN DONUTS CENTER
AUGUST 11 – ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – BORGATA CASINO
AUGUST 12 – WALLINGFORD, CT – OAKDALE
AUGUST 13 – ALBANY, NY – TIMES UNION CENTER
AUGUST 14 – LYNN, MA – LYNN AUDITORIUM
AUGUST 17 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN – STATE THEATER
AUGUST 18 – MERRILLVILLE, IN – STAR PLAZA THEATER
AUGUST 19 – ST. CHARLES, MO – FAMILY ARENA)