Bring The (English) Beat Back; An Interview With David Wakeling of The English Beat

The Internet and social media aren’t all that bad. They both allow us to remember the past, live in the present, and look to the future…and stay connected with each other. It makes sense, then, that these connections present opportunities for musicians and bands who have been getting down on the getdown for 30-plus years to simultaneously reach new audiences while reconnecting with their longtime fans. Such is the case with The English Beat, who is releasing their first studio album in 30 years, Here We Go Love, on August 25.
Helmed by original founding member Dave Wakeling, also of General Public, The English Beat has been steadily touring over the past several years, and is currently showcasing their unique blend of ska, reggae, soul and punk on the Retro Futura Tour with the likes of Modern English, Howard Jones, Paul Young, and more. Using the past to propel themselves into the future.
Ghettoblaster recently had the opportunity to chat with Dave, discussing ways of connecting to new audiences, the lack of punctuation in the title of the new album, crowdsourcing the new album, embracing new technology and playing ‘retro’ shows.
Interview conducted by Abiyah. Photo by Bryan Kremkau.
Over the last few years, I know you’ve been working on Here We Go Love, which is your first English Beat album in 30 years.
Yes, Here We Go Love is out August 25, and we begin our UK tour the next day after wrapping up the Retro Futura tour in the U.S.
With that length of time between albums, what, for you personally, precipitated the need to do another album now, and when did you make that decision. Was it an epiphany?
Yes, yes it was. We had started new songs in the set and we started to play them quite well. We’d place them in between ‘Tears of a clown’ and ‘Tenderness.’ We’d go into that town again, people would be singing along, and the next time they were asking where they could buy the CD that has those songs.
That started to go on for a little while, a few months, until it started to be a standard thing, so we started making an effort with those songs we played out live. We started doing those pledge things [at music crowdsourcing site PledgeMusic, where they met 175 percent of goal], just over two years ago, and we started recording six months after [the campaign ended].
We’ve been doing it at a leisurely pace because we would be touring for a month or in the studio for a month, and then back on the road. It’s sort of been torturous, but it’s also been wonderful that you can listen to the songs at various stages as you’re traveling, going from city to city, looking out the window, looking at the trees. and you hear things in the songs that you don’t notice necessarily in the studio where you’re thinking about all the details. It’s good to be able to write songs on the road, send them back to the engineer, and build them up slowly.
That’s an interesting point you bring up because you were recording on tape in the early days, when a leisurely pace cost more money, but the pace you have now, using digital technology, allows you to get your ideas back more quickly while still giving you the freedom you want and need to have it turn out the way you want. How is that dichotomy of the tape vs. the digital for you?

It’s convenient because now that digital is full-blown, you can do anything. It’s a really basic question: well, what do you want to do? It’s like movies, your imagination runs more than that, so that’s kinda scary.
But what’s most fascinating is, having gone through the digital world, studio engineers have come to recognize what was good about the old analog systems and have integrated some of it, where normally they’re working in the box, that means inside the computer. When the songs are nearing completion, some of the effects, reverb and compressors that we use, we go in the studio and we load up a tune from 1964, or even 1972, with those same settings. We compare and contrast them, see which one we like the sound of best, then the engineer/producer carries that to another track, and puts it back in the box.
When we leave the studio, we manage to use the vast majority of its analog technology and record it straight back into the computer. You probably have to be in the studio with fifty speakers to hear the difference [between the versions], but the difference in the studio is stunning, the difference between a lot of layers, digital applications and the plastic sound and things. When you take them away, and, this sounds like a cliche, but it sounds warmer. and it sounds cleaner.
The gear, the way the compressors and stuff work. We use the technology to get the best sound and all the organic sounds, give it the possibility of being able to work on the computer, and then go back to the studio and use the studio to write what we can’t do elsewhere.
What are we going to hear on Here We Go Love? I’ve read a couple of things you’ve said about writing these new songs, where you’ll receive feedback like ‘those sound like Beat songs,’ which makes sense because you wrote those, but you’re not necessarily trying to write songs that are NOT like Beat songs either. Are we going to hear more of what’s inside you on this album and what would that sound like?
Yes, I think so. Although I used to try and force as much of it as I could. [Laughter] I tried as best I could to single out all the sounds that were in my head and, sometimes, it’s fascinating, because it turned out that when I thought an instrument was good, I made a big deal out of it if i thought it had potential.
The English Beat has been able to play with bands of a variety of genres, certainly punk and reggae, and at throwback events like the current Retro Futura tour. I noticed that recently [April 2017] you played the LA Freestyle Festival alongside many ‘90s Hip Hop and R&B artists. Given that you have a wide range of audiences that would feel you, how do you personally think your music connects to people?
It was more of a stretch at the Freestyle Festival than it is normally, but luckily we have songs like ‘Tears of a Clown’ that have a common reference point, and ‘Tenderness’ had been turned into a mash-up, so there was some connection we could make with the crowd. Your enthusiasm and connection are the same no matter the audience, plus we had only about a half-hour to play. It’s like a mix of Marvin Gaye and Austin Powers, but really trying to be more like Marvin Gaye.
I read something, I think on Billboard’s website, that early on in the English Beat days, the music magazines/papers would ask you fluff questions, like what color hair did the girls you like have, but you would use that as a subversive platform to mention serious issues, like Greenpeace. What are some of those key issues that you would mention today if you were asked fluff questions like that again?

They’re still the same ones, unfortunately.
Back to the new album: The Retro Futura tour ends in mid-August, with the album coming out a week later. You’re going over to the UK after that to tour?
Yes, we go to the UK until mid-September, then we come back and we’ll be touring until Christmas.
What is the story behind the title of the new album? And also, so I get it right, what is the inflection of it…is it ‘Here We Go LOVE’ or ‘Here We GO Love’?
Exactly. I decided to do it without any punctuation. In England, a person on the train is handing you something and they say, ‘here you go, love…here you go, love’ and it’s a term of endearment and affection. But then I started to think of the phrase and what if love was a noun in this context.
With music, you just put it out there for everyone to interpret on their own.

Van Morrison said that once you release a song it has nothing to do with you, but I understand what you mean. Sometimes people tell me what they think the lyrics are, and they’re actually sometimes very different…and I don’t tell them. If it inspires people to express themselves…
I’ll be seeing you at the Kettering, Ohio stop of the Retro Futura tour. It’s at a beautiful outdoor venue.
I love these kinds of shows. I like the atmosphere. I was watching Howard Jones perform, and I loved seeing the couples, arm-in-arm, singing the songs to each other, [Dave begins singing Howard Jones’ hit ‘What Is Love?’] ‘What is looo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooove’. I love doing these [retro] shows.
(Visit The English Beat here:
Catch The English Beat on the Retro Futura Tour in the following cities: