When this summer’s Retro Futura tour rolls into Pier Six in Baltimore Sunday old-school music fans will be treated to a barrage of singalong hits from the original bands that made them famous in the Reagan era. The one song everyone in the place will go the wildest for is “I Melt With You” by Modern English.
I sat down with the lead singer Robbie Grey to discuss the appeal of that hit, the joy of being on the road and Modern English’s new CD, “Take Me to the Trees.”
Question: How did you come back together to record a new album and tour?
Answer: You can blame the bass player, Mick Conroy. Mick sent me an email saying, “I’ve just bought a boat on the river.” He sent me a picture, and it was literally on the lake 20 minutes from my house in the countryside in England.
We met up and we started talking. Mick said, “How do you feel about getting the band back together?” I picked myself off the floor and said, “Yeah, why not?”
We got in contact with everyone from the original band all over the world. Everyone was up for it. We went into a rehearsal room and jammed for two or three hours, and it still worked. We decided we wanted to make a new record and go on tour. It has taken six years to get to this point.
Q: What has changed since the last time you were a band?
A: The music business has changed so much. People don’t buy music anymore. Even though “I Melt With You” has given us a lot of money over the years, we had to figure out a way to make it work financially as well. We’ve done that.
Q: What is the best part of being on Retro Futura tour with other ‘80s artists?
A: This is the first time we’ve done one. We normally keep away from them because we prefer to go out on our own and play our really old wild material. Left field stuff [like] the first album, “Mesh & Lace.”
We did this tour because we’ve got the new album out. This gives us a chance to play the old stuff and the commercial stuff. Plus play a track from our new album to a middle-of-the road audience that wouldn’t normally hear it. And that’s good.
We play the new song, which is just as good as anything else they’re gonna hear.
Q:”Take Me to the Trees” is a return to your punk roots. It sounds like it should have been the second album. Was that intentional?
A: Yeah. The album is like a bridge between “Mesh & Lace” and “After the Snow.”
After “I Melt With You,” everything went crazy for us and we were in the commercial world of the music business. Which is what it is: It’s a business. When you’re trying to give exciting, edgy music to people, it’s sometimes difficult. But because we’re OK now, financially … we just decided to do what we wanted. We’ve got no record company.
Q: What was the recording process like?
A: It took over two years to write and record it. Mick works in an art gallery space near where we live. The space has a massive live room which we could record in and get a big sound. So we tried to do as much live as possible.
Most of it is live. We didn’t want to overdub lots and lots of things.
Q: Do you think your music has come back into fashion?
A: It is strange the whole punk thing has come around again. Suddenly we’re playing to 20-year-old kids in Joy Division T-shirts. They look like when we were 20. It’s a complete circle.
The “Mesh & Lace” album is back in fashion. We’re back in fashion. It’s strange times for us really.
Q: What did you do in the years Modern English wasn’t active?
A: I had a vintage store that I ran for a couple of years. I moved out of London, firstly [and] decided to change my life. I got married. We only really didn’t do the band for about seven years.
Q: “I Melt With You” has been in so many commercial and films. Was it ever in anything that offended or surprised you?
A: When Burger King used it, [keyboardist] Steve [Walker] was a vegan. Before vegan was fashionable, I’ll let you know. He complained about it.
Steve likes to complain every now and again. I said, “Steve, your cut of it is 20 grand.” He said, “All right.” (Laughs)
We don’t really have a problem with that stuff. It was nice when it was used in the film [“I Melt With You” starring] Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven. “I Melt With You” has been amazing for us.
Q: Are there places in the world you don’t play “I Melt With You”?
A: Most of the places. When we go to mainland Europe, they don’t want to hear “I Melt With You”. Germany. Italy. Belgium. Spain. Portugal. England they do like “I Melt With You,” but they prefer the older, edgier stuff.
“Melt With You” in America is phenomenal, really.
Q: Is there any aspect of it you consider a burden?
A: I can’t ever say it’s been a burden, really. Every time we play it, there is such an exciting moment as the crowd gets involved in it. Doesn’t matter if you have black clothes on or not. Everyone seems to like it.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: We’re hoping to do another album next year. Everyone is still really enjoying themselves. We’re interested in just getting on with the music.