Modern English: Interview

Modern English formed back in post-punk Britain in the midst of Margaret Thatcher era. Now, over three decades since their last record, the guys are preparing to release new album ‘Take Me To the Trees’. We found out more from front man Robbie Grey:  

You’re about to release your first full length album in over three decades. Why did you decide to get back into it?

I missed being creative for one thing. Actually it’s all the the bass player Michael Conroy’s fault because he moved to a town close to where I live in Suffolk. He sent me a picture of where he lived and it’s literally 20 minutes from my house so we met up to talk and he said shall we get the band back together, my jaw dropped. We thought about it for a while, and we contacted the keyboard player Stephen Walker and the guitarist Gary McDowell and everyone wanted to do it. It’s been fantastic, an amazing experience.

You toured your debut album from 1981 ‘Mesh and Lace’ last year, was it a natural decision to start making new music together again?

Yeah, I mean ‘Mesh and Lace’ was made in 1980, it was our first album when we were all really young and raw. That was an exciting album, when we went out on tour in America last year we wanted to literally just play our first album and the early singles just to show where our roots were coming from. I think with the new album ‘Take Me to the Trees’ we’re sort of showing a follow on from those times even though there’s been a 30 year period in the middle where nothing’s happened. We were always going to write original material, it was just the style we were going to write in- Gary has such a distinctive guitar sounds and Steve’s keyboards are really noisy and interesting. It all came together quite easily.

Tell us a bit about how it was to be a band back in post-punk Britain?

Well it was a really important time. Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister, the country was black and white, it was all unemployment and signing on the doll. Where we lived in London was a grim place back then – it wasn’t as colourful or exciting as it is now. We lived in Ladbrook Grove which is now a very posh area but back then it was dangerous. The whole country was bleak and the music came out of that. It was a really exciting time going from The Pistols, The Clash, and then to the post-punk sounds of Joy division, Wire, the Cure, hundreds of bands. It was just bands learning to get away from the straight forward music of punk rock and finding their own way with atmospheric sounds and effects pedals and things like that, that’s what most of the bands were doing.

What are some of the motivations behind your new album ‘Take Me to the Trees’?

Lyrics are my main focus. I mean the first song ‘You’re Corrupt’ off the new album is a big dig at businesses and the banking systems; all the things that have been happening recently. We first went to America when Ronald Reagan was president and now we’ve got Donald Trump to look forward to. Things haven’t changed that much, it sounds crazy to say but the world is just as crazy as it ever was which we like to reflect in the words of our songs. Nature is also a big influence for us. Our second album ‘After the Snow’ was really successful over there, it sold over a million records in the states, and a lot of the new tracks on ‘Take Me to the Trees’ contain similar nature instincts. There’s a marriage really of ‘After the Snow’, and ‘Take Me to the Trees’, they could be long lost sisters to each other actually.

The band still consists of four of its five founding members, how has it been recording with old friends again?

Yeah, we tried to get the drummer as well but it just didn’t happen. It’s been excellent- we’ve got a little studio in Suffolk which is in an art gallery- it’s got a big live room where they hang the paintings and we use that to do the recording in. Mick’s got a little mixing room as well in the gallery so we spent a lot of time creating it, off and on for over two years with Martin Young. It was just really good fun, and natural. When we got back in the room together us four original members it wasn’t difficult to write, it came together quite well.

Tell us a bit about your second single ‘Sweet Revenge’ which has just been released?

I really like ‘Sweet Revenge’. It’s two and half minutes of in your face music. I really like garage guitar and I like the fact that it sounds really energetic and youthful even though we’re a load of old men. It was really important for us to try and keep some energy in the music, we definitely did that with ‘Sweet Revenge’. It’s getting a lot of radio play too, which is interesting because we haven’t been on the BBC in a long time. We’ll be showcasing the track when we play at the 100 club in London. Again the lyrics are about modern love and looking to blame other people.

‘I Melt with You’ featured in Stranger Things, are you a fan of the show or even aware it was in the programme?

Yeah they always send us the publishers universal, all these requests by different people. We said yes to it because it sounded really interesting. I’ve literally been watching it about a month ago here, it’s really good isn’t it? It’s great to see it in a pool scene and I really like Winona Ryder. It’s a really interesting series, it felt like an old fashion series, a Steven Spielberg type thing. What’s really nice about ‘Melt with You’ being in it is that its played all the way through and its only really The Clash track and Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ that are played in their entirety so the song’s in good company.

You set off in tour in March, are there any nerves? It’ll be the first time you’ve toured in a new album for a while…

Yeah I mean we toured last year with ‘Mesh and Lace’ and it was really successful. My only worry would be going back out on tour again so early is that it might not be so successful. I’m not nervous I’m just really excited, and looking forward to playing some of the new tracks live. Quite a lot of these tracks haven’t been played live before, so when we play in London and go to America it will be the first time for some of these songs.

Do you think the album will transfer well live?

Yeah I think ‘Sweet Revenge’ and ‘You’re Corrupt’ will be in your face, like a lot of our early stuff is. They’re two of the main tracks we’ll be playing live because they’re both the tracks that are being played on the radio across America, the UK, Europe and in Gambia! We’re on the radio in Gambia which is a first!

When you write music do you take into consideration how the tracks will transfer over to the live capacity?

Not really, we’ve been lucky because ‘Melt with You’ pays all the bills so we don’t have to formulate our music in anyway. We can pretty much do what we like really because we’re comfortable. We just do what we want and then we weed out the songs we don’t like or get 20 second bits of music and we’ll develop them and put words to them. We don’t really ever think about how its going to end up. If we like something to start with we’ll carry on working on it. I feel sorry for a lot of the bands now because it’s difficult for them. There’s like a million bands and there’s only really the internet available for them. When we were doing stuff, like ‘Mesh and Lace’ it sold 20,000 copies and that was in the indie chart, it didn’t even get to the normal charts. If you sold 20,000 copies now it would be number one. Basically music was everything to our generation and I’m not too sure it’s the same for everyone who’s young now.

What’s next for Modern English?

After we get back from the states which will take us through to April we’ll probably finish off writing our next album which we’ve kind of half-finished already. That’s going to be even more left field and even more interesting. We’ve got another tour of America in the summer, and a few gigs about Europe. We’re also doing an interview with the BBC in February 25th with Laura Laverne.

Check out the absolute classic ‘Melt with You’ below:

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