by James Bonisteel
Modern English is one of those bands that really makes you think of your childhood. They have been around for so long, and it’s amazing
how well they are doing. They are still around and their new songs are better than ever! On a cold winter’s night I found them sitting around
eating and having a good time, although the club they played at was so far out there that everyone including the band got lost trying to find it.
I had the excellent opportunity to interview Robbie Grey, the lead singer and guitarist for the band.
- My favorite song that you did was Ink and Paper.
- Not you as well! A lot of people have been calling out for that, but we have done a lot of new material
- Are you still on Imago Records?
- We were last year but we didn’t like them. They weren’t very good at what they did. In fact, they
didn’t do anything.
- It’s no wonder no one ever heard you on that label.
- Exactly my point.
- So what have you been up to recently?
- Since the beginning of last year we have been working really hard. We have done six tours in the
States. We have put together a whole album’s worth of material back in London. We have been quite busy really.
- So how long have you been touring in the States now?
- As of tonight it will be our seventeenth show. We are set up for at least thirty gigs in the States.
- Do you think a lot has changed since the beginning of the band?
- I think the music that we are doing at the moment is like some of our older albums in the past - well,
not exactly but close to it. We are using a lot of groove and rhythm as well so it is not exactly like the old stuff. There’s a lot of that angry
guitar that we used to have after the album “After the Snow”.
- Did I hear you say you have enough material for a new album?
- Well, as of now, we have six or seven new songs that we are taking around the country because we
want to break the new material in. We have also gotten back to basics doing small venues. It has been really fun.
- Are you looking for a label, then?
- We are looking for some conservative labels - we are going through lawyers and all that stuff. Right
now we are dealing with that side of it.
- Have your shows been really receptive on this tour?
- It’s strange really because everybody’s always mentioning the new material, especially the young kids.
They seem to really get into it. I mean, we really are not young guys anymore (I’m not anyway), and if you get young people in the
audience they will get everyone else to move. That is what has been good about it - I mean some people only seem to know us from our
melodies and sometimes we end up doing jock bars that do not do anything for us at all because they do not want to hear our melody,
and our new stuff is a lot tougher than that - a lot more intelligent that just a so-happy song. It depends on the kind of shows we do on
how well it goes. But they seem to go very well especially the past eight or so have been really good. We had one dodgey one which was
a real glitzy disco place with a bunch of forty-year-olds. The audience didn’t really understand, but those places seem to pay the most
money, so we end up there just for the money.
- Your songs “Melt With You”, “Ink and Paper”, “Hands Across the Sea” and many others went well for
you in the past. It’s nice to see you having a lot of new material, but how much of the older stuff are you playing in your shows?
- We are playing “Melt With You”, “After the Snow”, “Ricochet Days”, “Life in the Glad House”, and
“Hands Across the Sea”, but all the rest of the stuff is new.
- Obviously you do not have the original lineup.
- I am the only original member - I guess you can say I am the granddad of the band. I mean I have been
involved in it from the beginning all the way through. There was a period around the album “Stop start” where it wasn’t good as a band,
but now it’s really excellent. It’s the best it has been for a very long time, but to me that is a lot more important than the music in a way
because if you don’t get along on these tours it can be a nightmare. So with those two things together - good new songs and the people in
the band it doesn’t really matter as long as you can play your stuff and play festivals or little bars it doesn’t really matter, it’s just good fun
all the time.
- So where did you meet everyone else in the band?
- We are all old friends. Matthew Shipley, the keyboard player, comes from the same town. Jonathan
Solomon - actually I haven’t known him very long. Then there’s Steve Walker, and Ian Robbins here used to be in Colourbox on the 4AD
label. There are a lot of music connections as well - Jon was in Tiny Monroe and the Auteurs. Matthew was more into the dance thing.
He’s more into the technology, so we have a mixture of stuff in the band.
- Do you ever keep in contact with the original members of Modern English?
- Actually, it’s really funny. We got interviewed by Key Magazine in England and none of us had seen
each other in a long time. I’ve seen Mick Conroy and Stephen Walker, but the others like Gary McDowell and Richard Brown - the drummer
and guitarists - I don’t know what they’re doing to be honest. I found what they were doing through the magazine. They’re just around,
they’re all trying things. Richards started drumming again, Gary is still making music, Mick started making music again, and Stephen has his
own record store. That’s all I really know to be honest.
- Who is writing most of the new material?
- We just get a rehearsal room and just muck around until something pops up that we all like, and then
we start working on that. I might write some words on it then, or I might take a tape of it home and start working on words there. I really like
it because it is not too formulated. You can sit down and formulate your music and do a verse, chorus, verse, chorus. In fact a lot of the
new stuff isn’t really verse, chorus - it’s more like parts of music which again was like Mish and Lace acoustical music, you know, when it
goes in movements.
- So what do you see for the future of this band?
- We just live from one day to the next. We have been in this country approximately five or six months
out of this year, so you know we work a lot. I think by this time next year we will have an album out that people are going to respond to.
We will probably be supporting a big act on a tour, probably theaters or something - that’s what I imagine will be happening next year.
Right now we are doing demos in January, and right now we have most of that written. After that we are going to come back to do a tour for
a record company, actually that will be in New York, and we will just take it from there.
- Well, thank you for talking to me. We want people out there to know that you do indeed still exist as a
band in spite of what Imago Records did for you.
This band is so amazing. They have so much musical talent. Steven, Jonathan, and Ian all have been in very diverse bands previously, and
they are all very talented. By the way, this band is looking for a label, so if you have one, get a hold of them.
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