We spoke to Mike Score, A Flock Of Seagulls' lead singer and primary songwriter, who will be rolling out the classics along with other famed '80s artists during a big concert in Long Beach on August 24th.
I'd like to start out by talking about a few big things coming up, one of which is the big concert in Long Beach on Saturday August 24th, hosted by the legendary Richard Blade and featuring A Flock of Seagulls and many others. It's interesting that for so long, all these hugely popular bands from that very pivotal moment in music history stay so vivid in the collective consciousness of the people who love them. Everyone waxes so poetic about everything from the '80s and you ask them to come up with some '90s groups that made the same impact and you only get a handful. It must be rewarding to still have the love. Do you still get that great audience feedback when you are up there playing live?
Oh, a lot of the time yes. Because I think it was an era like the '60s where you tend to remember every band and what they did. I think that what happened in the '90s is that bands became more generic and they sounded more like each other. So in the '60s and the '80s, every band seemed to have its own personality and you knew almost the instant that a note came on the radio which band it was. For me, that's what makes the difference: the individuality of the bands rather than the conformity to each other. I think audiences like that. They like to go, "Well now Berlin are on" or "Now A Flock Of Seagulls are on" or Wang Chung and they know that it's a different sound. You go see a bunch of '90s bands and it's the same sound for three hours.
I've seen a few planned festivals featuring '90s bands that were previously huge either tank or cancel because of poor ticket sales. Made me think hard about staying power.
Yeah, I don't think they write songs. I think the '80s was the last real era of songwriting rock bands, you know? And then it just became formalized and I don't know why. I guess it's just the way that the people who created those bands grew up. They grew up with more of a formula in their heads than trying to be individual.
You've been touring a lot. Now I know that this big concert in Long Beach is you with A Flock Of Seagulls, but you've also come out with your debut solo single "All I Wanna Do" this year. When you are playing with the band do you ever work any solo tunes into the set list? Or is it just hits for the fans?
The Seagulls thing is the Seagulls thing. And I've kind of been working towards keeping that as kind of era specific. When I do my solo stuff live, I might include a couple of Seagulls things but the Seagulls thing, I don't think I'm going to stretch it out with solo stuff. And in fact I did my first solo single but I've got a second one ready to come out and an album right after that. But you heard about the robbery right?
Ugh, yes I did. That was actually the next thing I was going to ask you about. I heard all the rough copies and demos for the solo album were in that van, right?
Yeah, they were. I was going to finish it up right as it was taken. Stuff we've mastered and stuff we've finished mixing, but the album will still go ahead. It just means that I can't do any remixes or add or take away from anything because the main drives with all the tracks on them were stolen.
I'll assume that waylaid and delayed you quite a bit.
Artwork and everything was on them and the funny thing is that one was the main drive and then the other one was the backup and you know I was all like, "I'm fine, I'm good, everything is backed up if I lose a drive," but then they both get stolen at the same time. So even my backup was stolen. It's not a case of "Oh well, at least we can carry on."
You seem to have dealt with it rather well. Even Richard Blade, who is legendarily mild-mannered, came on his show on Sirius SX and each time before he'd play one of your songs he's recount the horrible story of the gear and the van being stolen. He was angry enough for ten men. So they found the van but none of the stuff in it, huh?
Yeah, well they found a couple of bits of gear but nothing that we needed. Just a few old pieces of gear like cabinets and guitar amps but nothing that gives us any hope that we'll get anything else.
Kind of makes you wish the culprits would find themselves surrounded by angry A Flock Of Seagulls fans and hit with the karma stick.
Could still happen.
Never say never.
Well, this has happened and I can't really do anything about it, I've just got to go on. And I mean, of course it makes me angry but angry doesn't get me through the next show or I can't walk on stage and go "I can't play because these bastards stole all my equipment." We're going to go on and do the best we can with what we've got. And it will take us a little while to put our sounds back together but that's what we've got to do. It's just a case of you've got to do what you've got to do.
That was some tap dance you had to do though. You went on stage right afterward with borrowed equipment, didn't you?
Yeah, we just borrowed some gear and played and everyone said it sounded great. We were like, "Well cool." That probably means that we can get by. We play on stage for ourselves, so we wanted to sound as good on stage as possible. But I think fans will be a bit more forgiving, you know what I mean? If little pieces are missing or the lead guitar doesn't quite get it right, the audience is still into the song. But for us it's like every little thing that's missing is a big thing. Like I said, we are just going to carry on and put it back together bit by bit. I think shortly we'll be, "Well, okay that happened but now we'll just be more careful in the future."
Lesson learned but I suppose you can't prevent well prepared thieves from following you after the show to your hotel.
Yeah and we've had long discussions about now and the thing is we've been traveling around with our gear in that van for years and nothing has ever happened to it so we got complacent. It just shows you that no matter what you do, really you have to keep an eye on everything you own.
You are very embedded in the cultural consciousness both musically and visually. MTV's rise and and domination had something to do with that. Now that the music video's time has sort of come and gone and in its place is this strangely manufactured cookie cutter system that rolls out very specific looking and sounding artists. Having been on the cutting edge of a new age of music and having seen that roll through, how do you feel about the dramatic and very corporate change in the music industry? Imagine A Flock of Seagulls tying to break in this climate?
I think the whole corporate thing has ruined the whole music scene. Maybe lawyers and accountants, they've taken over. You know rock and roll was always a chancy thing and you took your chance and most times if you were good, you made it and if you weren't, you fell by the wayside. Now unless you come up through Disney or something like that, then you are not going to get a chance. I know that there are lots of independent bands that put out their own things and they're successful but I don't think it's the same as being, say, a rock star from the sixties through the eighties. In the nineties, corporations took over the whole thing and they ruined the individuality and like I said before, the whole idea that you could come from nothing and play your guitar great and become a big rock star. That just doesn't seem to exist anymore, at least not on in the forefront of rock. Maybe you can do it in the background and then break through later, but I'd hate to be in a band starting out now, put it that way.
Granted not everybody who tried from the '60s through the '80s made it, but it was a lot more freewheeling and dangerous. And seemingly fun. I like it when I remember someone, they leave their mark. When I mention A Flock of Seagulls to someone they get an immediate visual and can sing at least a few songs. I know of no one who can't recall the hair and the videos. But now you'd never get promoted or managed correctly or allowed to do your thing. You make money or you get dropped from your label. I've seen big artists leave or get dropped from their label.
I don't think there are any real labels anymore really.
Giant corporations bought most of them.
It used to be like Island Records would grab an artist and say, "Oh I like these guys, let's put their record out" and it was a chance and the band took their chance. Now it's not a chance, the corporation just says, "We'll spend five million dollars and this guy is going to be huge" and then next year some little girl will come along and we'll do the same with her. Almost like you don't need talent.
And anything considered a mistake can just be glossed over. Auto-tune is the biggest thorn in my side. I hate it.
And I think American Idol and all that makes it interesting and what's the other one from the other side of the pond?
Yeah, it's stuff like that where people will become stars. It used to be if you were good, you got on TV and became bigger. Now they start their careers on television and they can't maintain on TV then their career is immediately on a downward slide. I really look at it and I kind of go, "Thank god I'm not starting out now."
Recently I watched some live footage and I compared it to older recording and I've got to say your voice still packs a punch. When I showed it to someone else they kept referring to A Flock Of Seagulls as synth/pop and I argued saying I remember you more as a guitar-driven band with layered melodies. Weird what you remember. Maybe I've been categorizing you wrong all these years.
Well, when my brother was drumming he was just a nonstop machine, so that drove everything along a lot of echoes and guitars and stuff like that. But you know what I think? That when people like something they add a little bit of something to the music themselves. You start going and little melodies appear in your head maybe just to add to what the band is playing. And of course when we recorded we multi-tracked everything so it probably sounds a little different. I think we're quite raw live and it seems to work for us for some reason. We might be better off with another synth, but it works as a four piece and that's how we've kept it.
Further dates on the tour past the August 24th concert in Long Beach?
We've got more shows, like this weekend we're playing the Mandalay Bay, then Long Beach, then we go out to Flagstaff Arizona, down into Mexico, and then across to NY and back into Minneapolis. The thing is, because it's not a tour where we play every day it can be a week or two between the shows and we could choose a couple more. If it's doing okay, it keeps getting extended by another couple of dates here and there. When it does well, promoters pick up another show here and there.
That's a lot of time and travel. When you work on your solo stuff between all this, that leaves little time where you aren't on the road. Will you just go out and tour when the solo record comes out as well?
Yes, if it gets to that point when the album comes out, I'm going to have agents try to put a tour together. It will be a short tour and then judging the reaction of that and what's going on with the Seagulls, I'll try to slot that into there. If we are doing, say, a Seagulls date in NY then I'll try to do a solo date in the same area in the same time frame. The whole thing will travel out not just as two separate bands but as a whole unit. And as far as the travel, it's better than sitting home and cooking flapjacks or whatever.
True. But you better pack your suitcase for a long trip.
I've lived out of a suitcase for the last twenty-five years really. Apart from I once took a year off and I had a great year doing stuff, but as soon as I got back to doing music I was like, "Ah, this is home." For me, being on the tour bus is like exploration. I like meeting fans, I like playing. It can get tiring with the travel but when you have a good show and you're tired, it lifts you out of that. You go, "Wow, that was awesome." And you know what the other thing is? When you get that call to do a show, it's kind of like they come out of nowhere. Usually the agent will call up and say, "Hey got you another two shows, blah blah blah, can you fit them in?" and you go, "Of course I can fit them in" because this is what I want to do. It's always a good feeling, it's never like, "Oh goddamn it, not more shows!"
As I get older, I'll have plenty of time to sit around and wonder why isn't anybody calling me.
Since you are a musician, if you were in charge of a music festival and you booked the acts and chose their final song to play before the last curtain-who would you choose and and what would be the tune?
So I'm choosing one song that everybody would have to play?
I think I'd have everybody sing "Hey Jude," and extend the end by twenty minutes so the whole crowd could get into it. I'd have Jimi Hendrix play a lead guitar solo in the middle of it. Actually I went to go see Paul McCartney a couple of months ago and I don't know how old he is now but he was absolutely brilliant.
Seventy one, I think.
He was brilliant, he had so much energy and his voice was great. I was just wowed. He looked like he was having a great time. The songs he played were brilliant and of course I'm a big Beatles fan anyway. But that to me was like, "This is a true rock star doing the real thing." So yeah, the closer would be "Hey Jude," the crowd can get involved in it and I'd have Roy Orbison, who I thought was brilliant in there.
A Flock Of Seagulls will be performing at Pine Ave. in Downtown Long Beach on Saturday, August 24 as part of Lost '80s Live. Joining them on the bill will be When in Rome (UK), Gary Myrick, Boingo Dance Party, Animotion, The Flirts, Naked Eyes, and more. Tickets are still available.