It's not every day you get to speak with the guy who taught you how to play synthesizer. But that's kind of what I did when I spoke with Animotion's Bill Wadhams, whose "Obsession" was one of the first songs I taught myself how to play on the synth. Bill spoke with me about the Lost '80s Live tour, Mandalay Bay, where he was when he first saw the "Obsession" video, and more.
Animotion will be performing as part of the Lost '80s Live show in Long Beach on August 24th. What can fans expect at the show?
Well, the Lost '80s Live shows, they string together a bunch of bands. We all play abbreviated sets, about twenty minutes per band. But we pack as much as we can into that twenty minutes. Each of the bands will be playing their biggest hits.
The tour played at Mandalay Bay's Beach Stage this past weekend. What was that like?
It was fantastic. The show sold out. There were 3,500 people there. The crowd really comes to see bands from the '80s and they're just on fire. They're a really fun crowd. It was a great night.
What's the location like? Isn't that where they watch you in water?
Yeah. It's crazy because at the Beach Stage, you can actually stand in the water if you want. The deepest part right in front of the stage is maybe three feet deep. The actual floor of the stage is ten feet above the water, so you don't want to be too close or you can't see. But if you go online, you'll see pictures of the stage and you'll see lots of people standing in the water with their shorts or bikinis. It's a fun venue.
Why do you think festivals like Lost '80s Live are so popular?
Honestly, a lot of people know the songs better than the bands, I think. For some of us, people are more likely to come out to a show that has a few '80s artists. If Animotion was playing by itself, it's less likely to sell out a venue or bring the people out.
Strength in numbers.
"Obsession" is one of those touchstone songs from the mid '80s. When you guys were
recording it, did you have any idea how big it would become?
No. As a matter of fact, I kind of thought that it would not be a hit. It was kind of wacky how Animotion came together. I had a solo band. I met Astrid and a few other people that had formed a group and they were lacking a male singer/guitarist/songwriter because there had been a shakeup in their band. I joined up with them and to me it was kind of a wacky project, but it had some things I didn't have in my solo career. I didn't have a lawyer, a manager, a producer. Astrid and a couple of the other people were in another band and they had some of that going on. When I hooked up with them and we recorded the album, I thought, "Well this is all good but I don't really know if it's ever going to see the light of day." After we recorded the album and actually put it out, it sort of did nothing for almost a year, from the time we recorded it until the time it was added to a P1 station in Los Angeles. Once it hit that station, it took off. But I did not see that coming.
MTV was so huge at the time. What went through your heads the first time you saw your video on there?
The album was out and it was not doing very much. It was getting local play in LA. The first time I saw the video was on a... a radio station had a video program called Video One in Los Angeles. I was painting a house and I heard the song on the TV in the house. There was some lady living there, a little old lady, and I said, "Excuse me, can I come in and take a look at your TV because I think I might be on it." She said, "Sure. If you're on TV, what are you doing painting my house?"
I don't remember when I saw it on MTV, but I can tell you once it hit MTV, we were being played in power rotation, which meant once an hour. Once it hit MTV in power rotation, I was recognized every time I walked out the door. It was phenomenal.
You guys are unfairly labelled as one-hit wonders. At this point, do you just laugh it off or point them to your two other Top 40 hits?
Well you know, our keyboard player said it best: "You don't see any TV shows about two-hit wonders." They keep pulling us in, whether it's NBC, MTV, VH1 or whatever. "We're doing this thing called Hit Me Baby..." When I first heard the moniker, I was like, "Oh, great. That kind of sucks." But now that it doesn't really matter to me. It's all good.
You also record and perform with Brian Huston. I listened to a few of your originals and covers and you guys sound great together with really great harmonies. What brought the two of you together?
Brian is a film director and I've done some work as an Art Director on film here in Portland. We met on a video set. He put together a jam session with a bunch of people working in film and video in Portland. We had a good old time and after we did it a few times, I noticed that Brian was the one in the group that could really hold a harmony. He was really steady with his melodies and harmonies so we decided to start playing out together. We've been doing that for about four years and we have a bunch of shows coming up in Portland between now and the end of the year.
Final question: Make your dream Lost '80s Live show. Pick five contemporaries to perform on the bill with you and tell me what song you'd all perform together as the final jam.
Ooh, nice. Well the Lost '80s is kind of like... we're not the Princes and Phil Collinses. At least I know we're not the A-list of the '80s, but some of our songs are A-list. But if I had a choice of any '80s groups on the bill, I'd start out with Peter Gabriel. David Bowie. The Eurythmics or Annie Lennox. And Simply Red.
I'd say A Flock Of Seagulls because they've been great to work with for the last ten years. We've done a lot of shows with them and they're a great live band and they're good guys.
Awesome. What song would you all perform together as the final jam?
Animotion 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 A Flock Of Seagulls, When in Rome (UK), Gary Myrick, Boingo Dance Party, The Flirts, Naked Eyes, and more. Tickets are still available.