Modern English

Modern English

The Veldt

Wed, November 22, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Rough Trade NYC

Brooklyn, NY

$20

This event is 21 and over

Modern English
Modern English
Take Me To The Trees

Bands are like families, bound by something deeper than friendship – and liable to implode just as irrevocably. Yet that familial bond can equally draw you back, and so it is that four-fifths of the original Modern English have recorded their first album together in 30 years.

Funded by PledgeMusic and released via Kartel Music Group, Take Me To The Trees not only reconnect the band to their roots, in the fervent and fecund world of late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk Britain, but they have co-produced it with Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. Moreover, the album’s beautiful cover is by venerated art director Vaughan Oliver, whose very first sleeve design was Modern English’s ‘Gathering Dust’ single in 1980.

Original members Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar) and Steven Walker (keyboards) first reunited in 2010, to tour the US, UK and Paris, before accepting an invitation to re-record ‘I Melt With You’ for Mark Pellington’s film of the same name. The band’s most famous track was a US Top 50 single in 1984 after being featured in the rom-com film smash Valley Girl following Sire licensing its parent album After The Snow from their UK label 4AD. “It all went haywire from there, in a Beatles and Stones way, with all the trappings that went with it,’ Grey recalls.

Given Modern English’s roots were post-punk icons Wire and Joy Division – dark and austere while still melodic and passionate – it was strange to be treated like the new Duran Duran, and the band split after the third album, Ricochet Days (1986). “4AD was a family-run label, where we felt taken care of,” Grey recalls (he, McDowell and Conroy were part of the first version of 4AD’s so-called ‘house band’ This Mortal Coil, born in 1983 with covers of Modern English songs ‘16 Days’ and ‘Gathering Dust’), “and then we entered the shark-infested waters of the mainstream, but business wasn’t why we got into music in the first place. It wasn’t enjoyable, or creative, but stifling.”

Which explains the sense of unfinished business to Take Me To The Trees, a return to the sound and vision of Modern English’s debut single ‘Drowning Man’ (on their own Limp label) and, after becoming just the second band (after Bauhaus) to sign to 4AD, the singles ‘Swans On Glass’ and ‘Gathering Dust’ and the debut album Mesh And Lace (1981), of which James Murphy of LCD Soundystem says, “That record is a sneaky secret that everyone writes off, because they just think it's going to be a ‘Melt With You' but it sounds way scarier than any Joy Division record."

“Scary”, though, was no longer on the agenda, not when Grey and Conroy reformed Modern English for 1990’s Pillow Talk album, or when Grey fronted a new version for 1996’s Everything’s Bad and 2010’s Soundtrack. But when Conroy moved from London to Suffolk in 2008, which turned out to be 20 minutes from where Grey lived (when he wasn’t spending time at his home on the island of Koh Mak in Thailand), the pair met up and realised what they’d been missing: the original band.

McDowell had also been living in Thailand, though in Pattaya: “party central!” says Grey. “He loves riding his motorbike around. While my thing is beaches and the weather.” They hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years; no one had seen Walker either, until they all started rehearsing for the 2010 tour. “It was like the intervening years hadn’t happened,” says Conroy. “And the old songs still sounded as good.”

After the tour, they started swopping new ideas, “some from jamming in a room, like we used to do,” says Grey. “We looked at each other, just laughing. It was amazing.”

Grey vouches for McDowell’s guitar style: “Nobody else I know plays like Gary, maybe John McGeoch [Magazine, the Banshees] is closest, all abstract and interesting. It’s been hard writing Modern English songs without someone like him.” Conroy is equally complimentary about Walker, who’d been working in record retail rather than making music: “Stephen was the non-musician, the Eno of the band, thinking outside the box. Sometimes he’ll do something that none of us would have dreamt of.”

The final part of the jigsaw was Martyn Young, who Conroy had known since school, while Modern English and Colourbox were peers at 4AD, and had stayed in touch. “Martyn saw us live a few years ago, and said that one new song especially affected him,” Conroy recalls. “We said we were recording new material, but it wasn’t happening as we’d hoped, and he said, ‘sounds like you need a producer…’ He’d always said no to us before! Martyn brings an amazing set of ears, and an incredible knowledge of computers and sound. He also understands what we’re doing, and didn’t try and change us. And who else was going to design the cover but Vaughan? We were so relieved when he also said yes!”

The band’s fired-up vitality is palpable in the album’s pulsating opener ‘You’re Corrupt’, laced with Grey’s rant against corporate greed, “and the throwaway nature of modern culture. It’s a time when even the truth is watered down.” ‘Sweet Revenge’ and ‘Flood Of Light’ equally have the “edgy style” Grey reckons, of their Mesh And Lace era, “and lyrically cut up, and strange.” Some lyrics, like ‘Don’t Seem Right’, were written in Suffolk, “so they’re gloomier,” while others were penned in Thailand, like “Moonbeam”, “under starry skies and a full moon.” The album title Take Me To The Trees (a line from the song ‘Trees’) was also inspired by nature: “it seemed like a sister title to [1982 album] After The Snow, and to us getting lost along the way.”

The band have also found room for a new, spectral mood in the ballads ‘It Don’t Seem Right’ (“a love song of people forced apart”) and ‘Come Out Of Your Hole’ (which started as a sexual image “before evolving into something else altogether”). As the album finally took shape, the band toured America again in the summer of 2016, playing Mesh And Lace in its entirety, as the album was reissued by the US indie Drastic Plastic. “It’s been brilliant,” says Grey. “The audiences were, in the main, young. I’m out of the loop in the modern world, but the music we used to make is fashionable again. We’ll play the new album next time, and we’re writing new songs.”

The family that is Modern English look like sticking together a while longer.

Martin Aston
Author of Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD 
The Veldt
The Veldt
Daniel and Danny Chavis are natives of Raleigh/ Chapel Hill, North Carolina, East Village residents for the past 28 years and co-founders of the groundbreaking band The Veldt, who lifted their band’s name from a Ray Bradbury science fiction story. Musically reared in the church and juke-joints of their native southern state, the twins have been performing since they were children, listening to music that included gospel, Motown and Pink Floyd. In March, they, together with bassist/programmer Hayato Nakao, return to their roots with the release of the EP The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation Mixtape on March 18, 2016.

Featuring the emotionally wrought first single Sanctified, a ballad that perfectly captures the lush sound of Danny’s screeching guitars, decibel breaking distortion, a frenzy of feedback and Daniel’s soulful wail, and Hayato Nakao’s deep bass grooves and guitar feedback, the track serves as the perfect re-introduction to this dynamic band. Long-time collaborator A.R. Kane produced the final track on the EP, while Mahogany’s Andrew Prinz contributes guitar on two tracks, with Marie Cochrane on vocals for another two.

The title The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur was borrowed from an E.E. Cummings poem. Its raging sound was influenced equally by the emotional soul of Marvin Gaye, free jazz warriors Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders, various Drake hip-hop tracks, and their own fertile electric imagination.

In their early days, the Chavis brothers making a name for themselves playing throughout the south at a time when fellow southerners REM and Superchunk were securing major label deals. As more black rock bands (Living Colour, 24/7 Spyz) began selling records and gigging throughout the world, the Veldt was courted by various labels, including IRS Records and Capitol.

Initially signed to Capitol Records in 1989, the Veldt embarked on a musical journey that changed their lives. Soon, they were in the studio with dream-gaze guru Robin Guthrie working on their debut Marigolds, playing American concert halls with the Cocteau Twins, working with A.R. Kane, and opening for Jesus and the Mary Chain in England. The Veldt were a sensation from the start as they became a part of a movement of innovators who came of musical age at a time when rhythmic rebels were reflective, gritty and wild; their sound inspired future generations of alternative artists, including TV On the Radio.

They switched labels and Mercury Records released Afrodisiac in 1994. Their single Soul in a Jar was an underground hit.

As the brothers moved to expand their musical language, fusing more electronics into their soundscape, they retired the “Veldt” name and, for various reasons, began recording and touring under under the name Apollo Heights. In 1999, the Chavis brothers met bassist Hayato Nakao, who would become their permanent partner. Their music was loud, exploring color, space, sensuality and beat driven melodies with rhythmic and dynamic tension. Daniel's falsetto vocals cast a contrast upon the wall of sound created by Danny's heavy rock dreamscape guitar and Hayato's pounding and licentious beats.

Although the Veldt were signed by two major labels after leaving Mercury Records in 1995, the brothers decided to remain indie and self-released their 2008 album White Songs for Black People. “The major labels were always trying to get us to change our sound, our look or both,” Daniel laughs. “But, we had no interest in being the next Lenny Kravitz or Tony! Toni! Toné! Unfortunately, not everyone shared our vision. We weren’t trying to be rock stars, we just want to play our music and pay our rent.”

Apart from Robin Guthrie and A.R. Kane, they have collaborated with TV On The Radio, Mos Def and Lady Miss Kier (Deee-Lite), and have shared the stage with My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Manic Street Preachers, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis, Living Colour and TV on the Radio, among others.

After changing their name back to The Veldt, the Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur serves as the band's re-emergence, to be followed by another full album of material on their Resurrection Hymns LP later this year. Indeed, for these veteran musicians and passionate noise technicians, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur marks a new beginning.
Venue Information:
Rough Trade NYC
64 N 9th St
Brooklyn, NY, 11249