April 24, 2018 Interview – Dave Wakeling of The English Beat
The Beat, or known in the United States and Canada as The English Beat, and in Australia as The British Beat, are one of those bands which are difficult to categorize on a shelf at the local record store. A melting pot of styles, ranging from Ska, to Pop, to Soul, to Reggae and Punk Rock, they truly are a unique musical oasis all their own.
Come together in the late 1970s, a time of social upheaval in the UK, The Beat would go on to a string of success in the decade to follow with singles such as “Mirror In the Bathroom,” “Save It for Later,” and “I Confess.” Now, all these years later, The Beat goes on as Lead Guitarist/Vocalist/Songwriter Dave Wakeling continues to tour consistently, and after years of studio silence, prepares to release a brand new album, entitled Here We Go Love. Eager to bring the music to the people, the genuinely nice guy Wakeling sat down to talk the times of The Beat, the story behind the new music, the current social upheaval in the USA, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – The history of the English Beat dates back 4 decades, and, in the early ’80s, the band attained success internationally while crafting their own unique sound/style. Through ups and downs, what has the journey been like for you and the band?
Dave Wakeling – Well, you learn certain things along the way. It’s good to be outspoken and do things you really mean and believe, because you are going to have to do it a lot. It’s much easier to do them over and over again if you really meant them in the first place, we have been sort of lucky with that. The thing you learn, you write the songs for yourself, I think everybody does, but I certainly do. You write them like a game of scrabble with yourself; you try and sort things out – different ideas, moods, and feelings. You try and put a sense to them, try and build a cage around your own life somewhere. You try sorting things out in your own mind, and when you finish the song that is kind of the end of some sort of resolution or at least acceptance.
Then when the song comes out for anyone else to listen to, it is kind of like it’s second life in a way. It is fascinating to what people take of the songs and what they mean to them; then they come tell you 20 or 30 years later what certain songs have meant to them at poignant moments in their lives – births and deaths. There are two things: it gives you a stronger impression of yourself, because sometimes what they have gotten from the song isn’t exactly what you meant but a broader sense of it. Secondly, you learn what a thrill it is to be of such service: a poem you could have written in angst 30 years ago still gives people comfort to recite nowadays. You get more a sense of wonder and obligation, really.
CrypticRock.com – That is the beauty of music: no matter how old a song may be, it could still leave an impression on someone. As you said, it can also tell you something about yourself as the songwriter since everyone has different interpretations of the songs.
Dave Wakeling – That’s right. Now, sometimes I feel like my job is kind of like a musical service, that is a lucky job to have.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Beyond The Beat you also had a good deal of success with General Public. Was the new venture a breath of fresh air for you at the time?
Dave Wakeling – It was. With The Beat – although Ska had been one of the things we liked along with Motown, Punk, Reggae, and Soul music – because our first single came out on 2 Tone Records, we were seen first and foremost as a Ska group, regardless of the fact that songs like “Save It For Later,” “I Confess,” even though “Mirror in the Bathroom,” sort of had a very vague resemblance to Ska, just kind of specific beat. With General Public, it was a Pop group and not a Ska band. That allowed a bit more freedom, although, there was just as many Reggae beats in General Public as there was in The Beat. We were perceived as a Pop band and not a Ska band, just really because that is what the bio said, I think.
CrypticRock.com – Both bands are unique within themselves. You have kept The English Beat going strong in recent years, touring regularly, and now you are set return with a new album, entitled Here We Go Love, on June 15th in the US. It has been quite some time since you have released music as The English Beat. What inspired the new music?
Dave Wakeling – We had written a couple of songs and we started putting them in the set just for a variety sake. Then people started showing up asking if they could buy a CD with those 2 new songs on it. One thing led to another, which led to a pledge campaign, which started recording. Recording finished the end of last year, the record is finished, finished the artwork, and it will be out in May in the UK and June in The States. It’s fantastic, it has come out a lot better than I expected. It has come out better than I could have dreamt really, in terms of the quality of the sound and recording, as well as how closely the songs resemble how they sounded in my head before I played them to anybody. I am satisfied from that point of view.
It was an interesting journey because the studio is of course quite a lot more technological than the last time I spent any time in there. Although, the first Beat album was the first digital album made in England, so we would like to think of ourselves as cutting edge. Nowadays, you can more or less make anything you want in the studio. It is really more a matter of what you want, you have to really decide what you want, because you can have anything. It is a bit like modern filmmakers because you can have the pictures do anything you like, if you can’t film it, you can just make it up on the computer. Now it is back to the imagination, what do you want it to do? That part of it is really exciting to see how you can blend technical maneuverability with musical prowess.
I was quite pleased with the way I did in the studio because it is quite technological – the younger studio people move very quick and they are good at it. Every now and then I would say, “What’s that?” and they would ask what. I would tell them, “I don’t know what it was but something is wrong.” I can’t measure it, I don’t read music notes, and I can’t tell you what bar or whatever; for me, it feels like the train just came off the track. (Laughs) I told them play it again, they do, and they said, “How did you hear that? That snare drum was one millisecond out.” They put it back in and I said, “That’s better.” They were quite surprised. I think I might have quite an acute sense of time because of wanting to deliver lyrics, you like to time the lyrics in front or behind the beat to make different emotional effects with the words. You are playing with fractions and milliseconds all the time, I think. They were quite impressed with me in the studio that I didn’t think anyone would notice but I was right, I spotted something.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is really impressive! It will be exciting to hear the new music, and you will be out touring in support of the new album. Speaking of which, you have really dedicated yourself to the live performance over the years. How important is to you as a musician to be able to play live as often as you do?
Dave Wakeling – It is certainly a great way to find if a song works, there is no better way. There is no better way to remind an audience in a certain area that you are back and mean it. Then by doing a good show, showing up the next year, and doing another good one. People seem to like they can count on us coming back – they made their friends at the shows, and they have become sort of social events now. They are starting to sell out in advance as well, a lot of them, I would say over half the shows are sold out in advance, that is very nice. Also, there are now often 2 nights in the same place because the first one is sold out, and by the time we get there the second one is sold out as well. It is really quite something.
We have a particular pattern to the way we do it. We do 20 shows in a tour bus, then we spend a month at home just doing Friday and Saturday weekend warrior shows in California. That way most of the people can have a semblance of a real life and do other things as well. You never get to do that many shows in a row that you get so burnt out that you can’t bare the thought. It’s a way of keeping a pretty high-standard for the musicians involved in the band. We play anywhere between 150 to 170 shows a year. It has worked out very well but most of the time, or a lot of time, you have Sunday through Thursday 4 weeks in a row. It’s been very difficult for me the last couple of years because recording has taken up every time where we haven’t been doing a show, that got to be a bit much. Most of the time, it is quite a decent and comfortable lifestyle, but it does appear we are the hardest working band in Ska.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly does appear to be that way. You also come back to the same venues a lot. It is wonderful you have built a rapport with the areas and venues. One venue you go to a lot is The Paramount in Huntington, New York.
Dave Wakeling – Yes, right from the beginning of them opening, we have touched the crowd there. They give you a brick – I have two bricks from them. I probably should have another, but I forgot it. (Laughs) You get a brick as if you are a sponsor, it says The Paramount on one side and the other The English Beat. I have them setup as a place of pride in my garden. They draw quite a lot of comments, such as, “Oh wow, why are they giving you bricks?” I say all the better venues are giving you bricks now for your garden. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) It is certainly a good memory. Being that you have toured as often as you have, one could imagine you have seen many different places. You have seen various cultures and different ways of life. What do you take from your travels?
Dave Wakeling – People are way more similar than different. If left to their own devices, without too much outside pressure, they are very genuine. Probably have been around America more, and most Americans, you would be hard pressed to find more kind and tolerant set of people. They have to do with all sorts of different types of people, but that isn’t the way often the rest of the world sees it, which is a shame. Americans are seen as divisive and entitled, I think. Which is a drag! I don’t know if that is marketing or perhaps sometimes what the national government does in the name of the citizens. It makes a bit more sense now than it used to, why the world can be a bit more scared of America. I think there is a nice challenge at the moment, there have been a lot of pretentious that have been dropped in the last year. Since the new president has come in a lot of people have spoken out or spoken out more loudly, and we have a greater sense of what America really is rather than what America aspires to be.
It is happening in England as well, it has been happening there a little while longer really. England really started to slump in the ’70s and ’80s and never really bounced back, instead of a few financial services for a very few people, really. You see a culture that has kind of lost its direction, not really sure what it is doing and why. You start to see that happening a little bit in America too now. It is going to be fascinating: the good bits have gotten a lot better in the last few decades, the bad bits seem to be getting worse. It’s touch-and-go: I think perhaps a lot of people that got to see some of the Hippie revolution and then some of the Punk revolution would be a bit disappointed on the state of play at the moment, that it looks we left the world in much worse state than our parents. Whereas, I think we all cleverly thought we were doing a lot better than that.
However, on the good side of things, on the tolerance side of things, and a worldwide sense, although the news is dreadful all the time because blood sells, the good news is the murder rate is going down all over the world and the literacy rate is going up all over the world. But, after 63 years of being an optimist, I have to say we act like a load of blood-thirsty rats sometimes. (Laughs) We give rats a bad name calling people rats. It doesn’t take much to get people set up against each other. Having Donald Trump fans and Bernie Sanders fans saying almost exactly the same thing and treating each other as mortal enemies, expressing a populist argument from two different viewpoints, but thinking each other were enemies for doing it.
There are a lot of interesting contradictions going on. You are not sure, is it the system itself? Countries like China with this old hybrid of national communism with a capitalist wing. It seems like America, like England, has sort of clung onto the past for a bit too long, because it was doing very well then. Now it’s scrabbling a bit and it finds it hard to capture and build the new modern world that its confronted with; you can make anything you like, but you can’t make it the past again. You can make America great or greater, but you can’t make America the 20th century, not now. That opportunity is gone: it is only going to cause a lot of trouble and pain if people try to do that.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is an interesting time, putting it lightly. It is sometimes anxiety-inducing with all the social media. It is wonderful people can voice their opinion, but sometimes because there are so many people talking at once it gets a bit noisy.
Dave Wakeling – Worse than that, I remember when Obama won the first time, everyone thought we would getting on the internet and we would all be chatting social policy. Everyone was a bit surprised when he wouldn’t do it; he said he thought it was a device, the way the internet was set up for debate was usually trying to exacerbate the differences between two different sets of opinions rather than help develop common ground. Because you are comparing opinions and doing it from a distance, everyone is 6’4″ on the internet, aren’t they? I noticed during the election period I stopped posting anything about my opinions, because you just have loads of strangers you never heard of before swearing in block capitals and misspelled words. (Laughs)
I am not as sure as I was that the internet is such a great tool the way it is set up at the moment; it also seems to be very easily abused. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I did notice the wind up between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ page got way ruder than I expected. If you said anything about either, you seemed to attract real rudeness from the other camp. I am not surprised to see they are saying the Russians tried to wind that up a bit. Having said that, you can’t blame the Russians, can you? All they are doing is taking advantage of our blind spots and making us trip over them. They are not making us more prejudice than we end up becoming, they are just helping us to become truly reactive. Winding us up on the internet, but about the time everybody is coming up home from the bar with a bit too much courage in them. (Laughs)
It’s interesting, you can blame the Russians all you like, but all they did is force us to become caricatures of ourselves, which you could argue what we were like all along really, we were just pretending to be polite. We all have a big thing about democracy, don’t we? But when democracy gets in the way or seems a bit awkward, it seems a lot of people will use democracy around the world, they don’t really care about democracy it doesn’t seem. It seems very convenient, they seem more interested in democracy in places around Iraq than places like Philadelphia. It appears they spend most of the time trying to prevent democracy in places like Philadelphia. Then using the notification of democracy to spreading our worldview. I don’t know if that is sustainable, it doesn’t look as though it is. It doesn’t look more credible than what we think the Russians are up to – just spreading their world view, pretending it is clear and balanced.
CrypticRock.com – Well, we can only hope for the best. It would just be nice to see people, no matter what they believe, start acting human toward one another again. It seems people are not very human toward one another anymore.
Dave Wakeling – That’s right, there is a lot of that which has missed. Some of that is the internet, isn’t it? It’s really sit next together, be on the phone, and have nothing to do with each other. It is easy to do that, it becomes a habit, you are right. You do see it in everyday life, it’s a shame. But most times people are as genuine as those teenage kids who all wanted to go to Washington to ask they not be shot. There are millions of very genuine people here in America. It would be nice for them to have an outlet and a sense of team spirit about things again. It seems to have been lost a bit, it seems like a country of 350-million competitors with a number on their back. The ones that sometimes most wave the flag and scream how great America is, they seem to hate a lot of Americans as well, which is a bit confusing to me. They are the same people who feel like they need their own arsenal of weapons just in case they are going to fight their own army. It makes no sense. Hopefully these contradictions will start becoming more apparent and we can get back to, as you said, trying to be a bit more human with each other.
I don’t think the songs touch upon that, really. That is why I am pleased this record is coming about now at the time it is, some of the lyrics talk about that we are all in the same boat. We are either going to sink or swim together. We might be able to make it a great 21st century, but we are not going to make it a great 20th century, we have to move forward. When you look at America, in the Olympics, armed forces, or soccer team in the World Cup, when they work together as a team, it usually does pretty good. We might want to try doing that.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, it is about working together.
Dave Wakeling – Then we could have a saying, something in Latin that can encapsulate that, something like E pluribus unum. That is what we all need a nice big cup of E pluribus unum. Otherwise America makes no point, without E pluribus unum, it is just another country then. That was the whole point of being exceptional. Hopefully we will get back to that, that is what the hope of the world has been. I think my record is the one who is going to do that. It’s not just Donald Trump who is confident, I am confident too. I think we have always made the finest records in the history of recording, and I think this is the best record I have ever made, believe me. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Well, it will be extremely exciting to hear this new album!
Dave Wakeling – I think people will like it. People who have heard parts of it are very pleased with it, it fits the times. It’s coming out at a good time. It’s catchy and poppy, but it makes you think as well. It’s a perfect time for it, this summer.
CrypticRock.com – It is a good time for it. Hey, America needs it, that is a good way of putting it.
Dave Wakeling – There you go! I like that and I am going to use it. America needs this album, believe me! (Laughs)