'80s - Dexys / Kevin Rowland (2014)
'Re-Learning To Soar!'
Dexys Midnight Runners (currently called Dexys) are an English pop group with soul influences, who achieved their major success in the early to mid-1980s. They are best known for their songs 'Come On Eileen' and 'Geno,' both of which went #1 on the UK Singles Chart.
Kevin Rowland (vocals, guitar) and Kevin "Al" Archer (vocals, guitar), both previously of the Killjoys, founded the band in 1978 in Birmingham, England. They actually named the band after Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine popularly used as a recreational drug among Northern Soul fans at the time.
The "midnight runners" referred to the energy the Dexedrine gave, enabling one to dance all night. "Big" Jim Paterson (trombone), Geoff "JB" Blythe (saxophone), Steve "Babyface" Spooner (alto saxophone), Pete Saunders (keyboard), Pete Williams (bass) and Bobby "Jnr" Ward (drums) formed the first line-up of the band to record a single, 'Dance Stance' (1979).
The song was released on the independent Oddball Records, was named "single of the week" by Sounds Magazine and reached #40 in the British charts. But the next single, 'Geno' – about Geno Washington, and released on EMI – was a British #1 in 1980.
The band's debut LP, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, was released in July 1980 and contains the hit-single 'Geno' and two other charting singles: 'Dance Stance' (re-recorded as 'Burn It Down') and 'There, There, My Dear.'
Too-Rye-Ay was the second album and released in July 1982 came storming into people's lives with its UK #1 hits such as ' Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)' and the best known for the hit single 'Come On Eileen' - which included the lyrics "too-rye-ay" that inspired the album's title.
But, after the commercial failure of 1985's Don't Stand Me Down came a break up. 1988's solo album The Wanderer and 1999's My Beauty didn't fair much better either so Kevin Rowland stepped back from the limelight.
However, in 2003, Rowland reformed Dexys Midnight Runners — featuring only one other original member, bassist Pete Williams who fulfilled the role as Rowland's co-vocalist — and embarked on a successful comeback tour. Then in 2012 Rowland re-launched Dexys Midnight Runners as "Dexys" with the critically acclaimed One Day I'm Going to Soar accompanied by a sold out UK tour. The album was hailed as a tour de force by fans and music critics alike.
Chatting recently with the lead man himself Kevin Rowland, I first wondered, being that he had been on this emotional 27 year rollercoaster since the release of Don’t Stand Me Down and the new album One Day I’m Going To Soar, if those years had flown by or dragged along? "They've mostly flown by. I think though, funnily enough the last three years since we've been working so hard have gone really slowly. Somebody said that when you've got a lot of interesting things going on in your life things happen slowly. But when you're doing the same drudge every day things go quickly. And I did find that time was flying by when I was doing very little."
You never liked being famous and after My Beauty even wanted to change your past, get away from everything - which you did. For a period of time you went dark, but what was the point where the light first began to come shining through to you again, musically speaking? "I think it was 2003 when we did some Dexys shows for the first time since 1985. We actually did it because I needed money for something I had going on in my life at that time. So I knew how to get some money: I'd do some Dexys shows!"
"But before that yes, I had wanted to escape it all. I wasn't going to do music any more. That was it. I went through a couple of phases where I tried it, but more often than not I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to be that guy who was in Dexys Midnight Runners where people would just come up to me and say things. I really wanted to escape that, but you can't switch it off, you know what I mean. It's a weird thing but that doesn't bother me now."
"So what happened was that we did these shows in 2003 for this money that I needed. Which, as it turned out we didn't make any on them shows. But what happened was I got back into doing it. As soon as I started hearing all the music being played I just got passionate about it all again. And I wanted to do it well, but not turn it into a Dexys revival. I wanted to do the songs properly and update them and make them relevant where necessary to us where we were then."
"And that really worked and it made me feel really good. So after that I thought about doing a new album, but I didn't think we were in any position to do an album. We weren't strong enough to do a good album. I mean, we could have done a crap one easily! But didn't want to do that. So I did some demos and I'd already had quite a few more songs written with Jim and others over the years. And so we messed with a lot of those songs two or three times after that until we got them to a place where the arrangements were right."
"But even then, doing all those demos things weren't really working. I just didn't have the confidence to do it properly at that time. We even got as far as booking studios and I would just cancel them. I had a lot of aches and pains and stuff at that time and I just didn't feel good emotionally or physically. So I went to this Ayurvedic place in India in 2010 - which isn't in any way a pampering place. It was really hardcore like a bucket and a tap for your shower. And you're up at six and you eat what they give you. I sat in that little, tiny garden - that you don't leave for five weeks - and I know it sounds crazy now, but one of the things I realized was that once I got back I really wanted to make this album."
So these new songs have actually been around for a while? "Yeah, most of them. A long, long time. They were all written from experience of the heart. For instance, when I broke up in a relationship I wrote 'Incapable Of Love.' When I felt hopeless I wrote 'It's OK, Jon-Jo.' It's just like that. They were all written from the heart. And then about five years ago I thought if I put these songs in a certain order it would have a narrative to it. So that's how that came about."
The album has been labeled as “The Comeback of the Year” by a lot of UK newspapers. How does that sit with you? "Great, but I prefer some of the other ones: 'Comeback Of The Century' was one of them! That was The Independent."
So based on everything you've told me, have you achieved a 180 and become a completely different person these days within the business, perhaps? "No, I don't think I have. No, I just think I'm learning to handle things better. I mean, when I hear 'Comeback of the Century' it's very seductive to the ego. The ego loves it and wants more, more, more. But what I do realize now is that is an illusion as well. You know there's never gonna be enough praise but it does give me a nice boost. And I also recognize that it's not healthy to get hung up on that stuff, you know."
"I mean, In England last summer - when the album had just come out - it did come to a stage where it was getting slightly uncomfortable. In as much as some of the interviews were hard, but moreover I was just out of practice, you know what I mean. I hadn't done it for so long so it was quite grueling. I'm better at it now that I've done a few since then. I understand I need to do this, not do that. I just feel more comfortable with it. I'm now much more confident with it. I was kind of nervous there for a long while. It was just scary for me."
Is there a reason why the bands name been shortened down to just Dexys? "Yes, there is a reason to that. Again, all of my reasoning in everything I do it's just intuition. The intuition here was to just call it Dexys. Everybody called us Dexys back in the day anyway. Nobody said Midnight Runners, not really. I always liked Midnight Runners but I thought it was a clear way of saying it's us, but we're not the same as we were. It's us, it's us, but we've moved on."
Your singing voice has gone down in musical folklore as immediately known and recognized, but just where did that - shall we say - “crying lyrical voice” of yours originate? "When I was younger I was a fan of General Johnson, the soul singers and people like that so I was very influenced by those guys. And yes, I wanted to have a very distinctive vocal style so I worked on that."
For this new album though you had to get your voice back up to scratch so employed a vocal trainer from Brentford, Kim Chandler. What were some of the things she taught you to work on? "Well, before I met Kim I did some demos and did three vocal tracks, three vocal performances and my voice had just gone. This was about five years ago. I did three vocal takes and I just couldn't sing any more. So I knew that I was going to record I'd need some help, because it just wasn't happening."
"So I went a saw a voice specialist and she said there was nothing wrong with my voice. She recommended I went to see a voice therapist, not a singing therapist. So I worked on my voice first, my speaking voice to get the breathing working in the right way. And I'm still working on that actually. And after I'd been doing that for a few months she suggested to go to a singing trainer. And she mentioned a couple of names and Kim Chandler stood out for me - the way she talked about her. And so I went to see her and it was great."
"I don't think about any vocal styles these days although I do get myself into the attitude of the tracks. She works with your style and doesn't try to change your style. I just really started from scratch again. And so how it sounds on this new album is how it ended up. It wasn't too thought out, it's very intuitive. What I really tried to do was connect with each song as I'm singing it. If you can do that, and providing your voice is in reasonable shape; which mine now is because of Kim and the other lady Sarah (the voice therapist), and if you can connect with the sentiment of the song you'll manage it. You'll be alright. You'll get a good performance. It will all just happen."
With ‘Come On Eileen’ such a huge worldwide hit at the time, when you recorded it did you expect it to be? Did you know you had struck musical gold? "When we had finished writing it I remember saying to myself, f**kin' hell, this is great! And I've had that with one or two others, I must confess. I thought if we could get this right it's gonna be great. But by the time we got to record the album, just as we'd finished writing it three or four people decided to leave the band. So when we went into record the album it wasn't a great atmosphere in the studio, in all honesty. The producers and myself didn't get on amazingly well. I don't think we as a band were in the best place and I don't think the producers were in the best place either. We were all very, very busy and we were working away at all hours."
What do you think of the album today, in reflection? "Well, I think that some of the tracks on that album came out really well. You know, 'Come On Eileen' and a few others. But some of it could have been better, definitely. We just didn't quite capture it. And by the end of the album I didn't think it was going to be a big hit. Even the producers thought the same thing. The label wanted to release 'Jackie Wilson' as the first single, not 'Come On Eileen,' so we had to fight for that."
Did you have help on your side in your fight? "Yeah, I did. When I was fighting for that one to be released before 'Jackie Wilson' the A&R man Roger was adamant he wanted us to release 'Jackie Wilson.' So he said he would get his mate, our "plugger" Brad down and let him decide. So being that Brad was his friend I assumed he was just gonna choose 'Jackie Wilson' regardless. But he didn't. We played them both to him and he listened to 'Come On Eileen' twice and chose that one. And that's how 'Eileen' came out."
"And I did have a feeling the song could really be something. So I went and saw Brad and told him it wasn't getting much play on Radio One. Which in those days was such a powerful radio station. And the song was struggling at around number 50 and I was worried it was going to go down. And he said not to worry as one of the producers owed him a favor and that he'd get him to give it some airplay that week. Which should be enough to shove it up the chart. And it did and then we got on Top Of The Pops and it rocketed. So at that point I was like, well we can't write a better some than this. I mean, if this fails we're in trouble. But it was almost like the intuition I'd had when we were writing it. It just hadn't really been seen by the producers, possibly even by the manager. So, I was finally proved right. Sadly it was a one-off though!"
How do you mean one-off?! "Well, it's great that it's a one-off better than a no-off, you know. But the fact we're seen here as one-hit wonders is something that we're not actually trying to change. I'm not saying we're going to have a #1 single, but in Britain we've got a history and especially with this new album we're seen as a credible relevant musical unit. And we're getting lauded for what we’re doing and that's great."
Any chance the new show can come to North America? "We'd love to bring the show that we're doing in England over here. It's being very well received over there. But whether we can do that or not with all those fellas in the band I just don't know."
Yeah, would love to see that new show over here. But you're not very keen on the Here & Now tours, are you?! "Oh no, I wouldn't dream of doing those Here & Now tours. I mean good luck to those guys, I'm not slagging them. Good luck to them, but I'd rather slit my wrists! Yes. I'd have to be sedated to do that. We play the whole new album at our live show and it's gone down a storm. We didn’t wait 27 years to come back and then sell out. Again, I'm not slagging off those that do it but it's better than going back to the factory’s, I totally understand that. But, I've tried and it's working to do something that's relevant now. If I was only here to take the money I'd have taken it years ago. It's not worth it for me."
"I didn't wait all this time to be something and not feel that I'm giving my all. In truth I found it totally depressing when I went and saw those shows. It's people just reliving their memories and that's not me. I don't want to do that, but that's not me. If they want to do that, that's great. Otherwise just stay at home and listen to the record or watch the videos. We're showcasing new material and acting out the whole show! It's like part West End show. And it's all working out in England. So if we do it here we'd only do that. We will never do the revival circuit."
And finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins - do you yourself have any love for them? "Yeah," he quickly responds, although now about to talk about the British chocolate snack as opposed to the animal, "they're lovely. Very lovely. I haven't had one for years. That's a really good idea. When I get home I'll see if I can find one in the supermarket. They're very tasty," he laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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