An interview with David Sterry of Real Life (“Send Me An Angel”, “Catch Me I’m Falling”)
There was quite a gap between your last album and “Happy.” What has the band been up to?
“The album previous to the one we have out now was called ‘Lifetime.’ We’ve always found ourselves in deep trouble with record companies in that we’re still trying to work out all the royalties and copyrights way back to ‘Send Me An Angel.’ It’s still a nightmare. When ‘Lifetime’ came out in 1990, we were with a record company called Curb Records. They were basically a country label but they had a strong alternative pop side. The first single off ‘Lifetime’ was a song called ‘God Tonight’ and it kind of stormed into the dance charts. It had become a crossover hit when all the alternative pop people left and we were stuck with the country and western side. We had to get out of that deal, it took two years to get out of it, where we had no releases. Also we were trying to fight through all that backlog of legal things with the original stuff. We just got grounded, we were so tied up in legalities that we couldn’t do a thing and then last year we decided to just be an independent band, post ourselves on the web, see if anyone wants to have anything to do with us, and make an album. So we made the ‘Happy’ album and it was kind of this release of energy and frustration, and a celebration of the fact that we’re still here. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s more complicated than that, but also boring. It’s still not sorted out, but at least we made a record and proved to ourselves that we’re still alive.”
Is it mostly the same line-up as when you started?
“Yeah, it’s 3 out of 4 originals. We’re on keyboard player number 4. We have kind of a Spinal Tap problem, they seem to explode at odd times. We have a new guy called George, and he was involved pretty much through most of the ‘Happy’ album. But other than that it’s been the same 3 stooges, me, Danny our drummer and Alan our bass player.”
How does it differ now not being on a big label?
“A lot of it’s all down to money, but there’s also a lot of freedom involved. When we made a record with a record company, they used to put us in a studio that would cost $3000 a day. We had to come up with a budget this time, but also recording has changed so much that people can really make a record in their bedroom these days if you’ve got a computer and a bit of software. So some of the stuff was recorded in a very small studio with a great engineer who was only like $40 an hour. Some of it was recorded in Danny our drummer’s bedroom where he had a 8-track reel to reel plus an old Atari computer running Qbase. But it all worked. I think we brought the album in at $12,000 or something, which would be about $8000 American dollars. That’s mastering, art work, the works. And we’re thinking we could get it done cheaper next time. We’re going to start recording direct to hard disk. We were totally in control of what we were doing. I feel that we’ve learned enough from the previous records to work independently. We know what we want to hear. We don’t need to bring someone else in to find that we want to hear.”
How does it affect the creative process?
“I think it makes you a lot more spontaneous. If you’re signed to a major label, they’d want you to do demo the songs in the studio. And quite often, the demo has just got a much better feel to it, there’s something very special about it. When you’re recording at home, you’re always starting with what’s going to be the finished product. So I think that you catch things more immediately. You can jump out of bed and turn on the computer and put down your idea.”
Would you ever go back to being on a major label?
“I honestly can’t see it. My experience with major labels has been, even when we’ve had a hit record and been popular, is that they’re all smiles and handshakes and hellos. But they’re full of shit basically. But with a smaller independent label, Momentum, who found us on the internet, it’s just 2 guys who’ve got no money but have worked so much harder and achieved more for us than any of the majors have. And when you walk out the door from a major label, the next act is walking in to do the handshakes and the smiles and a butt-kissing. So with this independent label, they spend a dollar, to make it back, they’ve got to really work hard. We’re commited, it’s much more of a true team effort. We feel obliged to really try to write something that they can sell, rather than go ‘oh well, it’s a label and they’ve got piles on money so it doesn’t matter’.”
“Going back to being an independent band, we only answer to ourselves, and we’re only responsible for ourselves. If something’s wrong, we blame ourselves. On other tours, we’ve had management, record company people, and we just sit around getting grumpy because there’s nothing to do. With this one, we’ve been busy. We’re taking turns driving, we’ve driven close to 5000 miles in America over 2 1/2 weeks. We’ve been responsible for hotels, flights, equipment, and I think we’re happier doing that. We’ve been working the whole time, and I think that’s good for us.”
Was it difficult playing live back when the band started, since electronic instruments play a big part in your sound and the technology was as advanced then?
“Yeah, it was. When we first started there was no sampler you could get cheaply. You had to have a Fairlight or an Emulator. The first Emulator then cost me $12,500. They’re now worth $500 in a pawn shop! Also, Real Life are kind of like a three-piece rock group with keyboards. So we use a sequencer but we play most of it as live as we possibly can. We’ve often had a bass guitar that controls a synthesizer. We used to have more keyboards, and a six foot high rack of modules. Now we’re down to one keyboard that does everything, all the sequencing, all the sounds. So it’s a lot easier. We have a very normal looking drum kit that has triggers in it, so we can trigger all sorts of other sounds. Then we have the guitar and bass guitar. It’s a whole lot easier, all our gear just goes with us on the plane.”
What do you think of all the 80’s bands who are reuniting and going on tour?
“I think its good. It seems to be that the 80’s were the only era where the people weren’t supposed to move on. If you’re a 60’s band, likes the Stones or The Beatles, you’re allowed to go into the 70’s and 80’s and do whatever you want. But I don’t understand this thing about 80’s bands that are supposed to be stuck there. When that 80’s stuff first started happening, when TV first started happening, the question was is technology ruining your music, do you have anything to do with your music, is video more important? And I think that’s proven to be the rubbish that it was when it was said in the first place. So what is people had funny haircuts and make up? It was a great era, people have so much fondness for that era and the great pop music. I wonder how the 90’s are going to be looked at? All the grunge bands. Some of them brilliant, some of them sounded pretty laughable even back then. With all the bands getting back together, I think that people are dusting themselves off and saying ‘I didn’t feel like I was finished, I feel like I still want to develop that a little bit further. Even the nostalgia shows, even if they were to just go to Las Vegas and play I’d still love to see half those bands over a lot of the new bands around.”
You said your current label found you over the Internet. In what other ways have you found the Internet useful?
“It’s a great way of bypassing radio and television. Radio is always the toughest nut to break. It’s a format thing, it’s more intent on making money than breaking new acts. Everywhere in the world there are stations that will only play old hits, so then where are the new hits going to come from? So the internet allows you to bypass that and get you directly to fans. They can hear new stuff, that they might be able to go find in the record shops, they can order over the Internet, you can have a weekly newsletter that goes out, we can put up photos. It’s one of those things you’ve got to maintain, otherwise people get bored and won’t come back. We feel like we have this ongoing communication with people that buy our records and we don’t have to worry about whether a radio station will play us. The people who want to know about us are very aware of what we’re doing.
How long has “Happy” been out?
“It’s been out for over a year, but it’s one of those things no one knows about so it’s still a new record. There’s a pile of people that it hasn’t gotten to. We think it’s a very good record, and so does our record company. The problem being taking it to radio in America you’ve got to hire an independent company, and they’ll say’ ok, you want this on the radio, it will cost you $70,000′ and they’ll do it but we don’t have that kind of money.”
What’s in the immediate future for the band?
“We’re going backto start working on a new album. We don’t ever want to have the kind of 7 year timelapse again. We just want to be able to release, tour, release, tour, keep going”
Why was “Send Me An Angel” re-released in the late 80’s?
“It started out as my dumb idea, and in so many ways I regret it. At that time, there was lot of remixes coming out, for instance, my all-time favorite song is “Blue Monday,” the Quincy Jones remix. And I’ve never really liked the sound of “Angel,” I wanted it to sound like Trevor Horn produced it. I always cringe when I hear it. So I said “let’s do a remix.’ I just wanted it to go to club djs, but they saw dollar signs in their eyes and put it out as though it was a new single. I was embarassed, quite frankly. It’s a great song, but I would have chosen that not to happen.”