Whenever they get
a chance, the Human League always try to come to America.
telling our manager we want to go to America," says lead
singer Philip Oakey. "And it gets increasingly hard because of
the finances. There's not the money about anymore that there
used to be."
promoters gave the U.K. synth-pop outfit the opportunity to
appear on the Regeneration Tour, a retro Reagan-era revue
featuring the League along with Go-Go's frontwoman Belinda
Carlisle, A Flock of Seagulls, Naked Eyes and fellow
Sheffield-based band ABC, they immediately went home to start
calling from St. Louis, "This gave us a chance to just come up
here in America for a moment, do a bit of touring and a little
bit of sightseeing."
Oakey, 52, has
been the flamboyant frontman for the group since the late
'70s, when the group consisted of him and founding members
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh (who left the group in 1980
and formed the new-wave band Heaven 17). He's quite surprised
that he is still out there performing with longtime
co-vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley.
think that until maybe '95 or so, we thought we were finished
as a group," he admits. "We sort of thought that, since [our]
music looked old-fashioned and no one was interested. And
suddenly, there was a bit of a resurgence."
So just where
did this resurgence come from?
"It started in
Britain, really, because Britain doesn't make any pop stars
now that tour very much. And people wanted to go out and see
people whose faces they recognize from the TV. And it just
started from there.
"I think that
America started doing the same thing and, really, America's
very big for it now. Although we go to really odd places. We
go to Brazil. We do '80s shows in São Paulo that go very, very
Oakey is pleased to find actual younger faces in the crowds,
along with those soccer moms and NASCAR dads who idolized the
group back when they were at that age.
is] a little bit younger than we expected this time," he says.
"I'm not sure why that is,
whether maybe younger people are going out more. But yeah, a lot of young
faces there. It's strange -- we toured with Culture Club in '98, and it was
primarily middle-age people. This time, it's sort of a good mix."
Whether you're a youngster
getting into them or a middle-ager who has been down with them forever,
you've got to admit that the League came up with some of the new-wave era's
most recognizable and danceable hits.
Tunes like "Don't You Want Me,"
their first No. 1 single, and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" were heavy
rotation faves in the early '80s. They found No. 1 status again in 1986 when
they recorded the aptly titled ballad "Human," written and produced by
superproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
"They saved our lives, really,"
says Oakey. According to Oakey, the band was in a slump creatively, and
their label suggested they hook up with Jam and Lewis -- who were generating
buzz for producing Janet Jackson's star-making LP "Control" -- for their
"We haven't got any good
songs," Oakey remembers. "We turned up [in Minneapolis]. They said six of
the songs of about twelve were worth doing and, quite frankly, they were
"They added four very good
songs of theirs, including 'Human.' And I'd always said I didn't want to do
a ballad unless it was as good as 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.' And
when they played 'Human,' we said, 'Well, it's not quite as good as 'You've
Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. But it's close.' "
Oakey says there will be more
new songs to go along with these favorites on the way. The man just feels
that as a dance band, especially one whose sexy, synthesized sound can still
be heard in most of today's dance music, they have a civic duty to come up
with tunes that will make people of all ages move.
"I think we were very lucky
to be using synthesizers when people weren't using them much," he says. "So
some of the distinctive sounds that just come from them are associated with
us, and certainly in dance music now. They're doing a very similar process
to get their records that we were doing. So we're really quite happy to be a
part of it.
"All great bands," he says,
"I think, have been dance bands, right back to the Beatles. People forget
now, but they were a dance band."