For some bands artists lumped into the one hit wonder category, that one inescapable smash is the beginning and end of their story. But for A Flock of Seagulls, who are frequently and unfairly seen as one of the premier bands in that realm, it’s a misnomer commercially and creatively.
Not only did the U.K. new wave band earn four Billboard Hot 100 hits (including three top 40 singles), but their self-titled 1982 LP was a pioneering mixture of angular guitar riffs, skewed melodies and vibrant synths; it’s a bona fide classic, no qualifiers necessary.
But 23 years after their last album – and 34 years after gracing the Billboard Hot 100 — what’s left for the band to do? Well, there’s obviously the touring route – and sure enough, they’re in the midst of the Lost ’80s Live tour with fellow new wave vets The Romantics and Men Without Hats. But additionally, they’re delving into what has become a strangely satisfying late-career choice for bands: A symphonically augmented hits album (The Beach Boys and Foreigner have recently gone the same route).
And for A Flock of Seagulls, their new album, Ascension, is something special – it finds the original quartet reunited on a recording for the first time since 1984, with Mike Score, Ali Score, Frank Maudsley and Paul Reynolds reteaming to rework gems like “I Ran (So Far Away),” “Space Age Love Song” and “Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You)” with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Ahead of its release, frontman Mike Score got on the phone with Billboard to talk about the reunion, writing their most iconic song and what he thinks about the band’s continued pop culture relevance.
So Ascension is the first recording with the original four since 1984. Why now?
Twelve or so years ago we did a bit of a reunion, and that didn’t work out well for me. I wanted to move on a bit for my own solo thing, so I gave it a go but then went back to my own thing. But this one, out of the blue, John Bryan (of August Day) said, “How would you feel about doing your hits orchestral?” And I never imagined doing anything like that — but I’d like to hear it myself. So I agreed, and he said “well what about the original guys?” And I said “if you can get them, I’ll do it.” And they were into it. And everyone concerned with the original hits is playing on these new ones, so we didn’t have to work hard. We just had to go back and do stuff we knew. And it’s not like the old days where you had to be together — [with the Internet] we could be recording in separate studios. So it was really easy.
Re-recording these well-known songs, was there some pressure? You have to think “well, we can’t really best the hit version”?
We didn’t want to change much, just add the orchestra and give it a different edge. A couple have different intros, but personally, if I see a band live, I don’t like them to change it too much. So for me I went with that idea. And that was the quickest way for us all to play it. Because the record company was like “let’s get this out in a couple months.” We wanted to make it easy for ourselves and let the record company do the work, because it was really their idea.
With the Prague Symphony Orchestra, did you hear their stuff ahead of time?
Basically they sent us the stems the recordings of the orchestra, to see how it all fit together. We know nothing about orchestras, so we let an orchestral arranger work their magic. And what I heard sounded great. I would call it neo-retro-classical [laughs].
A lot of the reunion recording was done over email – did you actually get back together in person?
Well, we only got together for one day, and that was when we were making a video. And it just so happened that two of the guys were in Liverpool — where we’re basically from — and I was there for a family visit, so it was quickly, “let’s get together for an afternoon, do some filming.” And it was good as far as nostalgia goes, we were chatting, and everyone knew let’s not bring up old shit, so we got along nicely. And it was over and done, I came back to America and where it goes from there I’m not sure. I don’t particularly want to get back together with the original band unless it’s something spectacular – but maybe that will come along.
So you’re not anticipating recording any new-new material?
No, not really. But we never expected this call. And if someone comes along and says “do you guys want to do an EP?” then we’ll think about that. But the good thing to come out of it was, you get back together and realize, “we’re still friends.”
From the haircut to the fashion, you guys are closely associated with a very particular time. When you get back together in person, do you recapture a sense of that, or does it seem very distant?
It’s very strange. When the four of us get together, there’s a certain kind of magic. I think it’s just a mixture of characters. Of playing styles. It’s a one in a billion thing that happens. When I write my own stuff, it’s got a Seagulls edge but it’s me. But when Paul plays guitar over my stuff, it’s more Seagulls, and Ali’s drumming and timing. And our personalities and humors. It’s difficult to put your thumb on it, but there’s a certain magic.
You’ve been playing this stuff for decades now, doing faithful arrangements of the hits. Does it ever get tiring?
Not really! I think that shows how good the songs were. [Laughs] It doesn’t get boring because playing the songs for me brings back memories. I remember writing “I Ran,” that day, and it comes back to me playing it live. Basically at this point it’s all muscle memory, so it gives your mind time to wander around and go through the rehearsals and the moment you wrote it.
What was it like, the day you wrote “I Ran”?
We’d just been to the Cavern in Liverpool and saw a band play a song called “I Ran” and thought “what a great name,” although we didn’t particularly like the song. And then the next day saw a picture from the 1950s of a flying saucer and two people running away from it. And because we had this sci-fi thing going on, it was like “look at that! First ‘I Ran’ and now that!” So even though we had the basics of the music already, we went to rehearsal that night and the picture was in my head and we started to try to formulate words about that. And when I’m playing live, that picture comes back into my mind. And of course movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the flying saucer coming out of the clouds, that contributed to lyrics, and all that comes through your mind and it makes you smile. Songwriting, I can only say it this way – I write the songs, but I don’t write the songs. They come into my head, I do something, and then all of a sudden, I have a song. And I’m like “where did that come from?” I never think “I’m going to write a song.” It’s a weird channeling. It’s like Akashic Records, you can reach mentally and pull it back down. And because I’m a songwriter that turns into a song.
Any plans to do the songs live with an orchestra in any capacity?
That would be something. A 50-piece A Flock of Seagulls. Now the album is almost ready to go, I think it’s a case of letting it fly and seeing where it goes. I have a couple ideas, maybe we could have the orchestra on backing track or take out a quartet instead of a full orchestra. That’s to be discussed, but right now I have a whole big tour through the summer called Lost ’80s Tour, which is 40 shows, so I’m turning to that now.
Your band also pops up as a reference in plenty of movies and TV shows. “I Ran” was in La La Land, for instance – did you see that?
I did see it and I love it. Obviously financially – I think last year our music was in eight movies – and in a way to me that says the band still has… it’s still in people’s minds. They don’t use music in movies unless they think it will fit what’s going on. So 35 years later it’s nice our music is still relevant and gets into movies. It’s quite humbling in a way.