Best known for the synth pop classic “Send Me An Angel” as wells as such club hits as “God Tonight,” Australian synth band Real Life is back with new covers CD, “Send Me an Angel: ’80s Synth Essentials.” As the title suggests, the release has the band covering songs for their own era, doing renditions of songs such as “Cars,” “Blue Monday” and “Tainted Love.” We emailed Real Life frontman David Sterry to find out more.
2020 UPDATE – Real Life are back with a new album, “Sirens”! We’ll have a new interview posted soon about it (sign up to our email list or follow on social media to be alerted).
How did “Send Me an Angel: 80’s Synth Essentials” come about?
I got an email from Brian Perera head of Cleopatra records asking about a possible Real Life, Cleopatra project he had in mind. When I called him he outlined a cover’s album, which had never occurred to me. However Brian is such an enthusiastic music fan type person, I couldn’t say no./
In initially deciding whether to take on such a project, what did you see as being the pros/cons?
The pro’s were, there was a good budget (enough to totally upgrade my studio equipment), I could pick any songs I wanted as long as they were 80’s and would be known to most people, nothing too obscure. A great opportunity to force myself to do something all by myself for the first time.
The con’s were, the fact that I’d never been the one who midi programmed or engineered any of our records before. I didn’t have much confidence and thought I’d fail somewhere along the way, but found that there are some fabulous computer music magazines and online tutorials, so I was learning as I recorded. I also got advice from Danny Simcic and George Pappas, who previously provided those skills on Real Life recordings. Time was a factor as well. I was doing a lot of touring at the time and didn’t want Cleopatra to forget their offer. It took me about 3 or 4 months over a year between tours. The whole thing was done using Logic 9 in my home studio, though I did have it mastered at a proper facility.
What factors went into the selection of songs? Where there any that you’d perhaps wanted to do that did not end up working? Any that you were hesitant to do that you feel turned out better than expected?
Firstly they had to be favourites of mine that I could sing with my limited style and vocal range and I wanted to play all the guitar and bass parts ( the album credits are for fictional players) I had several failures including songs by the Cars, Iggy Pop and Alphaville. There were a lot of Australian artist songs that I would have done, but they weren’t hits outside Australia. There’s no way I’d try an INXS song. I’m pretty happy with most of the songs, but I’m really happy with both my voice and the guitar solo on Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime by the Korgi’s. Also really enjoyed playing the guitars and singing the vocal on Primary. Cleopatra wanted fairly faithful reproductions, nothing too different from the original. Covering a song forces you to look at how it was constructed and every song made me aware of just how clever the originals were in performance and arrangement. I was very wary that the original artist might think my version a pile of shite (as I do with 99% of Send Me an Angel covers).
Since cover versions are often used in film and TV soundtracks rather than original recordings, I’m curious as whether that kind of licensing was part of the intention behind the release? (from a business standpoint)
Now that’s something that never occurred to me, but a good observation I guess you’d need to ask Cleopatra if they try to place songs that way. I think it’s more in the writers and publishers interest than the cover artist.
What was the line-up for the making of this album?
The line-up of Real Life these days is just me and who ever is standing behind me playing at a live show. It’s just the way it’s ended up. With the amount of money I’ve had to throw into legal disputes over the years (never with band members) [read more about that in our 1997 interview] I feel it’s my brand, a bit like Underworld. I’m too old to think of changing it now. Danny, George and I still talk of working together on something in the future when the time is right.
Are there any songs that you’d really like to release a cover of, but weren’t able to include on this because they weren’t from the 80’s?
Hmmm… I think I’d rather be able to do something totally different to a song I was covering, not just a copy and it wouldn’t have to be 80’s, more likely 60’s or 00’s. I’d rather be a re-mixer (electronic dance music) and I’m always happier doing my own songs. No more covers from me.
When can we expect new music from Real Life? Any touring plans? Other news?
Let me look into my crystal ball. I have a new sense of inspiration, independence and freedom thanks to the learning process of the cover’s album. I’m writing new stuff at the moment, but I have no idea when or what’s going to come out. And touring these days for me is limited to 80’s type grouped tours. For once I come home with some money in my pocket.