2011 will mark the return of the original trio behind ’80s pop rock sensation The Outfield – John Spinks (guitar, keyboard), Tony Lewis (bass, vox) and Alan Jackman (drums). The new album, due out in the spring, does not have an official title yet, but there have been rumors it will be “Pennyfields.” Grammy award winning producer David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, The Strokes and The Outfield’s Voices of Babylon) plays keyboards on two tracks for the new album, “California Sun” and “In Your Company.” All of the new songs have been written by John Spinks and produced by The Outfield with executive production by John Spinks. In addition, Sony Music Group will be releasing a new Best Of: The Outfield as part of their Playlist Series due out in January of 2011, which will include the forthcoming single, “California Sun.” In the meantime, we caught up with the members of The Outfield to find out more about the band – past, present and future.
Q: It has been a long time since we’ve heard from The Outfield, especially as the original trio! How does it feel to be up at bat once again?
Tony: Alan came back and re-joined last year and liked the material we were working on. He wanted to play drums to a couple of tracks and we ended up recording Alan for every track! It’s great having the original trio back. It’s more special this time around.
John: It feels totally normal. I don’t think any of us appreciated or recognized the special chemistry and bonding we had between us during the early years. It was all a bit of a blur and we took each other for granted. It’s only now that we all understand exactly what each of us brings to the table.
Alan: It feels great. After such a long break, I couldn’t have envisioned recording together again.
Q: The new record features Alan Jackman on the drums again. Alan, why did you leave the band back in 1990?
Alan: There was no single reason and after such a long time I’ve forgotten most of them!
Q: How has Alan’s return helped to shape the new songs?
Tony: Alan’s return has made us realize how much we’d missed playing together. His contribution to the songs has even inspired us to write new songs in the studio. That is something that has never happened before. Alan and I formed our very first school band and we’ve both known John for over 30 years. What makes this band special is that we’re all good friends and we know each other very well. We all grew up in the same area in the east end of London. In the studio it’s a very democratic environment where everyone pitches in ideas. John sometimes plays bass and I play some guitar or drums parts. We all take an active role in the production. No one has any ego in this band and that’s why it works.
John: I’ve had endless conversations with AJ about how and why tracks work, or don’t work. Tony is more into changing drum arrangements than I am, so he and AJ usually have those conversations. That said, we’ve had a pretty democratic way of working and AJ would be the first to agree that we’ve all been involved with each other’s musical contributions.
Q: “Your Love” is a song that helped define the pop rock sound of the ’80s, it is hard to find an ’80s compilation that doesn’t have it, so you must have played that song a zillion times – do you ever tire of it?
Tony: Never. I still remember, to this day, writing down the lyrics that John gave me. We were in the corridor of his flat when we were living in the east end of London. The song was written in about 20 minutes. The reaction we get from our crowds tells me I will never tire of the biggest pop song of our career.
John: In a word, no. We all recognize that “Your Love” is synonymous with The Outfield and we’re proud of it.
Alan: I can’t claim to have played it a zillion times, but to play it in front of an enthusiastic crowd would never be tiring for me.
Q: And do you still like your girls a little bit older?
Tony: Only if I can help them across the road.
John: If they inspired a new song, it would be a plus!
Alan: Are there any older anymore?!
Q: Being a big fan of Walter Hill’s classic movie The Warriors, I thought it was really cool that you used to call yourselves “The Baseball Boys” [one of the gangs in the film]. Why did you change the band’s name to The Outfield?
Tony: A friend of our management suggested the name “The Outfield” because there are three people in the outfield area of a baseball pitch. We knew we couldn’t use “The Baseball Boys,” so we settled for the new name. If I had a penny for every time we answered that question I would have $5,552,134.60 – just kidding.
John: It was more a managerial/record company decision. In England, baseball isn’t a popular sport so nobody paid that much attention to the name. I think Sony thought it might be too much of a play on the national sport in the United States. As a compromise, “The Outfield” seemed like a good alternative, albeit there are three guys in the outfield and it kept us tied into the original name.
Q: What was the first record you owned and did it influence The Outfield’s sound?
Tony: The album I first owned was Electric Warrior by T Rex. I loved the glam rock 70s and Marc Bolan epitomized that period. The first Beatles album “With the Beatles” made a big impression on me. Lennon and McCartney’s melodies and harmonies have been a major influence to our sound.
John: The first ‘album’ I ever bought was With The Beatles. I can only extend on the fact that I – we – grew up in England during the sixties where it was impossible not to be affected by The Beatles.
Alan: I really can’t remember the first record I owned, so I couldn’t give an honest answer to that one.
Q: What was the last record you bought and did it influence the new record?
Tony: All the records I buy are mostly old albums. Kings of Leon are very innovative. There is a track on the new album that has their influence. I love their rhythm section and Caleb has an amazing original voice.
John: Tom Petty’s Mojo album. No, it did not have any effect on the new Outfield material.
Alan: The last ‘record’ I bought was The Tall Ships by It Bites. I can’t say there’s any connection with the new tracks.
Q: Can you compare the new record as sounding like one of the others in your discography, or is it going to sound completely different?
Tony: We will always have our sound. That’s the thing, you don’t fix what isn’t broke. What we have done on this album is explore outside our comfort zone and avoided writing safe pop tunes. It’s not always what your song is about, it’s how you do it. We really do feel this is going to be our best album ever.
John: It’s a musical montage of the first three albums plus some new twists that developed out of recording together again for the first time in twenty years. It’s been a really constructive period and I’m happy that AJ asked to be involved on all the songs instead of just the ‘one’ that he had originally agreed to play on.
Alan: I think you have to ask the listeners that one. I would say it’s different in a variety of ways.
Q: Can you give us some insight into what some of your favorite songs are about on the new record?
Tony: I think the album reflects different sides of our musical background. “California Sun” sums up our identifiable sound that will hopefully always be recognized at radio stations. The new songs are a breath of fresh air. As a band, we are truly comfortable in our cocoon of magical music!
John: It’s not easy defining song lyrics. Sometimes a writer draws from personal situations, but once the words are put to music they can take on a totally different meaning to the listener. I think it’s unfair to take away the uncertainty. Some people like to try and work things out for themselves. I never knew what Strawberry Fields was about until I started reading Beatles literature. It just seemed more mystical not knowing.
Tony: There is no plan. We just make music. I hope the CD will come back one day because there is no thrill in downloading something you cannot hold or look at with pride.
John: Just being logical, I guess it all starts with the songs? If people like what they are hearing, it tends to start connecting from the ground up. If a record label thinks the songs are worth promoting then that raises the chance of getting the music out to a wider audience. I still think it’s important to get the songs to their maximum potential and hope that people will connect with the end product. I doubt anyone knows the best way to promote oneself in today’s musical climate. I guess it’s fair to say that image only has a certain shelf life. That said, a great song has a life of its own.
Alan: I wouldn’t say there’s a hard plan, new ideas and opportunities change week to week.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest high and biggest low in your career so far?
Tony: There’s been lots of highs being in “The Outfield.” One of the highs was playing in Trinidad to over 45,000 people in a cricket field. At the time, all the nightclubs used to play “The Outfield” and “Rammstein.” What a combination! One of the biggest lows was when Alan left the band. Having said that, Alan did say recently that it made his recent return even more significant and special because now we all get on better than we ever did. It made us all realize how lucky we were and that we were caught up in a “bubble.” We achieved so much, but didn’t really appreciate or understand what was going on. It’s not very often you get a band from 25 years ago still together with their original members!
John: Having our initial success at a time when we were up against some of the biggest names in the music industry right as MTV was breaking (Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, U2, Prince, Brian Adams, George Michael, etc). We were really lucky to get noticed at that moment in time. Lowest moment, thinking I might not recover from a serious illness.
Alan: The biggest high has to be the success of Play Deep and consequently, “Your Love.”
Q: Is there going to be a tour to support the new record?
Tony: Who knows? We never make plans. The music industry has changed but one thing’s for sure, our fan base is still solid, so we can’t let them down. John and I always say, “You don’t invite yourself to party,” so I hope that philosophy isn’t too deep! We really do hope our album gets the recognition it deserves. If it doesn’t, then at least we made a good solid piece of work together and we stayed good friends. We made this album for ourselves, so anything that happens beyond that is a bonus!
John: It’s definitely our intention to tour.
Alan: If people like the new record then there’s every chance we will. We certainly would like to.
Q: One of the things I love most about The Outfield is that the band never fails to deliver great melodic pop rock – plain and simple. You’ve been fighting the good fight for decades and I want to thank you for all the great tunes. Best of luck with the new release!
Tony: Thanks for the compliment. I don’t think we’ve been fighting, we’ve just been writing and recording songs because that’s what we love doing. Whatever medium we have to use to get our music across is beyond us. We owe a lot to the internet and the great feedback we get from our fans. We owe a lot to our family and friends for loving us and totally supporting us. We also owe a lot to Brent, our manager, who has totally believed in us from the beginning. Watch this space!
John: This new record has been a long time in the making. A big thank you to all our fans for their patience and support. Thank you for taking the time to ask these questions!
Alan: Thank you!
For all the latest news on The Outfield: http://www.theoutfield.com/