Songwriter Interviews

Mike Score of A Flock of Seagulls

by Greg Prato

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The Flock frontman shares his thoughts on their MTV hit "I Ran" and tells the stories behind "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)" and "Space Age Love Song."

Think "early days of MTV," and one band that will come to mind for many is A Flock of Seagulls. While singer/keyboardist Mike Score's hairdo in the "Space Age Love Song" video and images of he and his bandmates rotating around a mirrored room in the "I Ran" clip are quite unforgettable, their music is a fine example of synth-driven new wave that managed to cross over to the pop masses.

The band - whose classic lineup also consisted of guitarist Paul Reynolds, bassist Frank Maudsley, and Mike's drummer brother, Ali - took flight with their 1982 self-titled debut album, which housed all of the aforementioned tunes. They scored another hit single with "Wondering" a year later, before changing musical tastes and a more "formatted" playlist on MTV saw the band fade from view.

In 2018, the original AFoS lineup reunited for a new recording, Ascension, which sees the group's classics re-recorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra - the first time Mike, Paul, Frank, and Ali have all appeared on a recording since 1984's The Story of a Young Heart. Shortly before the album's release, Score spoke to Songfacts about some of his band's biggest hits, why the original lineup split, and the pros and cons of the music business in the early '80s.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How did the songwriting work in the band circa the first album?

Mike Score: Usually, I would bring a song into rehearsal, or an idea, and we would just beat on it until it was in shape. I was the kind of kid at that time that I would go home from rehearsals at like, four in the morning and I would be so wired up that I'd literally get my little four-track out and start writing another song. Or something that I had played at rehearsal, I would try and get it down to remember it.

So, a lot of the songs came from my ideas, and then the band just worked them into shape. And then lyrically, I wasn't supposed to be the singer. We were always looking for a singer, but in the end, everybody in the band was like, "It sounds better when you sing it, because you wrote the lyrics, and you know how you want them to go." So, I wouldn't say I was forced to be a singer, but it just turned out that I became the singer.

Songfacts: What is the story behind "Wishing," and is it about a real person?

Score: Yes, "Wishing" is about a real person. It was the eve of the first trip we ever took to America, and I had met a girl. We went out for the night, and I didn't want to forget her, so I said, "We're going on tour and I'll be back. I'd like to get a photograph of you, if I could get one." And she said, "No, because you're going to go on to be famous and you'll forget me."

I had this little riff, so when I had some time and I was thinking about that, I just started singing the words I was thinking to that riff, and "Wishing" was born. And then, as soon as I had the chance, I went and demoed it in the studio. I think it was about two years later that we actually recorded it.

Songfacts: Did you ever see the woman again after that initial meeting?

Score: No, never did speak to her again or see her.

Songfacts: What about the story behind "Space Age Love Song," and why did you give it that title?Score: "Space Age" was just about intimacy, if you'd like. When you meet somebody there is an instant eye contact if the chemistry is right. If everything is right, you catch their eye... that whole "across the crowded room/caught your eye" thing. The lyrics explain that: "I saw your eyes and you made me smile."

We didn't have a title. We played that song for a few weeks in rehearsals, and it just came up one day that somebody said, "It's pretty space age." And then somebody else said, "It's like a space age love song." So, we wrote on our rehearsal board, "Space Age Love Song," so we knew exactly what song it was. When we were building our set, instead of writing a title, we just put "Space Age Love Song," and it stuck. When it came down to recording it for the album, everyone said, "What's it called?" We just called it "Space Age Love Song," and that's what it became.

Songfacts: What are your thoughts on "I Ran"?

Score: My main take is I don't think it's the best song we've got, although it was the biggest hit. I have moments where I think "Space Age" is a lot better, or "Wishing" is a lot better. It depends on the mood I'm in, or the emotional state I'm in at the time. But I like to play it live, because the crowd loves it. Especially at nostalgia gigs like this tour, you want to give people what they remembered, and they remember "I Ran," and they all get into it and have a great time. It puts a big smile on your face.

I had the opportunity to interview Mike once before - for my 2011 book, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, for which he discussed his memories of filming the popular videos for "I Ran" and "Space Age Love Song," among other recollections about the channel and era. Here's a sample:

"[The 'I Ran' video] is just basically being stupid. [Laughs] You know, 'Stand here, the camera is going to be in the middle, and you're going to try and do something.' And, of course, we had no idea what to do in a video. Videos were not the 'mini-movies' yet. If it was up to the band, we probably would have just stood there in our wild gear and gone, 'OK, we'll just pretend to play.' But they wanted a little bit more, a little bit more angular and quirky. It seems to me that all the early videos had to be quirky. I guess nobody was taking them seriously until somebody dropped a million dollars on one."

"I think 'Space Age Love Song' we did on top of a club called Danceteria in New York. All of that era became a bit of a blur, because there was so much going on every day. It wasn't like, 'Oh, we've got to wait a month, and then we'll make a video.' It was, 'OK, we've got a day to make this video. We're going to Danceteria. And then tomorrow we're going to do this TV show.' So there was other stuff going on every day. For that video, I got my hair to stand up better than it had ever stood up before. It was like the perfect day for doing your hair up like that."
Songfacts: Which song are you most proud of that wasn't a hit?

Score: There's so many of them. It's difficult to say. Again, it depends on my mood. I think "Traveller" was a great song. And strangely enough, I watch Star Trek, and they have a guy in that called The Traveler. I often wonder if that was based on the song, which is about a guy traveling through space and time. [The Traveler appeared in a 1987 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; the Flock of Seagulls song was released on their second album in 1983.]

"Messages" was great, and there's others. The Story of a Young Heart [1984 album], there was some great stuff on that, that weren't hits - there was a bit deeper stuff, like "Suicide Day." To do something like "Suicide Day" after "Space Age Love Song" and "The More You Live" and all that, then you're on a darker track. Stuff like that, I think at that time, it showed where we could have gone if it hadn't have gone awry with the band - we could have become deep and meaningful, kind of an '80s Pink Floyd.

Songfacts: And why did the original lineup break up?

Score: Just pressure. When we started out, we all had a focus in one direction: to be in a band that was good. I don't think we ever expected to get a big record deal and go on and become... let's put it this way, we didn't see the new wave thing coming. We were just a band. The '80s came along, and we got caught up in that. We became fashion icons and an iconic band. It put a lot of pressure on us to change. And people wanted us - like record companies - to change as new wave was changing, and we wanted to still be a spacey band. So, there was pressure from outside, because once you're successful, people on the outside think they know more than you know for some reason.

We spent five years rehearsing, and then these people come along, and suddenly they think they know more about what you should do than you do. It's strange, isn't it?

And the pressures of being on the road and not being able to handle it. The pressure of record companies going, "We need another album, so you're coming home next week to start a new album." When really, it should have been, "Let's go home and have a month off to do nothing." It was like, "Nope. Straight back into rehearsal, start writing." It's pressure all around. And I know every band probably gets that pressure, but every band handles it differently. I don't think we handled it that well.

Songfacts: It seems like there were quite a few other "MTV bands" that hit it big in the early '80s - Men at Work and the Stray Cats come to mind - that the record companies opted to put right back in the studio to work on a follow-up album to their breakthrough hit, whereas it probably would have been wiser from a career perspective to hold off and space their albums apart.

Score: Yeah. It was like that with us. I remember we had a four-album deal, and we'd done two albums that were quite successful. Then it was suddenly like, "Now, go in!" It was like, "Hang on. Give me a chance to have some ideas." Just to relax and sit there with the synth and a keyboard. But to come off tour and have to go basically straight into a recording studio... you love recording and you love doing your stuff, but to me, it's like maybe one out of six or eight songs that I write are really worth recording. But at that time, it wouldn't be one out of eight, it would be one out of three. So, some of them were not that good.

And of course, the times were changing. New wave was kind of dying off, and something else was coming along. You don't get the chance to look around and go, "Hey, let's move in that direction. Let's try and write something like that." We were forced to go back into the same thing again and again.

And personality-wise, then you start to get clashes of people going, "I want to go home. I want to go to bed. I want to watch TV. I don't want to be in the studio." So, that kind of forces you apart, as well.

Songfacts: It's just surprising though - the short sightedness of the record companies, that they couldn't see that by spacing the albums apart, they may have given the bands a longer career.

Score: Let's say, early '60s and onwards, bands were allowed to make five or six albums before being successful - so they grew into it. Our deal was, "You're successful now on your first album, so keep going, keep going. We want the money, we want the product." And eventually, you stop being a band, and you just become washing powder: they're just selling whatever you come up with. And then, of course, when you're exhausted and burnt out, it's, "OK, goodbye. See ya."

It's a pity. But when you look at the bands that were given the chance to develop themselves, you do get your Pink Floyds and your Beatles and your Whos - those great bands from the '60s that literally took their time, because the record companies were interested in them artistically, as well as financially.

Songfacts: What do you recall about when "DNA" won a Grammy in 1983 [for Best Rock Instrumental Performance]?

Score: The first thing I remember on that was thinking to myself, "Does that mean I can't sing?" [Laughs]

Of course, it was great to get a Grammy, but we really didn't know what Grammys were. We were actually in Germany, recording. I think my manager came in and went, "Oh, you've just won a Grammy." And we're like, "What's a Grammy?"

"Y'know, 'Best Instrumental' of this year."

"Really? Wow!"

And then it was a case of, "Well, why weren't we there to pick it up?" Things like that, they start to cause pressure. It's like, "We just got the most prestigious award in music, and the band was not told and not allowed to go and pick it up, be on TV, and say 'Thank you' to America for giving us a Grammy and putting us on the map." That's another pressure from that side. They were like, "They don't care about the Grammy... just keep them recording."

June 4, 2018
For more Mr. Score, visit mikescore.com and facebook.com/seagullsrunning
Further reading:
'80s music video director Jay Dubin
Interview with Devo
MTV: The Early Years
Fact or Fiction: The Early Years of MTV
More Songwriter Interviews
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