In Advance of Their Hard Rock Live Concert, Katrina Leskanich and Paul Young Discuss the Retro Futura Tour


Katrina Leskanich - SARA PETTY
  • Sara Petty
  • Katrina Leskanich
Hearing Katrina Leskanich, of Katrina and the Waves fame describe it, the current Retro Futura tour — a nostalgic trip back to the new wave and pop hits that dominated the radio in the ‘80s — sounds like a grueling trek that will keep all involved moving at a steady pace. But as she adds, it’s an “absolute blast” that she’s thrilled to be a part of again after playing her first American shows in more than 25 years during the 2014 run of Retro Futura.

“Yeah, we’re all stuffed onto buses together and it’s a long tour. It’s practically 30 dates and it’s all over the place,” she says. “I think in those 30 dates, we’ve got about three hotels, but I mean, it’s just a trip and a blast.”

Soulful British vocalist Paul Young will be part of this year’s tour, playing his first shows in America in more than two decades. Retro Futura also features headliner Howard Jones, plus Modern English, Men Without Hats and English Beat. We spoke with both Young and Leskanich in advance of their upcoming appearance at Hard Rock Live.

What sort of history do you have with some of the other acts on the bill for this tour? Did you know some of these folks back in the day?

I’ve done two or three tours with Howard, similar kinds of things, a package tour. I’ve done quite a few things with Katrina in Germany. I’ve gotten to know her very well. We’ve spent many a night at the hotel bar. She’s a good old rock 'n' roll girl.

Leskanich: What’s really interesting is that back in the day, there was something about all of the '80s artists. A lot of the artists were very shy and kind of lacking in confidence. All of these artists, I’ve worked much more with, probably over the last five years, than I ever did in the '80s. It’s kind of weird, bumping into people now, when maybe in the past, we’d done TV shows together or something, but you know, back in the day, people just kind of kept to themselves. We didn’t really talk to other artists and nobody kind of talked to each other. People are much more friendly now. I think possibly we feel we’ve nothing to lose or there’s a sense of camaraderie. We all made it. We’re all in the same boat. So we have a lot of respect for each other. I think we also know, I think we’re all aware that our days are probably numbered doing this. You know, there’s only so long that a person can carry on doing this. I know that Tina Turner went until she was 65, but we can’t all be Tina. [Laughs]

Paul, you were performing a cover of David Bowie’s “Starman” during some of your shows last year. You’re obviously a fan. What sort of influence did he have on you?

David Bowie came from art school, so he approached music as an art form. I think there’s a big difference between artists like that, because you’ve got Bowie, you’ve got Peter Gabriel, those kinds of artists that approach music from a slightly different angle. I was just a regular kid and I went to school, I didn’t go to college or a university, I just got a job and started working. I was drawn towards the earthiness of R&B and soul. The reason why I liked Bowie so much is that he came to music from a completely different angle. So when i listened to his records, I was learning a lot. His approach was totally different, diametrically opposite to mine. My idea with No Parlez and The Secret of Association, the second album, and my approach to singing came from soul and R&B and that is a sound that’s old-fashioned. So I thought, well, I’ll keep what I’m doing to be exactly the same. Musically, I’ll change everything that goes on around me. That was the kind of influence that I got from Bowie, really.

Let’s talk about a couple of your memorable hits. Paul, obviously you had a huge hit with “Every Time You Go Away,” which went all of the way to number one. And Katrina, there was a moment where you couldn’t escape “Walking On Sunshine.” It was everywhere.

When I was recording the second album, for some reason, I got very deep into the album tracks, first and foremost. Covering “Soldier’s Things” by Tom Waits and a song that a friend of mine wrote called “Standing On The Edge.” When we played what we’d got to the manager, he said, this album is too adult, it’s too dark. He said Germany’s your biggest market and they are not going to understand this. Because you’re in the pop magazines and they’re not going to like this album at all. You need another couple of tracks that will pull the people in. So we went back to some of the songs we’d listened to and “Every Time You Go Away” was one and “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” was another, both from the same publishing company. And then I found out that the girl who actually suggested “Every Time You Go Away,” she was the secretary and she used to be a big fan of the band I was in before I went solo called the Q-Tips. So it was actually her idea. And then to get a number one in America — I think almost a week after appearing at Live Aid, I was number one in America. I thought, that’s it — it can’t get any better than this.

Leskanich: I think that obviously our goal was to be able to make music and not have to do our other jobs. I mean, I washed dishes at a chow hall on the military base for five years. That was getting really old. [Waves guitarist and songwriter] Kimberley [Rew] was a postman, [bassist] Vince [de la Cruz] drilled holes in bowling balls on the base and our drummer [Alex Cooper], he used to carry dead bodies around at the morgue. So you could imagine that we really wanted to run screaming from our day jobs. We really wanted to make it. Obviously, when you do make it, it becomes just a circus. Because there are demands on you that you had no idea would come. Like talking to journalists and television shows, you know, all of the miming and photo sessions. The time that it takes to do all of the extra stuff, especially when a major label gets involved, you become a part of a huge machine. You know, at the end of the day, they are Kellogg’s and you are Corn Flakes.

Song-wise, tell me about the first time that you actually heard the song “Walking On Sunshine.”

: When Kimberley Rew presented the song, it was probably about '81 or '82, and he rode his bicycle 27 miles from the place called Bury St Edmunds in England to a little village in Norfolk, England called Feltwell, where we found this projection room that belonged to this dilapidated disused cinema. We just put up the egg boxes and we would just go in there and rehearse and Kim brought this song, he was very, very sick with bronchitis at the time. He played the song to us and it was a very different song for us. Because we didn’t do a lot of happy songs. But there was something about it and after we’d routined it a couple of times and played it a few times, the bass player, Vince de la Cruz, he just said, “God, that song’s irritating. I can’t get it out of my head.” I said to Kim about four days after we’d been rehearsing, “You know, Kim, that ‘Sunshine’ song, it just keeps going through my head.” We weren’t sure if that was a good thing or an annoying thing. I guess it really didn’t matter in the end, because it had whatever it needed to have to do as well as it did.

Paul, how did you get involved in the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992?

I think [Queen’s] management got involved and the word went out to everyone that they were going to be doing a concert and they wanted to get as many guest artists as possible. My manager knew their management really well, so I think I was just one of many artists mentioned. I was actually on tour in America and my manager was chasing me, saying, “You need to choose a song.” I remember him calling me and saying, “We’re down to five songs now.” He named the five songs and he said “You’ve got to choose one now.” He read off the list and I went, “Radio Ga Ga,” that’s the one. And it worked really well, actually. But Freddie’s got such a high voice. So I asked them to bring it down by a semitone, so I could just about get the top notes, which really fucked up Brian. [Laughs] When he started the solo, he was just a semitone out for a split second, so he was probably cursing me at that moment.

Retro Futura Tour 2017, 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $52.50-$79.50,

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