Over the past few years, MusicFile Productions, led by Savannah transplant Kayne Lanahan, has been responsible for overseeing the annual Savannah Stopover Music Festival, as well as a few handfuls of standalone concerts.
To date, virtually all the artists MusicFile has featured have one thing in common: They're all on their way up the ladder of notoriety and success.
Showcasing relatively unknown talent or rising stars on the indie-rock scene has made the company's reputation, so it was surprising to hear of their latest offering - an '80s-themed "dance party" built around a live reunion gig by famed British art-pop legends Modern English.
The band, which formed in the late '70s but came to prominence in the early '80s through such lushly textured, radio-friendly compositions as "Hands Across the Sea," "Someone's Calling" and "Ink and Paper," is best known for the worldwide smash "I Melt With You."
That propulsive, jangly hit made the top 10 on the U.S. mainstream rock charts in 1983, and has since become one of the most beloved records of its time.
Lanahan said the group's enduring status led her to present them at the upstart DIY event space Dollhouse Studios (a sparse warehouse in the industrial area west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.)
"I think Modern English epitomizes the new wave/post-punk movement of the '80s," Lanahan said.
"Their music is dark and moody, yet dreamy and poppy at the same time.
"They're an iconic band whose music has influenced so many of today's younger bands.
"We also felt it was a rare opportunity given that this tour features the band's original members."
While later incarnations of Modern English kept the flame alive after the original members parted ways in the mid-'80s, it is only in the last couple of years that the core group, which wrote and recorded most of the band's signature songs, has been an active, creative unit once more.
That original lineup is now playing this nine-date East Coast tour. As an added bonus, before and after the band's Savannah set, DJ Peter Dark (Dollhouse Studios' co-owner) will spin both well-known and obscure '80s dance music for the crowd.
Modern English's bassist, Mick Conroy, spoke with me just after the group landed at JFK to head to its first gig in Norfolk, Conn. Below are some highlights from our chat:
DO: Your band never set out to be pop stars, yet you created a handful of timeless, bittersweet classics of radio-friendly pop music. When those tracks initially took off, was there a fear their success might give a skewed impression about the totality of the group's music?
Mick Conroy: You are right, we certainly had no intention or desire to become pop stars. The most important thing for us has always been to write songs that we, as individuals and as a unit, all like. We can't deny we were taken aback by the reception "I Melt With You" generated. But many of our friends were simply surprised we had written a straightforward song!
DO: When the classic lineup of the Velvet Underground reformed in 1993, that spurred scores of alternative rock groups to bury the hatchet and revisit their musical legacies. How difficult was it to convince the original members of Modern English to reunite?
MC: When a band as amazing as VU can play together again after so many splits and personal fall-outs, it did show that anything is possible. It was my idea to get four original members of our band back together. We hadn't all played together since 1984, so it might not have worked at all. But the songs are ours and we wrote them together, so we want them to sound as good as they can. Plus, we are still good friends.
DO: Modern English is forever linked to the 1980s. Are the band members comfortable being closely associated with a time in music that is so widely misunderstood? Is that connection an albatross or an aid?
MC: Good question ... I do feel a bit glum when I see our name mentioned along with the word '80s, as we did carry on recording and writing in the '90s and through till now. But so many young bands today do sound like they have been taking inspiration from their parents' music collections. For us, it's been a double-edged sword.
DO: Have you ever been to Savannah?
MC: I've never been and am actually quite excited to play in Savannah. I love the older towns, and I like to take photos of houses with porches, so I know there will be plenty for me to look at.
DO: What can folks expect at your show?
MC: We'll be playing new songs, as well as quite a few from our first two LPs, plus some very early singles. Hopefully we sound better live now than we did all those years ago. We generally have a good time when we play, and of course, we want the audience to enjoy what they see and hear. It should be great fun.
DO: What is the biggest misconception people have about Modern English?
MC: People expect us to still have roadies! Not any more. These days, we travel light. When we play in America, we pack up the equipment after each gig and put it in the van ourselves. It keeps us young!
IF YOU GO
What: Modern English (Reunion Tour) with DJ Peter Dark
When: 10 p.m. Aug. 28. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Dollhouse Studios, 980 Industry Drive
Cost: $15 in advance/$18 at the door
Ages: 21 and older only (beer and wine available)