Q&A: What We Like about The Romantics

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When you heard The Romantics were on the bill for tonight’s Rev Your Engines concert (Monument Circle, Saturday at 8 p.m., free), perhaps you thought the same thing I did when I saw them in the lineup for a music fest I went to last year.

The Romantics—those guys are still around?”

Like everyone else in the world, I had heard “What I Like about You” and “Talking in Your Sleep,” their two really big numbers, and liked them well enough. But after seeing them live, I was a fan.

Call them an oldies act if you must; they started in Detroit in 1977 and scored their biggest hits in the early ’80s. But let me tell you: These guys still bring it. “What I Like” had the whole crowd—including yours truly—jumping and singing along. And judging by a clip of their 1980 American Bandstand appearance, posted on the band’s website, the poppy post-punk rockers still play the ubiquitous track with as much energy and heart as they did three decades ago.

The band sat down with IM on the eve of their Saturday concert…

When I saw you last year, I was impressed by the energy you bring to the performance. What’s the secret?

Brad Elvis (drummer): It’s kind of like a team, a gang. We say, “Let’s go out there and give it our all.”

Wally Palmar (guitar): You want the crowd with you throughout the whole thing. You want to capture them from the get-go. Then you never let them out of the palm of your hand.

Mike Skill (guitar): You’ve got to understand, we’ve been doing this for quite a few years now. The basics of being on stage in front of people haven’t changed. You want to bring them to you and feed off their energy. You’re talking about very simple songs. It’s about how you attack the three chords that you use.

Palmar: It’s spontaneous, explosive. It’s not perfect, but it’s on key, it’s on beat, and it makes you move.

Skill: The bottom line? It’s rock and roll

How has your music evolved over the years?

Palmar: We use a few more chords. I think we’re averaging two new chords a year.

Rich Cole (bass): Music today—some of it’s meatless, because it doesn’t get down to the basics of what it needs to be a good song. That’s just something that you learn over time.

Skill: Did you say meatless?

Cole: I said meatless.

Skill: The plate in front of you last night at St. Elmo sure didn’t look meatless.

What are you think when you watch those clips of yourselves on American Bandstand from the early ’80s?

Palmar: “Why did I wear that?”

Are those leather suits still in the closet?

Palmar: I still have mine in a few variations—red, black. Now if you’re asking whether they still fit …

I didn’t ask that.

Palmar: Then I won’t answer.

Skill: They never fit back then, either. But they were very easy to take care of, because at the end of the night you could turn them inside out and let them dry, and then start over again.

Cole: And then you had to take a bath because your legs were all red from the dye.

Skill: Once the pants stood up by themselves after they dried, you knew it was time for a new pair.

Do you ever tire of playing “What I Like”?

Skill: No. We’re really lucky to still be able to do shows and play. The music is listened to. We’re grateful for that.

Elvis: No matter where we travel around the world, say when we’re on an airplane, and we tell someone we’re in a band, The Romantics, the one that did “What I Like about You,” their eyes light up.

But “Talking in Your Sleep” was a bigger hit, no?

Palmar: It was a bigger international hit. It was number two in the U.S. behind “Owner of a Lonely Heart” [Yes]. But it was number one on the R&B charts. Because you could dance to it. That’s how we got on Soul Train.

What keeps you playing?

Skill: There’s nothing any of us enjoys more than getting up and playing songs that we wrote and recorded, and having people there who really enjoy hearing them.

Palmar: We don’t get up there and say, “We’re an oldies act.” It still feels fresh. It’s not something we’re trying to package. We still feel like we can make songs that are fun to play—good, singable, danceable music.

Left to right: Palmar, Cole, Skill, and Elvis / Photos by Tony Valainis and Brandon Bowen; archive image from romanticsdetroit.com

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