Wa Wa Nee had some monster hits in the eighties with Stimulation, Sugar Free, I Could Make You Love Me and One And One (Ain’t I Good Enough) which were successful here in Australia and overseas particularly the US. It is a rare treat these days to see Wa Wa Nee play live but already they have toured as part of the Totally 80s line up and playing selected shows on Boy George’s Encore Tour this December. It was a huge privilege to talk to Paul Gray about Wa Wa Nee and what he is doing now.
Do you find it fascinating with people’s interest in nostalgia and this resurgence in eighties music?
Well, I don’t know! I think there was a period there where it had waned, I don’t remember what years but there didn’t seem to be any interest in those tours. I think it comes in cycles. In Australia there are a few shows where you celebrate the eighties and they seem to be going ok but I am a bit surprised. Perhaps for some people or those who grew up in the eighties there are strong memories of their teenage years or whatever it is. It was a time where there some simple, great pop songs and sometimes now people miss a bit of melody and some of things pop up more regularly.
What do you think about some of the music that is released today?
When I hear something on the radio that has a great melody I think that’s nice and that makes me think that it isn’t happening enough. I think that stuff rises to the top in whatever era and certainly the hits have the right thing but sometimes there’s dance orientated stuff which is more about the beat and the rap that happens mid way through the song than the overall melodic structure throughout.
When you had the four massive chart singles in 1985 and 1986 did you think that life would change so much?
No, I’m just a regular Sydney musician and quite young at the time but I thought if I formed a band and wrote some songs it would be fun. It was certainly fun but did change everything because I was able to travel and do a lot of stuff overseas. When I finished with Wa Wa Nee I was able to stay overseas. I stayed in LA for many years so in that respect it changed things otherwise I would have hung around Sydney.
Did you know at the time that there was something special about those songs that would gain some much attention?
Yeah, I had written a lot of songs before I could latch on to anything that the record company would like. It takes a while, young song writers try a lot of things but not really analysing your songs in the same sense that a record company or radio guy would. When you get to that stage you can actually hear that being played on the radio. That’s the revelation and when you hit your stride as a songwriter because you go there is a certain technique and a template you should use rather than just experiment all the time. There are some things you should put in your songs and once I worked that out I was able to deliver some singles the label thought would be singles. Whether they are hits we’re never really sure. When I delivered Stimulation to CBS Records they thought this was a sure thing, then I was pretty confident as well.
Do you have moments where you don’t feel like playing these songs or do you still get a buzz from the audience reaction to them?
I don’t actually, I see the smiles on the audiences faces and I see them singing along and there’s obviously memories that are evoked when I sing and play them. Sometimes I think I might be singing them as well but when I look out at the audience and they are loving it then I’ll go for it and give it my all. It is really good fun to get the reaction and that’s what gets you though.
Do you think you may play more shows as Wa Wa Nee or is it about when the right opportunities arise?
Yeah, I think every now and again is the right word. I think people would get quite sick of it if it happens regularly. We all have other things that we do, I’m still involved as a producer, I’m a piano player, musical director for a lot of shows. Right now I am on the Tina Arena tour and I have been with her for many years. I do other shows where I am the music director and I do things for jingles and stuff. I’m quite busy in other worlds and this kind of thing when it happens is fun but you don’t want to push the point. I think you do it every couple of years and that’s the best result.
How close is the line up to what was in 1985 and 1986?
No, it is whoever we can get. Steve the guitarist will be able to get to the shows and it will always be me. The drummer lives overseas and my brother who was in the band is quite busy with other things. It generally is Steve, Mark on the odd show and me.
Is it tough being the musical director on some of these shows and being the glue that brings it together?
It is quite interesting, you get to analyse the songs, determine what needs to happen, put a band together and I would rather be doing that than being backstage as it keeps me involved. It gives me something to do!
What’s next for Paul Gray?
We do these series of tours throughout the year that celebrates The Beatles music. We just finished one All You Need Is Love and that plays around the country with an orchestra which basically honours The Beatles. There’s a few more of those and The Beatles are one of my favourite bands. It is one gig I really love doing. There’s always Tina and she’s quite busy, we often go to Europe and do stuff with her and there are probably other tours coming up so I’m always quite busy. It makes it interesting.
Do you get a bit of giggle when you look back at photos from the eighties?
Oh yeah! Shit yeah! It’s a different time, I explain this to my kids because they go ‘really’? I go, well you need to look at the other pop stars at the time and see that we’re all jostling for position. The record companies had things to say about your image, wardrobe and all that. It was a time where all that was a factor in the music and being on Count Down you had to have an impact. It’s all funny now but at the time it wasn’t really funny but a part of the business.
By Rob Lyon
Tour dates featuring Wa Wa Nee