Tony Lewis of The Outfield Talks About Working with David Fincher, This Summer’s Retro Futura Tour, His First Solo Album OUT OF THE DARKNESS, and The Enduring Legacy of Josie’s Vacation Far Away
Alan Jackman, John Spinks and Tony Lewis of The Outfield, circa 1986
(Update: Tony Lewis passed away October 19, 2020. We mourn his passing.)
When you think of Tony Lewis, former bassist and vocalist of The Outfield, you inevitably hear that voice, that moment, and that lyric.
“Josie’s on a vacation far away, come around and talk it over.”
The Outfield’s 1986 hit “Your Love” arrived on MTV and pop radio in the spring and dominated the airwaves throughout that epic summer. The song, dropping hints of infidelity and citing a penchant for girls “a little bit older,” was written by guitarist John Spinks and belted by Lewis’s unmistakable voice, resulting in a signature song for the band and their album Play Deep going multiplatinum. On the strength of “Your Love,” the singles “All The Love (In The World)” and “Everytime You Cry” became hits as well, with music videos directed by none other than a young David Fincher.
After a few more albums, band took a break in the 1990s, but then reformed & continued releasing albums and touring. When John Spinks passed away in 2014, the band officially retired.
Now Lewis has emerged with a solo album on Madison Records, Out of the Darkness, full of magic and life, with that voice still belting out heartfelt tales of love and loss. Tony Lewis spoke to us about the journey to that moment, along with some Outfield memories, the loss of Spinks, and his experiences shooting those 80s music videos.
Tony Lewis of the Outfield (above) has a new solo album
“We were basically on a four year hiatus, with the passing of John,” Lewis said. “and I didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t even interested in music. I didn’t even want to pick up a guitar for the first year. Uh, then another year goes past and then, my wife and I went out for something to eat and she said to me, ‘Why don’t you get back to it and record, and do what you do best?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, I do, I do like recording and making music.’ She said, ‘Well, if it’s, if it’s what you enjoy doing, well, just have a go.’ So I put together some backing tracks, I had about sort of three or four, five, and then we got six backing tracks, but I was struggling with the lyrics. Then she said, ‘I’ve got some other lyrics here.’ She’s he’s pretty good at telling a story, and the lyrics seemed to fit the backing tracks really well.”
“I had Out of the Darkness as the title, not just about the passing of John, but just me coming out and saying that not just the bass player. I’ve got more strings to my bow. That’s me producing, on the melodies, and on the guitars, keyboards, and drums.”
After meeting with Madison Records’ head Tanner Hendon, himself a musician, Lewis signed with the label in October, and his first solo album Out of the Darkness was released on June 29th. Currently on the road with the Retro Futura tour, Lewis joins an lineup of legacy bands that includes Belinda Carlisle, ABC, Modern English, Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, and Limahl.
“I’m really really excited about what’s coming up,” said Lewis about balancing the performances with new and old. “I like playing ‘Into the Light,’ which is the single, and ‘Here and Now,’ but I’m not losing sight of the fact that these tours are all about the 80s, so I don’t really want to swamp the set with my new material. I know people want to go along, and they want to hear ‘All the Love (In the World),’ and ‘Your Love,’ all The Outfield hits. So, yes, I’m excited about the album and tour, and if anything grows bigger from this point, it’ll just be a bonus for me because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve fulfilled my desire to get a record out there.”
But what is it about “Your Love” that keeps it in the pop culture consciousness? Covered by several modern artists in the last five years, and serving as the centerpiece of a Saturday Night Live sketch with Josh Hutcherson lip-synching the lyrics, the song has a status among great pop hits.
“Well, the song was written in about 20 minutes. I’ve still got the original lyric sheet that was on a piece of lined paper. John shouted out the words to me in his corridor, in his flat. John said, ‘I’ve got something,’ and I remember sitting on an amp and thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a catchy little song.’ There was no plan, like ‘Let’s make a song that’s gonna last for maybe 40 years that people are gonna love.’ We just thought it was a great little pop song, you know, a pop rock song. And I didn’t even think, even to this day, it would be as successful as it became. I tend to not try and analyze it. And now I understand why it works, but I don’t really overanalyze how it’s worked. It’s just one of those songs that just came out of that time period. And that springtime and going into summer, the song just seemed to have a life of its own. And it didn’t happen overnight. Some people thought we were overnight successes. It took between six and nine months before it really kicked in.”
Among the multitude of covers of the song, both on the internet and officially licensed, Lewis said that he enjoys Katy Perry’s version, among the many.
“I think that when you have a song like that, one that people want to do a cover version of, I find it very flattering — even a dance version of ‘Your Love’ – it’s great that people like the song and want to do their own version of it.”
The Outfield had the benefit of a strong music video for “Your Love,” directed by John Jopson, and then two follow-up hits from Play Deep had videos directed by none other than Academy Award-nominated David Fincher, who shot many music videos early in his career.
“It’s just about capturing the vibe. When we did the ’Your Love’ video, we had to film all night long. We started at six in the evening and finished about four o’clock in the morning. I think if you look closely, you’ll see Graham needs a shave in some of the clips.(laughs) But it was a very big soundstage. Also, there was the height difference between me and John, I had to stand on a box most of the most of the filming. I’m five foot six and John was six foot four. And it looks like we’re the same height in the video. I was standing on the box. (laughs) It was like — do you remember Alan Ladd in those westerns? He would have the leading ladies walk in a trench while he walked along, so he’d look taller than her. (laughs)”
“He was up and coming, and he was a very nice man,” Lewis recalls about Fincher. “I just thought he was quite special because he had an imagination that no other video director had, from my perspective. He had quite a lot of charisma about him, and we used to shoot different ways, especially on ‘All the Love (In the World)’. He had a great vision of how a video would look. I just knew he would be successful because he had an enormous talent.”
Lewis recalled that after the Fincher-helmed “All the Love (In The World)” clip was completed, he found himself being called back to set.
“I was at home, about an hour away from London, and his assistant had called up and said, ‘Tony, can you come to London as soon as you can?’ I thought there was something wrong. They said, ‘David wants to shoot a clip of you looking up at a CCTV camera.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ But he was that particular. He was that ambitious. Even late, late at night, you know, if he had an idea, he’d want to shoot it. He would want to do that at that time rather than just, “Oh, we’ll wait ’til tomorrow.” But it was like, put on the makeup and put a coat on just to shoot what was like a five second clip. In the end, I don’t even know if they used it or not. (laughs) I could tell he ate and breathed film work, you know. He was really dedicated to his trade.”
“John used to say to me, ‘We’re not film stars, we’re musicians, but we’ve got to do this.’ At that time, MTV was the vehicle to sell the song, and I felt it was a bit sad that you had to have a video to sell the song. We enjoyed it, but I felt like we were a commodity rather than a band that was selling, you know? We just felt like we were a band rather than, you know, video stars, and there was a very big emphasis on MTV world premieres for these songs. I mean, I understand how videos work now. When you think about the budgets then, you know, $240,000 or $250,000 for a video, and now you can do one on your iPhone!”
As much as Lewis is enjoying performing again, he said that playing the Outfield songs for the first time without his bandmate John is a mixed experience, both onstage and meeting the other artists.
“The Retro Futura tour is the first tour I’ve done in 14 years, and it’s going to be, for me, quite a bittersweet experience, bec ause I’ll be getting on stage, and now John won’t be on stage with me. I’m going to find that pretty overwhelming. But by the same token, I’m really excited, and so I’m just taking in each day as it comes.”
“I don’t remember this, but I think we did a show with Modern English back in the 80s. I’ve not met ABC or Belinda Carlisle or Annabella Lwin [from Bow Wow Wow]. Actually, I think Annabella was recording her album at the same time we were doing Play Deep. So it’ll be nice to new friends, you know?”
Info on Tony Lewis’s new album Out of the Darkness is available here.