Memorial Day weekend and the kick off to summer are rapidly approaching, and we are excited for the Lost at Sea ‘80s Beach Party on Catalina Island. So many fantastic bands will play throughout the weekend: English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Dramarama, Oingo Boingo Former Members, The Untouchables, Annabella’s Bow Wow Wow, Tommy Tutone, Stacey Q, Naked Eyes, Kon Kan, Josie Cotton, Shannon, Musical Youth, Burning Sensations, and Trans-X.
Also making the journey to the island is Wally Palmar of The Romantics. OC Music News spoke to Palmar from his home in Detroit to get some more intel on the weekend’s festivities, plus the allure of ‘80s music.
Palmar launched The Romantics in Detroit in 1977 and their pop punk/new wave sound gave them a meteoric rise to stardom courtesy of the high-energy “What I Like About You.” They followed it up with “Talking in Your Sleep” and “One in a Million,” which courtesy of MTV and their red leather suits, still remain in our brains.
Traci: Are you ready for Catalina?
Wally: Yes! I did this show last year and they had contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing it again and I said, “Yeah, of course!” They named the lineup of all the bands that were going to be on there and I said, “Yeah, definitely!” Last year we were still in the midst of the pandemic and I was itching to get out. It was my first time on Catalina, and I had a great time. All the people that were there on the island itself and all the fans that follow ‘80s music and stuff. Boy, what collection that is! They’re hardcore fans of that ‘80s genre and I can understand because the music is good from that era. It’s interesting because the bands will play all their hits for you. It’s like listening to a jukebox. You’re putting money in and pressing the buttons and here come the songs!
Traci: Are there any particular bands at these events that you love to hear?
Wally: The Romantics have done these shows on and off for the last 10 years; it might even be a little bit more. We’ve pretty much played with almost everybody that’s going to be on this show. They’re all good bands and they all do a fantastic job. With this show, Dramarama and I will be singing together and we will be one band. They’re going to allow me to come on and do a few songs during their set. They are kind enough to learn a few Romantic’s songs and let me be on stage with them. This will be our third or fourth time doing it. They’re a great band and they enjoy doing The Romantic’s songs, and they do them their way, but they stay true to the original also. So it just works really well. Last year was only one day and it stretches out into Sunday this year, so it’s a three-day event.
Traci: Yes, and there are going to be movies this year too, inside the historic casino theater!
Wally: Who doesn’t like movies? Especially movies from the ‘80s, whether they’re good or bad! Have you ever been there yourself?
Traci: Yes, many times as a kid and just a few years ago for a family wedding.
Wally: Oh, really? It was very interesting for me because I had always heard about it and there were some movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s that were either shot there or about the island. But that was my first time there last year and I can’t wait to get back.
Traci: Yes, I have been counting down the days!
Wally: Well, so am I. The best news of all is that we’re slowly coming out of this two-year pandemic – not fast enough for anyone’s liking, I’m sure – but to get people out when we did it last year, there was a great turnout then, and I’m expecting it to be obviously even better this year. How can you go wrong with Missing persons, A Flock of Seagulls, Dramarama, The English Beat, Stacey Q, Annabella Bow Wow Wow, The Untouchables, Josie Cotton, Tommy Tutone, Shannon, Oingo Bongo’s Former Members, Burning Sensations, Musical Youth, Naked Eyes, Kon Kan, and Trans-X? Man, I’m glad I memorized that before I went to sleep last night. (laughing)
Traci: (laughing) I’m impressed! I loved that music already, but with COVID, it kind of kicked me back into the ‘80s and became fun and comforting music.
Wally: When I talk to people about the music from that decade, when we were kids, we were growing up with the ‘60s in our ears constantly. All these guys that were in these bands all grew up pretty much at the same time. So you’re talking mid-60s through the early-70s, listening to that music and being influenced by that music. That decade, mid-60s, mindset is fantastic, being influenced by that and then being able to take those influences. These guys wanted to start their own bands, obviously, so they all took that influence from the ‘60s and early-70s, and they incorporated it into their songwriting in the ‘80s. I figured that’s why there are so many great melodies and songs and musical arrangements and all that. I know exactly why people are very fond of that decade of the ‘80s; it makes a lot of sense to me.
Traci: What about the words to your songs? Where do you get your inspirations from?
Wally: It’s hard to say. It never comes from one and there’s no set formula for it. It could be listening to something or reading something. Something might pop in your head, and you say “that might be a good title” or “that might be a good topic to extend on and maybe even write a song about.” So you write the stuff down, then you go over it, and sometimes it could be very late at night when you do this, or you tape it; all our phones have the voice recorders and stuff. It can come from the inspiration. It can come from almost anywhere, from all around you, really, for life itself.
Traci: Which of your songs was the first one you heard on the radio?
Wally: Being from Detroit and at that time, some of the DJs had certain times where they would play songs from up and coming bands. We had recorded a couple of singles and I think we heard those during the hour of local music. But the thing that stunned us the most was when we were driving in our van with all our equipment packed in back, and a manager, and a roadie in front driving us, and the four guys in that van, listening to the radio. Then when we heard “What I Like About You” being played on Casey Kasem’s Top 40. Then it just really hit all of us that the song was that popular, that we were actually on the charts with it. It really hit us all, so we pulled over on the side of the expressway, just listened to the song, and we were very quiet at the end, looking at each other and couldn’t believe it. A few weeks later, we got asked to be on “American Bandstand,” so we were off and running at that point. It was great.
Traci: I find it crazy that you have a song that everyone knows. It has gone through decades and genres, yet it remains so well known.
Wally: It’s one of these things where you’re going into the studio; you’re going in there for a purpose. You come up with a song, you write it, and then you have to go and record it. You’re in there and you want each and every song to be as good as possible. Certain songs stand out more than the others. As a group, The Romantics, we’re very fortunate to have a few songs… What’s the term? The test of time, really? We still get played on certain radio stations between “What I Like About You,” “Talking in Your Sleep,” “One in a Million,” “Rock You Up,” stuff like that. We’re very fortunate. It took a lot of hard work and we did our job and thank God it came out right.
Traci: And now you are in music history for good. Now can I expect to see you in leather on Catalina?
Wally: Well, I’m not quite sure about that! Will it be kind of hot for that?
Traci: I suppose it will be.
Wally: Well, you never know. I’ll bring them with me just in case! (laughing)
We may not get leather suits, but we will have a good time with Wally Palmar playing the hits from The Romantics on Catalina. Tickets are on sale now for the May 27-29 event. In addition to regular tickets, VIP and cabana passes are available, but as a reminder, they sold out last year!