Red Flag In the Press


Star Spangled Banner?

By Anthony J. Hayes

from DAILY CALIFORNIAN (U.C. Berkeley)
Friday, December 15, 1989
page 9, California ARTS section

Sun-baked synth pop hits the airwaves via Red Flag

Ah, the luxuries of big time Rock and Roll. Limousines, lavishly catered spreads and high tech interviews with MTV's Kurt Loder. Well actually Mark and Chris Reynolds are Liverpool-born, Southern California-raised siblings who make up Red Flag arrived in a rented van for a recent gig at th Townsend in San Francisco. And there was no platter of liver pate' or caviar back stage, only a small tub of iced, bottled water and beer. And it was me asking the questions, not Kurt and not in the MTV studios, but in a dark warehouse in the back of the club filled with stacks of water pipes, messy cans of paint and dusty ladders.

OK, so maybe Red Flag doesn't match up yet with big time musical family acts of all-time like the Jackson 5 or the Osmonds -- this was mirrored by the fact that the cavernous SoMa club was only about a third full when the band hit the stage that night. But call it the wrong venue, blame poor publicity, because by all accounts Red Flag is a band on the rise.

The duo's brand of euro-influencd synth pop which has drawn comparisons to groups like Depeche Mode and O.M.D. has begun to create interest with dance club denizens and alternative radio listeners in this country and has seen Far east success in Japan and Hong Kong. The group's first single, "Broken Heart" complete with backing vocals by disco siren Stacey Q broke into the Top 40 of Billboard's Club Play chart in the summer of '88 and their follow up "Russian Radio" peaked at No. 11 on the chart in January.

Red Flag's debut album, Naive Art, released last February, includes their first two singles and was produced by Paul Robb of the Information Society and mixed by San Francisco's Joseph Watt of Razormade [sic] Records fame.

But while their music has started to pick up speed, the siblings say poeple still have trouble figuring who's who in the band. Blond older brother Mark, who sings and writes the lyrics recalls an appearance on the new American Bandstand show. "We told the host before the show who we were. But then he mixed us up twice on the air, so I think that may have thoroughly confused people who see us live," Mark, devoid of any English accent said in between sips of mineral water. Just then, dark haired Chris, who's younger by 18 months and writes most of the music and mans the synthesizers, appeared from the darkness to chim in, "Our names aren't under the picture on the record, so people don't know who we are sometimes. That's the question we get most often in our fan mail, who's who."

Born into a military family -- their father is British Naval officer -- the Reynolds kids were constantly on the move while growing up. Being uprooted so often led to problems keeping lasting friendships with other children, so Mark and Chris, who also have an older sister, say they established a closer friendship between themselves than most brothers. "Oh that's not to say we haven't had our disagreements. We used to chase each other around with broomsticks, but there were no broken bones or limbs." Mark laughed. "But we've never fought over the music. I've heard lots of bands say that tension is a creative force. But we don't have that. There are separate talents. Chris is into the music and I'm the lyrics."

Now sitting by the open door of a lighted bathroom in the warehouse, the syncopated sounds of New Order and Dead or Alive blaring in the background, Chris recalls the family's move to California in 1979. "I remember the day we left very clearly, I was distraught and a little frightened. There were some tough times when we first left England," he said, in an accent more La Jollan than London. "But we quickly got settled, we are Americans, we are citizens of this country. We grew up in America for the most part, all our influences were gained in America. We do like British bands, but that's not unusual."

The Reynolds family first settled in Los Angeles and two years later relocated to San Diego, where they still live. Southern California, coincidentally was the place they first got interested in English synth-pop artists like Depeche Mode, Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys.

Using a simple electronic keyboard the duo first started dabbling in creating sounds at home. They recorded their first demo under the name Shades of May in 1984 when they were still in their teens. "Mom wanted us to go for it from the start, dad was a little more logical. I think he wanted me to follow in his footsteps," Mark said. "We really like the technology and getting the drum machines to do weird things. But I think we are still paying for our first keyboard."

The two acquired more advanced technology -- synthesizers and a MIDI Synclavier are what they mainly use now -- and began expanding their sound with the help of a few San Diego friends, first changing the band's name to Naive Art and eventually Red Flag. Rumors have persisted that the name refers to an affinity for the Soviet Union. The brothers say however the name simply means a warning flag used in surfing. And that they wrote "Russian Radio" after people started drawing the Soviet connection. "We were aware of it, but it just seemed so irrelevant, I think to segregate things ideologically is wrong," Mark said.

The Reynolds' big break came in March of 1988 when dance producer Jon St. James, responsible for Stacey Q's 1987 hit "Two of Hearts," saw Red Flag perform at club DJ convention in Pacific Beach and offered to produce them. The result of an all day session was the single "Broken Heart." The club success with that song led to a recording deal with independent Los Angeles label Synthicide Records and a marketing contract with Enigma Records.

Like most new bands, comparisons with established artists seems to be inevitable and Depeche Mode is the band Red Flag is often linked with. Some critics have labeled them Depeche clones. Though Red Flag has more advanced technology to work with than Depeche did when they started out 10 years ago and don't use nearly the amount of industrial samples Depeche does. Red Flag's current uptempo style is reminiscent of Depeche's earlier dance material.

"It's a compilment , you grow up listening to bands and some have more of an effect on you then others . What are we supposed to do -- go in another direction," Mark said. "We admit they're a band we like. Are we supposed to go around telling a fib that we don't like them? We don't want to do that."

Article transcribed by
Myra Wong

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Steve's Exclusive Interview

Thanks to Mark for answering these questions: (June 1995?)
Q: Did you guys have an album ready to go after the "Machines" single was released? Did any of these end up on The Lighthouse or did you start fresh?
A: I forget. I've blocked that episode out of my mind.

Q: How were you first "discovered" by Synthicide?
A: By accident. We were playing in a little dive in PB (Pacific Beach I assume). It was a Synthicide showcase and we were the opening act.

Q: Do you plan on releasing any singles or remixes from The Lighthouse?
A: Not at this time, but we are currently working on a new album.

Q: Yourselves and Anything Box have both started labels to release your own stuff. Do you find it difficult not having the major label distribution and publicity, or is it all together better not having any outside meddling?
A: I hated being on a label. It sucked. If I wanted to be told what to do, I would have joined the Army.

Q: I used to bodyboard down at Imperial Beach a lot. What's your favorite surf spot?
The answer to this is a secret!

Q: A friend of mine would like to know if you guys start a song with lyrics or a melody?
A: Melody.

Q: Any more shows planned for this year?
A: Yes

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Red Flag - The Lighthouse (Orbit Jan/Feb 1995)

Some of us have waited a long time for new Red Flag material. It was worth the wait. I am so impressed with the musical evolution of this band. I must admit, that when I popped this disc in the player, I was completely surprised. It was the same type of feeling I had when I picked up alphaville's "Breathtaking Blue" albumn after listening to the "Forever Young" CD for so long. Chris and Mark Reynolds, since their first release, "Naive Art," seem to have been busy trying to reshape the sounds of Naive and their last single "Machines" into a more mellow, ambient atmosphere. Yet, somehow, they have managed to keep the synth-pop sound with the solid kick drums and bass lines. Some of the percussion and bass parts seem to flow from a Jon Secada song structure while others seem to reflect an Enigma vocal sample and Vangelis sensiblity. Despite these familiarities to the listener, this album is composed in an originality and depth that, I think, surpasses all the previos compositions of Red Flag.

Each song has a unique quality that alters the mood and feelings of the listener. Grab some headphones and shut the drapes when you take your first listen to the album. The compositions will then call you back constantly to the CD itself. From "Shame on the Moon"- a restless ballad about the wherabouts and feelings of a lost loved oneto the pet Shop Boys-ish "In My Dreams" Red Flag sweeps you into another world of sentiment that also keeps you tapping a beat. I really liked the 12+ minute "Things We Say" and the stirring instrumental "The Lighthouse" both constructed with quality samples and sound choices. This album truly is a masterpiece which defies the conventions the band established for itself and marks them as true geniuses of Synth Pop. each track is a radio-quality work of art that grabs the audience and cries out for airplay. Do not miss their tour in 1995 and do not muiss purchasing this album. It is truly a FIVE DOLLAR mark with the staff here at Orbit! It will be with you as well. check it out.

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Red Flag-Doing It Their Way by Robert Semrow (Synth Music Network-Vol. 2-Issue 1 Spr'95)

One of the most asked questions we get is, "What ever happened to Red Flag?" Well, here's what lead vocalist Mark Reynolds told us when we asked him that question. "After releasing records on four separate labels ans subsequently being cut from all of them, we decided to try a different approach, Plan B. Plan B Records is our own label. We've only got one band right now, but they're pretty good. So that's what we've been up to- building an empire and a Lighthouse."

The duo, which are based out of San Diego, California, have recently released a full length CD entitled "The Lighthouse." We asked them the significance of the title, Mark responded, "The working title was 'Reaction', but as the album progressed and more songs were written, a theme began to appear. With all the references to the sea, the title 'Lighthouse' is the result of a couple of guys from Kearny Mesa (San Diego) trying to write music as best they can without the meddling of an A&R rep." This album is a big departure frm the club friendly "Naive Art" days. We asked him, why the change? He quipped, "Because this is America." O.K., well, for those who were attached to Red Flag's "Naive Art" sound, the new album does incorporate some of those influences and Mark's voice is as strong and smooth as ever.

Probably the biggest insight as to the change of feel, is what Mark told us when asked about his musical references, "Not 'who', but 'what'. What have been my musical influences? When you're starting out, and writing songs for the first time, it is 'who' influences you the most; but after a while, the question becomes 'what', and that 'what' is life. The ups and downs, the good and the not so good. They're all in there between the grooves if you listen closely." Mark's favorite track is "My Love," the reason, "I love the way 'My Love' turned out. I'm proud of the entire album, but 'My Love' has someting very special about her; (Could he mean his wonderful wife Sandi?)."

What does the future hold for Red Flag? We don't know. We asked them that and many other questions, to which he declined to answer. Oh well, we'll take what they're willing to give. We wish Red Flag the best.

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KWOD @ The Rage, Sacramento by Jeri Beck. (Control-Alt-Delete, Issue 8, April 1995.)

I was so excited when I found out I was going to this show. It was to be my first time to meet Seven Red Seven, and to see Machine In Motion on stage. I was definitely up for more from Red Flag. To make things even better, Dania of Anything Box showed up. I had more fun at this show than any other since C-A-D started. The bands had all worked together before, I delivered C-A-D #7, it felt like a reunion. Karen Reali did a spectacular job organizing this event, no wonder everyone loves her. The party started at sound check and continued all night.

The show occurred during serious rainstorms in northern California. Michael Hayes of KWOD, is certifiably insane and the madness spread from the outward. After the sound check, in the most pounding rain of the day, he loaded seventeen of us into the KWOD van and drove us downtown to the radio station. The high point was when ascending a railroad crossing at near Mach 1, we were actually airborne for several seconds. The remainder of the trip was punctuated by Mark Reynolds (Red Flag) periodically clapping his hands to the side of his head screaming "We're All Gonna Die!!!" We tumbled out in the middle of town like something from Ringling Brothers. Then we all mashed into the same elevator (more screaming from Mark) and rode to the top, to commandeer the airwaves. I wish I had us on tape, it was one of the most bizarre promos ever to air, due partly to the huge number of us, but largely to the Reynolds' macabre sense of humor.

(Little bit about Seven Red Seven and Machine in Motion)

Even though Red Flag did a set fairly similar to the one they did in Dallas, the band was totally different at this show. In Dallas, Mark had seemed somber and wistful, and Chris, more distant. In Sacramento, the mood of the day prevailed and they really let go and had fun with the audience. "Russian Radio" drove the crowd into a throbbing frenzy. They jumped en masse as they belted out the chorus with him. By the time their set closed with Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," the audience was truly theirs. It was pandemonium getting back through the crowd to the dressing room.

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Last Update: June 27, 1997