There’s probably no greater ’80s anthem of trust and devotion quite like When In Rome’s “The Promise”. The British pop band that crafted the unlikely 1988 new wave hit has quietly faded into obscurity, but the song remains a constant — a lost vintage from a long-gone decade that still is apart of our daily lives and inspiration. And the song’s message of a compassionate union between two drifting souls is perhaps the perfect jump-off for a new musical collaboration.
That’s the approach of Johnson & McAuley, a collaboration between one-time Bostonian Bleu McAuley and Canadian singer-songwriter Alexz Johnson. The duo’s upcoming debut album, out April 8, is very much rooted in modern pop, but it’s this throwback classic that is providing their entrance music. And today, Vanyaland is thrilled to premiere their cover of “The Promise” a few weeks before they make their live debut next month, including an appearance at Air Traffic Controller’s record release party, March 12 at the Sinclair in Cambridge.
“’The Promise’” from When In Rome was constantly playing on KROQ in Los Angeles, and I was doing a lot of driving,” says Johnson. “I thought it would be a cool cover and mentioned the idea to Bleu. It actually ended up being the first song we experimented with and it sort of geared our sound in the direction it went.”
Adds McAuley: “Until Alexz mentioned it, I hadn’t thought about that song in years and years, but, when I heard it again, it was so lusciously familiar. It being an unusual duet from an unusual co-lead-singer band, it seemed like a perfect way to rip in to this project. We fired up my Kawai K4 synth — which ended up being the staple for the whole record — and it came together fast.”
It sets the tone for an album full of vibrant synths and a forward-thinking alt-pop sound that’s a nice progression from the electronic templates When In Rome established a few decades ago. Johnson describes the process of collaborating with McAuley as “organic.”
“Bleu and I had talked about getting into the studio and creating a unique sound and giving it a name,” she adds. “I wanted to do something very different from my solo stuff. We both love the sound from the 80s. It was super experimental.”
McAuley wanted to pair with a collaborator who shared his vision for heavens-reaching pop music.
“I really wanted to take on the challenge of doing more ‘unusual duets’ — nothing in the typical ‘lovey-dovey’ vein,” he says. “Finding different subject matters and arrangements… and Alexz kept referring to the ’emotional-’80s’ — Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, the Eurythmics, early ’80s r&b-pop. I adore all that music and thought it would be a good fit for our voices. And we just kinda went at it. Honestly, it was just inspiring and fun. We laughed a lot.”
Get into their take on “The Promise” below, and scan details of their debut show next month via the flyer below…