The Cars: The Good Times Are Back

Originally published on May 1, 2011 6:45 pm

For the early MTV generation, there are few artists more iconic than Ric Ocasek, the frontman of The Cars. Pencil thin, shock of black hair, dark sunglasses, cigarette dangling from his lip — Ric Ocasek was new wave rock and roll. And if the good times stopped rolling for you around the time The Cars split up in the late 1980s, there's good news: Those times are back.

Out May 10, The Cars will be releasing Move Like This, the first record from the band in 24 years. Not too long ago, Ric Ocasek said, "A Cars reunion? Put it out of your mind." Thankfully, something or someone convinced them that millions of us needed them back. Ocasek says he simply had a batch of new songs, and his former bandmates were the best men for the job.

"I thought, 'Well, who could play these [songs] the best? How could I make this easy on myself?,'" Ocasek tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "So I called the guys to see if they wanted to make another record."

At their height in the mid-1980s, the Cars sold more than 25 million records, but you're wrong if you think Ric Ocasek's been living off old war stories from his heyday. In recent years, he's become a kind of mentor to some of the most successful pop and indie acts in the business — No Doubt, Weezer, Guided By Voices and many others.

"I was always fond of producing," says Ocasek, "I just kind of would help them sort the songs out, get the sound they wanted, feel comfortable in the studio. I've always have been a huge fan of anything that's brand new or inventive."

The Cars' original bassist Benjamin Orr, who sang lead on "Drive" and several other of the band's best-known songs, died in 2000 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Ocasek says Orr's passing made him reluctant to reunite the band at first.

"It was a good reason not to," says Ocasek. "I certainly didn't want to replace him. That's why we didn't — we just kept the four of us." Despite Orr's absence, the band's sound on Move Like This is basically just as they left it 24 years ago. Ocasek says that wasn't a surprise: "It really just comes from the people and their individual talents, so I couldn't have imagined why they would have changed."

As for if there will be another record from The Cars, Ocasek is still undecided.

"Whatever I say, I can manipulate or contradict myself," he says. "If I say I'll do it again, we'll probably never do. Who knows? But we'll see."

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THE CARS: (Singing) Let the good times roll. Let them knock you around.

GUY RAZ, Host:

For the early MTV generation, there are few artists more iconic than Ric Ocasek, the front man for The Cars. Pencil thin, that shock of black hair, the dark sunglasses, the cigarette dangling from his lip, Ric Ocasek was new wave rock 'n' roll. And if the good times stopped rolling for you around the time The Cars split up in the late 1980s, well, I have some good news for you. Those times, they're back.


RAZ: This is the first track off The Cars' first album in 24 years. It's out this month. The record is called "Move Like This."


CARS: (Singing) You believe in anything they tell you how to think. The simpletons all circle in the raging roller rink. I'm trading in the alley, I'm booking up a storm. Forget about reality 'cause nothing is the norm.

RAZ: And Ric Ocasek, I have to say as a professional journalist, I'm not supposed to get giddy and starstruck, but I am so excited to have you on this afternoon. And thanks for being here. Welcome to the program.

RIC OCASEK: Thanks for having me.

RAZ: This is a Cars record, unmistakable. It's almost as if you picked up where you left off with - obviously, with updates, modern updates, contemporary updates. What made you change your mind about bringing the group back together?

OCASEK: It was really just the songs that I wrote. And I thought, well, who could play these the best? How could I make it easy for myself?


OCASEK: So I thought, I'll call the guys to see if they want to make another record.


CARS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

RAZ: As I mention, this record, I think it's almost like a gift to your fans. I mean, they will recognize the sound and the style and the sensibility. Tell me about what you wanted the record to sound like when you were sort of thinking about it.

OCASEK: That's a good question. I don't know what I thought it should sound like. I just knew that when I got the members of the band back that it would take on The Cars sound. I think that comes from each individual, you know, and their personal talents. And then they put themselves into it, it ends up just sounding like The Cars.

RAZ: Is it strange to you? I mean, you have - I mean, you've been out of The Cars for almost a quarter-century. You're older and wiser. And does it just feel natural, or is it a little bit weird to go back?

OCASEK: So I couldn't imagine why it would have changed if I would have taken any number of songs or maybe any of the ones I did on my own records and just did them with The Cars. It would've sounded like a Cars record.

RAZ: It almost sounds like you have - you never really wanted to be in the spotlight. It kind of was foisted on you. And yet, you're sort of the most identifiable front man for The Cars.

OCASEK: That's because I look like Ichabod Crane.


RAZ: But it's almost as if you're kind of maybe even still reluctant to kind of play that role.

OCASEK: Yeah. I'm not into the - not much into being the front guy. I was the songwriter, really, and the person who put the songs together and maybe a bit of a director. But being an entertainer was never my, you know, main thing.

RAZ: How do you do it when you go on stage? I mean, you're about to go on tour, and you're going to play in front of thousands of people, and they're going to be looking forward to seeing you up there. Do you - how do you do it? Do you have to kind of turn into that person, that stage person for those two or three hours?

OCASEK: No. That's what I don't do. You see, I don't like being an entertainer. I play the songs from the heart. I probably won't do any kind of fake moves or I probably won't prod the masses to react. I'll probably just perform the songs.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Ric Ocasek. He's the front man for The Cars. The new album is called "Move Like This."


RAZ: There's a track on this record, this new record, it's a slower song, almost, I would say, a tender song. It's called "Soon."


CARS: (Singing) You're my lover. You're the one I'm dreaming of.

OCASEK: Well, that song really is kind of about time running out. I think it kind of says that everything's cool, but, you know, time's going to run away without our permission pretty soon. So it's kind of like more of a little heartbreaker than it is a little...

RAZ: Right.


CARS: (Singing) But time, no time won't come. I know what I put you through.

RAZ: Your collaborator in The Cars, Benjamin Orr, he died in 2000, and he was probably, I guess, best known for singing lead vocals on the song "Drive."


CARS: (Singing) You can't go on thinking nothing's wrong. But who's gonna drive you home tonight?

RAZ: I know that Benjamin Orr was a really close friend of yours...


RAZ: ...going way back.

OCASEK: Oh, yeah.

RAZ: Were you reluctant to do this without him?

OCASEK: It was a good reason, you know, not to. I certainly didn't want to replace him. That's why we didn't. We just kept the four of us. It was one reason. It wasn't the main reason, but it made it harder to think about. But we went through with it, anyway.

RAZ: You famously said that The Cars will never reunite. Obviously, thankfully, you have. Is this the last Cars record, or will there be another one maybe?

OCASEK: Yeah. There could be another one. You know, we had fun doing this one. And I'm not going to say - whatever I say, I can manipulate it. I can contradict it. So - I said I'd never do it, and I did it.


OCASEK: So if I say I'll do it again, then I'll probably never do it.

RAZ: Ric, it's been great catching up and having you on. Thanks for doing this record for all your fans.

OCASEK: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.


CARS: (Singing) (Unintelligible). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.