Hold Onto The Night!
A Conversation With Richard Marx
For over 20 years, Richard Marx has consistently made his mark on the music industry. He kicked off his career as a solo artist in 1987 and went on to sell 3 million copies. His 1989 follow-up CD, “Repeat Offender,” became even more successful, selling over 7 million copies worldwide. More recently, he has taken on the role of producer, working with some of the biggest names in the music business including Daughtry, Josh Groban, Keith Urban, Luther Vandross and many more. He has currently been on tour this past year and is now bringing his solo, acoustical show (featuring “20 Strings‘) to the Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater (The Fred) in Peachtree City on July 14. We recently had the chance to catch up with Richard Marx to find out more about his upcoming show and how this 80s pop star has adjusted to a new era of the music industry which includes downloads and American Idol.
When you play The Fred on July 14, you will be appearing with “20 strings” can you tell us more about your show?
I started doing these solo, acoustical shows and every once in a while if the town presented the opportunity, I would do a show with a quartet where they would come out and play half the show with me. And then it evolved that in certain towns we would use 20 strings, meaning an orchestra, and it’s sort of the perfect musical component. It’s not too much, it’s not overkill. So you can really hear everything. So with this acoustic show, I bring the key board player from my band and he’ll sit in with me for half a dozen songs, but most of it is just me with the strings behind me. And it might not look like it on paper, but it’s not at all a mellow, sweet slow show. It’s a blast to do “Don’t Mean Nothing”, “Take This Heart” and “Should Have Known Better” with strings.
Your career now spans four decades, whether it’s writing, performing or producing. How does that make you feel?
When I think about it, I can’t wrap my brain around it. I don’t feel like it’s been that long. I can’t believe the artists that I’ve gotten to work with, the help I’ve gotten from all different kinds of people. Right up to this PBS special that just started airing, the shows I’ve been doing, playing in Moscow last year for the first time, and playing in China and playing all over the world…its crazy. I’ve just been so fortunate.
You got rejected numerous times when you first started in Hollywood. Did you ever think this is not going to happen for you?
No, I never felt that way, mainly because I didn’t really see an alternative. I didn’t feel like I had a choice to pack it in. One thing I wish that young singer/songwriters understood all along, like I did, is that rejection hurts. There is no way around it, it’s brutal. But, I thought maybe if I just hang in there, I’ll wear them down. I didn’t wear them down, but I found a guy, who was a running a record company who was the antithesis of those guys. Who was really musical and heard the same song that everyone else had rejected over and over and said “I love this, let’s make a record.” I owe my career to him more than anybody.
Tell us about your relationship with Lionel Richie and how he also helped you get your career started.
I had just started my senior year of high school in Chicago and Lionel Ritchie heard my demo tape and it was a complete fluke that he heard it and took the time to listen to it. I think that’s the most important thing that tells you so much about what kind of person he is. At the time, next to Michael Jackson, he was the most famous, successful person in the business. And he called me up and said “I heard your tape, I really love your voice and I think you should really hang in there. And when you graduate from high school maybe you might want to go to college or maybe you want to come to LA and try it out here,” which is what I did. And then he hired me as a back up singer on his first solo record and then I sang on the first two or three albums that he made. He then recommended me to Kenny Rogers who I ended up singing backgrounds on and writing songs for, so Lionel was a catalyst in me getting started out in LA which is what eventually led to my being a solo artist. But the work I did behind the scenes with him not only paid my apartment rent but it taught me how to make records. Lionel was so generous and he would say you are welcome to be in the studio and just hang out, so I did! Everyday, I went to the studio everyday.
What are you thoughts about shows like American Idol launching all these young pop stars? Do you wish you had that chance?
I know I’m in the minority and I’m not denigrating the millions and millions of people who love those shows. But I’ve never been a fan. I’m not a big fan of the concept of it. I’m grateful that it’s given us Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson, but we would have found them anyway. They would have succeeded. And 99% of the people that have been paraded in front of us on those shows have never had a career and were never prepared to begin with. They probably have no experience singing live. You’ve got to pay your dues, there is no short cut. And the people who do have a short cut generally fail eventually. And I thought the whole purpose was to give us the best music possible, but it’s really ad sponsors. Its go so little to do with artistry or music, it’s got to do with the corporate machine and I’m just not a fan.
What do you think about the record industry today? Instead of buying albums, cassettes and CDs, people are downloading one song at a time. How do you think you would have done if you came up now as opposed to the 1980s?
I’m just glad I came along at a time when people still wanted to experience the journey of albums and they wanted to sit down and listen and read the liner notes, read the lyrics. But there is no comparison because the competition for people’s attention wasn’t what it is now. I’m guilty of it too. I can’t remember the last time I just sat and listened to music without checking my phone or without checking an email or pausing it and looking something up online. Because that is all available to us, right in our hand. Concentrated listening or concentrated viewing is sort of like a lost art form. So, I think the last time I was really aware of it was when we had a really big power outage last year in Chicago and we had no power for about five days. And I found myself just sitting in a room with my IPOD with whatever battery was left with my headphones, just listening to albums. And it was awesome. But I haven’t done it since.