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Mixing It Up
Rick Springfield is Featured on New AXS TV Interview Series

By Lee Valentine Smith

The new AXS TV show Mixtape airs every Thursday night this month at 8:30 p.m. est. The eight-episode season features a different rock icon each week, with in-depth interviews as they discuss their personal favorite songs while sharing their own "mixtape playlist" of music that inspired them and influenced their storied careers.
Among the artists profiled on the intriguing show are Mick Jones, Don McLean, Don Felder, Robby Krieger, Dennis Quaid, Todd Rundgren and Micky Dolenz. A surprisingly candid episode features singer-songwriter/actor/author Rick Springfield, who discusses the origins of his massive hit "Jessie's Girl."

"I started going to this stained glass place in Pasadena. And the reason I kept going was because there was this girl there that was burning hot and she had a boyfriend, his name was Gary, and she didn't want anything to do with me. So I took my sexual angst home and wrote a song about her. I tried 'Gary's Girl,' but it didn't ring. I actually had this original lyric sheet and I changed it to 'Randy's Girl.' I'd actually started writing, 'Randy is a friend,' and halfway through that line I thought, 'You know what, no.' So this name Jessie popped up in my head. I loved it, I went full tilt on the writing and recording thing."

Before he played Symphony Hall this summer, INsite spoke with Springfield about his career, his new symphonic album Orchestrating My Life and why he thrashes his guitar with bouquets of roses at every show.

Last year you toured with a solo acoustic show and now you're really opening up the sound with the symphony shows and the album. As much fun as playing with a band is, the power of a symphony takes the whole thing up a notch.

It does and now with the new technology of recording, think the songs are more powerful than ever. Probably the best they've ever sounded.

Some of your songs seem destined for the symphonic treatment. But did some just not work with that setting?

It did happen. We had to pick and choose for both the record and the live shows with a full orchestra. Obviously the ones with more space in them really worked and the ballads were generally home runs. But it's funny, the space was really filled by the orchestra and that sort of power is much different than just using synth pads. That would be pointless. It's a much more organic and even more acoustic feel at times, to play with the orchestra. It takes to a whole different level.

Currently you're mixing up the shows with acoustic gigs, full band performances and the symphonic events. How do you keep it all in focus?

Well they all require a completely different mindset. The acoustic shows are fun because they are very laid back, storytelling shows. The band shows, I've been doing those the longest and that's the one I'm the most confident with. But I do like the storytelling shows because I can ad lib and just throw stories and songs in whenever I feel like it. The orchestra shows are the direct opposite of that because everything's on click to keep the orchestra and band together. It's quite a discipline. There's a lot of coordination involved. But every type of show has a very different setlist. I don't want to just play the same songs over and over, in the same order. It keeps it interesting for everybody. It definitely keeps us on our toes.

Any creative artist needs a good challenge.

Yeah if you do the same show over and over it gets so boring. I used to do that in the '80s. it got pretty stressful and just not much fun. When I started back out, I wanted to make it feel like it used to be. And now I don't even like the big long tours. We go out for a couple of days and then it's back home for a while. It stays fresh that way and the audience can feel that we're into it.

You play a wide range of venues – from symphonic halls to state fairs – but can you tell a difference from place to place or even city to city?

It's definitely a venue thing. Each venue has a different vibe. It's not so much a city to city thing but the audience definitely plays a part. It's a biorhythm thing more than anything. Some nights they can be more up and loud and some nights it's the direct opposite. Same with the band and the same with me. I can be more up one night and into it and that can change the whole show. But there's always a lot of work involved and most importantly the contact. That connection with the audience, no matter where I'm playing, that's what I really love about it. That's what changes the show for me personally, how I connect with the audience on that given night.

Do you try to recreate that feeling every night?

Yeah and that's what makes it exciting is that challenge. You can play the same songs but it can feel completely different. That's really why I got back into it. I missed that connection and for me there's no other way to get that than by playing live.

There's a big visual element to all of the shows in the past few years.

Yeah, we've used the video walls for a while now, even for the solo shows. I have a lot of private, home photos and movies and it just helps to explain what I'm talking about because every show is a journey through my life and music.

That journey spans a long time and you actually stepped away from playing for quite a while. '88 to '99 is an eternity to be away from the industry.

It was a long time. And what I'm happy to see is that the touring thing has become more important than ever. That's fine for me because that's what I love the most anyway. But the changes for both created new opportunities and shut down a lot of the old ways. But that's the way things evolve in anything these days.

Your songs, even though upbeat on the outside, have always had a bit of a dark element, even the rockers.

Yeah, well I think it's because I always just write about what concerns me. The older you get, the more things concern you. I write about God and the world. Sex is still in there, of course. But the list of things that need to be addressed gets longer and longer.

Tell us about that flower move that you do. How did that come about?

Oh, someone was trying to shove roses at me once when we were playing. I said, 'I'm playing I can't take them right now,' but they kept pushing them at me. They had thorns on 'em and they really hurt. So I got pissed off and took the roses and smacked them against the guitar. Rose petals went everywhere. Then people started bringing roses to the shows and I've done it ever since. The stage gets pretty slippery sometimes from all the petals all over the place.

Mixtape airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on AXS TV.

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