A Chat with Rick Springfield, Rick Springfield interview, Venus in Overdrive

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Don’t be hating on Rick Springfield…and don’t be writing him off as an ‘80s has-been, either. Those who haven’t followed his career any farther than his top-40 hits and MTV airplay may not be aware that, after the decade-long hiatus following the release of 1988’s Rock of Life, Springfield got back into the recording studio, putting out solid albums like Karma (1999) and shock/denial/anger/acceptance (2004). Now, he’s back with Venus in Overdrive, which may well be the best record he’s put out since his commercial heyday. We spoke to Springfield about his more recent material, his acting work (including “General Hospital” and the legendary 1984 film “Hard to Hold”),and what it’s like to play before audiences that are 70% female.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Rick, it’s a pleasure to speak to you.

Rick Springfield: Thank you.

BE: I’m very much digging Venus in Overdrive.

RS: Oh, great!

BE: I’ve been following your career pretty consistently since the 80’s…more recently, perhaps, because of my wife…but I think this album is as good as Karma, and that was one of my favorite albums of 1999.

RS: Thank you very much. Yeah, I’m really, really excited about it.

BE: Based on how upbeat this material is, I guess Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance was as cathartic as it sounded.

RS: Yep, pretty much. I might not have gotten all of them, but I got some of the demons out.

BE: So what took so long for another album of originals? Because I know you’ve had the covers album and the Christmas record, but it’s about four years since the last proper record.

RS: Yeah, I think Shock was such a painful record to do, and…I don’t know, I just had to take a break, which is why I did the covers record and then the Christmas record. And then I just started writing again. This is the first record, actually, that I’d co-written. I wrote with my bass player, Matt Bissonette. It’s the first time I have ever written with someone else…well, certainly a whole record. It was a great experience, and we recorded it in 32 days, which is a miracle for me.

BE: How long has Matt been in your band as bass player?

RS: About eight years; eight or nine years.

BE: Had you ever written anything with him prior to this?

RS: No, no. It’s the first time. We’re very similar…I could see we’re very similar in our likes, and I heard some of the songs he had written, and we just decided to try it and see what happens. And I think it came out great.

BE: Yes, definitely. "What's Victoria's Secret?" is the first single. How is that being welcomed by radio?

“I would say (Venus in Overdrive is) probably closer to Working Class Dog than any other albums I’ve done. It’s more kind of guitar-based and drums; good hooks; short, to-the-point songs that are fun to play on stage and have something to say.”

RS: We’re just starting to take it to radio, and the reaction is great. I mean, so far everybody that’s heard it has said…when we first started playing it around, they said, “You’ve got to take this to radio. You’ve got to take this to radio!”

BE: So what’s radio like these days compared to what it used to be? I mean, it has to be a completely different animal.

RS: Oh yeah, which is why everybody’s kind of unsure about how to do it. Everyone’s trying to hedge their bets on radio but trying to make the internet work for them, too, you know.

BE: Are you doing a video for it as well?

RS: Yeah, we’ve done, like, a live video and another short video. Nothing really kind of extravagant yet, but we’ll see.

BE: I noticed a couple of obscenities in the lyrics of some of the songs that really popped out at me.

RS: Oh, really?

BE: You’ve still got a little bit of anger there, obviously.

RS: Yeah, well, I guess so. I mean, I think anger’s a good part of rock and roll.

BE: So what are some of your favorite songs on the record? Because…

RS: Wow, I mean, I kind of like listening to them all. It happened so fast that I’m not sick of it yet, you know?

BE: Well, actually, I was going to say that it flows together really nicely as a complete package, so I didn’t know if any of them stood out, per se.

RS: I think if flows really well, too. I mean, I certainly like “3 Warning Shots,” because I was particularly upset about the idiot that shot John Lennon. And I like “Saint Sahara” because of what it means to me. I mean, there’s things in all of them that I like. I’m a big hook guy, I love the chorus, so I think we really nailed some of the hooks.

BE: I think you did a really good job of integrating what is defined as the traditional Rick Springfield sound into a more modern feel as well.

RS: Yeah, I think so, too. I think it sounds like me, but it’s got a pretty modern sound to it. And, you know, Chris Lord-Alge mixed it, too, who mixes a lot of great stuff.

BE: Yeah, he definitely has a flair for radio-friendly material.

RS: Yeah. He added a good solid punch to the stuff, too.

BE: Do you find it hard to work new tracks into your set list, given that it’s about half obsessive fans and half “oh, yeah, I used to listen to him all the time”?

RS: I look forward to adding new stuff. That’s what really keeps playing on the road fun. But I do understand the desire to hear the old stuff. And when I go see someone, I want to hear hits, too. I don’t want to hear all twelve tracks of their new album, you know? So I try and mix it up. We’ve done “Victoria’s Secret” and “I'll Miss That Someday” live, and they’re both pretty kind of instantaneous songs, so by the time we’ve hit the chorus the second time, a lot of people are singing along with it, which helps make it not such an alien being stuck in the middle of all these familiar songs.

BE: I should tell you that you were my wife’s very first concert. She saw you when she was fifteen, and it absolutely turned her on to live music because she had never really cared anything about going to see shows.

RS: Oh, great!

BE: She said that she just went and people were screaming and singing and dancing.

RS: She loved the party. (Laughs)

BE: Absolutely.

RS: It’s still like that. I mean, it’s still a party.

BE: Oh, yes. We saw you a few years ago, when you played with The Fixx in Portsmouth, Virginia.

RS: Oh, really? That’s great. I mean, again, that’s why I keep playing: the energy is still there.

BE: My wife wanted me to mention that she’s very impressed with the way that you have catered to the longtime fans who have stuck with you the entire time without really sacrificing your identity.

RS: Oh, well, good! I don’t know if it’s anything I did consciously, but I appreciate that. I just kind of get up there and play, you know? But I do honor the fans, certainly the ones who have been with me for so long. It’s pretty incredible.

BE: A couple months back, The Early Sound City Sessions was released. Was that something you had known about?

RS: I did see something on Amazon at that time, but I’m not quite sure what the tracks are, though.

BE: I guess it’s the stuff that became Beautiful Feelings. The original recordings.

RS: Oh, okay. The original tracks, yeah.

BE: Do you have any hard feelings about them releasing that, or is it’s something you had actually hoped to see?

RS: I don’t mind. You know, at this point, it’s kind of just history. I mean, when they first did it, they were trying to cash in on the success of “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and songs that had kind of just come out. You know, they were trying to cash in on that with an old album, and I was kind of bummed about that. But now it’s just kind of historic stuff, so I don’t mind it.

BE: That said, do you think we’ll ever see Wait for Night released officially on CD?

RS: I’ve think I’ve seen it, but I don’t know where from. The Japanese, maybe? I know the Japanese just put out this series where they reproduce all the album artwork and everything, and it’s like a smaller CD package. They’ve just done that with all the 80’s stuff. I don’t know if Wait for Night is part of that or not. (Writer’s note: Alas, it is not.)

“I guess you could say (my audience is) 70% women. But we’re getting a lot more couples, and a lot of guys who got into it around Living in Oz, when we started to be more guitar oriented. A lot of pop fans understand.”

BE: Your Written in Rock anthology was very much a definitive look back, I thought.

RS: Yeah, I think they did great with that. A lot of good songs and a lot of good album tracks and everything.

BE: I understand that was the first time you ever really had a hand in putting together one of your own best-of collections.

RS: Yeah. The best-of albums, usually, they just slap the hits together and put a new face on the package. But the Written in Rock album was really something I was proud of.

BE: How much work was involved in it for you? I mean, did you have to go back to stuff you hadn’t listened to in awhile, or was it all just…

RS: I mean, I’m pretty familiar with the songs, whether I’ve heard them in years or not. You know, having written and recorded them and played them for awhile, you never really kind of go, “Gee, I don’t remember that one.” Sometimes there are surprises, but everyone kind of seemed to pick the same songs. There were quite a few people who put in lists, and they’re all more or less the same stuff, you know. So I think we all had a pretty good handle on what were the ones with the stand out tracks.

BE: How do you keep a straight face when you’re playing your rocker alter-ego, Eli Love, on “General Hospital”?

RS: I don’t sometimes. (Laughs)

BE: Who pitched the idea of you playing that character?

RS: It was Jill, the producer. She sat me down very quietly and said, “Would you be interested in playing a rock star?” My initial reaction was “no,” but then I thought…I mean, with all the reality shows and people appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” to play their new record, it seemed like a fairly honest choice to me to go back on a show I had been on 25 years ago and be able to play some new music.

BE: When you first came back as Noah Drake a few years before that, was it tough stepping back into the role, given how long it had been since you played the character?

RS: Not really, because it was all about how long he had been away and what he had done. Once they had the back story, it was…a lot of it was real, you know. And I really hadn’t seen a lot of these people in 25 years, so it was pretty interesting.

BE: Is there a favorite record from your discography that you don’t think has gotten the love that it deserves?

RS: No, because everybody’s got a favorite, you know, and they’re sometimes different ones. (Considers it for another moment) No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think they’ve all gotten a certain amount of recognition from different fields, from different areas. I think maybe Shock is about the only one, mainly because it didn’t reach very many people.

BE: How was that received by fans, since it was kind of an angrier album than you’re necessarily recognized for?

RS: A lot of them loved it. I mean, they loved the anger in it because they know it’s me writing about me. You know, they live to hear about that. A lot of them, their husbands took to the record, which was kind of cool. I mean, I probably get more requests for songs from that from the hardcore fans than from any of the other albums.

BE: Songs like “Beautiful You” and “Will I?” would fit into the set list pretty easily, anyway, I’d think.

RS: Yeah. We still throw “Will I?” in now and then, and “Jesus Saves” occasionally. That’s the one everybody seems to miss me playing.

BE: Is it weird having such a predominately female audience? Not that it’s a bad thing, but do you ever wish that it was more of a mixture, and that guys appreciated the music a little bit more than they sometimes do?

RS: Yeah, I mean it’s predominantly…I guess you could say it’s 70% women. But we’re getting a lot more couples, and a lot of guys who got into it around Living in Oz, when we started to be more guitar oriented. A lot of pop fans understand. There’s actually quite a few guys that are fans that may not come to the show, you know. It’s definitely, I think, the longer I’m in here, the more that changes.

BE: I know you’re spoken of in some circles as a veritable god of power pop, but then, at the same time, you’ve got people who can’t get past the “soap opera pretty boy” image. Does that get annoying?

RS: No, because that’s just their thinking, and I can’t do anything about that, so it doesn’t annoy me. I understand it as a human being. It’s really funny: one of the deejays was saying, “Does it bum you out that a lot of these bands look at you as just this one dimensional pop star?” And I’m saying, “Well, no, I’ve met and talked to a lot of the bands, and a lot of them really like what I’ve done, it’s their fans that view me as one dimensional.” Musicians understand the craft of writing and understand the value of a hook and know what it takes to make a song like that. So a lot of them get it. It’s really the guy who only listens to one band that would never consider coming to a show.

BE: As to the power pop tag, I guess you’ve got an advantage, because you’ve got the knowledgeable fans who appreciate your power pop history, but because of your mainstream success, you don’t have to suffer through the stigma of that tag.

RS: Yeah. I know. I mean, that’s a thing I really have no control over, so I don’t…it’s just how people view you. Other than telling them that I’m not one dimensional and putting out the music, that’s all I can do.

BE: Jumping back to your acting for a second, is there a particular role that you’ve played over the years that you felt deserved attention but didn’t necessarily get it? Because I mean you’ve certainly done a lot of stuff under cover of darkness, as it were. For instance, “Human Target” pops up in a lot of discussions about comic book inspired TV series.

RS: Yeah, I think “Human Target” didn’t get a fair shot. Actually, I was talking to Charlie Sheen about a year ago, and he was saying it was one of his favorite shows. But I don’t think that got its fair shot. I think it could have really gone somewhere if they really expanded on it. But that’s TV. It’s even harder now. God, man, now they put it on for one episode, and if it doesn’t get any reaction, they yank it. “Human Target” got on for, like, ten or twelve episodes or something.

BE: Do you have any memories of working on that show?

RS: Oh yeah, sure. A lot of memories. They had some great actors on there. It was really, really fun. I really enjoyed it. I love sci-fi, anyway, you know.

“On returning to “General Hospital” as Eli Love: “With all the reality shows and people appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ to play their new record, it seemed like a fairly honest choice to me to go back on a show I had been on 25 years ago and be able to play some new music.”

BE: Right, like “Forever Knight.” Was there ever any talk of you going on to the series version?

RS: No, because by the time they got that together, I was already on “Human Target.” But I think the original…it was originally called “Nick Knight,” the pilot, and I thought that was amazing. I thought the art direction and everything in that was really, really cool. I enjoyed making that a lot. That was really fun.

BE: And you’re guaranteed a permanent fan base for it, because it’s a vampire-themed show.

RS: Oh, I’m a vampire freak, too.

BE: On the current tour, are there any nuggets from the past that you’re pulling out for set lists that haven’t been pulled out recently?

RS: We’re going to start doing that. We’re going to start pulling out some older, more obscure stuff. There’s just only a certain amount of time in a show, you know, but I sometimes will just launch into something. When we play special shows, people will bring lyrics, and I’ll just launch into it from that.

BE: When I saw you in Portsmouth, you played “Red House” and a couple of other covers.

RS: Yeah, I do stuff that I love from my childhood, you know.

BE: Somebody who reviewed the show from around here was, like, “I don’t know why he’s playing other peoples’ songs.” Um, maybe because he wants to entertain himself as well…?

RS: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

BE: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that your naked ass was the first my sister ever saw, thanks to “Hard to Hold.” I don’t know how often you hear that statement.

RS: (Laughing) That’s…that’s scary.

BE: Just out of curiosity, how did that movie work for you? I mean, did it turn out as you hoped it would?

RS: No, not really. I mean I was kind of…I think the script wasn’t a really good script, and I was kind of at the point where I thought, “I can make anything work!” You know? I think what it was was a very, very extensive video. A song video, basically, is all it was. I know a lot of people who’ve said, “I love that movie,” but I think that’s because it’s part of their life. We did our best in it; I think there are some funny and endearing scenes. I haven’t seen it in so long that I actually don’t have an opinion anymore. I think the last time I saw it was before the first rough cut, and that was the only time I’ve ever seen it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the finished sweetened one.

BE: Is there any message you would like to get to people who haven’t checked out your more recent stuff?

RS: Yeah: get this record! You won’t be sorry. I’m very, very proud of Venus in Overdrive, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly and not at all ashamedly.

BE: Is there a sonic touchtone you could recommend for somebody who hasn’t necessarily checked out your stuff recently?

RS: You mean what it’s like?

BE: Yeah, I mean obviously it’s not going to be identical, but…

RS: Yeah, I would say it’s probably closer to Working Class Dog than any other albums I’ve done. It’s more kind of guitar-based and drums, you know; good hooks; short, to the point songs that are fun to play on stage and you know, have something to say.

BE: Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. You’re actually going to be back here in Virginia Beach in September.

RS: Woo-hoo! I love it!

BE: Exactly. So I’m looking forward to seeing you then…and I’m sure my wife will be there with me.

RS: Alright, man. Thanks!

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