Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

15Apr/1415

Richard Marx On Songwriting And His ‘Beautiful Goodbye’

richardmarx
I spoke with Richard Marx in early March for a story that ran locally prior to his show here in Cleveland in April. For those of you who are regular readers of the blog, it will come as no surprise that I'm a lifelong Marx fan. Even if I wasn't a fan, just learning that he's a fellow liner notes nerd like I am would have gone a long way.

We talked about his upcoming album, Beautiful Goodbye (which was still untitled at the time of our conversation), which is set for release sometime in June. I've never interviewed Marx before, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to dig into the songwriting that he's done, both for himself and other artists.

It was a good chat and it left me wanting to hear the new album. I'm curious to hear where he's going to go with this one. From hearing "Turn Off The Night," the one new song that he performed during his Cleveland appearance, the initial mojo on this one feels good.

Let’s start at the top --- I saw that you were writing songs with Ringo Starr last week. That’s an experience that probably tops many other experiences for most people.

It’s pretty crazy. I wrote a song with him I guess two albums ago after I did a tour with him, he asked me to write a song with him. I went over to his house and he had a track that he had already played drums on and it was a piece of music that was pretty fleshed out, but it didn’t have a melody or any lyrics. So I started singing a melody and then we started writing lyrics together and we wrote a song that ended up becoming a song called “Mystery Of The Night.” So he called me a couple of weeks ago again and said “Hey, I’m doing a new album -- I know you’re in L.A., do you want to come over and do the same thing?”

So I went over last week and we wrote this new song. But then just this morning he called me and said “Do you have time to write another song? I love the song we wrote and it was so easy. Do you have time to write another one?” and I said “Dude, I’ll make time!” Then he said “You know, why don’t we just do something from scratch -- whatever you think would be good for me to sing.” So he sort of gave me carte blanche to come up with some ideas for him. So next week we’re going to sit down and [work on it]. I’ve got to tell you, aside from being Ringo, the Beatle, he’s just such a lovely man. He’s such a great hang and it’s time well spent because he’s a blast and he’s fun.

It seems like once you do one of those All-Starr Band tours, if you play your cards right, you’re in the family from that point forward.

Pretty much. One of the things that happens is that once you know him and certainly once you’ve toured with him, if you just happen to go see him play somewhere, you have to get up at the end of the show and sing “With A Little Help From My Friends.” It’s a law that is written somewhere -- I’m not sure where, but trust me, it’s written somewhere. He doesn’t discard people.

If you treat him the way he treats you, which is with respect -- and he is, for everything that he embodies and what he’s experienced in his career, I don’t know of a more respectful musician. He’s such a fan of other people and he’s so good at giving other people props. He’s a good human. He could be Ringo Starr from the Beatles and not be that great of a guy and I wouldn’t want to work with him just because of who he is, but he’s a really cool guy.

You’ve done a lot of writing and co-writing with folks in recent years. It seems like there might be an additional level of intimidation that might creep into the process for some people, because you’re writing with Ringo Starr. Yet it would also seem like you maybe had a bit of benefit going into it, since you had toured with him of maybe having a comfort zone that some people don’t have.

Yeah, I definitely did have that. He and I, we’re social friends -- we’ve had quite a few dinners together and we talk on the phone every once in a while just to check in with each other and we’re friends. So I definitely have a comfort level with him as a person, which makes the co-writing process that much less uncomfortable. When you sit down in a room with somebody and you’re going to just sort of throw ideas out there that might suck or might be brilliant, there’s a trust that needs to happen and sometimes that definitely has to take time to develop.

You know, there’s certain people that I’ve written hit songs with and when we get back together to write again, it’s just as uncomfortable as the first time. You don’t ever get past a certain level of discomfort with certain people. It doesn’t mean you don’t produce great stuff, it just means that it’s a different kind of dynamic. And then there are people who I couldn’t be more comfortable around, but maybe I haven’t written a hit song with.

I look at every co-writing venture as a place for me to learn something. That includes writing with young writers like Jason Wade and Chris Daughtry, those guys who will tell me “Well, you’re the veteran -- I’m going to defer to you now” and I said “No, no -- there’s no such thing -- just because I’ve written x number of hit songs doesn’t mean that I’m going to be the guy that carries the ball over the touchdown line on this song. It might be you!”

I spoke with your buddy Matt Scannell about the latest Vertical Horizon album and he was telling me how you came in and as he put it, rescued things by helping him get the vocals where they needed to be with that record. I guess I’m curious if you’ve ever had somebody do the reverse and come in to rescue you with your own situation.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been rescued. I’ve certainly had….you know, look -- more importantly, Matt Scannell is somebody who has come into my life and rescued me personally and that’s way more important than musically. I don’t know that there’s a songwriter...I’ve really only had bout of [writer’s block] and I was very young. It was my father who pulled me out of it -- he was my ultimate mentor. He just simply said “Writer’s block is bulls--t” and he said “You either write songs or you don’t write songs and if you’re going to use an excuse like ‘I’ve got writer’s block,’ then there’s really nothing to talk about -- you must not want to be a songwriter that bad.”

It was tough love and it was the greatest f--king thing that ever happened to me, because I never experienced it again. He just reminded me that there’s always something to write. You may not write a particularly good song day, but you can write something. It’s a choice. So I put writer’s block way behind me when I was a teenager. So I don’t know that there’s ever been a mentor or somebody that kind of came in and kickstarted my creative thing again. I don’t know that there’s that. But like I said, more importantly, there have been a couple of people and Matt Scannell is certainly at the top of the list, [of] people who came in at certain pivotal moments of my life and pulled me out of the wreckage and were incredibly helpful, kind and loving friends to me.

At least from the outside, it seems like you two met up at a time when both of you were looking to do some new things creatively.

Yeah, well I was already kind of in a place where I felt like my artist career was something that would be somewhere between a hobby and not a good thing. I felt like I had a really great turn at that for 10 years with hits and I’d experienced all of the bucket list things I’d signed up for when I was young. I felt like you know, it’s not my turn anymore -- it’s other people’s turn -- so I’m going to write and produce and do all of that and still make tons of music, which I did and I have done. But I’m not going to really pursue the performing thing.

Matt was coming off of a pretty rough experience with his label and that [Vertical Horizon] album Go and that’s when he and I became friends. I think it was just sort of serendipitous that I kind of wandered into his life at the time that I did, because he was pretty down and he said to me “You know, you started calling me at a time when my phone wasn’t ringing,” so he knew that where I was coming from was a place of friendship and admiration for what he did. I believe that with everybody, you get put in people’s paths for a reason. Sometimes you never know what the reason is. I know that in my case with Matt, I now I have a brother that I never knew I had.

I know you’ve been working on a new album. What can you tell us about that?

Well, it’s the first time I’ve consciously made a new collection of songs in a long time in a real focused way. It’s probably [been] close to 10 years [since] I sat down and said “I want to put a real consistent album together.” The music is still me, because it’s my voice and my voice is the thread, but I think that musically it’s a departure. I listen to a lot of kinds of music, but in the last couple of years, I’ve been really fascinated with a lot of EDM and a lot of music by DJs like Morgan Page and Deadmaus.

So I’ve listened to a lot of that music and trance music and there’s something so hypnotic and sensual about that music and it definitely inspired a lot of the music on this record, even if it isn’t necessarily a clone of any of those kinds of songs. There are definitely a couple of tracks that are clearly influenced by EDM and then there’s just other stuff that’s sort of influenced by other music that I’ve listened to from Sade to world music -- all kinds of stuff. There’s really not a lot of straight down the middle pop stuff on this record and I’m excited about it because it sounds different to me and if I make a record where I think I’m breaking new ground for myself artistically, I’ve got to start there. I can never ever predict what my fanbase is going to react to. I’ve never written a song in my life that I thought was a hit when I wrote it.

Luckily, I’ve been happily surprised many times, but I’ve never had that experience that I hear about where people go “Man, I knew that song was a hit” -- so I write songs that appeal to me. I write songs to get things off my chest and I write songs just to express musically and creatively whatever I’m wanting to say at that time. The rest of it is a complete crapshoot. The good news is that I don’t know that I’ve been more excited about a record or pleased with a record in a long time. It doesn’t mean that more than 11 people will buy it. [Laughs] But I really love the record. I’m really excited for people to hear it.

Who have you been writing with on this record?

I wrote one with Matt Scannell. I wrote with David Hodges for the first time and that was really, really fun. He’s a really talented guy. The majority of it I wrote by myself. I’m actually recording the last song tomorrow that I wrote with Walter Afanasieff -- and again, that’s a guy that I’ve known and we have mutual friends and we’ve circled each other for years, but we just never got together to write until a couple of weeks ago. The song came out great, so we’re going to go in his studio tomorrow and cut it and it will be a real quick process. Then I’ll be mixing for the next couple of weeks and the record will be done.

The writing and the co-writing that you do with other folks, does that tie back to your own music at all when you’re writing?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, if nothing else sometimes it lights the fuse. I’ve had experiences where I haven’t written any songs for a couple of weeks and I’ll go to Nashville and sit with a couple of co-writers and write two or three songs over a couple of days and then I’ll come home and I’ll write five songs by myself. Because it just warms up the muscle and it lights the fuse and then you’re in that zone. So yeah, that happens a lot.

You spoke about this a bit earlier, but I’d like to talk a bit more about that period when you made made the transition from being a hitmaker of your own as a songwriter to focusing more on writing songs for others that became huge hits. I thought that was really interesting when you made that transition at that time and it was smart. But that’s a hell of a leap.

Yeah, it was a hell of a leap and look, if I’m going to be really honest with you, on one hand I think it was one of the smartest things I could have done. Because I essentially reinvented myself as a writer/producer for hire and potentially extended my musical career by any number of years, because I’m still doing it -- I’m still co-writing with people. I think that had I not done that at the time, I might have...I mean I could have maybe always ultimately done it, but I felt like the timing was what it needed to be.

But also, looking back on it now, I think part of it was that my kids were young and I wanted to be around. I didn’t want to be on the road touring and promoting constantly. I wanted to have the experience of taking my kids to school almost every day, picking them up and having dinner with them every night and just sort of having that kind of existence, which I had very little experience with up to that point. So again, I’m grateful for that, because I built the relationship that now exists with me and my three sons, which is incredible.

Maybe I wasn’t totally conscious of it at the time, but there was also a sense of just feeling like “f--k it.” You know, I finally put out a record that didn’t do anywhere what the other records had done -- in 1997 I put out this CD called Flesh & Bone. I felt like the writing was on the wall that it was going to be a tough climb to get back to where I was a couple of years before. So looking back now, really what I could have done, I could have done exactly what I ended up doing, plus hired a new producer, co-written with a bunch of different people and just done what people do to reignite their careers. Instead of that, I kind of went “f--k it, I don’t care.”

It was easier for me to sort of just dive into the writing and producing for other people because there was a lot less ego risk with that. So you know, I think looking back now, I think it cost me in terms of my career as an artist, because I had to completely rebuild my touring base and I had stayed behind the scenes for a dozen years or so and you have to remind people -- it’s a whole another generation. So in some cases you have to remind people and in [others], you have to completely introduce yourself to the first time to people. So I did some artistic damage by making that decision, but I just don’t really look back at stuff like that and second-guess it. It felt right at the time and I just try to put one foot in front of the other.

It seems like it ended up being a smart move for you at the time. But also it seems like doing all of that writing probably kept the fuel going that kept you writing songs and recording for yourself.

Yeah, I wouldn’t argue that. I think there were great benefits to my decision, both creatively and personally for sure. But there were detriments too and you have to accept the bad with the good. I own it all, so it’s fine with me. But I also think writing and producing all of these other artists, one of the first things that is so different about all of that is that it’s not genre-specific. It’s all over the map, so I’ve got all of these country records that I did, pop records, hard rock records, jazz records, pop classical crossover records and pretty much everything except polka is covered in my resume. I know that the diversity of that music informs what I write for myself now.

Because I’m a student of music still and the stuff that I’ve learned from the other people I’ve collaborated with -- even I’ve been really in the driver’s seat, it informs what I’m writing now. It also raises the question, “What do I want to do musically that I haven’t done?” Where are some places I can go that are interesting to me that I think I would not make a fool of myself doing. So that’s really what this new album is. It’s like doing a little bit of collaborating and really studying a lot of EDM music and listening to it in my car constantly and on planes, that’s a place that I really wanted to go and explore and still maintain the craft of songwriting that I count on and that I feel like I’m known for.

How have things changed for you with social media being a part of the equation now?

There’s no barriers anymore. If I’m sitting having a coffee, I’m fair game to have that picture of me doing that -- no matter how I look or how I feel or who I’m with or anything -- I’m fair game to have that tweeted to the world. Look, it’s not a burden for me -- that stuff is so rare for me. But I can’t imagine what it’s like for the current cultural celebrities. -- I can’t even imagine what that’s like.

There was the well-publicized thing where you went and met up with the Chicago-area critic that had called you "shameless." You invited him out to talk about things face to face -- had you ever done something like that before?

Not like that. Years ago, there were people that I would call up if I felt that they were taking a cheap shot or they were just being flat out dishonest in their writing. I definitely did that and then I tried to stop doing that. Because I just found that my life was too good to be worrying about s--t like that. I pretty much ignore….I don’t even notice a lot of it, but because this was in my hometown, there were some people. They didn’t mean to stir s--t up, but they said “Did you see what this asshole wrote?” And I was like wow, this guy went 100 miles out of his way to not just insult me about something that I had nothing to do with in his original article, but he used the word that just set me off, which was “shameless.”

I don’t know, man, when I look back on it now, I think “Well, why did I even care?” But what I explained to the guy and the reason that I was there, I said “You know, this is the town where my kids live and this is the town where my mother lives.” If you wrote in your blog that Richard Marx is the least talented person on the face of the earth and every note that he writes and sings is utter s--t, you would never hear from me, because I could give a f--k. But when you say something that’s a personal character insult, like I’m shameless, and you’ve never met me and you don’t know anybody who knows me -- I want you to say that to my face. So I said to him, “Do you have the balls to say that to my face?” He went “Yeah” and I went “Okay, great.” So we met up at a bar and he apologized and I took his apology.

I think the guy….I mean, everybody in Chicago who even knows who he is, nobody thinks much of him and he’s a pretty inconsequential guy and I actually feel sorry for him. The more I know about him as a person, I’m glad I’m walking in my shoes and not his, let’s put it that way. But I feel like in retrospect it was probably dumb, but in the moment, you know, I’m a man and I felt like I’m going to deal with this like a man and not like a celebrity. I just said “Dude, you know, if you’re going to say something like that about me in the town where I live, then I want to see if you’ll say it to my face.” And he didn’t -- he wouldn’t.

Going back to the social media topic for a moment, something that sticks out to me about it is that it’s nonstop and there’s a sense of entitlement and lots of other things. So I can’t imagine, as you said yourself, people who are current hit-makers today like Lady Gaga or whoever you want to mention, it’s just a nonstop storm that goes far beyond anything that you had to deal with back in the day. It’s all been magnified so much.

There’s no comparison. Look, even back in the heyday when I was the most well-known and visible, I lived a very quiet life. First of all, I didn’t court that. You know a lot of people, let’s face it, when people say “poor this person or poor that person, they can’t go anywhere,” well, guess what? Most of the time? The people that we’re talking about that I don’t need to name -- it’s their publicists who are telling the paparazzi where to go. It’s their machine that’s feeding that beast. You can’t really have it both ways -- you can’t be the victim of something that you did not [engineer], so you just sort of check out of it and you don’t embrace it and you don’t court it. I think for the most part, they kind of leave you alone.

I get approached sometimes if I’m coming out of a restaurant or whatever, but I don’t have anything to say and I’m never going to engage. Aside from that guy in Chicago, which is a totally different thing, I think it’s just a matter of understanding that this is toothpaste that’s not going back into the tube and just know that we live in a culture now where if you’re in the public eye, every public move you make is fair game.

You’re playing an acoustic show, right? Is it just you?

It’s just me. I started doing this a couple of years. I’ve seen other acoustic shows and I’ve heard about other acoustic shows and I’m not knocking anybody who does an acoustic show, but I will say that anybody that is concerned that it is a serious singer/songwriter show where I sit and talk about craft or motivation or what was going through my mind..there’s none of that s--t! It’s as if you came over to my house and we’re just hanging out. The only thing is I wish that I could drink with them. I wish everybody had a drink and we could just sit around and clink glasses and I would say “Okay, so you’re not going to believe the story about this song” or “You’re not going to believe what happened when I was writing this song or making this record.”

Because I’ve got crazy ass stories about making music, collaborating with people and just s--t that’s happened to me. So it’s really just a hang with me and the audience. I can’t really do that with the band, because it’s four guys standing around waiting for me to shut up so I can sing the next song. At a solo acoustic show, I can take my time and if people yell out a song, if I remember it, I’ll do it. It’s just such a fun hang and that’s really my motivation every night. Because if it’s just replicating the music, why get in your car and come and see me. But if I feel like I’m going to send you home feeling like you hung out with me for a couple of hours, then that’s my mission.

Will you play any of the new stuff?

Yeah, but only a couple, because I know what people want to hear. Honestly, if I go see Foo Fighters, sure play a couple of new songs, but I need to hear the shit that I love and the reason I came. The bulk of my show are the songs that I wrote for myself and other people that you know. But I do definitely play two or three new songs out of the setlist. Mainly because I’m really excited to get reaction and also because I’m a songwriter first and foremost, so I want to show off and say “Hey, look what I did -- look, Mom and Dad, look what I made!” I played one new song [recently] and it got arguably the biggest ovation of the night, so sometimes when that happens, when I play a song that no one’s ever heard before and they freak out, it’s almost as good as sex -- it’s amazing.

Photo via RichardMarx.com -- used with permission

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  • julie

    My God, ‘Whatever We Started’ is one amazing and erotic song and video from the ultra sexy and talented Richard Marx. You just keep wowing us,Richard, you beautiful music man. I went mental watching you with your darkly alluring charisma on full display! You’re killing me! :-)

  • julie

    Two weeks after the debut of ‘Whatever We Started’ I am more enamored of this beautiful song and video with each revisit. Richard ‘s seductive and tender voice alone would be enough to convince me I have tripped into some dreamy and erotic otherworld of love and seduction. Then there’s the music, with the ethereal electronic piano-harp backdrop and the seductive driving pulse of the strings along with the drum’s heartbeat. And of course we can’t forget the come hither lyrics! This man is the love bomb! Wish I could be the one to set him off.

  • julie

    Ode To An Amazing Man (and some wishful thinking) : Your blazing romantic soul/It makes me lose all control/And swirl into the feel of you/The real of you, beautiful man/Into your arms I run/To your kiss/Into pure bliss Thank you, Richard, for all the beauty you share with us through your music and your beautiful soul.

  • julie (yes, again)

    I love Richard’s call of the wild yearning love wail laid over the top of the music in ‘Whatever We Started’ ; it provides a climactic drive to the end of this erotic song along with the breathy song-sighs of Sara B This song is eroticism itself. I wonder how many women, along with myself, have been driven to the brink by Richard with this song and video? The video should come with a warning to proceed with caution as it will be dangerously tantalizing and result in an obsessive-compulsive disorder of repeated viewings. Simply irresistible! 😉

  • LL0109

    Love it!

  • julie

    Richard Marx has delivered a beautiful lush seduction with his latest album. Listening to ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ is like being caressed by a balmy love helix as his erotic voice and music swirl seductively around you and transport you to pure bliss. He can lap onto my shore any day. 😉

  • julie (yes, again)

    Listening to the ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ album is an addiction of purple passion. All the songs are sexy, but ‘Inside’ is very hypnotic and sensual with the Andean pipe flute taunting and luring towards surrender. Richard Marx is a musical necromancer of eroticism sent to torment us with this beautiful seduction. I am very close to howling like a tormented she-wolf, and I know there is a chorus to accompany me!

  • julie (yes, again)

    The album ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ is such a passionate masterpiece. I cannot resist the alluring pull of Richard’s music; he is the siren calling to us with his tenderly seductive voice. We may not crash upon the rocks, but instead we are both aroused and transported by this beautiful seduction.

  • julie (yes, again)

    I love Richard Marx for all he is and all he does. There, I have said.it no matter how demented I sound. He is the breeze through my trees, the moon and sun in my sky, the song in my heart. I love you, Richard, and forgive me my….

  • julie (I know-again)

    I never tire of listening to Richard’s beautifully sensual music in his ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ album. Though seductive and erotic, the music also manages to transport me to a space that is balm to the soul. As the Indian poet Rabin. Tagore said, ‘Music fills the infinite between two souls.’ And Richard Marx fills it so beautifully.

  • julie (yes, again)

    I was zapped into amazed and admiring disbelief with Richard’s music, sexy-beautiful voice, talent, humor and charisma when I saw him in concert for the first time early this year (yes, yes, I suppose he’s kinda handsome and easy on the eyes also ;-)). But six months later I am so absorbed by the man and his music that I may need an intervention for this beautiful obsession. I could try to go cold turkey but, don’t ya know, resistance is truly, madly, deeply futile!

  • julie

    I have decided that Richard Marx should be renamed Mr. Taunt for his maddeningly sensuous music and sexy mischievous self.

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  • julie

    Happy belated birthday to you, Richard Marx. You are Master of the Muse, and you bring so much beauty and listening pleasure into our lives. Truly, you are a wonder. You have said that you sometimes feel as if you receive the music from somewhere, but you are the filter and the music is born of you. This explains the music’s beauty and my enraptured state. Oh oh oh, you move my heart and soul, oh oh. :-)

  • thefrontloader

    That whole section about his transition from artist to writer/producer was gold. It’s quite amazing how many songs/artists he’s attached to now. Kind of like Kevin Bacon.

  • Julie A. Smasal

    hey Richard this other Julie underneath my comments is not me just saying I am the pretty genuine strawberry blonde (natural) by the way with effervescent blue eyes. just trying to get in touch with you before you leave town, please let me know via my facebook page or twitter page if you have time to perhaps talk about life and such see personal email that I tried to send you but do not know if you got thanks bye for now you can fb chat me your number or fb chat me for my number if you did not get it last night I hope this gets to you in time.