April 22, 2020 Interview – Richard Marx
Sometimes when you are caught in the whirlwind of what’s next, it is difficult to stop and look around. Back in 1987, Richard Marx burst onto the music scene with the first of many chart-topping singles,”Don’t Mean Nothing.” Only 24 years old at the time, Marx would go on to unimaginable success – since selling more than 30 million albums worldwide, make history as the only male artist whose first seven singles reached the Top 5 on the Billboard charts, and accomplishing the rare feat of having written a No. 1 single in each of the last four decades. You can imagine with all that going on it could be a challenge for anyone to stop and smell the roses. At this point full of life experience, Mr. Marx is still out there performing/writing music, but this time taking it all in.
Recently releasing his 12th studio album, Limitless, it marks Marx’s first since 2014 Beautiful Goodbye, and justifiably it is receiving rave reviews. A culmination of Marx’s years of work as a songwriter, vocalist, and performer, this is an album he wrote with no preconceived notions in mind other than to create a collection of songs for the love of music. Anxious to share it with the world, the hit-making Marx recently sat down to talk about his career, what he has learned, his current state of mind, plus a lot more.
Cryptic Rock – Your career in music began some forty years ago. In that time you have been extremely successful as a songwriter/performer, selling over 30 million albums and touring the world. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your incredible journey in music to this point?
Richard Marx – The ultimate blessing; I’m just filled with gratitude. Let’s just start with saying spending your life doing what you love – how many people get to say that? It’s a pretty small percentage. Then all the other things that surround that with my personal life, I really feel like I’m one of the luckiest people ever heard of.
Cryptic Rock – You certainly have accomplished a great deal. Like any artist, it was not instant success, though; you had to keep working to strike people’s interest in your music as a performer and not just as a songwriter. Fortunately, your persistence paid off in the end. So what was the driving force for you to keep pushing forward?
Richard Marx – There are people I know who are incredibly talented who are still pushing and trying to find their way and success. Yes, there were several years where I got rejected by every record company, and I had some pretty large brick walls in front of me. In retrospect, I got my first record deal and I had my first hit when I was 23, so I can’t bitch too much about it. When you’re in that time it feels like an eternity and it feels legitimate. It was three or four years of consistent rejection, but I can’t complain about it comparatively. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Right, and then you had an amazing run with three records in a row with one hit single after another. What was it like to see all your hard work pay off like that?
Richard Marx – It was exciting and great. If I had been in my thirties, I would have maybe understood it better and appreciated it more; it was a little bit of a tornado. One of my only regrets was having not embraced and enjoyed it more; I was just so caught up in trying to sustain it and what was next. The next thing you know you’re responsible for the livelihood of any number of people – it can be a pretty heavy thing for a young person to deal with. I just wish I had enjoyed it the way I enjoy my career now. I don’t think you can really get to that place until you have really lived some life, and get to the place where you have that perspective.
I feel like now every time I get on stage it’s because I want to be there. There is no need to be there: I’m not trying to prove anything anymore. I’m just enjoying the fact that I have an audience who want to come hear the songs. I feel like my skill set is strong, I feel like my voice has never been better, and I’ve never felt as comfortable on stage. I’ve never really enjoyed the interaction with the audience as much as I do these days – that just comes with time and experience.
Cryptic Rock – That is completely understandable. You have continued to put out new music and, most recently, released the album Limitless. A strong record, what was it like putting this new collection of songs together?
Richard Marx – It was pretty effortless and over a long period of time. In fact, it took a while for me to even realize I was making an album; I’m always writing songs, dabbling, and recording different things. The real catalyst in knowledge that I was making an album was when BMG got involved. They heard a couple of the new songs and were very excited about partnering up with me. Once you have somebody ready to be your partner and help you get your music out there, then it becomes more exciting because you think, “Maybe something really good will happen with this.”
It was then just a process of finishing it to my liking and rounding out the album. For me it is kind of like creating a really cool jigsaw puzzle: I just look at what pieces might be missing and what needs to be created, then recorded to make it better. I had great help and collaborators: my son Lucas was involved with the album, and my wife Daisy co-wrote a song with me. It was really a long period of experimentation and it was a really fun record to make.
I was concerned it was a bit schizophrenic, because there are so many different kind of styles of music on the album. It turns out I didn’t really have to worry about that because my voice is the common thread. I happen to love all different kinds of music, so there is no reason why I wouldn’t attempt to make all different kinds of music.
Cryptic Rock – It works well, and yes, the album is quite diverse. When the album starts it has a very modern feel, then it kind of settles in with songs that a Richard Marx fan might be comfortable with per se. There is just a great mix of styles.
Richard Marx – Yeah, I think there is a little bit of everything. There are songs like “Another One Down,” “Let Go,” and “Limitless,” which are really modern sounding. One song that has really gotten a lot of attention, especially since I haven’t released it as a single, is “All Along.” I’ve seen on social media so many people who have heard the album say that it is their favorite track. They say it’s sort of classic Richard Marx, whatever that means.
It’s hilarious because my son Lucas and I wrote that song. It really came from him saying, “I want to try to write a modern day ‘Should’ve Known Better.'” That was my second hit single back in 1987, so it cracked me up that he said that. But he also said, “Look, it’s time. Everything ’80s is fresh and new again, everybody wants to sound ’80s. You already did that, how fun would it be to do return to that?” Lucas did it with such great modern production. I think it walks a fine line and bridges the gap really beautifully. It’s a fun track, but it’s funny that so many people who have been fans for a long time find that is the track they jump on. It kind of does hark back to the sound of my first album.
Cryptic Rock – It really is a fun song. Speaking of which, you have been working with Lucas for a while. You have spoke about him at live shows and are very proud of him, as you should be. How exciting is it to collaborate with your son?
Richard Marx – It’s amazing. At a certain point it stopped being about him being my son; I respect him like I respect other artists. It’s gotten to a point that everything he records, writes, and plays me is incredible. It’s an extra cool thing that he’s my son and we are really close, but to be honest, I would want to work with him no matter what.
Cryptic Rock – It is wonderful to hear how he has developed as a musician. You mentioned how you are having more fun performing now than ever before. You put on a great show, as well; you are really engaged with the audience and you have a great sense of humor too. At this point, how do you feel on stage?
Richard Marx – I feel really comfortable. I feel grateful. I’ve been saying this for a long time, but the real job is the 22 hours I’m not on stage. The two hours I’m on stage, give or take, is just joyful. It doesn’t matter how big or small the audience is. I just have this job that’s hard to describe to somebody. I don’t really know anybody who enjoys what they do as much as I do – it’s only gotten more so as time has gone on. I’m really happy at this stage of my life that I’m healthy and have little to no issues with my voice. I feel like sometimes, when I was 25, with the schedule I’m on I would not have handled it as well as I am right now. My voice used to be much more fragile; I didn’t really cancel too many shows but it was painful.
I guess it just comes with time. I’ve found it true with some other artists I know my age or even older. One of my best friends is Fee Waybill from The Tubes; he’s 70 and still out there touring. I asked him, “Is it easier for you to sing than it used to be?” He said, “Oh yeah, absolutely.” I don’t know what that is. It’s like Tony Bennett: he’s 93-years-old and he can still out-sing all of us because he uses his voice all the time.
Cryptic Rock – Right, you keep the muscle strong. Is it perhaps management, as well? When you are younger you may overdo things, and when you are older you know when to push and pull as needed.
Richard Marx – I think that’s definitely part of it. It takes time to really learn to use your instrument correctly.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly. We spoke about how you have written songs for others and collaborated with so many artists. What do you take away from all the collaborations you have been a part of?
Richard Marx – Everyone’s different. There are no two people I have worked with that are alike; the way I work with them is different and the results are different. I really do try to work with people with whom I think I can learn. In fact, when approached to collaborate, I’m much more attracted to writing with someone who you wouldn’t necessarily think I would write with. That is much more interesting to me than something that is a little more obvious. I like that my songwriting and production resume is all over the map – it’s everything from Josh Groban to Keith Urban to The Tubes. That’s the thing I’m actually most proud of in my career: the diversity of the people I’ve written and produced songs with.
I’d like to think they have got something out of it as well, and maybe they’ve learned something. I’ve definitely heard that from some of the artists I’ve worked with. I think I actually learn way more from working with younger artists than working with older ones. That’s why I try to always keep trying to collaborate and write songs with newer, younger artists. And that’s the music I listen to: I don’t really listen to old stuff, I listen to stuff that’s being played now.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. What is also very interesting is more casual listeners may say Richard Marx is a Pop or Soft Rock artist, but that is selling you short. Those who know your music are aware you also rock out pretty hard, as well.
Richard Marx – I started in Rock radio. “Don’t Mean Nothing” was my first single and there have been a lot of songs that are way heavier than that. Again, I love all different kinds of music, I’ve never stuck to one thing. I do understand some of the ballads were so massively successful on the radio that it leads a casual listener to think, “He’s that guy who sings ballads.” If you haven’t heard the Rock, R&B or other styles of music I’ve recorded, then that’s your perception of me; which is fine, I can’t really control that. I think that’s why when people see me live they go, “Oh, now I get it. Before I thought you were a certain kind of artist, but now that I see you live I get you are much more than that.” I think that’s probably true of any artist.
Cryptic Rock – Very true. Speaking of live performances, unfortunately you had to postpone your European tour due to the pandemic sweeping the world. Will this tour pick up again in a couple of months?
Richard Marx – Not in a couple of months. I don’t think anybody is going to be doing concerts in a couple of months; I think this thing is going to last a long time. As of now we’re in the process of re-scheduling everything for the end of the year, as well as even the beginning of next year; there is really no indication that this thing is going to come and go quickly. I don’t want to re-schedule again and throw everybody into a panic for a second time.
My reason for cancelling was really not about me. None of us really know how bad this thing is going to get or who is more susceptible. I don’t really feel like I’m as at risk, but I don’t want a bunch of people in a room coming to see me play to lead to them getting sick. It’s as simple as that.
I remember when we made this decision it was one of the first tours to get postponed. It was a bit of a roll of the dice, because if the thing had come and gone really quickly, I would have felt bad that I overreacted. I now feel glad we made the decision we made when we made it. The whole thing is really scary and we need to get a handle on it. Rescheduling the show, as much as I can’t wait to go play those shows, is not something that is really on the forefront of my mind right now. It is more trying to get a handle on what this thing is. We just have to listen to the experts and do our diligence to make smart choices.