August 8, 2018 Interview – Rick Astley
Back in the late eighties, a 21 year old kid with boyish good looks, smooth dance moves, and amazingly soulful singing voice would rise to international Pop star fame, his name was Rick Astley. Out of England, Astley would quickly be sent through a whirlwind, finding his 1987 debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody, topping charts all over the world. Pumping out hit after hit, by 27 years old, Astley had his fill of the mayhem, all but retiring from a professional music career.
Taking the time to concentrate on his family, fortunately for fans, Astley would return to music years later, and in more recent times, has made an impressive return to the charts – first with his 2016 album 50, and now with 2018’s Beautiful Life.
A wonderful story, the best part about Astley’s comeback is that it has not been generated by a record label looking to cash in on consumer nostalgia. No, it has been a completely organic rise. In fact, all of the critically and fan acclaimed new music was written and recorded himself in the comfort of his own recording studio.
Proving it is never too late to follow a passion, is Astley’s second wave of success sweeter than the first? Taking the time to talk about it all, Astley sat down to recollect the craziness of the ’80s, the importance of artistic integrity, his latest album Beautiful Life, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Involved in music for over three decades, you have attained a great deal of success. Briefly, tell us, what has the journey been like?
Rick Astley – To be fair, I had a long break in the middle of it; I didn’t really do any concerts, I did a few projects, but nothing really to speak of. Out of about 30 years, 15 of them may be being active, may be a bit more than that; I started gigging again around 10 or 11 years ago. From 1987 on, 4-5 years there, it was so hectic, full, and crazy. Even though it wasn’t such a great length of time, to be honest, I think it burnt me out; I kind of had enough of it early on. Which is kind of crazy, because it basically meant by 27-28 years old, I sort of retired for a quite while.
I didn’t really think I would be going back to making records or playing concerts. I still loved music, had a studio, dabbled around, played around with music, but wasn’t necessarily thinking I was going to do it as a performer professionally. I kind of wanted to maybe be a writer or producer, and be in the background. One way or another, it’s been pretty amazing. If I go back to 1987 and bring it forward to today, it is kind of a very long time. (Laughs) A lot has changed in music, hasn’t it? It’s interesting.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is interesting. You mentioned how you sort of became burnt out. You were achieving hit singles, platinum records, and you were only around 21-years-old. That is a lot for a young kid to absorb, how did that affect you?
Rick Astley – I think a lot of the time you just go with it because you don’t know any different; I just hung on really. The thing with having a record like “Never Gonna Give You Up,” it just exploded. Even without the internet and all the rest of it, it was still a fairly global record; it was #1 in so many different countries and it kind of just marched on without me sometimes. I would arrive in a country that I had never been in my life and it had been #1 for a few weeks and you just go, “Alright, okay.”
In a bizarre way, you do start to take that in stride a little bit. You think that’s normal: you release a record, it’s massive, and there you go, that happens. I just think a lot of what I did for the years after that, if I’m honest, wasn’t really very much about music; it was about the promotion of music, about the selling of music.
For me, it was an uneven balance, really; it wasn’t balanced. What I am doing now is very much more balanced, in a sense, I am very happy to do interviews because I want people to make a record; it was almost like that’s all I ever did. Also, back in the ’80s, TV shows weren’t that interested if you played live or not, it was just like videos. They were all about videos, and if you come on the show, it’s fine if you don’t want to play, we will just play the video. They weren’t really about musicians coming to play and all the rest of it. It seemed a bit detached from music at times.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. As an artist with integrity, you want to perform and you want your music to matter most. Now you are back full-swing with touring and making new music. It was just few years you ago that you returned with the fantastic album 50. What inspired you to say I’m going to get back into it and put all my heart into it?
Rick Astley – Like I say, around 10-11 years ago, I started to do little gigs. I also went to Japan to do 3 things. We went as a family, my daughter and wife really had wanted to go to Japan – I had been there quite a few times before. We kind of treated it like a bit of vacation where I was going to do a few gigs. If I’m brutally honest, it felt a bit like karaoke the first night because it’s the home of karaoke – it’s Japan. I was jetlagged like you wouldn’t believe, it was the other side of the world; everything is different anyway there.
In a bizarre way, it was the easiest way to start singing those old songs again; everything about it was bizarre. I was up there with a suit jacket on singing those songs again. It felt like a million miles away from what I’d been doing for the last years of my life, but it also felt completely comfortable, like putting on an old pair of shoes. I think it was a weird thing. It wasn’t like I said, “I really want a career again, I really want to go out and sing.” It wasn’t really a money thing, because to be honest, when I first started, I did some tiny little venues in the UK. I actually went out singing a load of Sinatra songs on one little tour, just to get singing again; just to kind of go under the radar. It wasn’t really commented on; it was just me doing little shows and enjoying myself, seeing if I wanted to sing again. It wasn’t a big deal, it just slowly ramped up.
As you said, a couple of years ago I made that record. I did that really not expecting to have a proper release. I didn’t do it with a record company: I made it before I really got hooked in with a record label. I made the record at home, I played every instrument, wrote all the songs, and produced. Maybe organic is an overused word, but it’s an unbelievable organic thing. It has not been contrived: it’s not been through a big machine and built as a comeback. I just made a record for fun, really. When we actually went to speak to the label about it, they loved it. They said, “We actually think we can get this on the radio.” Then it just took off. It’s been an amazing experience, but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s really nice!
CrypticRock.com – That is great. It has to be refreshing, especially after the early years where you felt it became more about promoting than the music.
Rick Astley – Yes, and I don’t think that’s any different of Pop stars today. I’m sure everyone you interview will tell you, “I’m sick to death of traveling to do this and that. Please let me get on the stage and perform, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” That said, I do think live music is stronger than it’s ever been. I am sort of the MTV generation: when I had my first single, MTV was just becoming enormous. I think live music is stronger than it’s ever been, and I am sure a lot of the artists you speak to do play live a lot. A lot of younger bands especially, that’s the only way you can make any money; they aren’t making money from selling records, because a lot of them don’t sell records. We are in a different world, aren’t we? Streaming is becoming the thing, hopefully they can make some money on that. When I was young we used to sell millions of albums – they were physical things that people bought in a shop and took home.
CrypticRock.com – It is extremely different, you are absolutely right, and live shows are where a musician can make a living now. The 50 record is a great album. Lyrically, it’s very touching. It sounded like a man who is humbled, matured, and appreciative of life. That in mind, now you have this new album, Beautiful Life. What was it like putting this album together?
Rick Astley – It was kind of weird in the sense that the record label, my manager, who happens to be my wife, and I talked through possibly the idea of meeting with some producers and writers. The success of 50, certainly in the UK, we kind of felt I could get into certain studios, writer’s rooms, and work with different people I wouldn’t have been able to before 50.
I have a little studio at home that I can just stroll in there, it’s really comfortable. We finished touring for a little while, and I thought I just want to be in my room, hanging out, jam out, and play. I was doing that for a few weeks, I kind of got a bunch of tunes together that I really liked, so I finished them. I produced them and I thought, I better go play these for someone because I really like them.
By the time we got the date in the diary to go see the record label, I pretty much did most of an album again. (Laughs) I think that is partially because of 50, obviously it sold. Even if that’s a crass thing to say or a commercial thing to say, it doesn’t matter. It gives you a certain sense of – people have this in their car, they have this in their living room. We sold a lot of physical copies – that is why I’m using that terminology. It changes you: it makes you think, not everybody, but some people really like it. You think, maybe I have something else to say, something left inside me; it gives you a lot of confidence to get that out.
Again, Beautiful Life has been a pretty casual thing. I just made the record at home: I played the record again and produced it all. It wasn’t a grand decision of, “I’m going to do everything again.” I was open to the idea of working with people, but I then got really comfortable in my studio and really liked what I did. That door is still open: I still would like to work with other producers and writers; maybe I’m just going to make myself do that next time.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite inspiring to hear. Beautiful Life is a wonderful album too, but thematically a little different than 50.
Rick Astley – Yeah, having played 50 live a little bit – and having sung my old songs again for a number of years now – you do start to pick up on the fact that people of all ages still want to dance. I understand when they hear an old song, because there is a nostalgic element to that, there is the trip down memory lane. Before people know what they are doing, they jump out of their seat because they want to dance. They danced to it when they were 15 or 25-years-old, and muscle memory says, “I’m hearing that song, I’m dancing.” A lot of artists can say that, not just me.
What’s been weird is, when we play the new songs people carry on dancing; they don’t go to the toilet, don’t go for a beer, they want to be up out of their seat and with me. That’s pretty amazing! I think what that’s done, again I am going to use the word confidence. It certainly puts something inside me that says, “If they want to do that, I will give them a bit more of that.” I think I wouldn’t have had the courage to do the first song off Beautiful Life on 50. I would have thought, “Does that sound like an old man trying to be something he’s not?”
I see people older than me dancing to my old songs and dancing to 50. It’s just made me feel I don’t care anymore: if I want to write something that’s a bit up-tempo and something someone might want to dance to, I’m doing it. It fills me with something, and hopefully that will do the same with them. It’s changed me a little bit in thinking – don’t be afraid of doing something that someone might want to dance to. A lot of people’s memories are doing that to music I’ve made.
CrypticRock.com – Another word to describe your feeling is a validation, and that is justifiable – people are buying the records, they are dancing. That gives you natural confidence to see your work is affecting others.
Rick Astley – Definitely. I think a lot of people in my position who had hit records, but many years ago, we can go out and do them at festivals or play our old songs at our own gigs. In that world, people really love it. I’ve done loads of gigs with loads of other artists from my decade and the ’90s, there is a genuine love for that music. Again, to actually go out and play something new, and you’re not just playing it because it’s your new song and everyone goes to the bathroom. You are playing it because, you name a track, and nobody moves, because they own the record.
That’s weird, and you’re right, it validates you, it makes you feel like, “I do have something left in the tank.” I don’t let myself get carried away! There was an element of empathy with 50, if I’m honest. I think people see a guy who makes a record just because he wants to after all these years and think good on you. I know people don’t go buy a record out of empathy. (Laughs) I just think there was a good feeling about it. I felt that when doing interviews and going to radio shows. I just felt there was a bit of someone opening a door saying, “Yeah, come on in.”
Who knows what’s going to happen with Beautiful Life? I don’t know. We were in the album chart in the UK at #6. If someone would have said to me, “You’re going to have a top 10 album again,” I would say, “Well, come on.” I’m very happy and think it’s pretty amazing. To use a cliche, I have to kind of pinch myself some mornings and think, “Yeah, this is actually real – it’s happening.”
CrypticRock.com – It is a wonderful story. When you stepped away from music a bit, you went and started a family; you grew up as a man. As we get older, our perspective changes. Did your attitude toward everything change when you returned?
Rick Astley – Definitely. I think one of the major things is we now have the internet. I know that’s a kind of all-encompassing thing to say, but if you think about the times of when someone released a record – even thinking about the way people find music now and listen to it, the way we focus how much time we spend on a laptop or phone – certain things are for the positive, for sure, but I think a few things are for the negative. I think the industry just thinks in a totally different way.
Having said that, at the end of the day, someone picks up a guitar and makes music because they want to. Any technology or any internet-based anything is not going to change that for you; I think that will always remain. I also think going to see a band live is still the ultimate goal for most people who love music. Once you really like a record, the next step is saying, “I want to go hear that live.” That can’t be digitized or changed. I also think the live thing, as I said, is so massive, it’s bigger than it’s ever been.
The music business is a very different business in lots of ways. I think someone from my background, my age, and where I started, I don’t see it as a negative. You look at Rickrolling, for someone like me, that’s been absolutely amazing. I’m sure some artists would have been freaked out by that or hated it. I just look at it and go, in a world where there are a million things a day going on and we are all bombarded with god knows what, to have a little bubble on the internet that keeps reminding people that you exist and that song exists is pretty freaky. (Laughs)
In a way, I look at the world today in terms of music and say, “I don’t understand it, I’m not going to try and understand it. I’m just going to enjoy my little part in it and see where that goes.”
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is a very different world all around. You recently completed a North American tour in the spring of 2018. Will you be coming back to the US again soon?
Rick Astley – We will definitely be coming back. We are still full on with promotion of Beautiful Life here. We are going to tour Central Europe in September, then we come back to the UK for some of October and November. I can’t see how we are going to come to America this year, but that may change. We are going to see. We obviously have to see if anything happens in America, as far as a reaction in terms of us doing anything with this album. It’s just really hard getting on the radio in America. For someone of my age, let’s face it, radio is certainly a very ageist world. It’s just really difficult to get on the radio in America anywhere. They might play my old songs on an oldies station, sure. They might even have me in one afternoon to chat about the old days, play Beautiful Life, and never play it ever again. (Laughs) That’s great, but it isn’t going to reach that many people in that way. We are just going to have to see.
I love playing in America, I grew up as a kid reading the sleeve notes of records, and a lot of them where were made in places there. On the last tour we did, we were in Detroit, so we all want to the Motown museum. It’s an amazing thing to go into that basement and go, “My god, those records were made in this room.” I think my band, crew, and myself, we like going to America. I guess it’s the same as an American artist, they want to come to Britain to see where The Stones did this or The Beatles did that. We’re the same: we want to go to certain places in America, because we grew up with certain sounds coming from certain cities.
CrypticRock.com – It will be wonderful to see you return, if not in 2018, hopefully 2019. Last question, CrypticRock also covers Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Rick Astley – I’m not really into Horror to be honest. Science Fiction I do quite like, but it depends what it is nowadays. I love the original Blade Runner (1982). I loved Blade Runner 2049 (2017) too, I thought that was amazing. I am quite a fan of Ridley Scott, I think he creates a world when he makes a movie; whether it’s Gladiator (2000) or Prometheus (2012), he creates a world.
My wife produced a movie called Coherence (2013), a very low-budget film shot in L.A. It’s a very interesting concept. It just goes to show you don’t actually even need a lot of money to tell a story and grab someone for 90 minutes. I just think Science Fiction sometimes either goes the full Ridley Scott budget, but I think it’s a genre you can do things and do things without massive budgets. I very often think it’s about a really good idea. That’s the kind of Science Fiction I like.