One of the most surprising things you learn when interviewing singer Michael Bolton is that he has a sense of humor about himself.
Not only did he make recent appearances roasting himself on the sitcom Two and a Half Men and record the self-skewering "Jack Sparrow" with Lonely Island but he also thinks the 1999 comedy Office Space -- in which a character bearing his name calls him an "ass-clown" -- is "hilarious." He even wants to be part of any potential sequel.
It's probably pretty easy to be forgiving when you've sold 75 million albums. After years struggling to make it as a hard-rock singer with the band Blackjack, Bolton found his niche in the late '80s reinterpreting classic R&B songs like "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Georgia on My Mind." He continues this tradition with his newest album of Motown covers, Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
In a far-reaching interview with New Times in which no topic was out of bounds, Bolton told us about his love for Motown, how he keeps his golden vocal chords in shape, and, yes, he even shares his thoughts about Office Space.
New Times: Who were the most important mentors in your musical career, and what did you learn from them?
Michael Bolton: Ray Charles showed me the great joy of singing and taught me how to have a certain kind of freedom in interpretation, to make a song my own. Luciano Pavarotti made me realize I was a tenor and the discipline required to support my voice. Bob Dylan revealed the poetic genius in songwriting.
My father taught me to never give up and my mother to always believe in myself. And of course, Reverend King taught us all that the greatest truth in life is love, which ultimately compels everything I do.
Last year, you published an autobiography, The Soul of It All. What were the toughest memories you had to explore?
Most of the memories were very inspiring, and the process reminded me of what an amazing and blessed life I've lived.
The harder moments to revisit were the starving-artist years with a family and children to provide for -- things like rent checks bouncing and frozen peas for dinner. Those years of struggle, and the deep and powerful lessons that came with them, made success and everything else more meaningful.
You first made your name with Blackjack, a hard-rock band. Have you ever been tempted to revisit the songs or the genre?
There seems to be a lot of interest lately in my rock days. I could definitely have fun revisiting a project like that. Maybe it's time to give my old buddy Bruce Kulick [former guitarist of Blackjack] a call.
Your newest album is a tribute to Motown. How did you pare down which songs would make the cut?
It was a near-impossible task. I must have listened to over 100 songs and could easily make a few more volumes with songs that didn't make this first album. There are some songs that I'm vocally or lyrically very drawn to, and there are some beloved hits that you just can't leave out, like the title song.
Are you working on any music now?
I'm always working on ideas for new songs and albums. I recently wrote the title song for a forthcoming Russell Crowe film called Fathers & Daughters. What inspired that song was the theme of the story, which is a father-daughter relationship. I have three daughters and was very moved watching the powerful performances between Russell and Amanda Seyfried. It struck me on a deep level, and the song is written as a letter from a father to a daughter.
What are your tricks to keeping your voice in top shape for performances?
There aren't too many tricks, just the reality that every performance depends on the health of two little muscles in your throat and you have to protect them at all costs. Sometimes that means avoiding certain foods, keeping voice rest in between shows, and bowing out of the postshow antics. Especially being a tenor, singing at such a high range, which stresses and inflames the chords, I'm very vigilant about keeping them healthy.
What can fans expect at your concert at Hard Rock Live?
I always want to deliver the greatest hits, because that's what the fans ask for, and it's the soundtrack that's kept us together over the years. But each show will have a few surprises as well, with special guests and new songs from recent albums. Recently, we've been receiving some fan-requested songs, which we're now starting to put back into the set list.
How did your recent appearance on Two and a Half Men come about?
Initially I got a call to do the cameo in the episode where Walden proposes to his girlfriend and he brings me along to sing "When a Man Loves a Woman." Chuck Lorre and the entire team of producers and writers were such a pleasure to work with and just kept rewriting the pages to make the scenes funnier and funnier as the week went on.
Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer and the whole cast were unbelievably gracious, making me feel entirely comfortable while laughing my face off. When it came time for Walden and Alan's wedding, they saw an opportunity to bring back some of the jokes, and again we had a blast. There's one more cameo I'm making before the season's up, and I have a feeling we'll find more ways to work together in the future.
Since that shows you're able to laugh at yourself, what were your thoughts of the movie Office Space where a character shared your name and was frustrated by it?
I actually had lunch with Mike Judge [writer/director of Office Space] recently, and he asked me what I thought of his film. I told him I'm a huge fan of his and have autographed countless DVDs at my concerts over the years.
The irony is that the movie's character is the most pathetic of them all, so the fact that he's not a fan of mine is actually a compliment. What I'd really like to do is make a sequel with the real Michael Bolton giving the character some life advice, 'cause life isn't doing so well for him, and the poor guy's clearly in need of some direction.
At the end of the day, considering the kind of career I've had, the question of talent is not something that keeps me up at night. Even with great success, you've got to always be able to laugh and have fun too.
An Evening with Michael Bolton, 8 p.m. Friday, January 23, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $45 to $65 plus fees. Visit seminolehardrockhollywood.com.
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