From his humble beginnings performing backup vocals for Lionel Richie's debut solo album to becoming an '80s pop icon in his own right, Richard Marx has continued to evolve as an artist and musician.
While his name and songs might not arise with the frequency that they once did, Marx has maintained a busy schedule as a writer and producer with a résumé he himself refers to as "schizophrenic" due to the variety of musicians he's worked with, including Luther Vandross, 'NSync, LeAnn Rimes, Natalie Cole, and Barbra Streisand.
His latest album of original material, Beautiful Goodbye, his first in ten years, hit stores this past July and reached number 39 in the Billboard 200. Marx has credited his success and longevity to releasing himself from the "image, fan base, or even album sale" motivations. This has allowed him to pursue music through different genres and have a good time doing it.
On the brink of his new tour, Whatever We Started, Marx admitted he is still playing up sexiness and seduction in his show.
Richard Marx - "Whatever We Started"
As a performer who had his first hits in the '80s, how do you feel about the current nostalgia surrounding that decade?
Richard Marx: I think it's pretty cyclical, I remember about eight years ago everything was '70s, not fashion obviously but music people were looking to reinvent that sound and you have bands like the Black Keys and any number of bands who grew up with '70s rock that were doing that and now in the last few years people are kind of coming back and chosen that decade because it was fun. There was some great music as well as some cheesy music, but there's cheesy music in every decade.
There were some really great breakthroughs; we can't forget that U2 came out of the '80s, so I think it kind of makes sense that every period of music will make its renaissance.
When you performed then, your work was often described as a cross between balladry and a classic rock sound, what would you say was more of your intention for your sound in that era?
I don't know if I had an intention. I just wrote regular songs that spoke to me that I liked and I never got caught up in genre, I never got caught up in "I have to be a rock artist period" or "I got to be a pop ballad artist." I just wrote whatever I wanted to write, whatever came out and resonated with me, and I thought was musically and lyrically exceptional. I wanted people to hear those songs. I don't know that many artists who are that premeditated, you know we just write and make shit up and the stuff we really like we record and other people might interpret it as, "Oh, they must've had this really grand plan."
I think once you start putting an album together you do consciously begin to think about what's missing and what you need to add, what do I want to change, what do I want to say, what's missing thematically? All those things come into play. That's not really premeditation that's just searching for other means of inspiration.
I guess that has helped in your career as a writer and produer?
Yes, very much so. It could be, well you know, my resume is so schizophrenic, and that's my favorite part of my career. My resume is so diverse, I've gotten to work not in every genre of music but on most of them. As a student of music, as a fan of music I'm always looking, I don't want to be constantly looking at the same kind of music; that gets boring. So if I can keep doing what I've been doing which is jump from a country artist to a rock band to a really beautiful orchestral pop record, a real sort of organic/rootsy Americana kind of thing, I'm never going to get bored and it's going to pull the best part of me every time.
Richard Marx - "Beautiful Goodbye"
Well let me ask you, would you ever consider doing another 24-hour media blitz like you did back in when was it, '91?
It wasn't 24, but it was close! I'm too old for that now, it would kick my ass. I'd like to think that I could do it and I probably could, I certainly could but it was a long day then and we had our own private jet you know what I mean? It wasn't some form of hardship and it was exciting, all the shows were free and all the fans that came out were just going crazy at the airports and it was a really fun day and if it were to come up again, I'm sure I would do it. There's also a part of me that feels like why tempt fate? I already did that so instead of doing something crazy, maybe I'd do something a little different.
Let's talk about the new album, Beautiful Goodbye, the last one was ten years ago, the last full-length?
Something like that, I don't really keep track. But it's been a while.
OK, what can you tell us about this album?
The only reason for the long gap was because I wasn't particularly compelled to put out an album of my own as I was busy making music and working with a ton of other artists and basically just living life, enjoying my life.
When you make an album, put out an album, you make a commitment way beyond just making the record. You have to really invest time and energies into promoting a new record. So it wasn't really until I realized that I had written a few songs that it felt like it was the start of an album and there was a theme both musically and lyrically that felt right for me, which was I'd written many, many songs about "forever," "to eternity" all of that, which I'm still proud of but I've just found that there was a whole new well of poetry and musical ideas that were more about writing an album that was designed for seduction.
More about sensuality and less about deep commitment and emotion, because most people, you know, most people at that dance, when you first are attracted to somebody and you're circling each other in those early days and weeks and months -- that's such an exciting time between two people. And I just hadn't really explored that as much as I had long-term, committed, romantic relationships. So I wanted the music to be sexy too, I thought about it, and I haven't really heard an album designed for seduction in a really long time, maybe since Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music back in the '80s, those records were really sexy.
So that was sort of the impetus, and once I had sort of accidentally written a couple of the songs, I thought that it would be a lot of fun to write a whole album like this. So I just dove into it and it was really fun, one of the most enjoyable album-making projects that I've ever experienced.
Richard Marx - "Hold on to the Nights"
So there will be a lot of sexiness and seduction during the upcoming tour.
Well, I'll try. I'm certainly going to dress accordingly, gonna clean up and do my best to be as presentable and get everybody riled up but I'll also be doing all the hits that I've done before, so it won't be dominated by that. It will be a little bit of everything.
Well, I was trying to be cheeky seeing that the tour is called "Whatever We Started."
Right. I know. I named it.
Well with that implication...
(Laughs) "Whatever We Started" is the leadoff track to the album so it felt like a really fun tour name.
You've had a long history of working with charities. Are there any that you're currently working with?
I have half a dozen or so that I privately, personally contribute to but the one that is dearest to me is cystic fibrosis because it is a disease that is not government-funded, the research for the cure is not government-funded, it doesn't kill enough kids each year but it's a horrendous and insidious disease whose cure is imminent, it's very close.
All the researchers that I've talked to are telling me the same thing, they just need money. I've done some events that have raised a good chunk of money for research but there is no end to that for me. I got an idea for a new campaign to get people, because I think a lot of it is that people don't know about the disease as much because it doesn't have much of a public profile.
But that's it, this is the one that's nearest and dearest, I just want to see this thing eradicated. It kills thousands, mostly kids each year, it's just horrible.
Richard Marx. 8 p.m. Friday, October 10, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $37.50 to $57.50 and VIP tickets cost $182.50 plus fees. Call 954-462-0222, or visit parkerplayhouse.com.