Within the robotic sounds of “Human Touch,” a song on his 1983 album Living in Oz
, Rick Springfield was already looking towards the future. It was a time when, as he wrote in the lyrics, “Everybody’s talking to computers/They’re all dancing to a drum machine.”
In the science fiction-themed music video for the track, the popular ’80s singer/songwriter, seemingly frozen in time, wakes up on a dusty spaceship and types into the computer, “Hello Sally, what year are we in?” “Hello Captain, we are in the year 2016 A.D.,” Sally (incidentally, also the central character in the lyrics for the song) types back.
It’s an exchange that looks an awful lot like the process of instant messaging that we’re now very familiar with here in the actual year of 2016.
“Yeah, we got that right,” Springfield said, chuckling during a recent phone conversation. “Actually, that song was fairly prescient for the time. We are still talking to computers and dancing to drum machines. That wasn’t so much back then.”
Springfield, who once had considered his acting career a potential fallback if the music thing didn’t work out (and instead, both things worked out), had a slight leg up on his musical competition when it came to making music videos. He says that he enjoyed the process a lot.
“I really loved them,” he says. “We were the first one to use David Fincher on videos [including hits like, ‘Bop Til You Drop,’ and ‘Celebrate Youth’] and David did a whole live performance [Springfield’s The Beat of the Live Drum
concert video]. They’re my favorite videos, the ones he did, I think they’re great.”
Ironically, as Springfield points out, it’s the video for “Jessie’s Girl,” one that he filmed, pre-Fincher, over three nights for $1500 dollars, that “probably gets played more than any of them,” he laughs. “So who knows!”
More than 30 years later, Springfield’s acting chops remain strong and he’s in heavy demand as an actor, working on a variety of film and television projects including last year’s Ricki and the Flash
, where he took his guitar and joined Meryl Streep’s band.
Director Jonathan Demme assembled a band featuring Springfield, bassist Rick Rosas (Neil Young), keyboardist Bernie Worrell and Northeast Ohio resident Joe Vitale (Crosby Stills and Nash, Joe Walsh, The Eagles) on the drums.
Every note that you hear on the silver screen was exactly how it played out in real time as Streep and the band performed, according to Springfield, who had plenty of praise for Vitale’s work.
“Joe’s awesome — he’s an amazing drummer and he really was important in pulling the movie band together,” he says. “You know, we had two weeks to make it sound like a band, because Jonathan didn’t want any overdubbing — he wanted it all live. That’s a tough call, with no overdubs and no corrections — we had to be good. So Joe really helped pull that together. He’s a great singer and he’s a great writer himself too.”
Vitale had an equally great time working with Springfield, sharing stories of how Springfield, a well-known Beatles nut, would jam Fab Four favorites with the band while the film crew was setting up camera shots and changing the set around. “He was a really good guy and really good singer and guitar player, a great showman and rock and roll guy on the stage,” Vitale says. “He’s a good band guy, you know? But he’s a really good guitar player and you don’t really know that about someone until you really get down in it and work together.”
The experience of working on the movie also left Springfield with a song unexpectedly. “Light This Party Up,” the high energy track that leads off Rocket Science
, Springfield’s 18th studio album which will be released on February 19. It began as a potential track that he wrote for Ricki and the Flash
. “They were looking for an original song,” he shares. “But it wasn’t a song that Meryl Streep’s character would have written. The one they chose was actually really great — it was perfect.”
While Springfield was filming the movie in New York, he found himself with a whole weekend to kill, so he went looking for a chance to collaborate with someone and hooked up with guitarist Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady, who knew a friend of Springfield’s manager.
“I went over there not being sure what would come out. It’s always a little bit nervous when you first hook up with a new writer,” he says. “But they’re usually pretty open and in it for the same reasons. So we sat around for a couple of hours and came up with a riff and then I brought that home and [collaborator and co-producer] Matt [Bissonette] and I wrote the rest of the song [“Miss Mayhem”] around that riff.
Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts also worked with Springfield, co-writing “Down” during a chilly time in Atlanta when the pair were both shooting an episode of the Drop Dead Diva
television show that got delayed by an ice storm in early 2014.
“We both knew of each other, so it wasn’t like we just met up and had a couple of drinks at the bar,” he says. “The show got iced out with the ice storm in Atlanta where all of the airplanes were shut down and they shut the production down. Jay had to get back to Nashville to rehearse and I had to get back there for a couple of shows, so I grabbed a ride on his tour bus and had a couple of drinks on the way back and we wrote a song.”
The new album is one that is an interesting hybrid of the giant guitar-driven pop hooks and layered sound that he is well-known for, mixed with a distinct country vibe and instrumentation.
“I had been listening to a lot of country and love a lot of the music where they always have a lot of guitars and great hooks and there’s always a story in there,” he explains. “I love the way that they started to interweave the banjo picking and the pedal steel in with real strong guitars. It’s really very pop/rock sounding guitars [and] that’s really where ‘80s rock has gone — it’s gone to Nashville and they’ve countried it up! So it was kind of a natural thing to do.”
“I mean, it’s still a pop album, what I’ve recorded,” he says. “But there’s a lot of layers and there’s some very cool things, pedal steel and banjo and some fiddle stuff. You know, the guitars are still a dominant thing, but there’s some interesting textures that the [other instruments] add.”
Springfield was keenly aware of the sound that he and Bissonette were looking for on the album that they were making. It might not have been “rocket science” capturing that, but they still had to work a bit to get everything in the right zone.
“We were a little concerned at first,” he admits. “We’d record the song and then add banjo and fiddle and a couple of times, Matt and I looked at each other and we’d go, ‘Have we gone too far?’ But you know, that’s how you figure out where it should sit — by going too far and then pulling it back. There was quite a bit of instrumentation that didn’t make the final mix. We found a great mixer, Justin Niebank, in Nashville. He does a lot of great records and we knew this needed someone who was hip on the country stuff, because we mixed one and it just sounded like a bit of a mish-mosh, so we knew we had to have someone who knew where things would sit and this guy was perfect and he just put them in great places and exactly where we kind of heard it.”
Springfield has a double date scheduled in Cleveland for Valentine’s Day this year. First, he’ll be at the Exchange
in Parma Heights at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon for a free performance and signing. He says that he’ll play a few songs acoustically, which will be a nice segue into the “Stripped Down” concert he’ll play at the Hard Rock Live
later that same night.
“It’s me with a bunch of stories and a couple of guitars,” he says, discussing the show concept. “It’s a very humorous kind of intimate audience-related show”
“It’s changing a lot, which is great,” Springfield says, regarding the Stripped Down show, which he’s been touring sporadically over the past couple of years. “We’ve added video walls and added a lot of my personal photos from my childhood and stuff like that to go with the stories. It’s really changed quite a bit actually. Half of the setlist is different, I would say.
“You know, I still do a bunch of the hits and the ones that have stories,” he assured us. “But it’s great, because I can change it up anytime I feel like it. So it makes it new for me every time. The worst thing is to do the same setlist over and over and over, which is why I always record new music, to keep the band stuff alive, rather than just playing the same songs. For an artist, you’ve got to keep it fresh or it starts to feel pretty stale on stage.”
Springfield usually finds his way back to Cleveland at least once a year to play a show. This will be the first time that he’s brought the acoustic show to the area and if you’ve ever wanted to ask him a question, there will be time for that too, during the question and answer session that he does at the end of the show.
“It’s actually pretty cool. It’s not like a bunch of “what’s your favorite color” [type of questions], it’s real questions about real issues and people with kids that are getting into the business with questions or someone who wants to talk about depression, because I’ve been very open about that in my autobiography. So it really is a pretty wide-ranging thing and there’s no place they can’t go. I’ll answer anything.”
And if he doesn’t play a certain song that you want to hear? Well, there’s room for you to throw that request in during the Q&A.
“Sometimes someone will say, ‘Why didn’t you play this?’ Someone will yell out a song and if I remember it, I’ll launch into it,” he says. “It leaves it very open and very free.”
Fans can look forward to a sequel to Magnificent Vibration
, his debut fiction novel which was released in 2014. Even as that book was being published, Springfield was already hard at work on the second volume and he says that the next book is currently in rewrites and he’s also working on additional writing projects as time permits.
“I’m a believer that the more you work the muscle, the better you get at it,” he says, discussing his writing process. “Anything I’ve ever read from writers, like Ray Bradbury and people that I’ve really loved, they all say, if you want to write, just write and write more and write more and you’ll get better and better. I’m hoping that’s going to happen. [Laughs] I certainly saw it happen [with my songwriting] over the years, so I’m hoping it works in prose too and scripts and stuff that I’m writing. And you know, actually, Magnificent Vibration
got better reviews than any of my music ever got, so I’m encouraged by that.”
Rick Springfield: Stripped Down, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sunday, Feb. 14, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $37.50-$59.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.