Q’s With Rick Astley On Singing With Foo Fighters And The Importance Of A Good Manager
The Bloom Effect – Rick Astley
From British pop star to internet meme, Rick Astley has experienced a lot since he rose to fame in the 1980s.
Songs like “Together Forever,” “Whenever You Need Somebody,” “Hold Me In Your Arms” and of course “Never Gonna Give You Up” won the hearts of fans in Astley’s home country and abroad in the last half of that decade.
After spending almost 10 years in retirement following the birth of his daughter in 1992, Astley again became a sensation, but this time thanks to “Rickrolling,” the prank of surprising people with the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” using a disguised hyperlink.
The meme has been used dozens of times by pranksters ranging from internet trolls to YouTube to politicians. Some of the most notable instances of rick rolling include the white house rick rolling a twitter user to a bipartisan effort by the Oregon State legislature to embed the “Never Gonna Give You Up” lyrics into floor speeches.
The singer has embraced the meme and has even engaged in some pranks himself, having recently made surprise appearances with Foo Fighters last year to perform a heavy rock version of the song.
But to attribute Astley’s return to prominence solely because of Rickrolling would be unfair, as in 2016 he released the critically acclaimed and chart topping 50, his first album in 11 years. The record, which was recorded and produced by Astley himself, scored five high-charting singles in the U.K., where the singer remained poplar as he recently played sold-out dates at London’s Royal Albert Hall (3,380 tickets sold, $135,760 grossed) and at Belfast Waterfront (1,898 tickets sold, 75,201 grossed).
Astley is currently touring the United States, with upcoming stops at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati and Center Stage Theater in Atlanta. The singer spoke to Pollstar about the tour, Rickrolling, the time he met Morrissey and the importance of having a good manager.
What can fans expect on the upcoming U.S. tour?
To be honest, we are kind of just dipping our toes in the water a little bit. We’ve had a bit of success in the U.K. over the last few years and I made a new record  and that did really well, but in America it’s a totally different ballgame.
I play my old hits, obviously, and like I said I have a new record that’s still doing really well in the U.K. and I know fans in America are aware of it, so fans can expect some songs from that album. We’ll have some fun, that’s been my take on most of the things I do at the moment. I just try and enjoy it because it seems a bit surreal that I’m even doing this anyway.
What makes playing in the U.S. different from your home country?
To be fair, I’m not trying to build into something we’re not, but with the new album out, 50, and that kind of changes the game a little bit. We sold a lot of physical copies, so that’s kind of interesting and I think that we’ve upped our game in terms of the size of venues that we play in the U.K.
Going somewhere like America or a different part of the world where that hasn’t happened, its not like starting again because obvious I’ve got my old hits. But they are definitely smaller venues than in the U.K.
Of course, most artists want to play arenas or football stadiums, and I’m no different, but in reality, when you are actually up there, small venues are actually more fun because it’s not quite so daunting and you don’t get above yourself. You got to get in there and work for it because they are right there in front of you.
Sometimes in big arenas when people are like 25 feet away you can get away with murder. If you got a huge production behind you with fireworks and all that, it’s become something else. I think most people’s egos would want to be in a big venue, but most people’s hearts would want to be in a small one. I get to do a bit of both, whether it’s my choice or not is a totally different topic, because there is no choice. I play where I can play.
And certain towns and the cities in the U.K. might mean something more to American musicians. They all want to go to Liverpool because that’s where the Beatles are from, they all want to play London because The Clash are from London. And I think that’s the same with us. there are certain cities in America where you think, “Oh my god, the Rock & Roll hall of fame is Cleveland so we want to see if we can get a look.” There is a sense of, “That’s where this band is from or this band is from there.”
What are some U.S. cities that are special to you?
I think New York is a special one because, let’s face it, that is a worldwide mecca for a lot of things, never mind music. Like the Sinatra song says, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.
I did some gigs at Radio City back in the day and I think for a lot of artists that is one of those places you want to play. Its just one of those places that is just, when you see your name, up there outside of it, it’s just pretty weird because that place has been there forever.
Talking about the West Coast, I have a lot of friends who live in California, especially in the Los Angeles area, so that’s always nice for me because I know I’m going to look out and see people I know in the audience.
The Bloom Effect – Rick Astley
The Bloom Effect – Rick Astley
You told Rolling Stone a while ago that you want to do more covers on tour, and that you especially want to play Smiths covers. Can fans expect that on this tour?
I haven’t done that yet with my band that I play with all the time. I’d like to do Smiths covers, just because when I was a kid, my two older brothers, all the music they listened to I listened to. So I got kind of brainwashed into it.
I was from a small town outside of Manchester, but we’d go to Manchester to buy records and clothes and just be teenagers, so I think a band like that, writing songs about things that were just so normal and every day, is what made them great. They became this huge cult band around the world, and that meant something because they were down the road.
Have you met Morrissey or Johnny Marr?
I met Morrissey once for about a minute. We have a show here called “Top Of The Pops,” which was a big Tv show every week.
He was on it and so was I, so I get this message saying Morrissey wants to come and say hello and get a photograph with you. And I’m like, “Aw fuck off. No he doesn’t.” (laughs) And they were like, “He does.” But I said, “No he doesn’t, it’s a wind up, someone in his camp is winding you up.” But they kept telling me that he really did want to meet me.
I think he used to do that with a lot of people. I’m sure it wasn’t just me. I think he just liked to have these polaroid photographs with other people who he met.
So, I said, “Sure, great,”” and I went to his dressing room or he came to mine, can’t remember. We met, and he asked how I was doing. He was quite shy and a quiet guy, you know. And that was that and I didn’t think anything more of it.
But then 25 years later, they reissued “The Last of The Famous International Playboys” and he wanted to use a shot of him and David Bowie. But David Bowie wouldn’t let him, so he used the photo of me and him. Smiths’ [album] covers have always been kind of interesting, and he’s carried that on in his own career. Quite iconic some of them. I think he’s one of those artists that writes lyrics that no one can get close to. It’s his own universe and his own field and that’s what he does and he’s a bit untouchable when it comes to his lyrics.
Any other covers you do?
We play different versions of our songs every once in a while. I wouldn’t do it with “Never Gonna Give You Up,” because in my little world those are kind of my big songs, so I don’t really want to spoil them for people because if they’re coming for a night out and they want to relive something or whatever, then I don’t mess around with that.
We have a song called “Take Me To Your Heart” and we kind of mashed that up with one of Rihanna’s songs, which is probably a bit of me being sad and middle-aged but it makes me laugh.
Every now and again we play a bit of Foo Fighters. We also do a bit of AC/DC and we covered one of Ed Sheeran‘s songs recently, “Shape Of You.” The world seems to love that song.
I think he’s really great, that guy. He’s a great writer but I also think he’s gone about things in a really modern way. I think he ignores trying to be cool and he just does what he wants to do. It looks like he wants to be the biggest artist in the world and he’s kind of doing that right now. If he wants to write a song about something, he will. If people think it’s too sappy or whatever, I don’t think he cares about that. It’s interesting, in this day and age people are so focused on being cool that it’s not even funny and he’s able to say, “I don’t care about all that.”
Any advice you’d give to younger artists?
Get a good lawyer is always one of my favorite things to say. You look at people’s careers sometimes, especially in the more poppy end of things, or even a rock band, and you think, “they are on the edge of losing everything.” Like they’re losing money and still tour simply because they have to. They may have had a successful career but now their lives are getting taken over and ruined by it.
I think that’s because they may have not had good people around them to make sure the deals they signed were going to make sure they would be OK for the rest of their lives. It’s a privileged position to be a musician and make a living off of it, but it can also be very short-lived, so you have to make as much money as you can if you are not going to be doing anything else after.
I think sometimes people have literally been ripped off and lied to. For me, I think it’s about finding someone who is going to manage you and is going to care about you as a human being and not just a piece of something that is forced through a machine and comes out the other end. They have to treat you like a human.
That’s why you need a good lawyer – it’s a business and anyone who thinks it isn’t, they’re fooling themselves.
You mentioned the importance of having a good team. Anyone you work with who you want to give a shout out?
I was very close to my ex-manager (Tony Henderson). We kind of stopped at some point, but he’s doing really well, works at a label now. Believe it or not, this is so Spinal Tap but my wife manages me. She just took over the reins of looking after me a few years ago because I was looking for a new manager and I was getting a lot of offers to do gigs and she just stepped in and took care of it all, and we haven’t looked back.
My ex-manager, who I was really good friends with, he was the best man at our wedding five years ago. But it’s different when you’re doing it with someone you’re married to. It’s a different connection. But I would say that without him, I’m not sure I’d be sane enough to keep doing this today. I was lucky to have someone who actually cares about me.
We have to talk about Rickrolling.
The Rickrolling thing has been amazing for me. It’s been incredible and has opened a lot of little windows and doors for me to look through and it’s been funny. There have been so many things that I have seen that have literally gave me bellyache laughter, and not in the way that I would get pissed off about it because I think it has nothing to do with me anyway. It could have been anybody. It could have been Dave Roll or Mary Roll, but whoever just so happened to choose my video because he thought it was cheesy enough or whatever. (laughs)
Ever get tired of it?
Not really, it’s not part of my every day. Every once in a while someone will send me a link to something and I’ll say, “Oh yeah, I’ve already seen that one,” or “Oh my god I’ve never seen that one.” Some of them have been amazing. I know the White House Rickrolled everyone on staff one day and I thought it was pretty cool. Did you see any of this stuff with the Foo Fighters that I did last summer?
No, I did not.
Basically, I did a festival in Japan and Foo Fighters where headlining. We went up to see them, so we met them on the side of the stage and had a beer. Dave Grohl comes over, gives me a big hug, 20 minutes later he beckons me out on the stage and I’m like, “What are you doing? This is nuts.”
There were like 50,000 people in a baseball stadium, and he said, “We’re going to do ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ but we’re going to play it like ‘Teen Spirit,’ are you up for it?”
So off we go, and we did it a couple of times, once in London and once in California. They were playing at Cal Jam in October, and said, “Look, come over and we’ll Rickroll everybody.” I really like them. I kind of admire the fact that they just don’t give a shit.
Can you share any special plans you have?
Yeah, I’ve been working on a new album. I actually just finished it and it’s been massive. We’re not going to play any of those songs on this little tour that we’re doing. We haven’t got to radio yet so we’re not doing that for months.
I’m playing some of the songs from 50. I’ve been talking to people from overseas and I don’t want to go overboard that I have a hit here [in the U.K.]. It’s a bit weird because we’re going to America and Canada and no one knows, no one cares, but here I’ve had five songs on the radio played a lot. It’s a weird feeling and I’m sure other bands have had that, where they feel that they’re doing pretty well their entire career and then they go across the Atlantic and it’s like zip, nothing. So, we’re focused on getting this record to happen later on this year.
I made that record for fun. In fact, I went to play it for a record label and I wasn’t going in to have a hit album and have a comeback, I did it because I didn’t want to end up doing something even more sad than a 50-year-old making a record. I’m partly joking, but a lot of guys my age do very strange things, so I guess making a record is a bit tame.