An Interview With ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ Singer RICK ASTLEY On His Iconic Hit Song, His Newest Album and Much More!
At the age of 21, Rick Astley became one of the biggest stars on the planet. His era-defining classic ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ topped charts the world over and catapulted him on a journey that would encompass 8 consecutive UK Top 10 hits and 40 million sales. And after stepping aside to focus on his family, he shot back to #1 almost 30 years later with his hit Platinum-selling album ‘50’.
Now Rick celebrates his extraordinary story with the release of the new career-spanning compilation ‘The Best of Me’. It charts that initial run of hits (‘Whenever You Need Somebody’, ‘Together Forever’ and many more) alongside recent fan favourites such as ‘Keep Singing’, ‘Angels On My Side’ and ‘Beautiful Life’. It also digs into some deep cuts too, such as ‘Lights Out’ from 2010.
The set is bookended with a step into the past and an eye to the future. Having written and produced the song as well as playing all of the instruments himself, opening track and lead single ‘Every One of Us’ is a brand new song that shows that the power of Rick Astley 2.0 is undiminished. And it closes with a new ‘Pianoforte’ take on ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Dropping the peppy ‘80s beats for an intimate piano arrangement captures it in a new light, its inner heartbreak becoming all the more apparent.
“It’s been an amazing experience to rework ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’,” says Rick. “That song is part of my DNA and it means a lot to me. I hope people like what I’ve done with it as much as I do. And ‘Every One of Us’ is about the fire in all of us. We all have something to give, even if it doesn’t always feel like we do. I’m so lucky to feel that fire every time I’m on stage, and that helps me feel it in my everyday life too.”
Continuing that spirit of reinvention, Rick independently recorded a set of ‘Reimagined’ interpretations of his songs, old and new, for the second disc of ‘The Best of Me’. While Rick’s musical style has evolved over the years, the ‘Reimagined’ recordings show that quality songwriting has always been an essential hallmark of his work.
Earlier this year, Rick completed a gargantuan 38-date stadium tour as special guest to Take That, during which he played to over 500,000 people. He also recently played the Isle of Wight Festival, Pub in the Park and Chris Evans’ Carfest. Having sold over 100,000 tickets to his UK headline shows since releasing ‘50’, Rick Astley’s forthcoming tour dates includes gigs in Australia and Japan as well as his first ever show in New Zealand.
Please see http://www.rickastley.co.uk/ for a list of dates and ticket information.
Learn more about Rick Astley in the following All Access interview-
Thanks for your time today! So how has 2019 been going for you?
Pretty good. It’s been pretty busy but I’m not complaining. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy to be honest. I think this time of year, the autumn leaves are falling and all that business. And well you guys are thinking, about Thanksgiving and we’re thinking about Christmas and all the rest of it. We’re just kind of straight in the middle of a promo thing at the moment because I’ve got this album out and everything. So, it’s just a funny time of the year because you’ve got one eye on the end of the year and you’ve got one eye on what you’re actually doing.
Well congrats on releasing this new album. What made you decide to put this kind of a re-imagined collection together now?
Well, to be honest, I think it was partly that, in the UK we’ve had a very different story than anywhere else. We’ve had two albums, one of which was a number one album, platinum, and then the one after that was top 10. And I kind of made both those records in my garage and I made that first record just for fun.
I literally just made it for me because I was turning 50 and I thought it’d be a nice way to celebrate that for myself. And give my mum a copy. I just put it on the internet for a few fans and then it just… I don’t know, BMG my old record label were interested and duh-duh-duh and before you knew it, they said, “Look, we really think we can get this going.”
And, sure enough they did, which was pretty crazy. So yeah, it was just one of those weird things that was almost fairytale like, and you couldn’t really have made it up, if you know what I mean?
That has been amazing. I think most of the people I work with kind of just felt it would just be a nice way of just wrapping it all up and saying, “Well look, you’ve got your old ones, some of which are 32 years old, and you’ve been all over the radio in the UK.” Not, obviously, not on the young stations of course. But I’m saying, we’ve been on mainstream radio, we’ve been on a-lists, we’ve had all of that again, it’s just been crazy.
And when I go out now and play, if I go out and play like an hour and a half, hour and 40 minutes set, half the songs are new songs, half the songs are old songs. And people do not go to the bathroom when we do the new songs.
I felt like if we’re going to do it, we can’t just put the songs together and just say that’s it. Because they’re already on the internet. They’re everywhere, they’re on YouTube, Spotify, anywhere you care to look. So I just said, “Look, we need to do something else.”
And I was seeing a few people re-look at their old tunes and I just thought that might be a nice thing to do in terms of the fans. So I started thinking well, I’ll maybe do three or four and then do a new song. And I ended up doing 11 and the new song. But that’s been kind of nice. It’s not everyday you get the chance to reinvent an old song, which sort of turned into something else, if you know what I mean? I never dreamt it would work. So yeah, it’s been pretty amazing.
I was listening to the new arrangement of ‘Never Going to Give You Up’ and it’s beautiful. I really liked how intimate it is. It’s different but you’re also paying respect and homage to what it was. I love that.
Thank you! Well I mean I wanted to make sure that the melody stayed, because obviously whatever key it’s in and however dark it gets, people want to be able to sing along to it if they know it. So that was really important. But I just wanted to show it in a totally different light because I think, to be honest, it’s a better song than people think it is. I think that’s true of ‘Together forever’ as well. I think when you listen to the old version with the full on eighties production, you can sometimes get swamped in the production a little bit rather than is the song any good.
I’ve obviously played that song with the Foo Fighters as well. Even their crazy out-there version kind of works. So I think that’s the mark of a good song. If you can play it in totally different ways and it still kind of stands up then that’s got to be a good sign.
I’m curious to know what perspective you gained on music and this crazy business while you took your break and what wisdom did you bring to it?
To be honest with you, my name might have some fame attached to it and some of the old songs, like we say, but I don’t really feel that I’m famous really anymore. You know what I mean? It’s a weird thing to be honest and it’s a kind of a weird conversation to have anyway. But I go about my daily life, even when we’re doing a gig, I can play sometimes in a smaller venue for maybe hundreds or a thousand people, sometimes it’s many, many thousands of people. And it doesn’t seem to matter where and when we do that, the day after or that night, I can go to the bar and have a glass of wine and usually not really think about it and just get on with it.
And yeah, and I think that’s kind of amazing and I think it’s also what keeps me kind of comfortable doing it right now. I think when I was a kid it was just a bit much. And I do think having the time away, that I had, just completely changed my perspective on what music means to me and it’s just brought a fun side to it. I mean, to be honest, for the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been doing gigs again. But playing concerts, even if it’s just your old songs, it’s not the same as having a record deal and trying to put a record out. The two things are very, very, very different. Because one is all about promotion- it’s all about promo, getting on TV, getting in magazines, getting in whatever, getting in the paper, getting on the radio.
That is what it’s about and artists should be grateful for it because that’s the only way anybody gets to know you’ve got a record out. But what I’m saying is that when all you’re doing is gigs, then it’s kind of just about music and your fans. Because you might be trying to win over the fans in that room that night who were dragged by their husbands or by boyfriends or whatever it is. But if you’re going out into the world and telling everyone about your record, the whole point of it is to try and get your record out there known, sold, listened to, whatever. Whereas the gigs are a little bit like, obviously they’re advertised, but basically it’s people who want to come and see it. And so that it’s like a little cocoon and it’s a totally different world I think.
So for me I think not being anywhere near that for years, it’s been a really healthy thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think every artist in the world, if they were honest, would say to you that nobody wants to sit in a hotel room and do 12 interviews in a day. You go mad, you go literally mad at the end of it. You I’m sure don’t want to interview people 12 times in a row. It’s ridiculous. It’s a mad sort of thing. And thankfully I’ve only done two interviews today. 🙂
But what I’m saying is that it’s a two way street. It totally is. I want people to hear that new version of ‘Never going to give you up’. The only way I’m going to get them to do that is by talking to you or talking to someone on the radio or getting on the TV. That is the only way they’re going to. My fans will because they’ll just jump on the internet and know that straight away. But to reach anybody else and say, “Have you heard this?” This is the only process to do it. But what I think it does to certain people is tough. Let’s look at somebody like Justin Bieber who’s been, I don’t know how long he’s been doing it now but he’s kind of like came from that. He was a real child when he started. He started really young. No wonder that guy is flipped out a few times and gone a bit crazy here and there.
I didn’t have the internet when I was having my kind of moment. So I think it’s been great that I’ve had a break to be honest. A real long break because I’ve not really been part of any of that.
Totally. Let’s talk about the internet and social media. What has it been like being able to reach out and connect with your fans through it all this time around?
Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that, like I say, can drive anybody a bit crazy on both sides of that fence. But I also think it’s pretty amazing that you can just literally pick up your phone and say something to the people that follow you, and they know it’s from you because it’s you saying it. I mean don’t get me wrong, we have a team, we have a company and a professional team who handle all my posts because I’m an idiot and I do it at the wrong time of day and I’m 53 for God’s sakes. I shouldn’t be in charge of a phone.
But sometimes I’ll just put something up there and I just think that’s amazing. There are certain people that I follow and I kind of really love the fact that they might have gone on a hiking trip or something else fun and it’s like, yeah, I kind of want to see what’s going on there. I want to know what this person is about.
That is a really special thing that you can actually reach people and do it in a way that’s genuinely you. So I know that there is a lot of professionalism in the way people handle social media. Of course there is, but there is room for people just to kind of have a bit of fun with it as well.
And I also think, to be honest, I mean without getting too heavy about it, if you look at the generation that grew up with the internet and are growing up with it right now, I think they’re in a way, waking up to politics a little bit more than other generations have if I’m honest. I think they’re so much more aware about in terms of climate change and all those kinds of things that they can be a bit more active about it sometimes. Sometimes not even physically having to go to something but just participating in this massive wave of “Wake up you old people, get this sorted.” So I think that’s pretty cool.
Now I know that you left the spotlight to focus on your family and raising your daughter. So what does she think about your career today and what does she think about your music?
She, like any daughter out there, she’s really proud of me and she tells me so. She comes to gigs but she will also come backstage afterwards and say, “Dad, don’t do that again.” And for instance, every now and again I’ll, let’s say sin one of my old songs and I’m kind of, I wouldn’t do it with ‘Never going to give you up’ and ‘Together forever’ and the bigger ones, but let’s say I’ve got an old song that was a top 10 in Europe or something, I’ll sometimes just mash up one of my old songs with a song from Rihanna. Do you know what I mean? Do something that, which in the moment of a live gig, is okay. It’s all right. It’s just having a bit of fun. But if your daughter is there, then it’s probably a bit different for her, do you know what I mean? And she’s like, “Dad, don’t do that again.”
I think she realizes that she’s had a very privileged life, I think because I’ve had a privileged life. And she’s seen and done things and been to things. I’ve never really had to struggle for anything in my life. Any stress I’ve got in my life is self-induced really. I don’t really have stress in my life in truth. Any of my problems are champagne problems and therefore that sort of carries on with her a little bit.
But one of the things I think is amazing about her is that she works really, really hard. She’s just finished her masters. She’s been studying art for quite a long time and she’s really kicked arse about that and worked hard at that. So she’s not kind of just said, “Oh well I’m just going to hang around and do nothing because my dad used to be a pop star in the eighties.” She’s gone for it and she’s worked really hard and she’s in that process, like a lot of people her age, in their mid-twenties where they’re trying to find out exactly what it is they want to do with their lives.
So how excited are you to be heading to Australia, Japan and then New Zealand for the first time next year. That’s exciting.
Absolutely, yeah. Which is crazy. I have no idea why I never got to New Zealand but it just didn’t happen. But yeah, it’s funny because a bit like America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand there’s a slightly different thing goes on when you can actually speak the local language. And British people are terrible. I’m sure Americans aren’t great at it either but British people are terrible about learning a language. And so it’s always a bit easier. It’s not too easy when you get to Japan, if I’m honest, but it’s always a bit easier when you go somewhere like that because obviously we’ve got a lot in common anyway, but we certainly do language-wise. And also it’s just kind of funky just to be at the other end of the world, you know what I mean? It’s literally, for us, it’s about as far as you can possibly go. And I think that’s always a bit of a special thing I think. Just to think how the hell did I get here?! I’m looking forward to that big time.
Any plans for a US tour anytime soon?
No, well we don’t have an actual plan at the moment for America. I always kind of spring that up in meetings when it’s talked about. We’ve done a couple of little tours in America in the last few years. I think the last proper gig we did in Los Angeles was at the ACE theater in downtown. It’s amazing. I was absolutely blown away by that theater. We all were. It was just amazing we thought. It’s gorgeous. Because obviously downtown has had it’s fair share of ups and downs and everything, and it’s just, I don’t know, it’s incredible really. That place has been there since 1927 I think. So yeah, I’m always up for playing in America to be honest. I always had a good time there so I’m sure we’ll be putting something in at some point.
So I have to ask, have you ever Rick Rolled anyone?
I’ve not, to be honest, no. Well, I’ve Rick Rolled Macy’s day parade. That’s a pretty big one. But I’ve never really Rick Rolled anybody myself, no. I’ve been Rick Rolled a few times back in the day. Yeah, in fact, the way I heard about it was a friend of mine just kept Rick Rolling me and I’m like,”What are you doing?” So he kind of explained it. For me, from my perspective and from my distance from it, I kind of just sort of think it’s just this weird, weird, weird thing that the internet in some bizarre way has adopted that song to use for lots of different things. And I think some artists would be horrified and would be getting their lawyers to try and sue things. And then other artists would probably view it, and certainly managers and labels, would be thinking this is amazing. I’m certainly not in the first part of trying to get things shut down because I think it’s ridiculous. That is one of the joys of the internet, like I was saying, people can just do shit that they want to do. That I think is really important. And I just don’t mind. At the end of the day it’s like an old song from 19-whatever and if people have a bit of fun with it, I’m okay with it. And it certainly hasn’t done me any harm.
If you could go back in time and tell 21 year old Rick Astley anything, what would it be?
Oh my God. Interesting. I think I’d say have more fun if I’m honest. I think partly what happened, I mean obviously ‘Never going to give you up’ was amazing for me because it was number one in so many different countries, including America obviously. Kind of the Holy Grail obviously for a lot of non-Americans. And it was like, I think in a way, it worked in reverse with me. Instead of me becoming the massive ego and the kind of like, “I’m it. I am the new thing.” It made me almost go the other way and sort of go, “Oh my God.” It made me clam up a little bit, I think, if I’m honest. Because I think partly because when a song, and it’s your first song as well, goes around the world before you do and you kind of follow it around the world it’s a weird experience. Because you go to places and we’re talking about the eighties, the MTV was massive at that time. So everybody knows who you are. And you don’t even know how to spell Mississippi never mind ever seen it.
So it’s a really freaky, weird thing. I remember I went to, I’ve said this in interviews before because it was a bit of an embarrassing shock, I landed in Sweden whenever, at the end of 87, and I was met at the airport by the record label and off we went. I got in the car and I said, “So how’s it going over here?” And he said, “What?”
And I said, “Well how’s it going?” He said, “You’ve been number one for eight weeks.” “Oh, great.”
And I felt like an ass to be honest, because I kind of felt I should have known that. And maybe I did know it, I just forgot it, if you know what I mean? And I just think, obviously I never repeated that kind of success. That was just one of those crazy, crazy records that just blew up. And I don’t know, I kind of look at it and I just sort of think, I think that just shut me down a little bit rather than anything. And I think if I would have had an older me, sat in the car with me sometimes, I would have gone, “Just chill out. Just relax. Just enjoy it, don’t worry about it.”
The other thing is when you have a hit that big, you go out to dinner with the managing directors. You go out with the CEO. You don’t go out with the girls and the guys who work in the departments that do this, that and the other, just want to go out, go to a club, go mad. You’re going to the best restaurant in town talking to guys 20 years older than you going, “Uh. I don’t know.”
It’s a bit weird, do you know what I mean? And I think if I would’ve been in a band, if there would have been three or four of us, I think it would’ve been very different. Because we would’ve just snuck out anyway. Somebody would have. One of us would’ve gone, “Ooh sod this, we’re going out.” But when you’re on your own and you’re with a tour manager, in a thing, and it’s like, “Oh the CEO of the company is coming down to see you tonight.”
My final question is at the end of the day, what do you hope is the message or what do you hope fans take away from this new album, The Best of Me, and what do you hope they continue to take away from your shows?
I think, for me, it’s just that sense that some of these tunes, like I say, have been around a long time and I think when I look at an audience when we’ve played some of those songs, I can kind of see certain songs mean something to certain people. And people have told me that outside gigs and just in coffee shops when I bump into people and stuff. And I think I’d like to experience maybe a different emotion when we sing. I mean I’ll always sing the original, ‘Never going to give you up’ of course I will. I have to do it. It’s in the contract. I’ve got to do that. But I’m really looking forward to playing, I’m going to do many but I’m going to do a few of the different versions, and we’re going to work it into a set somehow. And just play them and just, we’ve done to in a couple of very small shows already actually in the UK, in London and up in Manchester. Just to kind of open the record this last week or so.
And it’s kind of interesting because normally when I sing ‘Never going to give you up’ and ‘Together forever’ pretty much everyone in the room kind of sings along. And when I do these versions, they listen. And that’s kind of nice, if you know what I mean? It’s really interesting because I think bizarrely I think the lyrics change, and they’re the same lyrics, they just change. And I don’t know there’s just something about it that’s different.
So that’s going to be interesting, I think, when we actually get properly touring and we’ve got a proper production and we’re out there doing it and everything. Because it’ll be interesting just to see what the reaction is. And I’m interested to see faces that I can kind of recognize myself from different places when I’m doing a gig and say, “Oh my God, you came again.” And then, “well, what do you think of this then?” So I think that’s going to be the most exciting thing for us.