There’s no better story than a comeback story. Especially when it features an underdog sensation, a lovable family man, shoulderpads, and an 80s soundtrack. Oh, and an viral Internet global phenomenon. Yes, Rick Astley is back, and not only is he back, he's coming. Everguide’s Emilia Terzon spoke to him from his London home as he prepares to tour Australia later this year.
Emilia Terzon: Hey Rick! How’s it going over on your side of the world?
Rick Astley: Good, good! I’m just at home in London. And you?
ET: I’m actually talking to you from the bathroom as I do my makeup for a girl’s dinner.
RA: Oh really! Well, I just finished breakfast. So we’re really at opposite ends of the spectrum.
ET: I have to admit: a lot of people are pretty excited that I’m talking to you right now, including my Mum.
RA: [laughs] Well, I love the Mums!
ET: Oh really? Do you get some crazy Mums at your shows?
RA: Oh, yeah. I get the odd crazy Mum. But you can’t not have them. That’s the way I like to see it. If you’ve got the crazy Mums then you’re lucky. You’re doing alright.
ET: Well I’m sure you’ll get a few when you come to Australia. It’s been over 20 years since you played here last. What are you expecting?
RA: I really like Australia. I mean... of course I would say that being on the phone to you. [laughs] But yeah. You know, Australia is a funny one. There are certain things you can get away with in Australia that you just can’t in the rest of the world.
ET: You were on the same label, with the same writers and producers (Stock Aitken Waterman), as a few big Aussie artists like Kylie in the 80s. What was it like going through a hit machine like that?
RA: It was weird. As the legend goes I started out there as a tea boy. Which wasn’t exactly as it was but I did make some tea for people. The way it went is that [SAW] kinda got really successful about the time I started there. It was a small production team that was starting to get its big break. And then they had a few records that went ballistic. So it was myself and a few others that they’d decided to make records with that got pushed to the back of the queue. Because they had all these big name artists with production budgets coming to them that they couldn’t say no to.
ET: So how did you end up at the front of the queue?
RA: Well, I ended up almost having an apprenticeship with [SAW]. I kinda just ended up hanging out there while they made all these big records in the studios and the other artists were having big hits and such. They went ahead and did a bunch of really big records like Bananarama and meanwhile I was just hanging out doing my demos at nights and on the weekends.
ET: What was your demo like?
RA: Well, I think because [of doing my demos on weekends and nights] I managed to get quite a lot of my own stuff on there. That was unusual for the times, when most of the artists weren’t able to write their own songs. I was a bit of a Pete Waterman apprentice of sorts and so I wrote a few songs in mind of what I thought people would like. I literally just used to watch and listen to everything that he did and I learned the things that would turn him on. And so I managed to get a few singles and hits out of that demo.
ET: And then you blew up with ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Is it true there was a two hour argument during that video’s filming about rolling your sleeves up?
RA: Oh no! I wasn’t a part of that fight! Obviously the Internet is fantastic but there’s a lot of crap on it too. [laughs]
ET: You’ve said before you don’t like making music videos. Is that still the case?
RA: I think it was more that it wasn’t something that you were used to doing. These days kids are always about filming, but back then us kids just weren’t used it. Back in my day the idea of walking around and taking a picture of everything didn’t exist. It just didn’t. People didn’t go to concerts and film the concerts. But today people take a picture of just everything!
ET: So it was a really big deal to shoot this video?
RA: Yeah, back then it was kind of a scary big deal! It was like: “we’re going to make this video and then it’s going to be there forever”. I wasn’t very confident about the way I looked anyways. I just wanted to sing. I wanted to be in a band when I was a kid. I never really thought of being a solo frontman. So the idea of standing in front of a grey backdrop with these two blonde dancers who wouldn’t have even spoken to me two weeks ago... That was a bit scary, if you know what I mean.
ET: Oh totally. And you had to dance, too!
RA: Yes, I just found the whole thing entirely weird.
ET: I just have to ask. Did you get it on with that hot blonde dancer?
RA: You know what? She was actually going out with the hot male blonde in the video. [laughs] So no, I didn’t.
ET: Do you find it strange that the 80s - which that video personifies - has come back in fashion?
RA: I wouldn’t say that video personified the 80s, but I definitely see the similarities, especially in the last five years. It’s come back. You see artists like Lady Gaga massively influenced by early Madonna. A lot of people, especially in indie guitar bands, you can trace back to 20 years ago.
ET: And then you decided to give it all up. The way that story goes is: you were sitting at an airport in the early 90s and got thinking about your family and decided to quit?
RA: That’s kinda true. It was a lot of things. By that time my partner and I had my daughter. I was on the way to the airport actually with my manager and we were on the freeway. I made him stop the car and I just had to get out on the motorway. Which doesn’t sound that weird but it kind of was, to be honest. I just stood on the side of the road on the motorway. I knew what I was doing and that I had to do this and give it up.
ET: Were you having a panic attack of sorts?
RA: Well, I was kinda saying goodbye to it all. I can say that easily now I’m sitting here in my nice house with my royalty cheques coming in sometimes. I didn’t like who I was then and I didn’t really believe who I was. I guess I lost a sense of myself with all that fame. I know it sounds melodramatic because there were good bits about being famous. Parts of it were absolutely fantastic and beautiful and magical. But I was just completely sick of it all. It was all about pretending you were this thing.
ET: Did you ever regret making that decision?
RA: I missed parts of it for a long time. Well, not now, because I’m past it. But it was the right thing to do and I’ve never regretted it. Not once. Not once after I made that decision. I missed being a Dad and watching my daughter grow up too much, and I’d lost a lot of things that were really frightening. Control was one. I think that’s what led to my fear of flying. I was terrified it was going to crash.
ET: What did you really feel like you had no control of?
RA: Well [when you’re famous] you don’t have control of yourself, and your own things like your time and calendar. It chips away at you. In the end you just feel like this Hobbit that people are just passing around. It sounds a bit melodramatic now but at the time I just felt I couldn’t do it.
: Obviously your career was revived recently by Rickrolling. It’s something I just can’t get my head around. Was it the same for you the first time you saw one?
RA: I don’t remember the first time but I remember the first few times. I didn’t really know what the hell was going on to be honest. I know that makes me seem like an old fogie, but I don’t think anybody knew what was going on! But it was something new and it was kinda like somebody was playing a trick on you. You don’t exactly know what’s going on. And you don’t know how. Nowadays people go to YouTube for everything, but back then it was a bit like “what’s goin on?”.
ET: What was your reaction to it?
RA: It was a bit odd. I didn’t really get it. And to be honest I wasn’t really interested. [laughs] I know it was my video and everything but it wasn’t really anything to do with me. The guy who started it could’ve chosen any cheesy pop video he wanted to from the 80s. He could have looked at my video and said “that’s it. That’s cheesy”. Or maybe he loved it! I don’t know.
ET: Did you ever find out who started it?
RA: I kind of know but I forget his name. Oh, that’s awful I said that! But I forget it because he’s got a pseudonym. It’s a man in America and he’s in the Top 10 people who are influential on the internet. He’s a mover and a shaker in that department.
ET: Is he basically the sort of man who knows how to make stuff go viral?
RA: Oh yeah. That stuff [with Rickrolling] is kinda a weird thing because it isn’t anything really to do with me, so I didn’t take it on board. But there’s been some fantastic spin offs from it where people have done some great videos. It’s really taken a life of its own now. It’s ironic in a way. It’s supposed to be funny, but that’s OK. I can live with that. [laughs]
ET: What’s the best one you’ve seen?
RA: It wasn’t really a YouTube one. The kids of some friends of mine sent a picture to me. They were studying at MIT in the US. Someone climbed up onto a water tower and painted the first seven notes of NGGUP. Which was good, because number one, it said you had to read music to do it. Which I think’s great! It’s not like doing street art when you paint anything. Or maybe it is lot like street art. You have to be in on it to know what the message is. They’re pretty huge notes, the size of a person. So I thought that was just neat. To go and pop them up there is just genius and really taking the piss!
ET: Have you ever been Rickrolled?
RA: Yeah, in the early days I was, and I didn’t really get it. I didn’t really get the humour or why it was funny. I just didn’t get it at all. I think when Youtube started, if you wanted to see a video by an artist there would just be the original version of a song. Or if you wanted to see Monty Python you’d see it straight away. Now you go to YouTube, put in a search for Rihanna and you see a million videos of kids singing in their bedroom. I think we’re just used now to seeing clips of video and things that are edited and messed around. You just don’t really know what’s going on. But when Rickrolling started nobody was used to that.
ET: Well it made you famous all over again. Lots of my dude friends today really love your hair. Do you use mousse or gel?
RA: Neither! I don’t use either. I use wax. [laughs]
ET: Do redheads have more fun?
RA: I’m auburn, my dear!! [laughs] I’d say no to that, to be honest. Do you know what? Nobody knows what colour hair anybody has anymore these days. I’m old and grey now, but my daughter changes the colour of her hair every month!
ET: What was the best thing about being an artist in the 80s?
RA: The shoulderpads. [laughs] Men were allowed to wear shoulderpads proudly.
ET: Have you got any shoulderpads in your wardrobe now?
RA: My Mum’s got them all in her cupboard. In fact there’s a guy on a cruise shop with some of my more flamboyant ones. [laughs] She gave them to this guy who was a singer on a cruise ship and he wanted my jackets. I’m so pissed off about that actually. Some of them were amazing designer pieces. My daughter is not very happy with her Grandma about that!
ET: Tell me you at least still have that blue shirt from your NGGGUP video?
RA: No! I’ll tell you what. All of those clothes, including the white raincoat, were all mine! I never got styled or anything. We didn’t have any time for that! That whole video and the first promotion of that song, nobody had a clue what was going on. They just put the song out and forgot about it. No talk about styling and image and all those things. But anyways. The reason I’m saying that... the white coat. Which was actually mine. I had it stolen off me.
ET: What? Somebody stole your white coat?!
RA: Yes! I had it literally stolen off my back. I went to Belfast in Ireland for this outdoor radio thing. And this gang of kids managed to get in and they stole it. So I never saw it again. [laughs] I kept saying to myself that I’d buy another one and walk on stage for a joke.
ET: That’s tragic!
RA: I know! I know! And I paid for it, believe me.
ET: Was it a pricey one?
RA: Oh, look. That wouldn’t have exactly been a Jean Paul Gaultier! [laughs] I didn’t have enough money floating around at that stage, believe me!
ET: I’ve just got a few more quick questions for you. What’s your favourite artist of all time?
RA: Oh, that’s a hard one. I think the first one that popped into my head was Al Green. Al Green is perfect for if you’re making a bit of dinner with some wine.
ET: And my last question to you is: are you ever gonna give you up?
RA: [dead silence] Oh come on, love. You can do better than that! [laughs] I’ve heard that one a few times before.
ET: I’m know, right? [laughs] Sorry, that was so cheesy.
RA: [laughs] You know, I’m retired now. And I’m having fun with on a classics tour with a bit of a glint in my eye. Obviously I have fun and I get paid to do it which is fantastic. But I also do it because I feel like I left or peaked too soon, and I didn’t get enough time playing on stage. So I guess in that way, I really will never give it up in that way. Is that a bullshitty enough answer?
ET: [laughs] Just the right amount of cheese! Thanks so much for your time.
RA: You too. I hope you enjoy your dinner.