Life is full of happy accidents — I was in the midst of setting up an interview with Gary Wright via his publicist and mentioned to him that former Mr. Mister vocalist Richard Page (Wright’s current tour mate) had a new solo album out. Wright relayed to his publicist that Richard was willing to speak with me if I had interest in talking to him. Interest? You’d better believe that I was interested.
As the lead vocalist/bassist for ’80s pop/rock quartet Mr. Mister, Page found incredible (although short-lived) success when the band released their second album Welcome To The Real World, an album that went straight to number one, lodging two number one singles, “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie” in its wake. Go On…, the follow-up to Real World, failed to match the success of their previous album, and the band’s follow-up release Pull was shelved and never officially released (although we’ve got some news on that one that will make you smile).
After a period of recording silence, Page made his return in 1994 as the vocalist for producer Patrick Leonard’s Third Matinee project, an excellent yet sadly ignored follow-up to Leonard’s previous Toy Matinee release. Page made his official solo debut two years later with the release of Shelter Me, an album that showcased the continued lyrical growth that had been previously displayed on the Third Matinee album Meanwhile (and musically, his solo releases have evolved from the sound that many were familiar with on the Mr. Mister albums, embracing a more jazzy/adult contemporary vibe). Another recording break would follow, with Page focusing in on songwriting and enjoying life with his family.
And then in 2010, the silence was broken on the eve of the 4th of July with the announcement that Richard Page was about to release Peculiar Life, his first solo album release in nearly 15 years. Page spent the summer on the road as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, playing bass live for the first time since his Mr. Mister days, while also singing those unforgettable hits from the Mr. Mister catalog for the first time in eons. It was a pleasure to get the chance to catch up with Richard and find out exactly what he’s been up to.
I think the title of the new album is appropriate, because you’ve certainly had a “peculiar life” filled with some interesting twists and turns.
Haven’t we all.
I know that there’s a song on the album called “Peculiar Life,” but what does the album title mean to you?
Well, I don’t think my life is any more particular than anybody else’s, but the point of it to me was that we’re all doing everything we can to make ourselves happy one way or the other, and none of us seem to be succeeding at it – well, most of us anyway, most of the people I know. And that to me is kind of particular, what exactly are we doing trying to find something that nobody seems to be finding. I think I said in the bio that I’m one of those people – I’ve got a foot in the spiritual world and one in the material world and the conflict is ever present. So that’s what’s is peculiar about life to me, and that’s what I write about.
One of the things that has always been interesting to me is how open you are about your spirituality in your lyrics, particularly with your solo stuff. I think that’s pretty cool.
Oh well thank you, I’m glad. It’s just what I write about, it’s not really that I have any particular kind of realization or anything about much. This is what interests me and my life and it’s just something that feels natural, so that’s what I write about.
The cover art for the new album is really cool – where was that shot taken?
That’s underneath the Santa Monica Pier. My friend Bill Megalos who took the shot suggested we go there, and it’s a crazy place, I mean, it’s a really odd looking place.
It’s a great shot and really stands out at a time when there’s not a lot of focus being put on making album art look cool.
That’s good to hear, I’ll let him know. We were just trying to find a shot that would jump out at you. We took a bunch of them, but that seemed to be the one that we all liked.
You’re out this summer on the Ringo tour, and as I understand it, your buddy Richard Marx recommended you for the gig.
Yeah, he did it a couple of years ago and I think Ringo called him to do it again and he had some conflicts. I guess they were talking and Ringo said to him “who would you recommend as a bass player?” I just figured that when he called me they had probably exhausted everybody else, they’d gone through all of the singing bass players and I was the last one standing, and that’s not exactly true. I was thrilled when he called and I thought “wow, how can you pass that up?” So it’s been a blast, especially the gig we did at Radio City when Paul [McCartney] showed up and surprised Ringo, singing “Birthday” from The Beatles’ White Album.
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You guys all helped to put that together as a surprise for Ringo, right?
Well yeah, he didn’t know anything about it, so we had to keep it quiet. It was pretty amazing – the place went nuts when he came out, and we haven’t heard that Beatles scream that you hear about – we haven’t really heard that. We’ve heard some pretty rowdy crowds that are really happy to see Ringo, but when Paul came out, it definitely went up a few notches, it was pretty amazing to hear that.
Ringo looks amazing – he definitely doesn’t look 70.
He’s in amazing shape – he’s as vital as you can get. He took a walk, we were up there in Niagara Falls and everybody met at 7am, I think he wanted to go early. He just took off – bolted out, and nobody could keep up with him. Some of us are quite a bit younger, and nobody could keep up with him. When Paul came out and he realized what was happening, I was standing next to him off stage and he just bolted – he ran and he jumped. He didn’t take the steps up to his riser – he bolted up about three and a half feet to get to his drums. I mean, he looked like a kid, just launching himself. So yeah, he’s in amazing shape and he takes care of himself. He has a macrobiotic diet and he’s a vegan – he really does take care of himself.
I would think this is an interesting gig for you on a couple of levels. One, you’re flying from gig to gig on Ringo’s private plane. But on the other side of things, how much of the leftover Beatlemania do you see outside of the hotels when you’re leaving to go play a gig?
It’s still there. I don’t think it’s nearly as crazy as it was in those days, but there are still people that want autographs, and they’re different ages, that’s what’s so interesting about it. There are baby boomers of course, but then there are young people too. The phenomena of their music has passed through generations. That just shows you how powerful of an influence they were not only in music, but on culture itself. It transcends anything that we really understand about popular culture.
As a music fan, what was your Beatles album of choice?
Oh geez, that’s tough. I love them all, but I wasn’t really that into the early Beatles. I grew up in Santa Monica, CA, so everybody was into the Beach Boys at that time, and there were lines drawn – you were either a Beach Boys fan or a Beatles fan. I think it was Rubber Soul when I really started to get what they were all about. I guess I’d have to say that Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road would be my favorite.
Was it being a Beach Boys fan that led you towards surfing?[laughs} Maybe it had something to do with it. I’ve always liked the ocean and surfing. It’s just something that to me is a great workout and a fun thing to do. I do it with my kids too – both of my sons surf really well, so it’s something that we can all do together.
Well, it’s not the most dangerous hobby you could pick, compared to some of the other things that musicians typically engage in.
Not the most dangerous?
I’d say that compared to some other things, it’s a little bit further down on the list. It’s safer than hunting with Ted Nugent.
Well, it depends on where you surf – I’m not going to go out to 50 foot “Jaws” at Maui – I know my limits. The surfing I do is fairly safe, I mean, listen – like I’ll get eaten by a shark or hit by a board in the face. Normally, I keep it pretty safe so I’m not too worried about it. But yeah, I’m not into hunting, so that wouldn’t work for me.
Jumping back to the new album and Richard Marx – you wrote a song with him for this album.
Yeah, we wrote a tune a few years ago that I always liked, but I really didn’t like the arrangement and the demo. I always loved the song and thought the song would work in a different arrangement, so I messed around with it and came up with a more laid back feel that seemed to work great for the song and I put it together. You know, I had some really good players come over – Vinnie Colaiuta played drums, James Harrah on guitar, Luis Conte on percussion, Kevin McCormick (bass), Shankar, the great Indian violinist, Greg Leisz on pedal steel. So I had some amazing players come in and interpret my songs, and that really helped. The song that I wrote with Richard Marx is a standout, called “No Tomorrow.” You know I should give a shameless plug too, to my website, www.richardpagemusic.com. If I don’t, my brother who handles all of this for me will be really upset. The album is available there and at Itunes or at www.littledumerecordings.com, which is my record company.
In an age where 98 percent of the people don’t really care about the liner notes, it was nice to have them included digitally with the Itunes download.
I guess that’s a throwback to the generation that we’re in [laughs]. I used to love to look at my LPs – while I was listening to a Jimi Hendrix record, I would stare at the back cover, the liner inside. To me, that was part of the experience of getting a new album, so I felt like we couldn’t deprive people of that.
For me as a music fan, that was how I discovered that people like Richard Page did other things besides Mr. Mister albums. For example, picking up an album and finding Lou Gramm doing background vocals on a Bryan Adams album. And with your new album, looking at the liner notes and finding that Elliot Scheiner (Eagles, James Taylor, etc) mixed it.
Mmmmm, yeah, Elliot is amazing. He’s an old friend and he did my last album [Shelter Me], which was quite a while ago. He has a knack for finding the space and separation and EQ – all of the intangibles that make music sound good. He did a great job.
There’s a co-write on this new album with Steve George [on the song “Worldly Things”] – was that something newer, or something that you had sitting around?
Um, it was kind of an idea of a song that’s been laying there, and I got it out and reworked it. So yeah, that goes back a few years. It’s good to have him represented on the album – he’s one of my oldest friends and co-writers. John Lang is on a couple of songs, who also worked with Mr. Mister and Pages as a lyricist. It was nice to have those guys be a part of it.
New material from you always seems to come out unexpectedly, whether we’re talking about that last solo album, Shelter Me, or the Third Matinee album. Nearly 15 years since that last solo album, how did the new one come about?
Well you know, that album [Shelter Me] was a bittersweet experience for me because the album was creatively exactly what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, the record company that handled it fell apart right as I delivered the album. So it was really kind of a horrible experience, and like I said it was a high and low experience – I loved the music, the creative part of it was fantastic. But then it was bungled, and literally just lost in the shuffle. It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about what I wanted to do and how much more time I wanted to put into something that might not see the light of day. I became a little bit more involved in songwriting, which I’d been doing for a long time, making a good living out of and enjoying that too. When the Ringo thing came, I thought “wow, okay this is a good time to put together a record, because of the synergy with the tour.” So I had a bunch of songs laying there that hadn’t been cut by other people that I felt were maybe too personal, that wouldn’t work for other artists, but certainly would work for me. I grabbed them all and got my friend Richard Gibbs, who was an Oingo Boingo member and a surfing neighbor of mine. He’s a film scorer as well as a producer and he has a fantastic studio just across the canyon from me, actually, so he was into it. I got my friends together and put the record together in less than a month and got it out in time for the tour. That was really kind of the reason, I thought “hey this is really the perfect kind of opportunity, let’s do it now.”
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That’s crazy – I didn’t realize the album came together that quickly, so it makes sense why I saw an announcement going into the Fourth of July weekend that there was a new Richard Page album, and it was going to be available the following week.[laughs] Well, the songs were pretty much there, and a lot of the songs I had demoed, and done vocals on and some guitar in my studio , that I just took over there and we just replaced the rhythm section. I shouldn’t say it was all done in a month – there was a lot of pre-production that I’d done on my own to put the record together. I think it came out sounding pretty fresh for the amount of time that we put into it, and I’m really happy with it.
I think that’s a bonus, being able to put things out digitally so that there’s not a lot of lead time required waiting for the physical packaging to be completed, the promotional setup, etc.
Yeah, but in this case we had both of them pretty much timed to come out at the same release date.
I didn’t realize you had gotten the physical version of the album together that quickly.
Yeah. I’ve also got some news about Mr. Mister, because people are constantly hammering me about an album that was never released called Pull.
Yes, that was on my list to talk about!
That’s going to be released digitally by Sony/Legacy – they’re talking about fall, but it may be earlier. People can keep an eye on my website for information on that, but it is coming. There are lots and lots of people that have been waiting for that. There are bootleg copies of it floating around on the internet and they sound horrible – I’ve heard some of them. People have decided what the song titles are and changed the titles, which is just crazy. But I know how fans are – they love the music and they want to keep it alive and so sometimes they give it their own interpretation. The real mixed/mastered version is coming along with some of the Mr. Mister and Pages albums that we did, [those] are being reissued too.
Now that you’ve got some distance from Pull, what are your thoughts about the album?
It still stands up to me as maybe the best record that we ever did of the four. The powers that be would say that there’s no singles and what’s the point and I think that’s what they said back when we delivered it. But to me it’s the most creatively different and groundbreaking record for us. That record just stands up to me 20 years later as maybe the best thing that we ever did.
Perhaps it was the album where you finally got it all right.
I don’t think you ever get it all right, but it was close, it was really close. Just from the songwriting and the production and we had Paul DeVilliers work on that with us, who did the Welcome To The Real World album, who’s an incredibly talented guy and so he was a part of that. You can tell – his influence is really strong, as it was on Real World. It was a nice experience, and I’m glad we finally get to get it out there the way that we intended it to be.
Welcome To The Real World came out about a year after I Wear The Face, the debut for Mr. Mister. Did you feel a lot of pressure from the record company at the time to deliver that hit record?
Not really, because you never know if and when you’re going to be successful. We just kept making records – Steve and John and I had done three Pages albums before we reformed as Mr. Mister, so we were used to making records and just hoping that one would catch on. The real pressure comes after you’ve sold a multi-platinum album [laughs]. After Real World, that’s when the pressure hit and they were like “okay, well where’s the Broken Wings and where’s the Kyrie, let’s keep this going.” So I’d say after I Wear The Face, there wasn’t a lot of pressure, we just had a good time and made a good record.
I guess that would put a bit of a whammy on you, after a number one album and two number one singles from that album, it would be like “okay, let’s see what you guys have next.”
It’s hard to top that. You know, there’s a stat somewhere, and I don’t remember exactly, but I remember somebody showing it to me that strangely our band, Mr. Mister, was one of a handful of bands that had two number one hits off of a number one album. I think the other ones were of course, The Beatles and there’s just a couple more. It’s strange that a band with our short duration of success was in that league as far as having that kind of success with one album.
I think that a lot of the stuff from that album had a really unique sound for the time. I remember hearing “Kyrie” on the radio as a kid and going “Oh my god.” I did the stereotypical thing of calling the radio station to find out who it was so that I could get the album.
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I see that every night when we play, as soon as the songs start. People really recognize them and show their appreciation. All the way through, it’s ingrained in people’s consciousness because of how popular those albums were.
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Looking at your discography from the ’80s, it looks like you were really busy with session work, even after the Real World album broke.
Well, not so much once we broke, had success and started touring. Before that, Steve [George] and I did a lot of session work, so much so that we almost got burned out on it. There were days when there would be three or four different sessions that we’d get called to do, and that was just like burnout time. I’m not complaining – it was fantastic and it was a lot of fun. I met a lot of people and producers and artists that ended up recording some of my songs, so it was a great experience. But yeah, we were really raised in the studio session scene and it’s a great life.
You’re on quite a few of the famous Rick Springfield albums from the ’80s – what was it like working with somebody like Rick that has just stacks and stacks and stacks of vocal tracks?[laughs] Well, Rick and I are really good friends. Our kids and wifes are fairly social, so we live nearby. I’ve known him, geez, forever. It’s always fun. We worked with Keith Olsen who used to produce Rick, and Keith was a really talented guy. It was always a blast working with him.
I really loved the Third Matinee album that you did with Patrick Leonard. How did the two of you come together? Was the song that the two of you co-wrote for Madonna [“I’ll Remember” from the movie With Honors] part of how it came about?
When the original band Toy Matinee broke up, Pat was looking to replace Kevin Gilbert and he called me and said “do you want to try something?” I went over to his studio and I think we wrote two or three songs in the first day and it just clicked. That was how that started. The Madonna thing came during the middle of that recording. I guess somebody called us about the With Honors movie, so Pat and I wrote something and she got a hold of it, liked it and added her thing to it. That’s how that came about. That was a great experience, that album, that was a lot of fun and Pat is a super talented guy. I enjoyed making that album.
You guys didn’t do any touring for that album, did you?
No, we did a couple of press gigs where we played a couple of live gigs – it wasn’t a tour.
I saw recently that a few years after that album, Pat was interested in doing another one. What happened there?
Yeah, you know at that point I felt like I wanted to do my own thing. That was right around the time of Shelter Me, so I’d moved on and we remain friends. [laughs]
What’s next for you now that the Ringo tour is wrapping up?
Well, I’m going to continue to promote the new album Peculiar Life and see what I can do about maybe playing some dates. Just keep the ball rolling and try to do what I can to stay in the picture, find my fans and hopefully do some more. I’ve got some other ideas about recording that I don’t really want to get into now, but some stuff that I have plans for.
Visit Richard’s official website for more information about his new solo album Peculiar Life and the upcoming re-release of Pull by Mr. Mister.