Singer, songwriter, meme, icon… Rick Astley sits down with Basic Pop to speak street journeys, Glastonbury, The Smiths and the exceptional afterlife of THAT tune…
The 12 months is 1987, and Britain’s pop crown rests firmly atop the gravity-defying quiff of a younger singer from the north-west of England. Although precisely whose quiff depends upon which tribe you belong to: for the misfit indie children who voted The Smiths finest act within the NME’s end-of-year ballot, Steven Patrick Morrissey is their one true king.
However for Smash Hits readers – and the broader record-buying public – the glory belongs to a 21-year-old from the market city of Newton-le-Willows, who’s come from nowhere to attain the biggest-selling single of the 12 months.
What neither aspect may have predicted, although, was that three-and-a-half a long time later, Rick Astley – for it was he – wouldn’t solely be cooler than Morrissey, he’d even be a cooler frontman of The Smiths (or the subsequent smartest thing, anyway).
“I battle with that phrase, cool,” says Rick, with trademark modesty, when Basic Pop lobs the praise his manner. “But when it’s even a risk, then it’s good to listen to. As a result of I’ve by no means considered myself as cool. I actually wasn’t cool once I had my hits.”
Maybe not. However in 2023, Rick Astley is an artist with a uncommon multi-generational attain: a person equally at dwelling studying the CBeebies Bedtime Story as he’s rocking out at The O2 along with his buddies the Foo Fighters, having labored his allure offensive on everybody from Gen Zed Tik-Tokkers (the place he has three million followers) to Radio 2 playlisters.
And whereas the semi-ironic phenomenon of ‘Rickrolling’ – that sturdy web meme that’s helped push YouTube views of his breakthrough hit By no means Gonna Give You Up over the one billion mark – actually explains a part of that, the love wherein the world holds this most relatable of pop stars is 100% real.
For proof, look no additional than the joyous response that greeted the singer’s newest aspect hustle, fronting a Smiths tribute present with Stockport indie band Blossoms.
Extra on that later: first, we’ve convened within the library of a sleek riverside lodge close to Rick’s dwelling in south-west London to speak about his newest album. Or, at the very least, what will be his newest album: for the time being, it’s nonetheless one thing of a piece in progress.
“I believe it was Sting who mentioned, ‘You by no means end a report, you simply run out of cash’,” smiles Rick. “Or the report firm goes, ‘it’s popping out now’. I’m a kind of individuals who may fiddle without end. However sooner or later you’ve simply obtained to commit and say, ‘that’s it – it’s accomplished.’”
Like his most up-to-date LPs, 2016’s chart-topping 50, and 2018’s Lovely Life, the album – working title Are We There But? – has been largely recorded at Rick’s dwelling studio in East Molesey, with the 57-year-old serving as author, producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist.
That wasn’t essentially the plan, although. “I did say, this time, that I used to be going to write down a couple of songs, and see if any individual needs to provide them,” he explains. “So I simply form of hammered into it, after which it obtained to a degree the place I believed, ‘Nicely, that sounds a bit like a report already…’
“But additionally, I find it irresistible,” he grins. “I don’t wish to sound like an egomaniac, however I form of love taking part in all of it.”
This one-man business method is probably a little bit ironic, suggests CP, for somebody who began his profession on the pop manufacturing line of Inventory Aitken Waterman’s Hit Manufacturing unit – the clue was within the title – and endured countless jibes about being the ‘studio tea boy’ who obtained fortunate.
(For the report, he did typically make the tea, however solely as a part of a wider musical apprenticeship after Pete Waterman talent-spotted him singing with soul band FBI.)
“I’ve questioned sometimes, ‘Is that a part of it?’” admits Rick. “As a result of these early data had been form of Inventory Aitken Waterman data, with me singing on them. So there are occasions once I suppose, ‘Is that why I hold going into that room and doing it myself – as a result of I wish to show myself? I don’t suppose I must show it to me any extra. However you do marvel.”
As a singer, Rick has all the time had one foot in America, his wealthy baritone sharing extra DNA with early heroes comparable to Al Inexperienced and Invoice Withers than native contemporaries like Morrissey.
However the brand new report finds him leaning into much more of a Stateside aesthetic, impressed partially by a mammoth street journey he and spouse/supervisor Lene undertook throughout final 12 months’s Mixtape Tour, on which Astley shared the invoice with New Children On The Block, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue.
“We rented our personal bus, with our personal driver – which was form of ridiculous, ‘cos it was simply the 2 of us,” he laughs. “We did one thing like 22,000 miles, throughout these roads that simply appear to go on without end.
“I’m not saying this new stuff is Americana,” he stresses. “It isn’t. It’s pop music, and I’m English. However I’ve most likely come dwelling from America a bit revitalised, and pondering: it’s okay to have a giant fats vibrato guitar form of factor happening. It’s not nation, however there’s undoubtedly a bit extra twang on this report.”
The primary new tune Rick cues up on his cellphone is By no means Gonna Cease (and sure, the title is a cheeky allusion to that tune). It’s a giant, infectious gospel quantity, full with handclaps and choir (recorded at Abbey Street – “however solely as a result of they had been digging up the top of our street”) wherein his voice, extra weathered and lived-in than in his SAW days, sounds extra soulful than ever.
“From a vocal viewpoint, I’ve all the time been influenced by – or stolen from – the nice American singers,” he says. “There’s a component of imitation to it. I don’t sing like a child from Newton, and I by no means have. In my head, I’m making an attempt to do what Invoice Withers did. Equally, once I write a tune about strolling these streets, I don’t imply strolling the streets of East Molesey – I’m on an open street in America someplace.”
Golden Hour is a lush, mid-tempo ballad wherein Rick sings of strolling these very highways seeking “the one factor that units me free” – love. Having been fortunately married to Lene, with whom he has a 31-year-old daughter, for many years, affairs of the guts aren’t one thing he’s needed to wrestle a lot with currently.
“However I’m nonetheless actually romantic,” he says. “And I believe it’s only a pure factor for me to do. The way in which I sing, the toughest factor is writing lyrics that aren’t simply, ‘I really like you child…’”
And but, on Dipping My Toes, Rick wiggles a tentative toe within the waters of the protest tune. “I’ve seen these Metropolis boys,” he sings of the world’s bankers, brokers and hedge fund sharks. “They costume and discuss the identical/ I wouldn’t belief them with the pouring rain.”
“Hearken to me, residing my leafy suburban, 80s pop star life, wailing in regards to the injustice of all of it,” he smiles. “I do know I’m extremely fortunate. However I nonetheless know what it looks like to come back from a small city the place your choices are restricted. And I simply discover it unbelievable the way in which we nonetheless deal with individuals on the bottom rungs like shit.”
He’s not about to ship his personal The Occasions They Are A-Changin’, although. “Folks would simply take heed to my voice and go, ‘That doesn’t sound correct’,” he says. “We’re form of tarred with a sure brush, and I settle for that. What are you gonna do? My first tune was By no means Gonna Give You Up. And that’s not belittling me or something. That’s the way in which the cookie crumbles.”
His debut hit – certainly one of only a handful of 80s songs to have joined YouTube’s elite billion views membership – is clearly not one he’s ever going to flee from: simply when its cultural ubiquity seems to be cooling, it pops up in new and shocking locations, from the worldwide online game phenomenon Fortnite – the place his signature ‘Astley shuffle’ has been changed into an ‘emote’ (ask your children) – to an unexpectedly poignant rendition by Hannah Waddingham throughout a Ted Lasso funeral scene.
“We get provides to do one thing with it most likely on a weekly foundation,” says Astley. “I simply shot a industrial in America, the place they needed to recreate the video. I used to be like, ‘Oh fuck, come on…’ Anyway, lengthy story quick, they provided me some huge cash.
“I do really feel very privileged,” he provides. “That tune is a part of my DNA, and I’m fortunate to have it. However there’s a degree the place you go ‘dangle on, I’m not The Smiths. It’s only a pop tune from the 80s, that I didn’t write.’ It’s not some holy relic.
“If any individual needs to pay me a load of cash to do a industrial, which implies I can then go and do one thing I wish to do, then yeah, I’ll do it. However there are occasions the place you go, ‘So that you simply need me to come back and sing the previous tune, and don’t even wish to discuss in regards to the reality I’ve made a brand new report? Yeah, let’s simply go away it.’
“I don’t wish to come throughout in any manner treasured, or act prefer it’s troublesome. As a result of I’m grateful. I’ve had a extremely good life due to Inventory Aitken Waterman – not precisely driving Ferraris into swimming pools, however I’ve by no means needed to fear in regards to the gasoline invoice. Which is ridiculous, contemplating I used to be 21 on the time.
“But it surely’s a bizarre one. When somebody goes, ‘Does Rick wish to costume up in a raincoat and do the dance?’, there’s part of my soul that goes, ‘Hell yeah’. After which there’s part of me that goes, ‘nah, not immediately…’”
By no means Gonna Give You Up’s means to unite all audiences was little doubt in full impact when Astley made his Glastonbury debut in June 2023, taking part in each a solo set and a Smiths present with Blossoms.
Together with his boyish beauty and skyscraping quiff undiminished by age – and his affable, easy-going persona seemingly untarnished by fame – it may be straightforward to neglect Rick Astley has been within the recreation so long as he has.
However, in addition to being a reference to his 22,000-mile American odyssey, Are We There But?’s title additionally alludes to its creator taking inventory of his life and profession.
“It’s about the truth that I’m 57,” he says. “And there’s part of me that thinks, ‘I don’t know what number of extra data I’m going to get to make, or wish to make’. So it’s a bit like: ‘Am I there but? The place am I, actually?’
“I’m actually fortunate that I nonetheless get to do sure issues. However because the years clock on, I do suppose there are different issues I’d love to do. I’ve simply spent one other 12 months making a report. Which is a privilege, I’m conscious of that. But it surely doesn’t imply I may not wish to do one thing else sooner or later.”
For now, although, he’s by no means happier than when tinkering in his studio, laying down demos that by some means unintentionally find yourself being completed albums. And one factor that hasn’t modified, in fact, is that he’s nonetheless making the tea.
“The kitchen is true subsequent to the studio, so I are inclined to flick the kettle on as I’m passing within the morning,” he says. “After which instantly it’s three hours later, and I’ve forgotten to have breakfast.”
So he’s a greater musician than a tea boy, principally? “Nicely I don’t find out about that,”Astley smiles. “I do make a very good cup of tea.”