Richard Marx Gets the Last Laugh

At 49, the pop icon is finally mature enough to release a Christmas album.

Richard Marx may not have had loads of street cred in the late '80s and early '90s, but he had more hits than almost anybody else ("Right Here Waiting," "Don't Mean Nothing," "Endless Summer Nights"), not to mention one of rock's all-time great mullets. Though his career as a pop star has slowed in recent years, his career as a writer and producer hasn't. The 49-year-old singer/songwriter has continued to churn out chart-topping hits for artists from Josh Groban to Luther Vandross and Daughtry. He's also just issued Christmas Spirit, a holiday album 20 years in the making. We caught up with Marx before his set at the Neptune.

SW: Why do a Christmas record?

Marx: My grandmother, who was sort of a third parent to me and was an integral part of raising me, she wanted me to do it, and she used to ask me about it. I was in the middle of my second tour, and things were going gangbusters for me. But I was resistant to it, because I was like, "That's what old people do. That's what you do when you run out of shit to do." So my joke now is, "So here I am doing a Christmas album!" At the time it was not interesting to me musically or time well spent.

You've come full circle, having started as a writer and producer before returning to it after a decade as a pop star. Was that always the dream, or did you think perhaps you'd just write and produce for other people?

I would have been just as happy being a musician, I think. But I'm so glad I got to have that experience, 10 years of all those hits and touring, because I probably would have always wondered what that was like. And when that hit a wall and I fell out of favor with the radio—along with all the other white males who were singer/songwriters in the '90s—luckily I had a way to make new music and have new hits; it just wasn't me singing.

What makes for a good writing collaboration?

The more organic the relationship, the better the experience. Most of the people I continue to work with are people that I've just run into that were either a fan of mine or I was a fan of theirs. Sara Bareilles and I, we became friends on Twitter, and I'm a huge fan of her singing and songwriting. She came out to my house for a few days and we wrote songs. Keith Urban and I met when he was just cutting his first record in Nashville and a friend of ours said, "You guys should write together." And that was very fruitful. Same thing with just about everybody.

Does that mean you're getting lots of calls from managers who are looking for hits for their artists?

Last summer I had another #1 country song with Keith Urban called "Long Hot Summer." That's our second #1 hit together. And I received a total of zero phone calls from Nashville on the basis of that. [Nashville's] Music Row—not the musicians at all, but the suits, the A&R people, the executives—are all very frightened. They're very afraid of something coming in that is going to dilute what they think is a pure thing. Everybody feels so threatened.

Do you remember the first time you played Seattle?

My first show there was in the summer of '87. I opened for REO Speedwagon. I remember that was one of the nights where I felt like there were more people there to see me than wherever we played the night before. In Seattle, my record had been doing so well that it was kind of like a 50/50 show. I remember that crowd making me say "I can't wait to come back to Seattle." And so every tour we would play it at least once if not twice, and I've had nothing but great experiences there.

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