Richard Page Interview: Mr. Mister Founder on His Latest Album 'Peculiar Life'
Richard Page was the lead singer of the 1980s pop rock band Mr. Mister who had the classic #1 hit singles “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie.” Mr. Mister consisted of Page on vocals and bass guitar, Steve George on keyboards, Pat Mastelotto on acoustic and electronic drums and Steve Farris on guitars.
Mr. Mister had several Grammy Award nominations, including the 1986 Grammy for Best Pop Band (which was awarded to the “We Are the World” ensemble, USA for Africa). The band broke up around 1989, Page pursued a solo career, and wrote songs for artists including Kenny Loggins, Celine Dion, Donna Summer, Al Jarreau, Madonna, Meat Loaf, and Hall & Oates. He also appeared as a background vocalist on records with Barbra Streisand, Rick Springfield, Amy Grant, Sammy Hagar, and Cher, just to name a few.
"Actually I tried to discourage the whole song from being on the record. I was worried that people would think we were just a Christian band and I felt like that was the kiss of death. I thought that was a mistake and we couldn’t do that."
This past summer the singer/songwriter musician spent time on the road with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. The 2010 lineup also boasted keyboardists Edgar Winter and Gary Wright, guitarists Rick Derringer and Wally Palmer, and drummer Gregg Bissonette.
Page’s first album since 1995’s Shelter Me was released in July 2010. It is entitled Peculiar Life. “The album title pretty much sums it up for me,” Page said with a dry smile. The veteran artist explains the motivation behind the album was that writing for others “doesn’t scratch the itch of wanting to do your own thing, especially when you have to make compromises.”
Pull, Mr. Mister's fourth album, which was not released in 1989, is now available for download or purchase.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Richard, Montgomery, Alabama holds a particular significance for you.
Richard Page: My old stomping ground. I lived there from about 1955 to 1962. I was little and don’t remember much (laughs). I do remember white and colored drinking fountains and all kinds of problems that my parents talked about.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, terrible racial turmoil going on at that time. How did you get from Iowa to Montgomery?
Richard Page: We went to New Jersey when my dad was getting his Masters in Chorale Conducting at Westminster Choir College. He got a job in Montgomery, I think, at the First Methodist Church. He was the choir director and my mom was the organist. They took that job because the church needed two people and they wanted to work together.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and your siblings sang in the choir?
Richard Page: Oh yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you enjoyed singing even as a young child?
Richard Page: Well, it was a prerequisite. I mean, it was sort of like being born into the family business. You had to whether you wanted to or not (laughs). There were five kids in my family so there were varying levels of enthusiasm. I was kind of in the middle and was okay with the singing. My older brother hated all of it and didn’t want to do anything.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your siblings enter the music business?
Richard Page: Everybody plays music really well, but I think only three of the five do it professionally.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Richard, who were your musical influences as a youngster?
Richard Page: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock, Miles David, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett, most of the great pop and rock music of our time. Those are the ones that just jump out at me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I recently spoke with Gary Wright. You and he toured with Ringo and his All-Starr Band. How did you get involved with the group?
Richard Page: Richard Marx did it a couple of years ago. He and I are good friends and Ringo called him asking for recommendations for bass players who could sing and had a couple of hits. My name came up and that’s how it worked out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It sure doesn’t seem like Ringo is 70 years old.
Richard Page: If you met him it’s really hard to believe because he’s in such great shape and really takes care of himself. He’s a vegan and a microbiotic kind of guy so he’s super healthy. Ringo’s a sweetheart and funny as hell, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I told Gary his latest album reminded me of the 70s. Your album, Peculiar Life, has such a mellow sound. Did you intentionally try to recapture the sounds of the 70s and 80s?
Richard Page: No, I think … we’re from that era so it’s a bit imprinted in our consciousness. Naturally, that’s where I go when I write. When I start thinking about arranging and instrumentation and so forth, it’s usually that kind of thing. It’s somewhat of an organic typical rock/pop lineup: drums, bass, guitar, keyboard. So, no, it’s not intentional. It’s just how it comes out. I guess we’re all stuck in a time warp.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I heard all genre in the album: reggae, rock, even country. Do you have a particular favorite type of music?
Richard Page: No, I’m all over the place and like all kinds of stuff. I listen to jazz. I still like the old standards. I don’t really have one thing that I like. Obviously all those things added up to influence me.
The other day I couldn’t get enough of Take 6. It was one song after the other and my jaw dropped further down every time I heard a new song from them. They sing this impossible stuff. You just say, “How did they hear that?” I would like to think that I could sing along with them, but man, it’s a bit difficult.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Two of my favorite songs on your album are “Brand New Day” and “The Truth is Beautiful.”
Richard Page: Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a particular song on the album that holds more significance for you than the others?
Richard Page: They all do. I don’t put any songs on an album that don’t have a lot of significance. Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to make a record. Every song has to mean something to me on the same level. I guess if I were asked what I would listen to first, it would be “You Are Mine.” I like the lyric sentiment of that song. I would also go to “When You Come Around.”
Richard Page: I’m neither and both (laughs). It depends on what day you catch me. I can think I’m a spiritual guy, but I don’t live it. I can sort of write about it but then I just turn around and become a neurotic insane asshole.
I wouldn’t say I’m a spiritual or religious person. I try not to harm anybody and I try not to create suffering so if that makes me spiritual I guess I try to be.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that “Kyrie” was essentially written as a prayer.
Richard Page: Actually I tried to discourage the whole song from being on the record. I was worried that people would think we were just a Christian band and I felt like that was the kiss of death. I thought that was a mistake and we couldn’t do that.
We needed to create more of a mystique about the band. I just felt that was showing too many cards and people would interpret it as that. The truth was the song just took on a life of its own and pretty soon it was just so good and it just kept going. It’s a great song. It doesn’t matter what it’s saying. So it ended up on the album and of course became a big hit.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some people say that John Lang wrote it after he suffered an assault.
Richard Page: He had a horrible thing where he and his wife were attacked. It was terrible. I don’t know if that directly led to those lyrics or not.
I never really talked to him about it, to be honest with you. Maybe he said in an interview somewhere that the attack had something to do with it, but he definitely wrote it after that thing happened. It’s funny you should mention that. I need to ask him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So that could have been the impetus for the song?
Richard Page: It could have been except that John was raised Episcopalian. His grandparents raised him and they were real hardcore Episcopalians and I think he got most of that from the church services. He came to me one day and said, “Look, let’s try this.” I said, “I don’t know.” I had some baggage from my own church experiences and the thing never really spoke to me like it did to some people. I felt like there was hypocrisy and BS going on with the whole sort of political and social aspect of church.
The funny thing is that people don’t know what the song means. This guy literally came up to me in a supermarket and said, “Hey, Mr. Mister, right?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I love that song “Carry a Laser.” I didn’t want to tell him any different. I just thought, “Well, if that’s what it is for you then that’s great.” I didn’t want to correct him because he was just so happy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That's funny. Are the lyrics (from “Broken Wings”), “Take these broken wings and learn to fly again” actually a reference to The Beatles song “Blackbird?”
Richard Page: It was a mindless unintentional reference. As a matter of fact, in all honesty, John got that from the Khalil Gibran book called The Broken Wing. He actually went to Khalil Gibran’s estate and asked for permission to use it which made me wonder if that was where Paul McCartney got it, too, but who knows?
In any case, the sequence of those words is very close to “Blackbird” and I was not even aware of it, believe it or not, until it became a hit. Somebody pointed it out to me and my heart sank. I just felt like, “Oh wow, we shouldn’t have done that.” But it was no big deal because legally it’s not a copyright infringement so it’s all good. Actually I hung out with Paul not too long ago in New York with Ringo.
Melissa parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your daughter, Aja, sings with you on the song “Peace of Mind.” Is she into a music career now?
Richard Page: She’s into child psychology. Aja has a great voice and a natural thing but she doesn’t really have the ambition side of it. She’s not a knucklehead like me that has to get praise and needs everybody to listen to me and tell me how great I am (laughs). Luckily she doesn’t have that personality deficit.
Aja’s okay with who she is and I like that about her. Whatever she does she’ll be great at it. She’s a great kid and loves children so she’s going after her degree in Child Psychology. But, she may sing again, who knows?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you need a quiet place to write music or to ideas come to you while you’re jamming with the guys?
Richard Page: I need to be alone, yeah. I’ll do things late at night when nobody is bugging me and when I can focus. But honestly there is no one method for me. I could just be walking down the hallway and get an idea or be doing the dishes or whatever, so it comes when it comes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve worked with multitudes of artists doing background vocals and many times with Rick Springfield. Are you and Rick friends?
Richard Page: We’ve been friends for 30 years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What about Engelbert Humperdinck? I didn’t even know he was still performing.
Richard Page: Did I do something with him? Oh gosh, I don’t remember.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How was it working with Barbra Streisand?
Richard Page: She was great. I spent one afternoon with her, although she lives in my neighborhood and I see her from time to time. But she’s really in control and is all those things that people say about her. She definitely knew what she was doing in the recording studio and was very kind. It was a good experience.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were offered the opportunity to be the lead singer of Chicago and Toto.
Richard Page: Well, a lot has been made of that and it has become sort of like folklore at this point. But, yeah, there were inquiries way back when Cetera left Chicago and Bobby Kimball left Toto because I knew those guys. It was like an informal, “Hey, would you be interested?” I was just too busy. I was honored and flattered, just couldn’t do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk about the album Pull. Why wasn’t it released in 1989?
Richard Page: There are a bunch of reasons. The main one was that the record company had changed their regime. The record company changed and the new people didn’t really … they thought they were going to turn it into this hit label with all these people that weren’t big stars. One of them was a cowboy junkie.
All of the people that had nurtured our career there had gone and moved on to other jobs. That was part of it. When we delivered that album they said something like, “We don’t know what to do with it.” Farris had left the band, I was feeling frustrated that … I had some conflicts with the producer we were working with. We just had some musical disparities, so it just ended and they shelved it. The band broke up and they shelved the album.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mr. Mister basically broke up because of creative differences?
Richard Page: That and lack of support from the record company. I wanted to do stuff on my own. I felt like I couldn’t get into the committee part of songwriting anymore. I just needed to focus myself and focus on what I wanted to say. That was the biggest reason.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a date when Pull will be available on the website?
Richard Page: People have been asking over the years how they could get a copy of Pull. There are bootleg copies all over the Internet that sound horrible. Anyway, we finally got it together and SONY agreed to put it out digitally.
The album can be downloaded at iTunes, but we’d rather people buy the CD from us at mrmisterofficial.com, richardpagemusic.com, or from my label, LittleDumeRecordings.com.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Richard, good luck with Peculiar Life and Pull and thanks for speaking with me.
Richard Page: My pleasure. It was nice to talk to a fellow Alabamian (laughs).
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