Rick Springfield Interview: "Keep Music in School. Get Rid of Frigging Math Because Math Sucks"
Image attributed to Rick Springfield
Rick Springfield is a Grammy Award-winning musician, songwriter, actor and bestselling author. He had a No. 1 hit with “Jessie’s Girl” in 1981, in both Australia and the United States. Four more top US hits followed: “I’ve Done Everything for You,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Affair of the Heart,” and “Love Somebody.” His two US top 10 albums are Working Class Dog (1981) and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet (1982).
On television, Springfield portrayed Dr. Noah Drake on the daytime drama General Hospital (1981-1983, 2005-2008 and 2012, returning in 2013 for the show’s 50thanniversary). He starred in High Tide from 1994-1997 and appeared in True Detective and Californication. He had a supporting role in the film Ricki and the Flash, which starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.
"My persistence I definitely get from my mom – my fortitude and my strength to battle the shit. She was a tough girl."
Springfield published his memoir, Late, Late at Night, in January of 2010. In 2014, his debut novel, Magnificent Vibration, that discusses such questions as, “Why are we here?” and “Does God send text messages?” was released. The sequel and environmentally-conscious book, World on Fire, came out in January 28, 2021, as an audible original.
In celebration of the 40thanniversary of Springfield’s album Working Class Dog, the film, Orchestrating My Life, makes a world premiere on pay-per-view on February 14, 2021. The concert film features 12 songs including his biggest hits as well as new work, all accompanied by his high-energy touring band, four background vocalists and the award-winning Santa Monica High School Symphony Orchestra conducted by maestro Wolf Kerschek. Ticket information and much more are available at Springfield’s website.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Rick, how are you doing during these strange times?
Rick Springfield: Managing, yeah. Going for an awful lot of walks. Riding. Living in the studio basically (laughs). Hugging my dog.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You reworked the lyrics of your 1983 single “Human Touch,” during the pandemic?
Rick Springfield: Yeah, trying to make it funny. But, it’s gone on a bit too long now. I’m ready to get back on stage and start playing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes. After a year of this, I think we’ve all found that we do need human interaction.
Rick Springfield: We absolutely do. It’s just been so hard, you know. You’re avoiding your neighbors and walking around people. It’s a very anti-social structure.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Does World on Fire pick up where Magnificent Vibration left off?
Rick Springfield: Yeah, it does, but it’s a stand alone novel. You don’t have to have read Magnificent Vibration. It might help initially, but it’s a novel unto itself and continues the saga, and in kind of a bizarre way involves God, aliens and the end of the world. But it’s a humorous work (laughs). There’s definitely some very serious moments in it, but I wrote it with a sense of humor in it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And it’s about a pandemic?
Rick Springfield: Yeah. Well, I started it about six years ago actually after I finished Magnificent Vibration. But I finished it during the lockdown, so that was really strange because it is about a pandemic but a very, very different one. It’s a fictional thing and again, there’s humor in it. I know you’re thinking, how do you make the end of the world funny? But I give it a shot. I love our planet and hate what we’re doing to it, and I don’t know what I can do by myself in real life, but I can change the ending in fiction.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It’s about the environment and getting everyone to save the planet?
Rick Springfield: Yeah, but it’s also about our human capacity for violence. One of the last things Stephen Hawking said was that humanity’s continuing aggression is pointless after the benefit has long gone away. It’s partly that, and it’s partly poisoning the planet. There’s a lot of me in there, my desire to fix things and also my anger at us for being so dumb and poisoning our planet and pretending we can live on Mars, looking for another Goldilocks planet and all that bullshit. It’s driven by part of that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Just recently, I read a scientific article that stated, “The lockdowns and reduced societal activity related to the Covid-19 pandemic affected emissions of pollutants in ways that slightly warmed the planet for several months last year.”
Rick Springfield: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve seen it here in LA. But, at what cost? I mean, we’re going out of our minds, and the suicides are higher. We just need less frigging people, which is part of the drive of the novel.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it more difficult for you to write novels than it was to write a memoir?
Rick Springfield: I don’t know about difficult. It was different. The biggest issue with the memoir was I didn’t know how I would ever remember. I don’t know what I had for breakfast. How would I be able to remember 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? But I’m a big believer in the shoemaker’s elves. You work at problems during the day, go to sleep, and the solution often presents itself. I’d go to sleep having worked on a section of the autobiography and wake up with full memory of all I needed because it’s always back there. It just gets filed deeper and deeper.
With novels, you’re freer because it’s all made up. You can make anything up (laughs). But after I wrote the first novel, I had to lay down perimeters I had to stick to, so that’s why I think the second one took a little longer.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did the performance with the Santa Monica High School Symphony Orchestra come about?
Rick Springfield: I went to Germany with Don Felder and Steve Lukather, and we did six songs each with an orchestra over there, a thing that’s called “Rock Meets Classics,” and I really liked it. I had the arranger who did those write a whole orchestral show for me. He wrote the orchestral parts, and I started doing it. It was really fun. It was a really different experience, the solo show, which I do a story tell with just me and the guitar or the band show, which is full on pedal to the metal loud as you can stand kind of thing. So it was a different show, and I really enjoyed it.
I thought about filming it, to just not putting out the hits again but to have a point. The point was doing it with an orchestra and working with these kids. There’s a hundred kids on stage, ages 14 to 18, and they’re all really proficient and focused. The whole point of it is: Don’t get rid of the arts in school because they’re even more important than math. I think the most important thing you can offer a kid is broadening of the mind through art. So keep music in school. Get rid of frigging math because math sucks.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I can’t believe it has been 40 years since I purchased Working Class Dogs!
Rick Springfield: Oh, bless you (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are your memories of that time and of recording Working Class Dogs?
Rick Springfield: Well, we did it at Sound City. My manager, Joe Gottfried, owned Sound City, and he actually put me on payroll for a couple of months and said, “Go write songs.” He was a champion at that kind of thing. He was a lovely guy and really a believer in what he thought I could do. So I wrote some songs, and then we would go into Sound City when the big paying clients had finished. So we’d get a call at midnight, and Joe would say, “Okay. Fleetwood Mac’s got the studio at 7:00 in the morning.” So we’d all jump in our cars and head down there, work all through the night and into the morning. That’s basically how we recorded the album. It’s probably one of the least expensive albums ever made because of that. It was very cheaply made but with passion. We had a shitload of passion.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You joined General Hospital around that time. I know you were hesitant to do a daytime drama, so how was the experience for you?
Rick Springfield: It was fabulous. I took it because the record company had the Working Class Dog album, and they kept delaying a release of it because it was disco and ballads on the radio, and they really didn’t know what to do with a guitar-based pop rock album. So they kept delaying the release and delaying the release, and I’m thinking, “Here we go again, another album that’s just going to disappear into the ether.” So the General Hospital thing came up, and I took it just because I needed to start making some money because I just split up with my girlfriend and had to find a place to live. I took it for those reasons. I thought there would be no connection.
I figured soap operas were 80-year-old blue-haired ladies ironing that were watching it in the afternoon. That was my image of soaps. They didn’t know I was a musician, and the record company didn’t know about General Hospital. Then General Hospital suddenly decided to get hot, and it became the college show. They’d put the classes around the show because they knew kids wouldn’t show up in class while General Hospital was on. It just became this big summer hit, and it was just serendipitous that it all happened at once. About six weeks into my appearance on the show, Gloria Monty, the producer who was just amazing, sidled up to me and said, “I hear you’re a musician.” I said, “Yeah. But I am not playing on the show.” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you sort of ate those words later (laughs).
Rick Springfield: Yeah. But I’d gotten past that. I had gotten a lot of backlash from the heavies in the music business from it. They’d say, “Oh, he’s just a soap opera actor. He’s not a real musician,” and that whole thing. So I had to really keep those things separate in the beginning. Later on, I basically didn’t give a shit (laughs). By then, it was important to me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You became a successful musician and actor all at once. How did you cope with the sudden fame?
Rick Springfield: I just worked real hard. I’d do four or five days on General Hospital. Planes were flying at all hours before 9/11, and I could get on a plane after that, fly to a place and do a gig Friday night, get up Saturday morning and fly to another place and do a gig. Then I’d fly to another place on Sunday, do a gig and then get up at four on Monday morning and slide home in time to walk on the set. It was a lot of work, but I was up for it. I’d been working as a struggling musician for a long time, then suddenly I had some payoff. It was very exciting.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why is “Jessie’s Girl” still so popular after 40 years?
Rick Springfield: You got me (laughs). I think it’s the universal story. It was a summer hit. It’s been in some pretty cool movies. I don’t know. I thought it wasn’t the best song on the album, and that just shows you what I know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: But do you feel it’s a double-edged sword because you have a large catalog of other great songs that don’t get as much attention as "Jessie's Girl"?
Rick Springfield: It does tend to overshadow, yeah. It is like a double-edged sword. I understand that. I go on to talk about another album, and they’ll play “Jessie’s Girl.” I go, “Wait, wait, wait! I’ve got new music!” Anyway, I write songs because I love to. I just finished two albums in lockdown, one’s a band project, and the other’s a thing with an Australian artist, and they’re both really different styles. So I write because I love to. I record because I love to.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: One of my favorites is “I’ve Done Everything for You,” written by Sammy Hagar. Did he ever regret giving the song to you? (laughs)
Rick Springfield: (laughs) No! My God, he always said that it paid for his son's college. I actually have a rum company with Sammy now. We’re in business together with Beach Bar Rum. So we see a lot of each other, and we’ve done a couple of shows. We were actually planning to do some before the lockdown happened. But we will when the lockdown’s over.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Rick, your singing voice sounds just like it did 40 years ago unlike some artists as they age, no offense to older musicians, of course.
Rick Springfield: No. I know what you mean. You hear age in some people’s voices for sure. Even though Paul McCartney is a little shaky now, he can still do the screaming thing, and that amazes me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And he’s Paul McCartney (laughs). But you know what I’m talking about.
Rick Springfield: Yeah. Totally.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you use vocal exercises?
Rick Springfield: No. I’ve never done vocal exercises. I can’t stand doing that kind of stuff. I’m terrible with PT. I’m terrible with vocal exercises. I did go to a vocal coach for a while, but I was like, “I can’t do this.” So I just scream for five minutes so that my throat opens up and then go on (laughs). It’s just one of those things. I don’t know. I think as you get older, you start to lose some of the top notes.
I re-recorded a bunch of the old hits for the Orchestrating My Life album. I brought out my 30-year-old teenager voice, you know. I listened to them and said, “Okay. I remember where I put that to sing it like that.” (laughs) That was kind of weird to do that because I hear myself now, and I sound so young to myself when I’m singing. But, yeah, I think I can still cop that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is your son, Liam, an actor?
Rick Springfield: Yes, he’s an amazing actor. He’s also a great musician, too. These are different times now. You just can’t walk in and get a record deal. The music business is very, very different now. I don’t know what I would do because the record company didn’t release “Jessie’s Girl” as a single. It was the radio stations that picked it. They liked the song, and they started playing it, which you can’t do now with the type of playlists. They just don’t allow that kind of freedom. But DJs all over America liked the song, they started playing it, and they got lots of followings. Then RCA said, “Well, I guess we’d better release this song.” So that wouldn’t happen now because the playlists are so tight, and the freedom to play whatever you want is very limited now on radio.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Back in December, you posted on Twitter that your mom would’ve been 100 years old had she lived. Are you similar to her in personality?
Rick Springfield: Yeah, very similar, not the good side of her but the tougher side. I think she was the most amazing human being I’ve ever known. She was a disciplinarian. She was the one that held the family together because we traveled a lot. My dad was in the Army, and we always moved around. We moved to England when I was a kid and moved back to Australia. She had to pull a house together every time. We just thought, “Oh, my God, another school! Oh, my God, no!” She had the hardest job. She was orphaned at 15 and had a seven-year-old sister that she had to take care of. These two young girls were alone in Sydney. They were by themselves. She just managed it all.
My dad died early, and she stayed in the same house and kept her spirit. She was just an amazing human being. I think, if anything, I get persistence from her. I’ve never really looked at giving up unless I’ve been really depressed, obviously. That takes you somewhere else. But my persistence I definitely get from my mom – my fortitude and my strength to battle the shit. She was a tough girl.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have a tour rescheduled, Rick?
Rick Springfield: We’re looking for later this year. It was supposed to be November of last year. So now it’s November of this year, so I don’t know. I try not to think about it, but there will be a point where we’ll be able to get back on the road. So I just keep doing what I love to do and hope that time comes sooner rather than later when I might say that I think I'll just stay home because I’m kind of liking it (laughs).
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