By John Benson
Nearly 15 years has passed since pop singer Richard Marx last scored a major radio hit, but that hasn’t kept the artist down. In fact, over the past decade the songwriter known for hit singles such as “Endless Summer Nights,” “Right Here Waiting,” “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Should’ve Known Better” and more has become one of the most highly sought-after songwriters and producers in the music game.
He’s written songs for Barbra Streisand/Vince Gill (“If You Ever Leave Me”), N*Sync (“This I Promise You”), , Keith Urban (“Better Life” and “Everybody”) and Daughtry (“On the Inside”).
Marx’s latest venture is with his longtime good buddy Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon fame.
Not only did the two record 2008’s “Duo” together, but now they’re touring here and there, playing the album along with each other’s hits.
The News-Herald talked to Marx about their upcoming show at PlayhouseSquare, but what really stands out is the grounded artist’s take on fame. Who knew this pop star would make all the sense in the world?
The News-Herald: First of all, when you think back to all of the success you enjoyed in the late ’80s and early ’90s, what comes to mind?
Richard Marx: I’m just grateful I had that option in my career because at the height of my popularity on the charts, I never thought I was going to be Elton John with a 40-year career. The handful of people who sustained that level of chart success and record sales for that long are people who have the ability to invent and reinvent themselves in terms of their image. And I never gave a (expletive) about any of that stuff, so I knew that my lack of caring about that was going to ultimately cost me in the popularity department. I was just thrilled I squeezed nine or 10 years of consistent hit songs and record sales because I knew the songs were what was becoming popular, not me.
Did you know early on this was going to happen?
The first couple of years I’d get invited to all of these stupid parties and premieres, and I wouldn’t go because I didn’t want to go. I remember having publicists and record people saying, “You have to do this kind of thing.” And I’d go, “I have to do this kind of thing or else what?” They’d say, “Or else people will get over you.” And I’d say, “They’re going to get over me anyway.”
Ultimately after 10 years the bell rang and it was like. “All right, my time is up.” Radio had enough of me. Then I sort of had this realization that maybe it wasn’t my songs they were over, it was just me and my voice.
So what’s it like now being a songwriter for other folks?
I was just really lucky that I went back to the drawing board and back to what I did before I had a record deal, which was write songs for people. It’s never really been about trying to recapture something. I’ve been through so many aspects of my career that it’s impossible to seduce me anymore. It’s like a hot woman that you actually think, “Oh, she really, really does want to sleep with me.” No she doesn’t.
Yet, that’s exactly how the music industry and show business works?
Right, there are a couple of guys I know who get the joke and I want to hang out with. I always say that’s the definition of getting the joke. Like Matt, he gets the joke. If you don’t get the joke, I don’t want to hang out with you because you really take yourself that seriously. I know guys of my era that were successful and they really do believe they’re going to come back with this massive hit record on the charts. I just look at them and go, “Dude. Why do you even care? You had tons of hits.” I had tons of hits. If I am like bummed that I don’t get another hit, I’m an (expletive).
What’s interesting about “Duo” is just how little you guys have pushed it in the mainstream. It seems very much under the radar. Why do this?
That’s because this is so unlike any other thing I’ve done in my career, or Matt has ever done in his career. We almost treat this whole thing of working together as this very special thing to protect. I don’t want to overstate it or treat it like it’s something important, because it’s not. It’s only important to us. But for that reason, we said we cannot let it become a grind.
Finally, what makes these shows with Matt so special?
My favorite part of the night with Matt is when we’re singing his songs. I love playing guitar and singing harmony to him on his songs. I get to do my tired (expletive) all of the time, so for me it’s all about him and his songs. I deeply respect him as a songwriter and a musician. He’s one of the most talented people I ever met. So yay for me that I get to sit on a stage with a guy I really respect. That’s pretty awesome.
Who: Richard Marx and Matt Scannell.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: PlayhouseSquare’s Ohio Theatre, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $10 to $35.
Info: 216-241-6000, 866-546-1353 or www.PlayhouseSquare.org.