Rick Springfield at Shipshewana Event Center
Over the past three decades, Rick Springfield has worn many hats as an entertainer and performer. The creator of some of the finest power-pop of the ’80s, he’s a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and musician who has sold 25 million albums and scored 17 U.S. Top 40 hits, including “Jessie’s Girl,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “An Affair of the Heart,” “I’ve Done Everything for You,” “Love Somebody,” and “Human Touch.” He’s an accomplished actor who most recently starred opposite Meryl Streep in the feature film Ricki and the Flash and gave a chameleonic performance as the creepy Dr. Pitlor in HBO’s prestige drama True Detective. He’s also a talented author – both his candid 2010 memoir Late, Late at Night (which Rolling Stone named one of the 25 greatest rock memoirs of all time) and his 2014 comedic novel Magnificent Vibration earned rave reviews and spots on the New York Times Best Sellers’ list. In 2013, Springfield wrote and recorded “The Man That Never Was” with Dave Grohl for the soundtrack to Sound City – the Foo Fighters’ frontman’s documentary about the San Fernando Valley recording studio that was Springfield’s home away from home (his manager owned the building). Rolling Stone called Springfield’s touching interview in the film its “breakout story.” In 2014, Springfield was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located around the corner from the first apartment he lived in when he first arrived in the U.S. from Australia in 1971.
That Springfield has not only enjoyed longevity, but remained vibrant and relevant at a time when many veteran artists would be resting on past laurels led Rolling Stone to dub this stage of his career “The Rickonaissance.” “I guess it may appear like that, but in my head, I’ve never really left,” Springfield says. “I think it’s really important to stay connected to the vitality of your career. I have a certain pride that I’m not a total nostalgia act. I’ve never been the guy who hung the platinum albums on my walls because, to me, it was looking back. I’m very passionate about moving forward. I have to write new music. I have to record. I’m always working on the live shows. I have to always be working, otherwise I think I’d just turn to smoke and disappear.”
Springfield’s latest musical effort is Rocket Science, his 18th studio album, which he will release in February through Frontiers Music. Written largely with his longtime collaborator and former bass player Matt Bissonette, the album delivers the expertly crafted wide-ranging pop-rock songs Springfield is known for. “I wanted the album to be very open and electric – rock and roll with some country elements, and always with great hooks,” he says. The lyrics largely address matters of the heart with the irreverence, wit, and dark humor that has always permeated his work. “The songs usually start with titles for me,” Springfield says. “A title will catch my eye and inspire a lyric. Both Matt and I are happily married, but there’s some heartache on this one. You can’t just write about how everything is all good and bore people out of their minds. When different emotions come up, I just go with that. I don’t set out to write about anything in particular. I just look for something that feels true and that I can hopefully say in an interesting way.”
While on a rare vacation in Tahiti, Springfield wrote the rollicking first single “Light This Party Up,” which he describes as “a song about redemption and how life sometimes feels like one long fall from grace.” He wrote “Down,” a song about disillusionment and commitment, with Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus while traveling on DeMarcus’ tour bus to Atlanta, where the two were filming an episode of Drop Dead Diva. “Jay came up with the title ‘Down’ and we were off to the races,” Springfield says. “By the time we were halfway to Nashville the melody and structure of the song were complete, as if by magic. I love it when that happens.” Written with Bissonette, “That One” has a vulnerability characteristic of Springfield’s most emotionally resonant songs. “Who of us hasn’t had some heartless lover crap on us and our tender feelings?” he says. “This song hits home for me both as the protagonist and the victim. I have been both the crapee and the craper, I’m ashamed to admit.” A dobro guitar lends down-home flair to the rock stomper “Miss Mayhem,” which Springfield wrote with The Hold Steady’s Tad Kubler. “Ah, Miss Mayhem,” he says. “We have all met her or him at some point in our romantic past. A burning hot, amazing-in-bed, beautiful/handsome, wack-job!” Songs like “Pay It Forward,” “Crowded Solitude,” and “We Connect” are imbued with a sense of spirituality that has been reflected in Springfield’s songwriting since his album Living in Oz. “I’ve been sneaking it in there since 1983,” he says.
Music has always been a healing force in the Australian-born Springfield’s life. The son of an Army officer, Rick and his family moved every two years. “Which meant every time I made a friend, I knew I’d be leaving him,” he says. “It was super stressful for me. I’d go to a new school and go through the trauma of trying to fit in.” Books and records became his savior. Then at age 11, he encountered his first guitar. “This kid brought one to a Christmas fair at my school in England and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Springfield recalls. “He let me hold it. I hit two strings and the two strings happened to be the first couple of notes of the theme song to my favorite cowboy show at the time, Cheyenne. I realized instantly I could play the guitar. Some guys fall in love with cars, some with football teams. I fell in love with guitars.”
It has been a long and fruitful affair, and one that has gifted him with a powerful connection to his legions of devoted fans, who pack his annual fan getaway events, as well as the nearly 100 shows a year he performs both with his band and solo in an intimate “storyteller” setting that he captured on the 2015 CD/DVD and concert film Stripped Down. Though too self-deprecating to discuss his immense appeal, he will acknowledge that the fans connect with him through the music. “I guess they think I’m honest,” he says. “They must like my approach, what I write about. I think they like that I have a sense of humor in it at times. Because the ‘cute’ thing isn’t going to last forever.”