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Rick Astley On The Road
By:Edwin Miller/Seventeen Magazine,July 1988

Traveling around the world promoting a top-selling album can wear some guys down. But for singer Rick Astley, it's a job he's never gonna give up...

What should a guy do when he's a global smash? Count how many copies of his album, Whenever You Need Somebody, are spinning on people's stereos? No. He hops a jet and heads out to keep the pot boiling. That's why Rick Astley, whose confident romantic baritone is a comfort-who doesn't want to hear such tunes as Together Forever and Never Gonna Give You Up?-is sitting in a midtown Manhattan restaurant under the watchful gaze of his road manager and an RCA publicist. He's about to tell how he got so hot. In a black sweater and faded jeans, Astley doesn't look like a heartbreaker. His brown eyes are calm under a neatly brushed crop of reddish-brown hair. You'd be hard put to guess that he's the man behind his big sound, but it's not long before you sense the same sincerity and directness of feeling that give his record such impact. Although he's moving in big-city circles now, Astley has the pragmatic, relaxed quality of a country cousin. And he did grow up in the quiet atmosphere of a very small town, Newton-le-Willows in the north of England, where his dad sells plants. Now twenty-two, Astley, who has an older sister and two brothers, still calls himself the baby of the family. His first brush with music didn't last long, As a boy, he took some piano lessons, then quit. "I was dragged into the choir, like anybody else who could half sing, and into school plays," he recalls. But there was only one goal in his life: He yearned to play the drums. There was a set in his homeroom at school, and one day when he was fifteen, he had a go at them. "I took to it instantly," he declares with pleasure, "and got a band together with a couple of friends. One bought a guitar, the other played a little bass." They called themselves Give Way, inspired by an English road sign. "We got one of those signs-I won't tell how," he says, grinning, "and used to stick it in front of the drums. We'd practice in my dad's greenhouse, learning chords, simple stuff, more for fun than anything else. We never did play many gigs-we were too young, and none of us could drive." Within a year Astley quit school. "I just didn't like it", he says. "I don't read much. I'm part of the TV generation." When old enough-seventeen-he drove a delivery truck for his dad. "After I could drive, I took music a lot more seriously," he says "and I got into a band called FBI playing drums." By then he realized one could make a career in music, but, he adds, "at that age you can't see that far ahead. When you live in a town that's got five thousand people in it, you're very limited in what you can do until you get a little older. I'd rather play in small clubs for small-time money than work in a factory." Astley began writing songs, and that changed his status in the band. "It's a natural progression", he says. "Someone says,'Well, you wrote it, you sing it!'" He never intended to stand in front of a band with mike in hand. "I'm quite shy," he explains, "about being the front man in the spotlight, but I thought I was better than the bass player who was singing." So the band hired a new drummer. "My songs weren't too serious," he says. "Popular music should be popular music-lighthearted. Something that you look back on in your thirties and say, 'That was fun.' I don't think politics and pop music mix. I don't think it's right to make people aware of your own views. You're dealing with really keen fans who're mad for you and who generally go along with whatever you say. What really gets me are performers making vast amounts of money who preach to kids about their Labour[Britain's liberal party] views. What's all that about? That's even more false than just saying, 'Look, I'm making money-so what?' " Before he was out of his teens, Astley was spotted by Stock-Aitken-Waterman, a well-known London production team involved with such artists as Bananarama, Samantha Fox, and King. After being signed to an artist-development contract, he moved to London and began an intensive learning process. "I'd play one of my songs to them, and they'd say, 'That's good, but don't you think...' They work very hard, twelve hours a day, five days a week. They've got a lot of money, but at the end of the day they're still motivated by the actual music-which is the way I am as well. I'd take their best pointers and use what ability I've got-there's no point in being a clone." About his songs, he says, "They're melodically easy. Anybody can sing along. I can get really deep later, when I get old." In earlier days, he explains, "we played guitar, drums, and bass; now I work in a very modern way with keyboards and synthesizers. The sound-'smooth pop disco'-has changed dramatically, but I've always sung the way I do now." He has four songs of his own on his debut album. Eventually he hopes to do one with all his own music. Astley's vocal quality suggests the influence of black American artists, and, indeed, his favorite performers include Luther Vandross and James Ingram. "I like black music", he says. "It's very mellow, and it seems to be a lot more sincere. When a black guy sings the blues, he sounds like he means it. When a white guy does, it doesn't have the same edge." Still, he adds, "You can't categorize music. Does black music mean Ray Charles or L.L. Cool J?" Although his RCA album's a smash, Astley is still looking forward to performing live with a band. "Doing TV shows", he explains, "you go in and mime, lip-synching the lyrics." For the present he's engaged in record promotion. "The amount you have to do is absolutely staggering," he declares. "I've had more plane flights in the last six months than I've had bus rides in my life! We've been to every country in Europe, apart from Switzerland and Spain. You fly in, go to the hotel, to the TV station. If you stay in a place for more than two days, you might get a couple of hours or an afternoon off to see the sights." "Traveling broadens your horizons," he says dryly, "but I'll be sitting in a hotel room and I haven't a clue as to what's going on outside. Hopefully at the end of the year I'll be able to say, 'I have a month off now, two weeks in the sun and two weeks skiing'-because I think I've earned it." He tries not to grumble: "I chose this profession, and I'm enjoying it. When you're a nobody, just beginning, you have to go along with all this to build a foundation for your career. You don't have too many choices. Some days are good, some are bad. At the end of the day", he muses, "you realize it's a business and people in it all rely on selling 'units'-the latest album by Rick Astley or whoever to keep their jobs. Everybody's very nice, but that's the world we live in. "In the meantime," he says, "I take it step by step. Things keep changing around-all of a sudden somebody says, 'Oh, you're going to America on Saturday.' Marvelous. Pack my bags and away I go!"

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