He may be living in Los Angeles these days, but songwriter/singer/producer Richard Marx says he will always call Chicago home. After all, he was born here, raised in Highland Park, and eventually moved to north suburban Lake Bluff where he and his wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes (they are in the process of divorcing), raised three sons.
Marx has sold more than 30 millions albums with 14 No. 1 hits peppered among them. Hits such as “Satisfied,” “Right Here Waiting,” “Hold On to the Night,” “Should Have Known Better,” “Endless Summer Nights” and “Now and Forever,” propelled him to the top of the pop charts. His songwriting/producing skills have resulted in collaborations with everyone from Barbra Streisand and Josh Groban to Jennifer Nettles and Keith Urban.
And yet, Marx says “Beautiful Goodbye,” set for release July 8, is the album he’s waited his entire career to make, and the one of which he is most proud. The album’s been described as possessing “influences that range from Sade to Bebel Gilberto to various EDM artists… set of sensual, electronic-driven soundscapes that explore a more fleeting, carnal side of romance.”
“Unlike the days during the first 10 or 11 years of my career, I lived a cycle of making music: I wrote a collection of songs, I recorded them, made an album and toured behind them,” Marx said during a recent phone conversation. “Then maybe take a little break after a year and a half and then repeat. I lived my life, yes. I had a family. But my life was always dominated by the creative process.
“I’m always writing songs, usually in between projects with other people. Then I find I’ll write a few songs that serve my purpose. There’s nothing pejorative about what I’m’ saying. When you collaborate with [another artist] there is compromise. In a good situation it’s a healthy give and take. When I’m writing for another artist it’s their record, and unless it’s an issue of quality, they’re gonna win the argument because it’s them singing. When I write for myself, there’s zero compromise. It’s a most narcissistic, beautiful and selfish experience.”
During our conversation, Marx talked about his latest “beautiful and selfish experience,” (the album’s first single and video, “Whatever We Started,” were released May 23), his deliberate choices to create an album unlike any he’s ever done, and the end of his 25-year marriage (“I was blessed to be in her company, let alone share my life with her”).
Q. When did you write the songs for “Beautiful Goodbye” and what did you want to say through them?
A. I’d written 3 or 4 songs in the last year, and they all had this similar thread musically, a similar sensuality and sexuality to them. I realized there was a whole album of this waiting to be birthed. … [telling] another aspect of seduction and that dance between two people. I made a whole career writing songs about forever and eternity, and that’s great. Nothing on this album negates those songs. Instead, this album is about “what are we going to do for the next three hours” instead of forever.
Q. You turned 50 last year. How did that change you?
A. Being 50, divorced, informed what I was writing. I’m in a different place in my life; what I’m experiencing feeds into the songwriter that I am. I don’t know about the whole turning 50 crisis. I was good when I hit it. Aging? The alternative is taking a dirt nap, which I don’t want to do. I’m just trying to age gracefully. I feel I have so much to learn.
Q. The new album is a huge departure from anything you’ve released before.
A. I’ve been hearing that a lot, which is the ultimate compliment. In fact, the worst thing I hear, and I know it’s never intended to be negative, is when someone says, “Oh, this is so classic you.” And I’m like, yech! This album is not jarring or shocking. But I’ve been hearing people say “This doesn’t sound anything like you’ve ever done.” That makes me very happy.
Q. Where did you find this “newness”?
A. It was always in me. I’ve always been a product of my influences. When I’m making a record I’m always listening to other people’s music. On my first album, [the way it was produced was] an homage to Peter Gabriel. …From Def Lepard to country artists, these people have influenced the stuff I’ve done. But this music’s always been in me. [The new album is all about] traditional songwriting structure and attention to melody and hook but mixed in with really modern sounds.
Q. Which song speaks the most to you on the album?
A. There are two. The closing track, “Eyes on Me,” it’s piano, guitar and voice. And it was truly inspired. I wasn’t trying to write a song. I was about to go get a pizza and standing at my friend’s door waiting for her to join me, and out of nowhere I started humming this melody, and she said put that on your phone because it’s gorgeous. I had written the entire melody by the time we got back from picking up that pizza. A few months later, the lyrics just flowed out of me.
And I love the title track [written with Daisy Fuentes] because I think it’s so different from anything I’ve ever written both lyrically and musically.
Q. What did you want this album to say?
A. I don’t ever have any agenda when it comes to what an album will say. I just want people to feel something. I don’t care if they feel horny, pissed off, as long as they feel something. If they feel something it awakens something in them.
Q. Where did this sexiness in Richard Marx music come from?
A. It comes from most of the music, if not all the music I’ve made as a solo artist, which was made during time where I was in a relationship that gracefully and blessedly lasted decades. I had the honor of sharing my life with this person [Cynthia Rhodes] and there’s no acrimony there. She’s the finest person I’ve ever met in my life. A lot of what I was willing to reveal in my songs was private. I wrote about my relationship and my kids and wrote a lot about fantasy and other people’s relationships. Now I’m in a period where I’m completely in rediscovery. There’s a lot to write about and it’s fun. It’s therapy and freeing and I have nothing and no one to answer to for what I write.
Q. The album comes out July 8. Are you nervous?
A. Nervous? No. I get nervous about the things that will really alter my life, and I really don’t even do that anymore. I know I wouldn’t change anything on this record. I made exactly the album I wanted to make. I’m not delusional about the landscape of the music business. I’m also aware things can change on a dime. I can’t control that. I focus on things within my control. … I’ve made an album I’m incredibly proud of. Whatever happens beyond that will be amazing.