19th Oct 2012 7:05am | By Alex Harmon
The trench coat wearing 80s pop sensation, Rick Astley, talks fame, flying, and how annoying it must be to be Rickrolled
You could say Rick Astley is the anti-pop star. He's scared of flying, he's been married for over 20 years (to the same woman), and most striking of all, he quit music at the peak of his career. After selling over 40 million albums by the age of 27, he retired, deciding that his family was more important and spent the next couple of decades largely out of the spotlight. Now, almost 20 years since he vowed he'd 'never give us up', Astley is back with a new album and tour. But whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a comeback because I am never going to go back to what it was before,” says Astley. “Part of me – my ego – says wouldn’t it be great to comeback and be in the charts again, but the reality of that is, no I wouldn’t.”
The Eighties pop icon, winner of MTV’s ‘Best Ever Act’ in 2008 and accidental star of a viral internet meme, remains relatively humbled by his success, preferring to dodge the limelight, even when it's directed straight at him.
“I did a gig at the Rewind Festival last weekend just outside of London with 30,000 people,” he explains, “everyone was singing along to my songs and then when I’m driving home and calling in for fuel and a sandwich, not one person bats an eyelid. That is pretty amazing to be able to do that. I count myself really lucky.”
It’s hard to believe the baby-faced singer, so recognisable for his concrete ginger bouffant and swaying grey trenchcoat could go unnoticed. “Okay, If I have my glasses off, with my hair in a bit of a quiff then, yes. But if my hairs in a bit of a mess and I’ve got glasses on then nine times out of 10 I wont get recognised. Which is pretty perfect.”
Astley is genuinely proud to admit that he does not regret what others in 1993 called 'career suicide'.
“I’ve gotta be honest, I used to look in the mirror and say 'who the hell are you? I don’t know you anymore. I don’t particularly like you anymore.' And at that point you have to start changing things in your life, as amazing as it was. I’m a Dad, I want to enjoy that and I don’t want to be a nutter in a few years time. That’s why I left it all behind,” admits Astley.
It may have been his family that motivated him, but he was also disillusioned with the industry ("the music business is all about business") as well as the travel. The flying, which some would call a perk, became a burden, and eventually for Astley, it became a fear.
“I have been to therapy about my fear of flying and one of the things I have come down to is that nobody wants to get on a plane to do something that they don’t actually want to do. Your subconscious is going to say ‘stop this, I don’t want to do this, how can I stop this? Okay I don’t want to get on that plane, I don’t like flying,’” he reveals.
“Maybe that’s too simplistic, but I think there’s something in that. I still fly, but I don’t like doing it. I’m okay with it now. But back in the day I was getting on planes to go back somewhere that I was last week to go and mime on TV. I wasn’t even singing live or performing with a band. My brother Mike could have gone somewhere and done them for me. It seemed ridiculous.”
Astley will make the journey to Australia in November to play a string of east coast shows and admits the long haul flights are easier “because I can take a couple of tablets and go to sleep.” It will be Astley’s first Australian gig in over 23 years. So what exactly has he been doing?
"Well, I’ve never really stopped making music. I’ve been touring – that’s how I pay my gas bill. I’ve actually just written a new album and I’m doing it as a labour of love. I will do a little tour just before we go to Australia and I’ll be doing small venues where
I’ll be performing my new songs. Venues where I’ll be able to look out into the audience and see my sister, which is the total opposite to what I did at the Rewind Festival. I am really enjoying that side of it and I like to mix it up a bit. I play drums in a little punk rock band. I’m still just a 15 year old kid making music in a garage.
Astley may feel like a teenager, but he's an over achieving one – he is the only male solo artist to have his first eight singles reach the Top 10 in the UK. Not only that but his classic Never Gonna Give You Up was a #1 hit single in 25 countries and the eighth highest selling song of 1988 in Oz.
“There’s a certain magic to be able to perform a song like Never Gonna Give You Up that only I am able to do. I didn’t value it when it was a big hit and I was Captain Cheese. I didn’t really see it for what it was.”
Indeed, Captain Cheese was prepared to serenade me on the phone, but a last minute change with the PR company meant that I was calling him earlier than planned. Astley was expecting a call from a girl called Sharon. “I thought I’ve gotta go and listen to My Sharona, I haven’t heard that song for ages. I’ve got it on YouTube right now and then you called me and said your name was Alex.”
Speaking of cheesy tunes, Astley prefers to think of them as legacies to be carried with pride.
“Here’s a classic example: I am listing to My Sharona and I’m looking at that guy who is older than me who has a rocking tune.
That guy has something that no one in the world has, because he wrote the song, he sang it, and it’s one of those songs that everyone remembers. For the same reason I value that song [Never Gonna Give You Up] like I do photos of my family.”
Perhaps part of the reason the song still lives on today lies in the Rickrolling phenomena of 2008. We've all heard of the viral internet meme, perhaps even been victim of it, but not even Astley could have foreseen how big it was.
“Well, obviously it was quite a big thing on the internet at the time, but for me personally it didn’t really exist. Because unless you are Rickrolled yourself then it’s nothing. I didn’t ignore it, but I just kind if left it alone. That’s the beauty of the internet, it’s owned by everybody. I’m sure it bored some people to death, especially the people who just wanted to click on their link but got Never Gonna Give you Up."
As someone who carved out a career years before the YouTube-age, Astley takes a philosophical stance on the impact of the internet on music. “That’s the thing about the net, it has a freedom to it. Like I can punch in My Sharona and get that song in 25 different versions. Some kid in his bedroom covering it, then the original guy singing it. It’s given music a new lease on life. The music industry are probably shitting themselves. But for the rest of us, it’s great. We have access to music like never before."
And Astley, ever the accidental star, just accepts that he is part of this greater being.
“The Rickrolling thing is part of that, it’s something that people did and it could have been anyone, I just happened to be the Rick. It could have been Dave-rolled," he surmises.
"That's if somebody found a video that was even cheesier than mine.”
Catch Rick Astley at Tweed Heads (16th Nov) Ipswich (17th Nov), Brisbane (18th Nov), Canberra (Nov 21), Wollongong (Nov 24), Sydney (Nov 25) Albury (Nov 29), Melboune (Nov 30 & Dec 1) See: rickastley.co.uk