On Sunday at 4 Eastern Time, Richard Marx will once again take the concert stage, albeit without an audience. His “Front Row Seat: Live At Your House’ solo acoustic event will certainly have all the trappings of a typical show, however, including VIP packages that give special access and a charitable component benefitting No Child Hungry when t-shirt bundles are sold.
“I’m clearly aware that there are many people out there who are craving the concert experience, but they’re not going to put themselves in harm’s way, nor should they,” Marx told American Songwriter in a lengthy interview. “I don’t want to put myself in harm’s way. Even though people are doing these various kinds of gigs (with audiences), I think it’s very ill-advised. I don’t think we’re anywhere near being ready to do something like that. So I would not feel comfortable gathering people together to hear me play. I wouldn’t feel comfortable for them and I wouldn’t feel comfortable for myself.”
“We found a really great space in Los Angeles that is going to look just like a concert setting. Beautiful lighting, multicamera. It’s going to be just like a TV special. It’s just going to be weird to not have people in the room. But I think I’ve worked enough with the camera in terms of social media that I’ve become comfortable with that. I feel like after a couple of songs I’ll just settle into it and be like, ‘Ok, I know they’re watching, I know they’re listening, I know that they’re smiling and singing along. I can’t hear them or see them, but I know that they’re there.’ And I’ll just try to make it as natural an experience as a regular concert will be.”
Marx admits that it won’t quite be the same as one of his normal shows. “It’s not going to be anything like a regular experience for me,” he says. “I will not get to feed off the energy of the audience. I won’t get to yell things back to people who yell stuff out. I won’t get to hear people requesting a song, whether I can remember it or not. My show is so interactive with the audience. It’s like a hang. It’s like we’re all just hanging out somewhere having drinks. It won’t be that. I understand that. But it’s the next best thing, and at least it’s something.”
If anyone has ever embodied the oxymoron of a busy hiatus, it has certainly been Marx in the past few months. His #SocialDistancing interview show started out as a way for him to talk to friends about how they were coping with the pandemic and blossomed into a must-watch, featuring interviews with luminaries ranging from Katie Couric to Paul Stanley. He and his wife Daisy Fuentes launched the podcast Tequila Talk, and Marx also streamed three-song mini-concerts each Friday, all while maintaining one of the most entertaining social media presences in all of music.
But Marx has limited most of that activity down in recent weeks. “It took a while for me to realize that I was occupying my time and my mind so that I didn’t have to deal with the anxiety of what was happening,” he explains. “The anxiety, certainly, of the health crisis, but also not seeing my three grown sons, and I’m really close to them. Not seeing my 84-year-old mother. It just became a coping mechanism. I didn’t really come to it, but my wife pointed it out in a really interesting conversation. And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m just avoiding.’ So I shut it all down about a month ago. I just stopped. I thought I need to just be. Just exist.”
“I know a couple of artists who, when they’re in between projects or in between tours, they really do know how to relax. They go on long vacations or they just hole up in their house. And I’ve just never known how to do that. I am one of those people who is constantly in motion, just constantly planning the next thing or coming up with a new idea. I realize at my age now that it’s something that I need to address, because I don’t know if it really serves me. I think it’s much more important to know how to do both. To know how to be in full work mode and kick ass and also just be, just relax. That’s something I’m learning right now.”
When Marx does return to work mode for the show on Sunday, he’ll not only have the massive hits from his 80s and 90s run of dominance on the pop charts from which to draw, but also the songs from new hit record. On Limitless, released this past February, he decided to start sharing production duties with others (including son Lucas, who co-wrote and co-produced the hit “Another One Down”) in an effort to keep his sound modern. The results have earned Marx both critical success and pop radio airplay usually reserved for newer artists.
“I think that relinquishing the reins was a natural progression,” Marx says of the decision. “It’s never been a thing about control as much as it’s been that producing is my favorite part of the job. And so, it was difficult for me to come to terms with, number-one, that my ears and my instincts were no longer as fresh and modern as they needed to be, and, two, feeling comfortable enough to reach out. And it was really a wonderful thing. It was both enlightening and I learned a lot, but it also reinforced that some of my instincts were modern and fresh, which I didn’t think they were. Letting people in and letting people contribute to what I do was a really empowering and awesome thing.”
Marx has always been conscious about not letting his sound stagnate. “There are artists who are my age-ish or older, people who I always really looked up to, people who made really great records back in the 80s and 90s. If they do still release new music, which is really rare, I’ll still listen because I’m a fan of the artist. But I’ll start listening and say, ‘This sounds like 1993. Or 1988.’ It’s like there’s no growth or nothing new. And I fear that so much. It’s such a turnoff to me that I sort of made this inner vow that would never happen to me.”
“There are a couple of tracks on this album that I produced myself, but I had this sounding board around me who I trust to ask, ‘Does this sound dated at all? Does this sound old-fashioned?’ What ended up happening is that the album sort of bridges the gap. There’s some stuff that sounds like classic me but still modern-ish. And then there’s stuff that could be a new band, a young artist. And I really love that. I’m really proud of that and when I listen to this album, I hear all of that all at once.”
Although the production on Limitless stands out, it only works because Marx is as fastidious about the songwriting process as he ever was. “I do definitely pay a tremendous amount of attention to the craft of songwriting,” he says. “I try really hard when I’m serving the lyrics to say, ‘Is that a copout line? Is that too easy?’ And I pay more attention to the songs than anything else. When you take a song like ‘Limitless,’ I can definitely pull it off just me and the guitar or the piano. But it takes on a whole different life with the production that (producer) Michael (Jade) did with me. It becomes this event. So I think it’s all good. But I definitely think it’s more crucial than ever to focus on writing the best songs I possibly can.”