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Rocking With Rick

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An ’80s icon is back, with a new album and role on General Hospital

Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter and actor Rick Springfield, beloved for some of the most memorable pop-rock masterpieces of the ’80s, such as “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and the role of Dr. Noah Drake on the popular daytime drama General Hospital, is back in a big way. He’s stayed busy over the past few years acting and cranking out first-rate music, but Springfield’s latest album, Venus in Overdrive, with its fresh and upbeat sound, has invigorated the rocker’s musical roots and reflected the positive place he’s at in his life. Released in July to a high debut on the charts, Venus in Overdrive continues to garner both critical acclaim and fan approval, thanks to the inclusion of catchy, personal songs that reflect a modern yet retro feel.

And while Venus is proof positive that Springfield isn’t missing a lick in the music department, his 2005 return to General Hospital to star in the recurring role of Dr. Drake and to take on the new character of Eli Love—an ’80s rocker who happens to look exactly like Dr. Drake!—highlights the fact that his fans, old and new, have lots to stay in overdrive about! And New Orleans fans driven wild by Springfield can catch his high-energy show on Friday, October 24 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi, where he’ll prove he’s still a heartthrob who can rock to the nth degree. New Orleans Living recently caught up with Rick on the phone right before he embarked on a fabulous two-week vacation to Italy.

Hi, Rick! How are you?

I’m just making an illegal U-turn here … hang on … okay, I’m here!

Don’t hurt yourself! We don’t want any accidents with you driving while we’re doing this interview …

I’m a terrible driver! But hey, an accident would make good press!

No! Be careful! Besides, you’re getting lots of good press these days thanks to your terrific new album, Venus in Overdrive. It’s so cool to have you back with new music!

Yeah, I’m really happy. I’m really excited about the record, and we’re really proud of it. We’re doing everything we can to get people to hear it.

This album is quite different from your last studio album of original work in 2003, “shock/denial/anger/acceptance,” which was a little darker and more introspective. Sounds like you’re really having fun with this one.

Yeah, I co-wrote the new album with Matt Bissonette, my bass player, and that’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and it was really great. Writing is a pretty lonely profession and sometimes not fun for me, but sometimes it’s awesome; it just depends on where my head space is. But I’m in a better head space than I was when I wrote the “shock” album, and that really shows in the lyrics and in the whole tone of the record.

Venus in Overdrive is unique in that it kind of sounds both retro and modern at the same time. You’ve got some great hooks in these songs.

Yeah, probably out of any album I’ve ever done, it’s probably closest in sound and idea to Working Class Dog, the first record I became known for. It’s a band album, and it’s a very stripped-down album, which is the approach I had for Working Class Dog, with great songs and good hooks and songs real easy to play on the stage. It’s still fun for me to hear this album; I can still play it and not be sick of it! [Laughs] It’s always been my thing with songs to get a great hook. The hook is coming back, from what I’m hearing in new music today, and that’s what I write, so I’m happy about that.

I like the title track, “Venus in Overdrive.” That’s a rocker!

Thank you. I wrote that about my wife, actually, and with Venus being the goddess of love, well that’s what my wife is. She brings that to the relationship and even more—it’s like she’s in overdrive all the time! [Laughs] It’s definitely working if I’m still writing positive songs about her 25 years into the relationship.

Obviously! That’s great. And the song “What’s Victoria’s Secret”—I mean, what a title!

Yeah, it was a title waiting to happen, and I can’t believe we were the first ones to come up with it! And it’s a relationship song; it’s not about the underwear company. But it uses sexuality to form an idea about the woman I’m talking about in the song, and how as men we’re scared of all that, so we resist it.

Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Victoria’s Secret contacts you about performing at their big fashion show on television this year, because I’m sure your inclusion would help them sell a lot of lingerie!

[Laughs] You never know! Hey, we’re starting to see a lot more skimpier underwear being thrown up onstage at the shows because of this song.

See, the girls still love you! Are you meeting both new fans and fans that have been following you around since the “Jessie’s Girl” Days?

I have amazing fans, and I’m humbled and I exist because of them. And yeah, there’s been quite a change in the audience. With me being on General Hospital, a lot more and with “Jessie’s Girl” being in movies like 13 Going on 30 and the new stuff, it’s brought out more of an awareness to my music. We’ve certainly got a lot of guys coming to the shows and seeing that we are actually a hard-rocking band and that we all can play and you know, I’ve been playing guitar for 30 years, so I hope I have some chops! [Laughs] And people from the ’80s bring their husbands or their kids. We’re out there to play and hopefully connect with people.

Look, I know from personal experience that the ladies still connect with you in a big way. One of my editors saw your pictures and screamed, “Rick is still hot!”

[Laughs]

And a friend of mine from high school is your biggest fan ever, and she is going to have me thrown in Lake Pontchartrain when she sees this in print because I didn’t tell her I was interviewing you! I’m too busy trying to pack my entire house into my car and flee from a hurricane! So, Rick, can you please give a shout out to Dayna!

[Laughs] Hi, Dayna! I dig you very much!

Great, thanks, I’ll be redeemed! And talking about making your long-time fans happy: You got a call and went back to General Hospital in 2005, taking on a recurring role both as Dr. Noah Drake and playing a second character named Eli Love, who is a musician with a heavy Australian accent.

Yes, Eli Love is a rocker, and he’s performed a couple of our new songs on General Hospital, which is a great way to get the music heard. It’s fun to play the two characters. I just taped a bunch of shows recently, so there will be a bunch of new stuff coming up. And the schedule works like this: If they have a story line and I’m in town, I do it and if not, well they’ve got 30 other characters they can deal with.

What is Eli Love’s relationship to Dr. Noah Drake? Are they related or do they just totally and coincidentally look exactly alike? I mean, come on, he looks just like him!

That’s the thing; it’s like, “Oh, my God! They look so much alike!” [Laughs] I had to make him different as much as I could, because they don’t have time to do makeup or hair changes or prosthetics or any type of different look other than changing his clothes, because it’s all shot in one day and sometimes it’s pretty hectic. So I thought I’d give him a heavy accent and a different attitude just to try and separate the two characters a little.

The way things erupted with both your acting and music careers simultaneously in the early’ 80s, some people may think that you were an actor who just decided to release an album. But music and especially songwriting were your first loves.

Yeah, I have been playing guitar since I was 12 years old, and that’s my passion. I’ve been writing songs since I was 16—horrible, teenage-angst songs, but still songs! [Laughs] I started acting in 1975 as a way to make money in between records deals, and actually I really liked it and have been working hard at it ever since. But music is definitely number one. What happened in the ’80s was absolute serendipity. I had the album ready to go. I was ready to go on tour, and I got a call to go read for this soap opera, and I got the part. They didn’t even know I was a musician originally and things really took off when they both became popular.

That is so cool! You’re going to be at the Hard Rock Casino on October 24 for a concert and people in New Orleans are really excited about that. I guess we can expect you to play both the great stuff from the new album along with your older hits. And so many of your hits have become classics. I mean, you have sold more 19 million albums so far! That is nothing to sneeze at, my friend!

[Laughs] And I’m proud of that. That’s why we still play the hits live. When I go to see bands, I go to see the songs that I love, but it’s important to us as a band to play new songs as well. And all the new stuff sounds so great live, and it fits in with all the old stuff. We touch on a lot of stuff, and we even do songs that I love, too, like classic rock stuff from the Who and Jimi Hendrix. I can’t wait for that show. I love playing in that area of the country.

Tell us about your past visits to New Orleans.

Actually, in the ’70s I was there, on the waterfront, and I’d go and listen to some incredible blues bands. To me, a kid coming from Australia, that was part of the American mystique that I had always read about. So New Orleans was one of the first places I went to. And it’s been a while since we’ve played there. And I was in New Orleans at Mardi Gras about 10 years ago. It was pretty wild! [Laughs] I was a marshal of one of the parades and then we got to go up to the Playboy place and hang out and watch everything on Bourbon Street. It was a blast! I love New Orleans. It’s awesome! I mean, how could you not? I’m a big fan of vampires and the whole Anne Rice thing, so I have that fantasy going on when I’m in New Orleans. The voodoo and all that stuff I think is part of the attraction of the place for everybody. I love it! And the gumbo, oh that’s really the thing for me. And the seafood is amazing. I love it! I’ll have to get there for Mardi Gras again. That will be a good time! [Laughs] We’re adding a lot of shows for next year, and I know we’ll get there at some point within the next six months.

Your fans have come to know your dogs as well, since your distinctive canine companion Lethal Ron graced the cover of Working Class Dog. Tell me about your gorgeous dog, Gomer Springfield, which you rescued years ago. I understand he has his own MySpace page and that you are his personal chauffeur!

I am! [Laughs] He is an amazing dog. And he has so many friends in the little town I live in. I take him around everywhere in Malibu. He comes to the gym to work out with me and he comes to all the stores, and they all know him and have special treats for him, and he’s just got a great personality, and he’s really sweet and people are always really attracted to him. And I just love dogs—dogs are my totem animal and anyone who knows my career to a certain extent understands that, and Gomer’s part of the family. He’s a beauty!

So what’s the next chapter for you? Or are you just enjoying the moment now?

No, I’m very driven, and I’m always looking ahead for other acting stuff and opportunities to play music. I love what I do, so it’s actually very hard for me to take a vacation! [Laughs]

Well, goodness, going to Italy tomorrow is just going to be just horrible! [Laughs]

I’m being forced at gunpoint to take a vacation, so I’m going to have fun! [Laughs] I am going to eat and drink my way through the country.

Italy sounds fantastic. Be sure to have a drink for everyone in New Orleans since we’re about to evacuate from Hurricane Gustav. Make that two! And don’t forget to put on a great show for us in Biloxi in October. We’ll be there screaming our lungs out for you!

It’s going to be great! I look forward to seeing you and everyone from New Orleans. Good luck with the hurricane!