The "Never Gonna Give You Up" crooner talks music, the future of his career and a little trend called rickrolling.
At the age of 21, Rick Astley became an international pop star with his infectious, energetic 1987 chart-topper, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” followed by hits such as “Whenever You Need Somebody” and 1988’s “Together Forever.” In 2016, the Lancashire, England-born singer experienced a second major wave of commercial success when his album, 50 reached number one in the U.K.
Although Astley, 52, regularly sells out stadiums worldwide, he hasn’t let it go to his head, maintaining an easygoing charm and sense of humor. He will entertain audiences with his rich, soulful voice at the Pabst Theater Thursday, April 26. We caught up with Astley recently for a phone interview.
You have been interested in singing and making music since you sang in your church choir when you were young. What were some of your favorite bands growing up?
I had a fairly sweet voice as a kid. I was persuaded into singing with the choir. I enjoyed it, singing with other people. I’ve never lost the love of listening to a choir. It’s a pure thing. While singing with the choir, I began writing songs. I’m the youngest of four kids, and when you’re the youngest, you don’t get to control what goes on the record player. My sister was a fan of the Beatles, one brother liked Queen, the other liked American soul. Now, the Internet has made all kinds of music accessible for kids. I see that as a healthy thing.
Besides singing, you also play drums and keyboards. Do you have a favorite instrument?
I play drums in a band with two friends. We play stuff by bands that were popular when we were growing up, like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and other modern stuff, like the Foo Fighters. To be honest, we shouldn’t be able to do that, at our age (laughs). We have a midlife crisis trio.
Your single, “Never Gonna Give You Up” became an international hit, almost overnight. How did you handle this almost instant success?
I don’t think anything can prepare you for that, really. Back then, in 1987, there was no Internet to track the popularity of your singles, so people had to tell you. I remember I was getting ready to play a show in Sweden, and someone told me I had a number-one single there. I thought, “I’ve never even been to Sweden.” People recognized me in the airport. When you’re in your own backyard — like me in England, for example, you can feel the impact your music is having, but it’s harder when it comes to other countries. It’s weird, really. It takes a long time to get adjusted. But it’s been an amazing experience.
In 1993, after your daughter Emilie was born, you decided to take a hiatus from music. What brought you back?
It was a 15-16-year hiatus. I had offers during that time, but felt I wasn’t at the right point in my life to accept them. I wanted to do the gigs I wanted, not just ones the record labels wanted me to do. Then, when my daughter was around 16, she and my wife wanted to go on holiday in Japan. So we went, and I did a few gigs there. Then I started doing lots of gigs in the U.K. I just put my toe in the water, and now I’m swimming.
How do you feel about the whole “rickrolling” trend (when users click on a link and are directed to the “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video instead), and becoming an Internet and pop culture sensation?
I just treat it as a fun thing. Many artists’ managers would be desperate for this sort of thing to happen. You’ve just got to embrace stuff like that. That song has always been very good to me.
Your 2016 album, 50, was very successful, and your subsequent tour has been successful too — you pack stadiums internationally. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The album going number one on the charts was completely unexpected. I produced the album in my home studio in London — technology made this possible. It gave me a new lease on life to write again. You just have to enjoy the moment, really. I don’t care if you’re the biggest band in the world. Your new album could go absolutely nowhere.
What can fans expect from your upcoming tour?
I’m looking forward to the American tour. I always loved coming to America — it’s like several countries in one, and there’s still a sense there that anything is possible. It’s a fascinating place. For the concerts, I will do a few songs from the new album, but I respect the fact that people want to hear the old songs, so I’ll perform a lot of those.
What are some of your hobbies, when you aren’t touring or recording music?
My hobby is music. One of the first things I do when I get home is go in the back of the house and bang the hell out of a drum kit. Also, I like to decompress after a hectic day or tour. I have a boat near the Thames and I like to drift down the river in it with friends. I’m a private person.
What are your future music plans?
I’ve already made a new record, which I’ll be releasing sometime this year.