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Rick Astley: “It’s a funny old game”

Last Friday, August 16, Club NME relaunched at the Moth Club in east London with the help of Dave Grohl (vocals, guitar) and, to everyone's surprise, his pal Rick Astley (drums). Completely and utterly coincidentally, we recently had a chat with the '80s pop icon about 'Never Gonna Give You Up', being the internet's favourite meme, and the many strange things that go on in the music biz...

You’ve always been able to take a joke when it comes to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Why is that?

“That record is from 1987. It’s 32 years old. That’s a huge amount of time for anybody. I often think to myself, well, I am that human being, of course I am, and that song is a part of my DNA. It’s part of my life, it’s part of my family’s life. It’s given us a great life as well – that’s the other thing I never ever forget. Sometimes we’re in a Premier Inn by the river, but sometimes we’re in Chile and sometimes we’re in Sydney, or Japan, or wherever it is, somewhere unbelievably amazing because I recorded some songs in the 80s. That’s the truth of it.”

So you just never take it for granted?

“I don’t take it for granted but I also take it seriously enough that I wanna perform the songs well and hopefully give the audience what they came for. And while I’ve made a couple of new records over the last few years that the fans have taken to and are into singing with us, I’m not daft enough to think people would only come for them. If I said that I wasn’t going to do the old ones we’d be reduced to playing quite small venues, I think. So I embrace it in the way every artist should embrace the songs that made them. But I also think it must be a bit weird for The Rolling Stones to do, you know, ‘Satisfaction’. I don’t know how old that is but it’s got to be 50 years. So it is a part of who they are and part of what took them wherever they went – and I know I’ve used one of the biggest bands in the world – but I don’t see how people in my position could get upset about it.”

How do you feel about the internet, as it’s played such a big part in your success over the last 10 years or so?

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“I’m not one of these people who has ever been against the internet and music because I actually think it’s done a lot of really good things. There are so many bands out there that’ll come and do two nights at Brixton Academy, play to 9,000, 10,000 people, and I’ve never fucking heard of them! I know I’m 53 but I’ve never heard of them, and I’ve heard of a lot to things. So if you wanna find something that’s really in your pocket you can, and you can follow that band properly on a daily basis and really be part of it. I don’t think anyone has lost that love of music. Fans of music are still that tight. They just don’t own it anymore. They don’t have it on a shelf anymore. That’s changed but I still think they’re as devoted. I’ve never been one of those middle aged people who says, ‘The internet’s killing music.’ No it’s fucking not. It’s killed what you always did, which was sell a million albums every time you put a record out, and just went ‘ka-ching,’ thank you very much. That’s all gone into a black hole and you’ve just got to think again now, that’s all. So I don’t think there’s a negative in it personally.”

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever read about yourself?

“The worst one, which was probably about eight or nine years ago, was when there were all these rumours that a lot of people were dead, including me. That’s not great for your mum to be hearing or reading. So that wasn’t cool. I really didn’t see the fun in that. I don’t see why a rumour gets started that George Clooney’s dead. I don’t see the upside. He’s got family and so have I. My mum’s in her 80s now and I don’t want her having a neighbour call in and say, ‘Oh, has your Richard passed away?’ You know what I mean? So that wasn’t cool.”

Where do you stand on streaming?

“It’s earning some people a lot of money, so that’s great. Plus, it’s regular income. Think about it this way: when you buy a CD or a vinyl and you own that physical thing the chances are that unless you lose it or break it you’re never gonna buy it again.”

Some artists believe they don’t make enough money from it.

“Yeah but ironically, if someone’s at home and they go, ‘Oh, what was that dude from the ’80s with the quiff and he had that song?’ And someone’s mum pipes up and says, ‘You’re talking about Rick Astley,’ and then they’re like, ‘Well play it then’. Either someone’s got to have it on a CD or they go, ‘We don’t have it.’ No one is going to go down to the shops to buy it, especially not in the middle of a dinner party. But someone can go, ‘Well, he’ll be on Spotify.’ So they play it. And if that happens a million times and then another million times, and it keeps happening over the next however many years I will make some money from that. Whereas no one is going to go and re-buy those CDs just to listen to it once.”

Talking about making money, do you know what your worth is on CelebrityNetWorth.com?

“No. I remember looking years ago. Well, not looking… but I was Googling something about myself – yes, I fucking Google myself, how can I not? – so I was Googling something about myself and if you just put my name in one of the things that came up was my celebrity net worth, and I used to think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”

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“Yes, I fucking Google myself. How can I not?” – Rick Astley (Photo credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

It’s currently listed at $16 million. Is that accurate?

“That’s interesting. I wouldn’t say it was accurate, no. What would that be today, like £12 million? I don’t know if I could get my hands on £12 million right now, no.”

What about if you sold your publishing?

“The world of publishing is weird. People got pretty amazing publishing deals at one point. I was quite lucky in the sense that I wrote four songs on my first album, maybe four, five, six on the second one – a couple of which were singles. And I’ve had a couple of hits in America that I wrote as well. I had number ones there but I didn’t write them, unfortunately. Obviously publishing and the writing of songs is a big earner in terms of later on in life but it’s a tricky one. Live music is bigger than it’s ever been, I think. There’s more opportunities for bands to play. Obviously you’ve got to get to a level where someone’s willing to pay you decent money to do it but once you’ve hit that level I think you can earn a really good living as a musician. And you can’t do it just from selling your music. The music literally allows you to go on stage and earn a living.”

What are your thoughts on the news that iTunes will soon be closing down?

“iTunes for me, they got into music, the actual selling of music if you like, and it was very, very clever what they did. To be honest, the record labels should have done it. They should have all got together on Richard Branson’s island and said, ‘Right, what are we doing about this.’ You know? They should have all got together and said, ‘What are we doing, because it’s running away from us?’ And Apple just opened the door and said, ‘Well, we’re doing this,’ and left everyone for dust. So the fact that [iTunes] is gone, I don’t really have an issue with it because it’s an enormous massive company making decisions about music – although that’s a bit weird sometimes.”

What do you mean?

“Don’t even get me started about Apple. Apple is a totally different company from when it started, and it has every right to be. But I think a lot of people in music who were the first buyers of Apple and first reliers on Apple and kinda supporters of it, we feel like we’ve been left in the dust. Because we all make music with an Apple computer, or at least 99% of people do, and that’s just the way it is. And now it’s really, really simple to do it but if you’re a professional user it’s also sort of a nightmare because of all the gear and the way it connects, and it doesn’t do this or that. Anybody I know who is a musician loves Apple but also kinda fucking hates them at the same time. So it’s a bit of a weird thing. Obviously iTunes is Apple at the end of the day and so I think it’s because of their becoming such a massive company that they’ve sometimes made decisions that have not been in keeping with what we all bought into. And they’ve got every right to change. Toyota or Ford one day might have started out saying, ‘We’re just gonna build cars so people can get to work and do the honest work thing,’ and then eventually they become something else. And that’s kinda what I think Apple have done.”

So is it fair to say that you’re not Apple’s biggest fan?

“I don’t think it’s like some type of evil empire, I’m not going that far with it, I’m just simply saying that it’s a massive huge company and I think it’s more interested in profit than it is music, and that’s fine. A lot of record labels have to have that view at the top end of it otherwise it would fail every couple of months. You’ve got to have business people who only care about business and money otherwise a big company like that wouldn’t work. So I don’t want it to feel like I’m bashing Apple. I’m just saying that it’s a funny old game.”

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