By any standards, Richard Page would have a lot to be thankful for as the frontman of Mr. Mister, the band behind chart-topping smash hits “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie.” This year, however, there’s another part of his career to celebrate: after two decades, Pull, the intended fourth album from the band, is coming out of hiding thanks to the fine folks at Legacy Recordings. Granted, Page wears more than just the face of Mr. Mister. As a noted songwriter for Madonna (“I’ll Remember,” her 1994 hit from the film With Honors), and a recent member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, Page is a multifaceted artist who continues to record on his own label, Little Dume Recordings. (His latest album, this year’s Peculiar Life, is very much worth checking out.)
Today, The Second Disc has the immense pleasure of bringing you an interview with Page. He discusses the long and winding road that was Pull, from recording to release, offers his thoughts on the industry and considers the future of the Misters.
Read more after the jump!
What was your reaction to being mentioned by Train in “Hey, Soul Sister”?
Honestly, my first thought was a songwriter’s thought: “what rhymes with ‘sister’?” It’s pretty obvious. [laughs] That was my first thought. But it’s cool that they felt like there was enough of a legacy to tip the hat. It was an honor – we felt honored that they did that.
Let’s talk about the process behind releasing Pull. Did Sony approach you about releasing this? How long did it take between initial discussions and eventual release?
The record business is in such a bizarre, strange part of its evolution, and everyone’s trying to keep their jobs. I’d been trying to get that album out for years, with no results. We have one soul brother there named Jeremy Holiday who loves our band, and he has been helping us a lot. We owe him a lot for helping us with this album. They’re doing the digital part of it, we’re putting CDs out ourselves.
So it’s getting it from both sides, to get it out to the people, because as I’ve said in many interviews, people have been hounding me about this album for years [laughs]. The bootleg copies just don’t cut it, and people have made up their own titles, so it’s finally good to just set the record straight, to say, “here’s how we wanted it to sound,” and remaster it with Bob Ludwig.
What frame of mind were you and the rest of the band in during the making of Pull? How was it different from the last two albums, Welcome to the Real World or Go On…? What were you listening to or influenced by?
It’s hard for me to remember last week, much less 20 years ago, but we were trying to hone our songwriting and playing. It was a time when we’d had a huge album, then the other album. We were just trying to figure out what our next step was, but we always went back and figured if we’d liked it, others would. That’s was always our philosophy; I don’t think that’s any groundbreaking philosophy, a lot of songwriters and bands think like that.
So we were trying to do the best we could with what we had at the time. Steve Farris had left the band, so that left a few more options in terms of what to do with guitars. We were just trying to mine that same vein and do the best we could. We were hoping we’d get a single out of it, but the point I’ve always made is every time I’ve tried to write a song for radio, it never works. So just forget doing that and write the best songs we can.
I’d written in the liner notes that we used to play Weather Report songs in our soundchecks. We had fun. We were always big fans of Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea. Although I don’t really play jazz that well, I love that kind of music, and always have. But at some point you are a conglomeration of everything that you’ve ever heard. If you’re a writer, if you listen to music, you can’t help but be influenced by it. I love pop music, and and I love jazz and there’s some classical music I really love. I think I’m influenced by all of that – vocal harmony bands and groups from long ago. I can’t say there’s anything I don’t like – except maybe polka. I don’t think I have any polka influence in any of my songwriting.
On Pull you had worked with a few different musicians, including Buzz Feiten and Trevor Rabin of Yes each doing guitar duties. What was it like adding new musicians into the mix?
It gives you more options, a broader palette, so you can bring a guy in with a certain style to get a certain kind of song. Although I don’t think we were that organized. We just bought in great guitar players and had them do their thing, sort of guide them and say, “here’s what we’re hearing, what are you hearing?” And voila, there it is.
It makes it kind of easier in a way and a little more difficult when you’ve got an in-house guitarist. He’s sort of in on the ground floor and knows where the thing’s going. When you’re bringing a guy in who’s hearing a song fresh for the first time and trying to adapt to it. It works well both ways, but this was a different way for us. Steve George and I had done it this way with Pages, bringing different guitarists and musicians in. So it wasn’t foreign of us, to do that. It was a bit of a hybrid between the two bands, I think, to do that.
What are the tracks from Pull that most stand out to you?
For me, lyrically, “No Words to Say” stands out. I’d collaborated with John Lang for years and years on lyrics, but that song was one of the first I’d took on myself to write. It was kind of a seminal moment for me. Plus, it was a recollection of my growing up in the deep South in the ’50s with the civil rights movement and all the chaos, from a kid’s point of view. My parents are from the North, and we didn’t have any of that prejudicial thinking going on that was so prevalent at the time. There’s so many – “Learning to Crawl” is an interesting song musically and lyrically. There are a few that stand out to me, but those are the two right off the bat.
What sort of insights can you share from the era which “No Words to Say” was written about?
It was right at the birthing of the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was there in Montgomery, Alabama, and they were marching and it was in the news all the time. I played pop warner football with George Wallace, Jr. My best friend across the street – his father was rumored to be a high official in the KKK. White and black drinking fountains and restrooms and things like that.
And yet, we had a maid – a black woman – who was so beautiful and kind. My mother worked, and this woman was with me and my siblings all the time, she was part of the family. From a kid’s point of view, again, why would anybody hate anybody because of their color? But more importantly, why didn’t people who knew better speak out? That’s what I achieved as an adult, looking back – where were the adults going, “This is wrong, we have to change this”? There weren’t very many – of course there were a few – but that’s where the song came from.
And that’s not to say I’m above any of the accusations I’m throwing either. We all carry with us a lot of prejudices and they’re unconscious, many of them. And again, not rocking the boat is more important than getting the truth for a lot of us.
At upward of 50 minutes, Pull is a solid album’s length of material. That said, were there any tracks the band left on the cutting room floor, either at the time of intended release or now?
There are some tracks that could have been included, but they would have required a lot of work, because they’re not finished. I felt like [these songs] were what we intended at the time, so rather than try to make something more, just leave it as it was – a time capsule.
Has there been talk of getting the rest of it out there?
Yeah. I have the masters, so we can do that. And we have talked about it. There’s a couple of really good songs on there we might re-work and put out.
Fans know that RCA, for whatever reason, decided against releasing the album in 1990. Was there ever a discussion among you and the other bandmates to take Pull to another label or release it independently?
The news that they didn’t want to work it was sort of the final nail in the coffin for the band. I’d felt like I was ready to move on. I had some difficulties with direction with everyone. We couldn’t agree. I’d brought in some songs that I thought were important that didn’t pass the committee vote. And a lot of that has to do with everyone wanting to be involved, and I understand that; if I were on the other side and somebody bought in a bunch of songs and said “I want this to be the album,” I’d say “wait a minute, where do I fit into that?” But I was getting frustrated, and thought the band had run its course.
When did you start hearing people ask you about Pull?
I remember there was a lot of disappointment right at the time that it wasn’t going to come out. I don’t remember how we received that news – maybe it was letters, I don’t know – but I remember a lot of people were disappointed.
Of course, as the Internet started to take hold, there was much more chatter about it. It became a bit like folklore, that it existed, but it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere in a vault in a basement in New York City, and how do we get it? There was a lot of clamoring for it, and I’m happy for the fans that have been that devoted, that have enough time and interest, that they get to hear it. I like that.
How do you feel the music industry has changed in the years since recording Pull?
Oh my gosh…I don’t think I need to tell you: it’s totally different right now. Between piracy and digital sales…I have a friend, Elliott Scheiner, who believes the music industry as we know it is destroyed because of file sharing. And I don’t think that’s some old, grumpy, bitter…I think it’s true. It’s changed irreparably. People who make a living writing songs…that’s kind of over, in a way. I mean, it’s not “over,” but it certainly has changed dramatically to where it affects people’s lives dramatically.
But then again, great things always birth out of depths. A new thing is arriving, and people are scrambling to try to figure out what it is, exactly. But here it is. And I’m embracing it now. I’m trying to find my fans and do my thing and make music as best I can in an environment that is ever changing.
What advice would you give to new artists today?
In the movie Tender Mercies, with Robert Duvall, there’s a great scene – he kind of plays a burned-out country singer who’s seen it all, he’s sort of living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere – and a young band searches him out, and they say “we wanted to meet you – can you give us some advice?” And Duvall says, “Sing it the way you feel it.” I think that’s all there is. If you don’t do that, nobody’s going to hear it, nobody’s going to like it – you’re not going to like it. It has to be from your heart and soul, the best you can do – or why do it?
What do you think about remastering and reissuing albums in general? Is there more of Mr. Mister coming through catalogue means?
I don’t know that I have an opinion on it. I think it works really great for some people. I’m happy with the way things are going. I’m sure there’s enough material we could do one day; I can’t commit to when that is, but we’re all excited and interested. We got together, the three of us, to shoot an EPK that’s being edited right now. We talk about the album and our history, and reminiscing and stuff. So there’s definitely some momentum to do something together. We don’t know exactly what yet – Pat’s extremely busy all the time and out on the road, and I’m busy with other things – so figuring out when to do it is sort of a trip.
But there is new material that we could put out, sometime. We just don’t have any definite plans yet.