When it came to making his 22nd studio album Automatic, rocker Rick Springfield went for a different approach from the usual way he usually recorded. It resulted in a creative wind of 20 songs on a record–a first in his career. “What I did was I wrote a song and then went into the studio and recorded the whole thing,” he says, “and then came out and wrote another song—and then went back in and recorded rather than writing them all, and then just going in with a band and recording them all at once. So they all have a kind of different vibe to them.”
The dynamic-sounding Automatic is a collection of straightforward pop-rock that recalls Springfield’s classic works but with a more contemporary sheen, incorporating even elements of EDM. Its release last month comes as Springfield has played to fans during his recent I Want My ’80s tour with fellow acts Tommy Tutone, the Hooters and Paul Young.
“A couple of people have said that to me,” Springfield concurs about Automatic’s sound being compared to his previous records from the 1980s. “It wasn’t mine because I’m not very objective about my own music. But yeah, I can see that—a lot of use of synthesizers and drum programming and cleaner guitar than I’ve used on a lot of a lot of my own songs anyway. But I still go for the big hook. So I think that’s reminiscent of all my songs.”
On Automatic, Springfield mostly played the main instruments, such as guitar and keyboards, by himself. While it still carries his signature pop-rock sound, there are moments of stylistic diversity. For instance, the track “When God Forgets My Name” has a bit of a reggae lilt, echoing his 1988 hit “Rock of Life.”
“Reggae is a kind of a fallback position from me in a verse,” he says. “But that’s 3/4 [waltz] timing, too. So it lends itself to that kind of kind of feel. But I do I do fall back on a reggae-ish type feel. And I’ve done that pretty much all through my career. You know, Everybody’s Girl [from the Working Class Dog album] has got a reggae verse, and then “Alyson” has a reggae verse on Living in Oz. And so you can pull songs off different albums that I’ve used that trick.”
The unifying stadium-like anthem “Heroes” evokes ’70s glam rock; Springfield even incorporated actual live audience chants into the track. “I was obviously going for that whole football chant vibe to it. I had a couple of audiences do the ‘hey’s,’ so there were real audiences doing it. I wanted the big crowd sound to make it sound real. So my audience was very open to that, which is great.”
The title song, which was unveiled as a single, first came to him in a dream. “I recorded the bit that I dreamt,” he recalls. “I’m not exactly sure what it all means…but there are some coherent ideas in there. I’m just not sure if the overall theme myself.”
And if a perceptive fan listens to the opening notes to the track “Exit Wound,” they might hear a little bit of a reference to Springfield’s signature 1981 smash “Jessie’s Girl,” which is not surprising to the musician. “The approach is very “Jesse’s Girl” as far as it starts out with a guitar and then a kind of explosion of the chorus,” he says. “That was intentional, but that’s been my M.O. with a lot of songs. I mean, “Jesse’s Girl” happens to be the most well-known version of that. But all through my albums, you can really see that I hold back volume-wise and instrument-wise until the chorus in a lot of songs. Because to me, the chorus is everything. And you know as long as you’re saying something meaningful.”
As typical of Springfield’s songwriting, the personal, often raw and gut-wrenching, lyrics on Automatic run the gamut of emotions. “They’re really a collection of memories and things from today and things from yesterday and just whatever I found worthy of writing about. There’s a lot more to write about than certainly when I was 28 years old. So I try to take advantage of that. You think a lot more about other things: God and death and love and sex — it’s all in there.”
In the last couple of years, as he plays the big hits from his 1980s period such as “Jessie’s Girl,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Human Touch” and” I’ve Done Everything For You,” Springfield has branched out onto other genres over the course of his albums–such as The Snake King, which covered blues rock, and Orchestrating My Life, a collection of his previous music reinterpreted with an orchestra. As for what his next musical direction might take after Automatic, he says: “I think it’ll come when it comes you know. I just finished this one. And we’re kind of focusing on that. I’m thinking about the new songs, but I don’t really know what direction you don’t really know until you kind of get into it. [For Automatic] I just wanted to write the best songs I could and have them have a good beat so you could dance to them.”
One thing that is for certain: the longevity and durability of “Jessie’s Girl,” which remains the rocker’s most beloved and popular song that truly launched his musical career in the early 1980s despite having recorded in the decade prior. He admits that at the time he had no idea the song would become a hit when he wrote it. “I just thought it was another good album track, actually. Then I took my demos over to see Keith Olsen, who was a big ’80s producer— he did Fleetwood Mac’s [1975 self-titled record] and he was very, very successful in the ’80s.
“My manager who owned Sound City [the recording studio] talked him into doing two songs with me because I was unknown, and so it was a big favor for Keith to do that. I took all my demos that I had for Working Class Dog over to his house and he picked “Jessie’s Girl” out of them. And I was kind of disappointed because I thought they were better songs on the album. But you know, he proved himself right. So I have nothing to complain about.”
In addition to music, Springfield has continued to play acting roles since his General Hospital days, having appeared on such film and TV programs as Ricki and the Flash, Californication and True Detective. As for what still keeps him motivated to record and perform music at age of 74, he simply says: “I love what I do and I’ve always loved what I’ve done. I got into it as a passion, and if that passion ever leaves, I’ll stop. I love to write and I love to record and that’s why I got into it in the first place. I didn’t get into it to make money yeah, God knows there are easy ways to make money. But I got into it because I love it. And that’s still the driver.”