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Stereoboard Talk To Michael Bolton About New Album 'Gems', Touring & Future Plans (Interview)

Friday, 16 March 2012 Written by Gemma-Louise Johnson
Stereoboard Talk To Michael Bolton About His New Album 'Gems', Touring & Future Plans (Interview)

History remembers 'How Am I Supposed To Live Without You' as the record that topped the charts twice. Having gained a further eight hits, sold over 53 million albums and received his very own Star, on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Michael Bolton is undeniably, one of few musicians who continues to grow from strength to strength, while retaining his iconic status.

Arriving safely in the UK, just a few of hours after flying in from Connecticut, the legend himself takes time out of his busy schedule, to receive a call from Stereoboard. During our 50 minute interview, he talks passionately of collaborations, the new album, touring, building his charity empire, and that book heís been working on.

ImageCongratulations on the release of 'Gems: The Very Best Of Michael Bolton', out today, what would you say has been the biggest gem of your career so far?

Thank you very much...Ohhh, itís hard to say, I mean the biggest song I have ever written is 'How Am I Supposed To Live Without You' itís been number one twice. I have friends who are song writers who have had songs that have been number one three and four times and have giant catalogues and itís very humbling to see. Their walled because their walls are wallpapered with songs by several hits and several generations, and thatís what song writers are inspired to do their songs out live them and 'How Am I...' is the closest I have to that kind of thing that has been recorded many times by many people. But I think ďSaid I loved you but I liedĒ is my favourite record that I made, but it certainly not as big as 'How Am I...' around the world. I mean you can go to a karaoke bar in Beijing and find 'How Am I Supposed To Live Without You' there... If you wish too.

Last year you released 'Gems: The Duets', what made you want to dedicate an entire album to duets?

It was something I hadnít done before and we are always looking for something thatís a bit different thatís not been done and allows you the most important thing for any singer, and thatís to pick great songs, to have a great well of songs to choose from (throughout your career). In this case, the last seven or eight years Iíve been touring about seven or eight months per year, and averaging about ninety shows a year from here (UK) to Australia, to China to South East Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia-Just places you never dreamed about as a kid. When youíre trying to have a career as a singer, touring takes you to all these places and Iíve met young artists who were hearing my hits all the time when they were teenagers, when they were in their becoming years and striving years, and we wound up inviting them on stage Ė Iím talking about artists who are as big as you can get in their own countries, but other people donít know who they are outside of their countries, and we invite them onstage and in many cases we end up recording with them.

So we started looking at the possibilities of doing an international CD, since thatís what I do is travel the world with most of my time, when Iím not recording Iím on my way to some far off land.

In the case of Eva Cassidy, I had to go to the family and say ĎIím a huge fan of Evaís and sheís left this amazing legacy that in a very short period of time, that is being embraced by millions of people and I would like to record 'Fields Of Gold' with her and turn it into a duet.í They gave us their blessing and her engineer found the track ďSeparatedĒ and we bought David Foster in to produce it and that was just a magical, powerful experience that is impossible to describe to you. Itís an emotional experience, because the artist is no longer there to talk about who is gonna do what parts, and you canít tell her how much you love her voice and what an astounding artists she is, you canít share any of that with her, but you can be respectful in how you sing the duet. Part of the entire recording process was me staying out of her way, and not stepping on any of the beautiful nuances of her voice.

So thatís one thing that Duets allowed me, the ability to walk into beautiful waters of amazing songs and compositions and get to work with these phenomenal musicians, including the other duet with Seal, where I got to turn 'When A Man Loves A Woman' in a medley, and share the stage with Seal live. Itís just something as an artist being able to stretch and expand and walk into new territory, itís something you look forward to, because in some cases in a certain realm, youíve done it all, so itís about whatís exciting now and whatís next!

What was your favourite collaboration on the album?

(Laughs) You know that wouldnít be fair, there are twelve songs and then sixteen different collaborations. Iíve done duets with artists outside of America as well that are on the international versions and I would never say one was more important than the next. I think Iíve been really blessed with very willing and cooperative artists, who have flown in to the states, flew into Los Angeles to record with me, or gone into the studio themselves and done their vocals until everyone was happy with the performances.

Theyíre all amazing experiences in their own way! In Brazil for instance, Paula Fernandes and I did 'Over The Rainbow' and you know I wasnít really familiar with the long list of Brazilian artists, but there was this one beautiful artist with this really amazing voice, and when I got to Sao Paulo to perform, she came up on stage and did several songs with me. Itís hard to describe what happens but when artists meet, you share the same passions and itís the first passion you have in your life, the one that will endure your entire life time, and thatís what you both share quietly on stage. Youíre doing what you love for however long the song lasts, youíre doing what you have always loved doing and itís what youíre sharing between the two of you while singing a master piece at the same time, which is why it would be impossible for me to say what my favourite moment or song is.

In The process I also have Orianthi Ganagaris, the guitarist that Michael Jackson found, that was going to be taken on tour for 'This Is It', who is an astounding guitarist and shreds. I think sheís 23 or 24 years old. She came in and played on 'Steel Bars' which is a song I wrote with Bob Dylan, and Iím looking at her and Iím thinking, ĎDylan was one of my heroes and there are three generations of artists playing on this one song and we are gonna get to do this liveí, sheís coming to Australia on the tour with me. So there are so many different moments that have so many different kinds of appeal that are big moments for me.

Was there a specific reason for choosing the songs that went on to the new Best Of album?

Thereís always a specific reason, but itís a combination of working with the label as a team and agreeing basically with why itís important to have the greatest hits covered, because a lot of people go through their most important experiences with music as their back drop. You probably remember certain times in your life where a song meant a lot to you, and the longer my career continues, I receive letters from people about how they have children and they say that this particular song is what meant the most (to them personally), at that particular time.

I noticed you have worked with some big names over the years, from Pavarotti to Bob Dylan and even Lady Gaga, is there anyone you would like to have collaborated with in some way, but didn't?

I would like to write with Stevie Wonder, Iíve known Stevie for years and done events with him and weíve talked about writing and Iíd love to write with him. Celine (Dion) is someone who I would have loved to have sung with. Celine was my opening act in Ď92, believe it or not for three months we toured and people were only just finding out whom she was. There are artists that occasionally Iíll see and hear, and Iíll say Ďwell! ... It would be a pleasure to do a track with John Mair, or it would be awesome to do a duet with Adele.í I love young, breaking artists, and those who I think will be about for a long time and not just because they have the talent, but because they have the work ethic.

I notice your music routinely crosses generations, how does the song writing process differ when preparing a number one hit for a band like Kiss, to someone like Barbara Streisand?

The song writing process doesnít change itís the song itself that identifies itself as youíre writing a Ballard. I think I knew during the first thirty seconds of writing the song for Streisand 'Weíre Not Makiní Love Anymore' melodically, it goes to a certain place that puts it in to an adult category and itís a melodic Ballard. But it has a very specific flavour and specific genre that it speaks to and I sent that to Streisandís producers and they grabbed it straight away.

In the case of writing ('Forever') for Kiss, my old lead guitarist that became Kissís lead guitarist, Bruce Kulick, told me Paul Stanley wanted to write with me, and when I met Paul he was one of the funniest people I ever met in my life. We had a great time and hit it off, and I said letís do this and write, and I asked what he was looking for and he said was thinking about a power Ballard, a rock Ballard. So we wrote that at the Sunset Marquee, where I used to stay quite a lot in Los Angeles and I turned my room into a mini recording studio. That was such a specific range because we knew we were writing something for Kiss, we wrote a Rock Ballard and it turned out to be a giant hit for them and Iím grateful.

One of the big kicks of doing something like that is that itís establishing you can write in cross-genre, but also you get to go see all the Kiss fans waving their lighters when they start that song! Itís a thrill, and something Iíll never stop being excited about or getting a kick out of...itís a surreal experience. As long as you do the best thing for the song itself, it will find a home and the right artist will step up and record it, but you have to pay most respect to the composition and make sure itís a strong song, and if youíre lucky it will be a hit.

You were briefly in heavy metal band in the 70s called, Black Jack, and toured with Ozzy Osbourne, do you think your music career would have gone as far, had you decided to stick with the heavier genre?

(Laughs) No... I donít know if Iíd still be alive! Itís really ironic you know we really tried and I had a lot of rock records when I was 14-15 years old. When I moved into rock I loved it! I had a lot of fun with it, but vocally I wasnít doing what was best for my voice, I was doing what I loved especially the production because I loved the low, rock sound, but two things probably would have happened, I probably would have damaged my chords, because I wasnít singing with any technique, I was just kinda blowing it out, rocking it out, and I donít know how long the average life spam is for singers who sing like that. I know some singers can keep going like AC/DC, but I just donít know how they possibly got through tours! I have friends in some of the biggest rock bands in the world, who have had all kinds of problems and had to get work done and I just think I would have been in for damage and the lifestyle is a hard one, itís really tough to live rock ní roll and not live hard if you get what I mean.

Youíve achieved a great deal throughout your incredible career, what is it do you think that has enabled you to remain so successful for so long?

Well you know I hope itís the combination of really acknowledging how important the songs are and that the songs are the life blood of the industry. As long as itís just not so much as the same thing one after the other... You tweak your concerts and then keep your audience that way in concert as well. You deliver the greatest hits of course, but you take them different places with it. You might do an acoustic section part of the show where theyíve heard the hits, but not quite this way before. But you definitely have to deliver certain greatest hits, where it would be sacrilegious not to do them the way people really love hearing them.

But I would say really the longevity has been the wide range of hits of a certain time, and then I would like to think a big part of it has been taking care of my voice when Iím touring. Iím kind of religious about it and I treat it the way I would if I was in sports my whole life, where you know if you donít take care of yourself and if you donít sleep and do the proper things to take care of your voice, then your voice wonít take care of you and down the road I wanna be at my best. I want my high C to be intact, I want the big notes to have the power and high resonance they had on the best records Iíve made, and the awards I have received? I wanna be worthy of them.

What made you want to build the Michael Bolton Charities?

When I started having hits, I was invited to all these charities and they were all very compelling causes from Cancer Research organisations to Cystic Fibrosis. At first I didnít understand that we donít have royalty in the States, we have celebrities and athletes and movie stars who can show up, bring the press, raise money and bring attention to all the causes. And when I started doing all those events, I started feeling like I should be doing more myself, and the one thing that was so obvious to me in my home town was struggling families and how hard it is to raise a family. I think I probably didnít make it any easier by deciding that music was it for me and the Starving Artist Syndrome is a very accurate clichť, itís a very real one, because you face the famine in music and really somewhere in between-its mostly famine until you make it!

So I met with a woman who ran a foundation, and asked her how I could help struggling families and she said thereís more of a need to help women and children at risk, theyíre the ones who are living in shelters. In the state of Connecticut (my home town), thereís a ninety day limit where families are sheltered from domestic violence and other forms of danger, theyíre only allowed in shelters for ninety days and after, more often than not, theyíre released back into the same circumstances. So I started doing networking and learning and thatís how I got involved with Women And Children At Risk, and then working with the issues of domestic violence and violence against women, in America which is an epidemic, and lead of course by the fact that I have three daughters and my parents were divorced. My mother pretty much raised us and I was trying to figure out how to be a strong advocate for women, and found organisations that had been doing this work twenty years before we got involved, but this year the Michael Bolton charities will be in its twentieth year.

You really basically are saving peopleís lives and instead of them being released into similar situations and putting them at risk again, we work with family advocates and skilled people who get families on their feet again and educated and protected, and that brings you to Washington DC and you meet with Congressmen and Senatorsí and leaders, that help make sure laws are passed and fully funded to protect women. Itís been one of the most gratifying parts of my life, whatever happens at the end of it all, at the end of my career, if I can help be responsible for more family justice centres being created, then Iíve really done something.

How did it feel to be given your very own Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame?

That was surreal... I mean itís all surreal Iím telliní you, itís all crazy! (Nervous laugh) I was 13, 14 [years old] in bands and new this was what I loved and wanted to do, I just wanted to sing and make music. I didnít know I would write with Dylan and sing with Ray Charles and Pavarotti, play guitar with BB King, if someone told me that I donít know, in the beginning I woulda just looked at them like they had four heads. Then the Holly Wood Walk of Fame was just across the street from the Chinese Theatre and it was broad daylight and it kind of didnít get real until I saw the star in the cement (laughs). I just thought Ďthis is really happening, this is just so bizarre.í

But you know (sighs) ...thereís A LOT of gratitude, and I tried to direct that in the form of doing the work and taking it seriously, making sure the records are sonically high level, and my performances are something I feel are worthy. That sometimes takes me a while, because I can let go and say Ďyes itís time for this record to be doneí and Iíd like to think that some of that is what translates to having the kind of success not just mainstream, but the cross genre of anything from R&B to Classic and Rock, thatís what I wanna continue doing and hopefully down the road, looking back its a diverse body of music that I Iím not just proud of but performing live, thatís my plan... Iíve got my fingers crossed!

If you could name one artist that has provided you with inspiration from the very beginning, who would it be?

Itís a tough one, because thereís been so many. Ray Charles is a huge influence as a child, and a lot of him taught me how to back phrase and how to embrace a lyric, how to tell a story in a way that drove my early years and drove me to look further into R&B and Blues but then Pavarotti was probably the greatest influence in taking my instrument to the next level and make it strong, bigger and flexible. It taught me a different kinda respect that I really needed to enjoy the full depth of music that I enjoy which is literally from R&B and blues, to pop and classical, to be able to sing something from one of the major operas, Puccini masterpiece, or something that I never studied but now become aware of, Pavarottiís magnificence inspired me in a way that I felt like I needed to get to work (laughs).

A lot of people get star struck by you, but is there anyone you get star stuck by?

Always (laughs) yeah I still am and I hope I never lose that. I met Adele for a minute in Los Angeles and sheís very young you know and I still feel like itís really inspiring. Working with Gaga was inspiring, because the talent was there but the work ethic was so obvious to me and I SO respect that. At the same time, I can speak to you about Luciano, or Domingo you know the great tenors. I can also look at young artists and artists who I think are gonna be around a long time whom inspire me because of their pure love for music.

Youíre on tour in Australia next month, are there any plans to return to the UK for a tour later this year?

YES! Weíre not sure yet when as we have some shows in Scandinavia and it looks like weíre starting to put together a run now in the UK. I donít wanna say quite yet but I think itís gonna be the fall (Autumn) and I know Iím touring states June, July. I donít want to outstay my welcome or keep coming back just because there are three or four cities we havenít played yet, I want to know that the time is right and from what Iím hearing the Fall is a good time to come back and do some shows. I love it here, Iím a little biased, I think this is the nicest weather I have arrived to in the UK its beautiful, but I come back to perform for the fans I donít come back for sunshine so weíll see what happens.

Having dabbled in film, carved a success music career and built a charity empire, what can fans expect to see from you next, would you ever consider writing an autobiography?

Yeah Iím doing that right now, it will be in the states weíre looking to release it sometime after the [US] election in November. Iím typing and trying to meet a deadline that would allow it to come out in November. Itíll be about the struggling years and a lot about the music industry that no one knows about, and things you wonít necessarily be able to Goggle or read from prior interviews or biographies.

Itís been both fun to write and emotional, because it takes me back to important moments in time that I havenít really had to think about in the way that I have (whilst writing the book). So Iím working on that for November and Iím sure I am going to spend some time promoting it, I donít know if it will be a simultaneous release here in the UK, but I hope so.

I hope it will be a form of inspiration for aspiring artists, and that it will give them some insight about following their instincts and finding their strength, and having the perseverance that it takes in our business. Iíve been working on the book for just a few months now and met with half a dozen publishers in New York City, it came down to three and we went with one (laughs). I met with the people who are gonna be doing the marketing as well as my editing and we are gonna be working as a team. Iím under no form of delusion about things becoming success by themselves, in my experience you have to do the work! So my plan will be to help work with the team the same way I did during my earliest and most important years recording, and let them aim me in the right direction doing TV, print and radio and help launch the book, along with a couple of other surprises before the end of the year...

'Gems: The Very Best Of Michael Bolton' is out now and available to buy from HMV and all good online music outlets.

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