Rick Springfield might be augmenting his beloved songs with an orchestra, but know this: The music still rocks, live and on record.
On his recently released “Orchestrating My Life,” Springfield reworked 11 gems from his catalog, including inescapable hits “Jessie’s Girl” and “Love Somebody,” smaller hits “Celebrate Youth” and “State of the Heart” and fan favorites, “World Start Turning” and “My Father’s Chair.”
He also bookended the latter ballad, a tribute to his deceased father released in 1985, with the lush new heart-tugger, “Irreplaceable,” written for his mother, Eileen, who died in 2016.
Springfield relentlessly tours in various permutations – with his full band (which played Chastain last summer), in “stripped” acoustic form, with pal Richard Marx and now, depending on the date, with local orchestras.
On Thursday, Springfield and his band will be joined by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where they will deliver symphonic rock versions of his songs. (And, yes, he still rakes his guitar with red roses during “Love Somebody.” Would it be a Springfield show otherwise?).
The busy musician, who continues to detour into acting and is currently writing his third novel, chatted recently from his California home with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of The River 97.1 FM about his latest endeavors. (Hear the full interview on our 2 Girls Talking podcast below.)
Q: You’ve played live with an orchestra going back to last year in Nashville. What is that like on stage given the energy of your usual live performances?
A: It’s a little softer because I have to hear the orchestra. It’s a very different show, but it’s very cool. It has a Frank Sinatra vibe.
Q: Do you have to wear a nice suit on stage?
A: I do wear a nice suit as a matter of fact!
Q: What was it like hearing those songs you’ve played so many times in this orchestral form?
A: It was amazing that you can put pieces of paper with dots on them (in front of musicians), and they all play together, and it sounds great. I don’t read music—and most musicians I know don’t read music, either—so it’s like magic seeing them do that. It’s pretty powerful when you hear the orchestra. The live show still has a rock vibe to it for sure. But we focus on some of the slower stuff, like the songs I wrote about the death of my mom and dad.
Q: You wrote the new song, “Irreplaceable,” for your mom, who died a couple of years ago, and you have “My Father’s Chair,” which you wrote after your dad died (on 1985’s “Tao” album). Do you think you’ll always perform both of them in honor of your parents?
A: I do “Irreplaceable” in the orchestral show, and it still affects me. Sometimes it’s hard to finish the song because it feels so raw, but I do it to honor her. She was a beautiful woman.
Q: Where did the idea to orchestrate your songs come from?
A: We went to Germany with a couple of other guys. They have a thing they do there called “Rock Meets Classic,” where they do songs with an orchestra and band. We went over not knowing what it would be like and it was really great. We did six weeks in Germany and I came back here and said, “Why don’t we do it here?”
Q: Who did you work with on the album?
A: A guy named Wolf Kerschek did the arrangements for the German thing and did a lot of these. He’s a young guy and hip on modern music. I was nervous that it would sound like Lawrence Welk playing behind a rock band, but it’s very hip and very moving. It’s very musical.
Q: How did you decide which songs would best lend themselves to the orchestra treatment because they aren’t all necessarily big radio hits, like “World Start Turning” (from 1988’s “Rock of Life” album) attests.
A: I always liked “World,” and it’s always been a fan favorite. It was the first song I wrote about being depressed but it’s a positive, uplifting song and I thought it would really work with the orchestra and it did.
Q: You not only added the orchestra to the songs, but you also re-recorded the vocals. How challenging was that?
A: We re-recorded everything. You can’t take old tracks because they’re owned by the record company. I’ve heard re-records before and am generally disappointed … (But) I matched the vocal pretty much completely, to the point where people think they’re the original tracks … As you get older you lose notes at the top, so some of them were a bit of a reach! I had to think (about being) 30 years old again because your voice goes to different places as you get older. But you can still access all the old things, as long as you don’t screw your voice up. A lot of screaming (singers) have problems with their voices. I’ve been lucky and not damaged my throat too much.
Q: Speaking of age, you’re turning 70 in August. How have you stayed in such great shape?
A: It’s kind of a big number, and it’s kind of scary. I forge ahead and try and stay vital and enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s really all you can do. I work out, I meditate. I eat well. I try not to drink too much; that’s the toughest one for me.
Q: You’ve been such a great advocate for mental health. Do you hear from people who have been helped by your honesty?
A: When I wrote about (depression) in my autobiography (2010’s “Late Late At Night”), everyone was really surprised and said, “That’s really brave of you to talk about it.” But I didn’t think it was because I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve never been ashamed of it. It’s part of my drive and part of where songs come from. When I realized people were thankful, I mentioned it, and it started to lift the stigma off of it. I saw a purpose for talking about it — to make it not as shameful, because it’s not shameful. A lot of people deal with it. If I can do a little toward taking the stigma off that, it’s a good thing, I think.
With The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Chris Confessore conducts). 8 p.m. Thursday. $39.50-$79.50. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.
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