Billboard Q&A: Songwriter Rick Nowels

After penning songs for the likes of Stevie Nicks and Belinda Carlisle, veteran pop songwriter Rick Nowels used 2008 as the year to write for the urban pop audience. As such, Nowels, who lives in London, traveled to Los Angeles and helped balladeer John Legend write his uptempo song, "Green Light," which currently sits at No. 6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart. In December, "Green Light" was nominated for a Grammy for best rap/sung collaboration and here Nowels spoke to about his inspiration, writing "Heaven is a Place on Earth" and why he loves Kanye West's "Love Lockdown."

What was your inspiration for "Green Light?"

We wrote the song a year ago in Los Angeles, I was playing electric guitar and John was singing. My inspiration was Curtis Mayfield and Prince.

When did you begin song writing, what were your first hits?

I started writing songs when I was 13. I did a lot of performing throughout my teens and twenties. Then, in a very random way, Stevie Nicks heard a few of my songs and we ended up writing together.

We had a hit with "I can't wait" in 1986, which led to writing for and producing Belinda Carlisle. Ellen Shipley, another songwriter, and I wrote "Heaven is a Place on Earth" and "Circle in the Sand" and I produced the "Heaven on Earth" album. That set me on the path I am today as a writer/producer.

How would you describe your chemistry with Stevie Nicks?

Working with Stevie has been one of the magical things in my life. When she walks in the room you feel that old school otherworldly rock star thing. When you hear her voice coming through the speakers you know you're hearing greatness. She's a poet. I've been lucky to have written songs with her on every record she's made since "Rock a Little" in 1986. We had a big hit in 1989 called "Rooms on Fire". Stevie opened the door for me in the music business.

What made you cross into R&B?

I didn't cross into R&B. I wrote some songs with John Legend. John is a proper songwriter who plays piano. I don't think too much about genre. A good song is still always about a strong lyric, melody and chords. "Green Light" could be done Bossa Nova or Techno. Songwriters know this. I just think of "Green Light" as a cool up-tempo John Legend song with Andre 3000 rapping. I love it. Ellen Shipley and I wrote a hit for Anita Baker years ago called "Body and Soul." It got a Grammy nomination for Best R&B song. A few years earlier we were writing for Belinda Carlisle and Kim Wilde. All the songs were written on the same piano.

Who would you like to work with in the urban and pop world?

I love Ne-Yo, Andre 3000, Cee-Lo, Frankie Storm, Timbaland. I love's records. Songs I've really liked in the recent past are "Last
Night" by Keyshia Cole, "Ice Box" by Omarion, "Love Lockdown" by Kanye West,
"Say it Right" by Nelly Furtado, "Glamorous" by Fergie. Pop, European, dance and R&B have all come together now. It's a good time to be making music. The borders are broken down.

Who are you working on now?

Out of respect to the artists I work with I don't really talk about songs until they actually come out. Records are all pretty fluid these days.

Any Grammy thoughts?

It's an honor that "Green Light" was nominated. I've been living in London so I wasn't thinking about the Grammy's. I'm still watching the song rise on the charts. I really had fun working with John. I get great pleasure out of the process of making music. That's the biggest reward for me.

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