The British singer’s new album, 50 — his first release since 2005 — topped the U.K. charts earlier this year. It’ll be his first new U.S. release since 1993 when it comes out on Oct. 7, with his first U.S. concerts since 1989 planned for Aug. 10 at The Box in New York and Aug. 11 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. And thanks to that success in his homeland Astley is coming back to America with some momentum.
“I’m not expecting anything because I don’t think you can,” Astley, who resumed touring in Europe about 10 years ago and is also a radio personality in the U.K. “I know that America’s a big ol’ place and you’ve got a lot great music and you don’t always take British music. I remember back in the day coming to America and thinking, ‘Yeah, we’ve had a big hit everywhere else and it’s all cooking’ and all the rest of it, but people said to me, ‘Look, America’s different. You can’t take it for granted as just another territory,’ and I think that’s right. I just think you’ve got to do it and just see what comes. But I have a lot of good memories about America, so I’m looking forward to it for sure.”
Astley broke from the music world out of a slight aversion to fame and also to spend time raising his now 24-year-old daughter Emilie with his wife, Lene. 50 was inspired by fan requests and, as the title suggests, by his impending arrival at the half-century mark (in June, when the album came out in the U.K.). It features his own songwriting after being one of the leading voices for Britain’s Stock Aitken Waterman team during the ’80s and early ’90s. “For me it was a way of marking that; Rather than hiding away from my age, celebrating it,” Astley explains. “I hadn’t actually committed to making a proper record for a long time, and It just felt like 50 was a year to do that. I kind of felt it would be nice to mark it, but hopefully in a way if I get to be old and gray I’ll look back at 50 and think, ‘That’s what I did.'”
Its out-of-the-box success makes it more than that, however. “I didn’t expect to have a No. 1 album with it, no,” Astley says with a laugh. “It was more of a way of marking the moment and saying, ‘That’s the music I made when I was that age’ and just something to feel good about. Now it’s gone completely off the scale, and I think it’s going to be a different kind of memory, I think.”
Astley isn’t sure how much people missed him while he was away, but he’s acutely aware of the Rickrolling Internet phenomenon that kept him and “Never Gonna Give You Up,” er, rolling even while he was out of sight.
“It was weird because I didn’t really understand it,” Astley says. “A friend — an English friend who’s a producer and lives in L.A. — Rickrolled me a few times. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing, man?’ and he said, ‘Do you knot know what this is?’ So he took me through it, and I thought, ‘OK, that just seems a bit nuts,’ y’know? It’s been a bit weird, but my daughter said to me, ‘Look, just remember it’s got nothing to do with you,’ and she’s right. It’s a totally different work and it’s just doing its own thing. What I’ve always tried to take from it is it just happened and it could’ve been anybody’s song; They just needed a cheesy video from the ’80s, where some guy’s wearing a raincoat. That’s how I looked at it. And it’s been good to me, so…”