As Richard Marx gears up for the Feb. 7 release of his 12th album Limitless, his first new recording under a deal signed with BMG earlier this year, the veteran singer/songwriter says if he could go back to the beginning of his career, there is some advice he'd impart to his younger self.
"The one thing I would say is 'enjoy it more' because I didn't celebrate. I never celebrated until maybe five years ago," says the Chicago native, known for such No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits as "Hold On to the Nights," "Satisfied" and "Right Here Waiting."
Marx credits his wife of nearly four years, Daisy Fuentes, with encouraging him to celebrate his success. "She specifically asked me, 'When Repeat Offender went to No. 1 [on the Billboard 200], what did you do? How did you celebrate?'" he says referencing his hugely successful 1989 sophomore album. BMG celebrated the album's 30th anniversary this year with the release Repeat Offender Revisited, which includes newly recorded studio, live and acoustic versions of songs from the landmark album.
Marx admitted to his wife that when hits like "Satisfied," "Angelia" and "Right Here Waiting" sailed up the charts, he didn't stop to celebrate. He continued working. "I think I was afraid of jinxing it. I was afraid of embracing how great it was for a lot of different reasons and I didn't celebrate all the incredible things that happened to me when they were happening," he says. "So I would say when great things happen, take a minute, day or week and celebrate it. Be 100% in it and really feel it. I didn't let myself do that at all. I've written 14 No. 1 songs — which I'm so grateful for — on different charts, so I looked up the dates of those 14 songs that went to No. 1 and every year we have a dinner. I acknowledge it — every single year, 14 days a year. Actually, the two Keith Urban No. 1s [2005's "Better Life" and 2011's "Long Hot Summer"] were on the same day [Oct. 22], just different years, which is so weird, but we have celebrations every date that a song of mine went to No. 1. I just do it retroactively."
Looking back over his chart-topping, Grammy-winning career, Marx has a lot to celebrate, but that doesn't mean he's resting on his considerable laurels. He's excited about Limitless, and he should be: it successfully navigates the tricky line between familiar and fresh, managing to sound enough like classic Marx to satisfy longtime fans yet also inventive enough to attract new ones.
He attributes that in large part to an appetite for listening to all kinds of music and also collaborating with partners that challenged him creatively, including his son Lucas, Sara Bareilles, Morgan Page, Vertical Horizon frontman Matt Scannell, Lifehouse's Jason Wade and his wife Daisy.
Marx says his approach to the new record was "collaborating when it felt right," and he encourages other veteran acts to seek out new creative partners. "There are definitely songs that I wrote by myself that still feel pretty fresh because I listen constantly," he says, citing Tove Lo, Post Malone, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, Lady Antebellum and Dan + Shay among those whose work he admires. "I'm listening to radio and I think it's really important to let current and new music influence you, but I also think at this stage of my career — and any career that has lasted this long — if you don't really embrace other people's talent and see how they can benefit you creatively then you've got your head in the sand.
"There are artists that I really love who still make albums," he continues, "and every time they put out an album I get more disappointed because it just sounds like a bad version of what they did 20 years ago and then I'll look at the credits and see they didn't work with anybody new, so to me it comes down to reaching out to new collaborators and being open to new stuff, including my own son. Lucas is an incredible talent and I'd be a fool not to ask him to help me out."
Marx and his son co-wrote "All Along" and "Another One Down," which is the album's lead single and has climbed to No. 14 on the Adult Contemporary chart (Oct. 19), becoming his highest-peaking non-holiday hit on the chart since 1997.
Marx has three sons with his ex-wife actress Cynthia Rhodes: Brandon, 29, Lucas, 27 and Jesse, 25. "I'm close to all three of them and they are all incredibly talented," he says proudly, "but Lucas, I think, is the most aligned with me musically and creatively. My oldest son Brandon is brilliant and an incredible singer, but he's totally into electronic and mostly hip-hop. As much as I appreciate that, I don't feel a kinship to a lot of the music that he's making. I really respect it, but we're just kind of in different worlds. Then my youngest son Jesse and I have written a little bit together but he's like serious hardcore rock. He makes [metal band] Lamb of God sound like me. Lucas is that sort of straight-ahead pop/R&B and is super melodic. He was playing me stuff for the last two years because he's really prolific and every time he'd play me a new song I'd go, 'F—! This is so good.'"
Marx said when he and Lucas sat down to write, they knocked out "Another One Down" in about an hour. "I couldn't believe how effortless it was to write and the next thing I knew he was sitting at his computer creating the track," Marx recalls. "It was really cool for me to have him produce me. I made some suggestions. I changed a few things, but mostly he had a real good vision for it. When the track was done, I went up to the microphone and said, 'Tell me what to do,' and he beat me up a few times pretty hard. There were times he'd go, 'No! No! You can't sing it like that. You sound 100 years old,' and so I said, 'Okay sing it for me' and he would sort of line-read me, like you would an actor. I learned a lot from it and I know he learned from it. Then to have the single get on the charts and nearly get into the top 10 on the AC chart, he'd never had a song on the charts before. He said, 'To have my first song on the charts with you is insane. It's so cool.' So it was a real special thing."
Marx co-wrote the poignant ballad "Not in Love" with Bareilles. "That's a song that I had had for a year or two and I just wasn't sure if it was finished," he says. "I knew that there was something special about it, but I just couldn't quite crack the code to finish it to my liking and then Sara and I got together to write. She came up with most of that last verse lyrically. I just remember breathing a sigh of relief and going, 'Now it's finished.' I love her. I'm a huge fan so I love that we have something together that's coming out."
Meanwhile, "Strong Enough" was penned with Lifehouse's Jason Wade and features vocals by actress/singer Jana Kramer. "I wrote that song with Jason Wade, who I love. He lives in Nashville now, but we wrote that song when he was living in L.A. a couple years ago," Marx recalls. "We did a really nice tracking together at his studio and when I was singing it, one of us said — I can't remember who said — 'You know this would be a really nice duet.' I reached out to Jana's management and she loved the song. So we just got together in a studio in L.A. a couple weeks later and knocked it out."
"Let Go" is another track Marx is particularly excited for fans to hear. "I love that song. That began as a collaboration with Morgan Page, who is a DJ/songwriter/musician that I'm a big fan of," he shares. "I said, 'I'm going to take this home for a couple of days and just ruminate on it' because there were no lyrics when we wrote the track. I was dating Daisy and we had written the title for my last album, [2014's] Beautiful Goodbye. It was really the first time she ever tried to write a song and it just turned out she's a really good lyricist. It's not that she doesn't follow the rules of songwriter. She doesn't know them. She never knew them. She doesn't adhere to any limitations. I get all 'songwritery' in my head sometimes [saying] 'You can't rhyme that with that' or 'You can't say it that way. It has to be more poetic' and then Daisy would go, 'Why can't you say it? Just say it.' So I brought her this song and as soon as we sat down, we knew exactly what we wanted to write."
Marx describes the song as being about detachment, but in a positive sense of the word. "I was buttoned up pretty tight for most of my life and actually deluded myself in thinking I had some control," he says. "Once you realize you don't, and you really just do let go, then all of a sudden all this good stuff starts to happen."
Marx will be sharing his hits and introducing songs from Limitless as he winds down his current tour and gears up for a busy slate of dates in 2020. During his lengthy career, he's penned songs for a variety of artists from Kenny Rogers to Luther Vandross, and Marx holds the distinction of having written songs that have hit No. 1 on various Billboard charts in each of the last four decades (1980s-2010s), as well as being the only male soloist in history whose first seven Hot 100 entries each reached the top five.
Marx is enjoying this season of his life and seems relaxed and happy. "What I finally learned to do in the last few years is embrace the gift that I have of not having to do anything I don't want to do — to be at a place in my career and life where if I make an album, it's simply because I felt like making an album. If you see me on a stage, it's because I want to be there. That's a really amazing blessing to be at a place in your life to feel like that," he says. "That's why the album is so sort of schizophrenic in terms of style. There were times when I was like how can I put 'Limitless' on the same album as 'Front Row Seat' or how can I put 'Let Go' on the same album as 'This One.' They sound like totally different albums and then I was like, but it's all me and I reminded myself that I can do whatever I want.
"I'm at a place where it's all about doing stuff that matters to me, that I enjoy," he continues. "If this album is even remotely successful that would be great, but that's not why I did it. It's already successful to me because I really love the album. I'm really proud of it and that's enough. That's what it should really be about. I learned to just do what moves you. It's a beautiful place to be."