If youíre looking for a real blast from the 90s then you canít look much further than the biggest breakout stars of the early part of the decade, Right Said Fred. Brothers Richard and Fred - and Rob Manzoli back then - literally came from nowhere at a time where that was still possible. Their ĎIím Too Sexyí was a huge hit in 1991 and still gets mimicked today. We caught up with the band to talk about what theyíve been up to, and their brand new album Exactly.
Hi guys, letís start with the new record. What can you tell us about it?
Fred: [laughs] The albumís called Exactly. I think itís our ninth studio album, I canít quite remember which. Weíve been writing and recording it over the last couple of sort of years. Sort of taken our time really, because weíre independent and self-funding, so we kind of do it at a pace that suits us. We started in about late 2015 I suppose or something like that. And weíve been co-writing it and recording it with Paul Statham, who is probably best known for his stuff with Dido. And Gordon Davis and Jason Glover. Jason was in the James Taylor Quartet, and Gordon is a bass player whoís worked with Jimmy Page, Robbie Williams and Shane McGowan.
There are quite different songs, more serious-y songs, also some poppy lighter songs on there. And everything in between. Is that influenced by the sort of people that you worked with on Exactly, or is that just kind of who you guys are?
Richard: I think thatís it. Itís inevitably influenced by people we work with. And also I guess sometimes the mood that weíre in when we write a song. I think artists can be quite detached, thereís a thing out there that when you hear a song, you learn something about the artist. Sometimes thatís true, and sometimes itís not. Sometimes the artist is just playing a game. And just writing what the song wants them to write. You donít always necessarily engage in feelings about it. You know what I mean? So sometimes itís a bit of a con, in a way. I kind of think itís inevitable that you will be affected by the people you work with. But thereís still a spine going through the whole album of who we are. Which is, in terms of songwriting itís pretty unpredictable.
And we make up our own mind, because thereís no band in there. Itís not like weíve got an electric guitarist sitting there who wants to plug in and mosh over everything. We make it up as we go along kind of thing. Sometimes we want electric guitars, sometimes we want acoustic. On one track thereís an accordion, just because we pressed a button and weíve got all those sounds. So we used it, you know. Itís prettyÖitís more chaotic I think and more sort of subject to the moment than people imagine.
Itís really as fluid as that then. Do you go into the studio with stuff written and play about with it as youíre doing it, or did you write things when youíre in the studio, is it all part of the same bit of the process?
Fred: Itís both. We often write at home just with acoustic guitars. Nearly everything has started like that. Or if not, we started with one idea, that gets dumped, and then we tend to write to the backing track that that previous songís created. So it is very fluid. We do write in the studio and write at home. So we do both, really.
Richard: Yeah. And what weíve learned to do, which we didnít do initially, was do roughs of everything. Bring it home and listen to it and live with it. And seeÖbecause in the past, when I listen to some old stuff, I know that if weíd taken those basic tracks back and just a week or two or even less, just overnight, just to think about them and absorb what we wanted to try and do, we would have probably stayed truer to our original thoughts.
So on this album we have taken everything back, pretty much, and lived with it and messed around with it. Thereís one track, ĎI Donít Want to Die Right Nowí, and we had that verse ages ago, and the chorus just came to us while we were doing the album. So some things come quite quickly and some things donít. Itís a bit of a mixed picture to be honest. But we are much moreÖwe took more control on this album than weíve ever done before. In the past weíve kind of deferred to other people a little bit, particularly the producer. On this particular album we were much more involved at every stage.
Itís interesting, isnít it. Like you say itís quite a mix of different styles and but itís still very much a Right Said Fred album.
Richard: Yeah. This idea that bands have to sort of be same the whole time, itís quite a new thing. Because I grew up, I hate to say it, but I grew up with bands like The Beatles. On The White Album youíve got ĎRevolution No. 9í and ĎOb-La-Di, Ob-La-Daí.
For me, bands are a bit like people, they have good days, bad days, happy days, sad days. You know, itís what bands are. And the artists that turn out the same kind of stuff the whole time bore me rigid. I just donít listen, I never listen to them. I canít stand it. So I like the fact that itís a bit all over the place, but the problem is, itís much more difficult to market. [laughs]
And so does that make it more difficult to pick a single, or something to lead with, or do you just pick the obvious one?
Richard: Itís difficult. When we first started, ĎDeeply Dippyí was kind of knocked around as a first single. And as an indication of the way some people think, we were told ďcan you make that into a dance tune?Ē At 160 BPM or whatever it would be. [laughter]
I think this is a typical Right Said Fred album. But weíre just beginning to learn to be happy with that, I think. I think we spent a lot of time trying to be a bit like everybody else. Trying to be more consistent, trying to be more international, trying to be blah, blah, blah. And with this album I think weíve pretty much pleased ourselves and done what we think we like.
Fred: We tend to let other people, not choose the singles, but if you decide to work with a plugger, or a management company, you canít then spend your whole life disagreeing with them, because then you shouldnít be working with them. So, we met some people that we like working with. And we take their advice on board quite a lot. And with regards to the singles, I wouldnít say we think ĎSweet Treatsí is the strongest single. But we do think it was a good first single to kind of get radio on board, we were very lucky, we got some good support.
I think songs like ĎOnly When We La-La Loveí maybe and ĎMe and Youí are probably stronger single contenders. So we tend to get directed in that way, because when youíve been living with the song for so long, you can imagine you can sit back and view it objectiveness a bit more evident.
One song I love is ĎSilicon Journeyí. I love the lyric, the subject matter and itís quintessentially Right Said Fred. Itís a breath of fresh air amongst the homogenisation of a lot of pop music.
Itís interesting, particularly with picking singles, Robbie Williams Candy for example isnít necessarily representative of the rest of that album, but it was obviously a great first single because people loved it and it had something about it. Itís about whatís the best song. Itís howís radio going to pick it up and that kind of thing.
Richard: Exactly, yes, itís got nothing to do with it being the best song, absolutely. I think, for me itís just a little bit depressing that the parameters are so narrow. Did you see the Grammys last night? If you want that sort of stuff, then go on a cruise. Iím sorry, but it just doesnít do anything for me. And if Iím going to watch an artist, Iíd rather watch Captain Beefheart messing up all night. Really.
Fred: I think weíve got to the point where we tend to think that beingÖthe profession has now become slick. And donít find slick particularly entertaining. I do admire it, I watched Lady Gaga at the Superbowl and I thought her professionalism was completely undeniable. Itís not something I would buy a ticket to go and see; but I do understand its worth.
If you go back to when you guys first came around in the early Ď90s, it felt much more interesting then, people were doing different stuff, it was slightly unpredictable. And youíre right, itís much more professional now. Great for record labels and people who put on shows, but it is pretty boring for people who are watching it most of the time.
Richard: Yes. Iíve got an eighteen year old daughter. Almost nineteen. And I chat with her and I ask about her and her friends about how they access music. And the interesting thing is, none of them listen to radio anymore. They donít, itís not on their landscape. So they access music through Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook and whatís being played at university and who recommends what, and one act suggesting another act on YouTube. Itís quite, itís quite anarchic in its own weird way. You canít begin to second-guess that.
Fred: I think what you have to do as a band is just write some songs you like, stick them on an album, and keep your fingers crossed. [laughter] And you know, the idea for us with this album, we were under no illusions. We werenít going to come out of the traps and hit great chart positions and get loads of support. That was never going to happen. And I have been surprised by the support, but this album for us is to put us back into festivals, back into shows. And itís a calling card, really.
Richard: Yes, itís a calling card, exactly.
Fred: Thatís what it is nowadays. I donít want to mention them, but there are lots of bands out there who you never really see on TV or in the charts, but they do very good business on the live circuit. And for us, thatís probably where we will end up sort of gathering dust.
Richard: ďEnd up!Ē [laughs]
Fred: Not ďend upĒ, I donít mean ďend upĒ, I meanÖ
Richard: I know what you mean. Thatís the problem with music now. The unpredictability of some artists is not seen necessarily as a good thing. Itís seen as expensive, and difficult to market, and all those other things. But actually, pop music, without sounding too pompous, is art. Itís an art form. And it should be treated as such, not as some kind of cheese-packaging thing. Itís much more than that. And you only really get the great stuff and the surprising stuff when you take a bit of a chance.
Being independent then, thatís a good thing for you guys, right? Youíre happy to have the freedom to write what you want, sing what you want, put it out when you want?
Richard: Itís a good thing in the long term if it works. Itís a bad thing in the short term because it costs a fortune.
Fred: Yes. [both laugh] Itís very expensive. And also sadly as we saw in the Brits recently, independent labels and artists are not represented. So thatís a huge problem, the way major record labels squeeze out independent record labels. I think thatís a great shame. We donít really suit the corporate narrative, really. It just doesnít really rest well with us. So we tend to look after ourselves, fund ourselves, and then we donít get in anybody elseís way. [laughs]
Richard: Weíre not very good at the predictability that you need to have. On a label, youíre kind of expected to be in the same thing all the time, and we find that difficult to do. Iím not criticising people who can, itís probably a good thing if you can. But we just canít. The new album sort of illustrates that really. Itís a bit like the first album, thereís a swing track, and a heavy track, a dance track. We move around quite a bit, and I donít think thatís necessarily helpful when youíre trying to market an artist as one thing or another.
Itís interesting isnít it, because youíd think these days with streaming, and so many new acts, youíd think actually for an independent artist or label it would be easier, but the big labels still get airplay and TV play. Itís tough, isnít it?
Richard: Yes, yes, indeed. So imagine that money doesnít shout, big money shouts the loudest. Always has, always will.
Fred: Yeah it does, yeah. Also the major labels can play a game that we canít, which is, they say ďif you play Artist A we can guarantee you Artist BĒ. An independent label rarely has that leverage. We have to work on a level that we can sustain, so we canít pretend to play like the majors do. Theyíre head and shoulders above us in that respect.
And weíre not complaining, itís just how it is. You just have to accept the sort of artists you are, how you work and be done with it. We have met with major labels, and we did on this album, but itís just not a union that would be a particularly happy one.
Richard: No, just walking into the foyer, just doesnít suit us.
Fred: Our hearts sink. [laughter]
Richard: Big leather sofas and comfy chairs andÖI donít know. Thereís just something about it that just doesnítÖ
Fred: Yeah. The idea that a lawyer can hear a hit record just makes me smile really.
So obviously youíve had some really big hits; donít you get really bored playing some of your hits over and over again, or is every night different when youíre in front of an audience?
Richard: Iíve never got bored. We get bored if we donít like the song. If we donít like the song we get bored. But ĎSexyí [Ed - the mega smash ĎIím Too Sexyí] as an example, I canít think of, I honestly canít think of one occasion when weíve got on stage and Iíve not wanted to do it. Never. Thatís never happened to me, not once.
Fred: I do think, if youíre privileged enough to have had some hit records, and youíre on stage and you donít want to play your hit records, I think you need to give yourself a talking to. Because if youíre in that privileged position of not only selling records, having sold records but having people come and see you play them, you owe it not just to them but to yourself to step up and do your job. Thatís your job. And if you went to an Italian restaurant and on the night the guy decided he wanted to cook Lebanese, [laughter] that wouldnít be very good. You have to accept, I think as an artist you have some responsibilities.
Richard: Also a song, somebody that we worked on a few years ago, he made the point that once a song is famous and successful, it doesnít really just belong to you anymore. It belongs to everybody that bought it and liked it. So itís not justÖyour proprietorial sense of it needs to change, because you share that song with everybody else. They bought it, they like it, why on earth wouldnít you play it?
Yes. And I suppose everyone attaches their own experiences as well to the really big songs like Iím Too Sexy. It would probably be different for different people.
Richard: And never underestimate the power of what that is. Pop music is incredibly powerful in that way. It gives people great pleasure. And itís sometimes connected with very key moments in their life, whether itís divorce or marriage or death of a loved one or something. And itís usually a pop tune thatís associated with that in one way or another. So itís not something to be treated lightly, I donít think. I think itís quite aÖ I wouldnít say itís a serious occupation Öbut itís an important occupation. And everybody involved in it, from record companies all the way down to artists, I think need to treat it with a little bit more respect than they do. Itís not just about money.
Fred: A friend of mine whoís a consultant in the record industry went to an A & R meeting and no-one played any music. All they did was check artistsí stats on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. There was no music played. And thatís kind of where youíre getting with these people, because they donít really like music. Theyíre not in the music industry because they like music. Theyíre making music for other reasons. So I think as an artist the best thing to do itÖ
Richard: Youíve got to turn off.
Fred: Yeah, just get on, do what you do. We like what we do. If other people like it thatís great, if they donít, thatís great as well.
You can buy or stream Exactly from anywhere you buy or listen to music now.