Music Producer Richard Marx: 'The Playboy Club' Felt 'Doomed From the Start'
Richard Marx lost a high-profile gig when NBC canceled The Playboy Club, for which he was serving as a music producer. But the singer, songwriter and performer -- who racked up eight Top 10 singles between 1987-94 and worldwide sales of more than 30 million -- isn't wanting for things to do.
His latest project, in fact, is a digital Christmas EP imaginatively titled The Christmas EP. An outgrowth of an annual holiday gift Marx and his three sons recorded at home for his wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes, the set includes four classics, including a duet with Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins on "Silent Night," plus a new song, "Christmas Spirit," co-written with Tubes frontman Fee Waybill.
"My manager said, 'You've never put out a Christmas record, and it's probably too late to do an album but why don't we do an EP? Why don't you do a couple of those songs you've done with your boys but you sing lead and leave them in as background singers,' " Marx, who plans to record another seven songs for a full-length offering in 2012, tells Billboard.com. Marx recorded his new vocals in Nashville, cutting with a rhythm section in one room and an orchestra in the next. "I could see them both from the vocal booth," he recalls, "and we sang and played everything live."
Marx describes "Christmas Spirit" as "really uptempo and fun -- I want people to think Phil Spector busted out of jail. It's total over-production -- strings, bells, girl singers, you name it. That's sort of our key track for the album."
The EP is just a number of balls Marx is keeping in the air, however -- by design. "To me it's not any more about focusing on any particular project," Marx explains. "I don't think there's a tremendous amount of anticipation for any one project by anyone these days, and I don't think the toothpaste is going back in the tube. So for someone like me, who's very prolific and in constant writing mode, is to keep putting stuff out instead of centering attention to an 11- or 12-song album that, frankly people are not going to have time to listen to the way you intended."
Marx's primary outlet now, in fact, is writing for others. He's spent the past few years racking up credits with Celine Dion, Daughtry, Lifehouse,Ringo Starr, Julio Iglesias, Toni Braxton, Kenny Loggins, Travis Tritt, Clay Aiken and especially Keith Urban, with whom Marx has notched three hits -- "Everybody," "Better Life" and the recent country No. 1 "Long Hot Summer."
"I'm a huge fan of his," Marx says of Urban. "I love him. I love writing with him. Musically it's so effortless; we're both primarily, instinctively melody guys. The only problem we have when we're writing is that his approach to lyrics is very different than my approach. My whole thing is I want to say it in a way you've never heard before...and Keith's whole approach is, 'I don't want to get poetic. I just want to say it. I want it to be simple. I want everyone and their mother to understand it.' I have to conform to that, 'cause it's his record.
"The only other problem we have is getting through a writing session. We just sit around and laugh all the time. We want to hang out and have dinner and go tell jokes. That's like our reward, 'If we finish this verse, we can go to dinner...' "
Marx is also looking for a broadcast home for a concert performance he filmed during the summer in St. Charles, Ill. -- with guest appearances by *NSYNC's JC Chasez and Hugh Jackman. And while he's disappointed with The Playboy Club cancellation ("[The show] felt doomed from the start," he says), Marx is hoping to continue working with the cast's Tony Award-winning Laura Benanti. "We've talked about it," Marx says. "Any time you start working with somebody and you have that, 'Wow, we really click. This is a really great collaboration,' of course it's going to lead to, 'Well, you should make an album.' And she's like, 'Yeah -- only if you produce it,' so I think she might end up making a record in the next year or two, and I'd love to produce her. She's a songwriter as well, the real deal."