There are some Aussie albums that are for one reason or another etched in your memory and Heaven Knows by Rick Price is one of those albums having five hits singles off the album including the title track winning the APRA Song of the Year in 1992. Heaven Knows is being brought back to life by Price with a solo acoustic tour where he performs the album in its entirety in intimate venues around Australia during October/November.
Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles had a chat to Rick Price where he reminisced on how the song and album was created, writing processes, living in Nashville and how music is so important to him.
You will be performing the album Heaven Knows in its entirety. What made you decide to revisit this iconic album and perform it live?
The thought came into my mind and I thought that it would be fun. These are songs that I haven’t performed for a long time and I really feel a strong connection to Australia with that album. It’s the album that really started my career.
It’s a much loved album. Everyone remembers the hits songs from it. It’s a pretty iconic album in the terms of Australian music for that time.
I have a real fondness for it and it’s great because I haven’t performed some of these songs in many years. It’s just really good to revisit them.
Are you looking forward to coming home to tour?
Absolutely. I come back to Australia quite a lot. At least twice a year usually. Its just fantastic. I love Australia and love touring there and of course I get to catch up with all my friends and family. It’s just great.
The shows are in more intimate venues. Do you enjoy the vibe of being closer to audiences when performing live?
Yeah, I do. I like that intimacy of a close audience and a solo acoustic performance. It also gives me a chance to tell the stories of the songs and how they were written and what was kinda going on at the time. In a solo acoustic performance, you can really move with the audience a little bit and I can mix up the arrangements and change the set around. I can do whatever I want when I do solo acoustic because I don’t have to work in with a band. It’s definitely one of my favourite ways to perform.
Being part of the audience, I like the more intimate settings because you can get more of a connection with the artist and a closer bond.
Yeah, I feel that too. I really enjoy intimate venues where I can make that closer connection.
Heaven Knows is still a well loved song and most people know it and have fond memories of it. Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share when writing it?
It was a very special song for me and the writing process was really interesting because I remember just sitting down at the piano one day, oh actually I was walking from my car from a recording studio. I used to sing radio and television commercials when I was younger and so I was walking into the studio and they weren’t quite ready for me and so I just sat in one of the other rooms and sat at the piano and I just played the song almost like I had heard it before. Like the whole first part of the song and I sat down just sort of playing it and singing it. It didn’t have all the lyrics but it had the opening line and some of the verse. All of the melody was just sitting there in my mind. I went home to a friend of mine after the session and I kept going around saying “Have you heard this before?” It just sounded like a song I knew. It didn’t seem like I was writing it. So, it was like something that I had heard before but it turns out I was writing it and was hearing it for the first time. But sometimes songs come like that so the writing process on that song showed me and really shed light on “Oh that’s how song writing really works!”. You know we think we’re kind of making these melodies up and sometimes it happens that way but in the case of this song I was really hearing it than making it up.
Was the whole album process an easy one or was it challenging to write?
I think song writing is always challenging. Because of the birth aspect to writing and creating music and so there’s a certain amount of tension to the process for sure. So that’s one of the curious things about song writing it’s not exactly a comfortable thing to do but its enormously rewarding. Once I had a couple of songs that I felt strongly about and the song writing process got a little easier because I knew what direction I was writing in and the kind of style. I knew I needed songs that would hold together and sound like they came from the same bundle.
It’s kind of hard to explain but I always do that when I’m making records for myself or when I’m producing for other people. It’s the first thing I’m looking for, a group of songs to hold together and do they have some sort of connection to each other? To me it makes for a stronger record. So, yeah it was a challenging time for me to write the songs and its was early days of my song writing and I was really learning to write songs. In some ways it was difficult but a very good time as well.
Obviously, it was a successful album so saying that it was challenging to write all these songs did you think it was going to be as successful as it was or was it a surprise?
Yeah, I was definitely delighted and I was hoping to have some success with it. I’d grown up listening to the radio and everything I learnt about music was from listening to records and working out songs. Really just listening to the radio and it was a big thing for me. As a kid I was always fascinated by it because that was my connection to all this music from around the world. Hearing The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and The Beatles just all the stuff coming out of this box! So, it was a childhood dream of mine to be able to write songs and record them and played on the radio. That’s all I really cared about. If I could just get there then I felt I had it made!
How did you feel when you first heard your song on the radio?
It was unbelievable! I was driving in Sydney down William St from Kings Cross and I remember coming down in my little red Honda sports car and I just at that moment couldn’t believe it. It was surreal. It was like it wasn’t happening. I just pulled over to the side of the road and just turned it up and really took in the moment and thought “Man I’m on the radio. Like, I’M ON THE RADIO! With a song I wrote and that’s ME singing!” And I’ve been on the radio before in terms of I’ve heard my voice singing sometimes backgrounds on other people records or radio commercials. So, I’ve heard my voice on the radio before but it’s a very different experience when its you as the artist and the songwriter. Having your story blasting out of the radio it’s very exciting.
I’m not an artist but I’m sure it’s very exciting and surreal to hear it.
It doesn’t feel real and you have to pinch yourself. Over time you do get used to it and its terrific but it’s still a thrill you know. I don’t think I ever lost the thrill of hearing my music on the radio. It still delights me.
Did you have that same kind of feeling when you first heard your music played on American radio?
Yeah, I had exactly the same feeling. My last solo album I did was an album called Tennessee Sky and that was the title track and I remember hearing Tennessee Sky on the radio in Nashville and it was the same experience. I pulled over and I’m sitting in a car park outside a Panera Bread store and I’m just sitting here by myself again and it was great. I was excited!
Considering many years later you get to have that “first” experience again when it’s rare to experience that “first” time feeling again!
It’s an old cliché that music is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s phenomenal! I play music every day. I play guitar a lot or piano or drums or something. I sing everyday and everyday I learn something new. I really am. I’m looking for something new. I’m delighted that I discover something new. I think its like tuning into the most phenomenal radio station you could ever think of and its like something is being beamed into me and I’m beaming it out and it’s a great exchange.
Yeah well, it’s good for us to because we get to hear it and experience some great music.
Yeah, I’m a fan of music too and you know I listen to a lot of music. I get up in the morning and I turn on some I don’t know classical or some jazz and a lot of instrumental music. I just love it. I’m a big fan too. I’m just like you.
My Saturday morning ritual is to turn on the TV to listen to Rage on Channel 2. Because radio has changed so much that Rage is now like my radio to discover new music.
Yeah, yeah! Well Rage it’s a trailblazer isn’t it? It really does give young and upcoming bands a chance to be heard. It’s a great thing.
When you look back on that album and then compare it to the songs you write now is there a different approach you take to song writing or is it pretty much the same?
Not a long has changed. I hopefully know a little bit more about myself and how the process works. I’ve learnt some short cuts or learnt you know not go down that road because I sort of know where that leads. That kinda thing so I know what I’m looking for now. Its pretty much the same. I pick up an instrument and I’m jamming on it and I’m singing along. I’m getting into the practice of just making things up. It’s a very unusual process because like I said it feels like in real time that you’re actually making it up but I really do think that there is a giant radio station out there and I do believe that we tune into it. Whether we are making it up or hearing it simultaneously I don’t really know but that’s the mystery of song writing! Cos I can say (starts singing and clapping in time) “We-ell its good to talk to you-ou Anastasia, Anastasia.” I can just make something up and so you gotta ask yourself “Is that me making it up or is that being beamed to me at the same time and I just don’t know it.” I can go anywhere I like with it. It’s a phenomenal thing and its not me doing it. I just seem to know how to do it. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m not a genius. It just comes out of me.
The circumstances or the surroundings you are in can also impact how a sound comes out of you or a feeling then it becomes a tune.
Yeah, it is a somewhat learned and practised and refined thing. Like you really could write a song if you wanted to. I know you could. Its just that its not part of your inner vocabulary right now but it could be. It could be. I think as musicians we are like, I guess I was born that way. I was banging on pots and pans and impersonating Elvis like when I was really, really young! My Mother said I used to stand at the top of the stairs with my tennis racquet pretend I was singing Elvis (sings) “Wont you be my teddy bear.” I think it’s a thing your drawn to.
I think I read somewhere you played all the instruments on one of your albums. Is that correct?
Yeah and the good thing about playing all the instruments on a record it’s one of the options but its not my preferred option. I love collaborating with other great musicians and they bring something that I could never dream of bringing to it. What’s good is if I hear a whole arrangement in my head, if I’m hearing what the drums should be doing because I’ve played drums since I was a little kid and I’ve played guitar and bass and a little bit of piano so I can sort of be my own band thanks to multi-tracking technology and digital recording. So, its satisfying in that way. If you listen to my Tennessee Sky album, it’s on iTunes, yeah, I played everything on that record.
You now live in Nashville where you would have access to some amazing artists and music vibes. How does that help with your creative process when writing new music?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. There’s certainly something in the air so to speak. And I also think its just great to be inspired by other people. Go out to hear really good musicians play. Its kind of like when I move from the country to the city it was like “Wow! All these great musicians.” It was a bit like that coming to Nashville because its very densely populated with very phenomenal musicians, singers and song writers. Everyone is at their absolute top of their game. So, its really nothing to walk into a club and hear a phenomenal musician just there playing. In a way its inspirational and makes you lift your game. It inspires you. There’s a certain amount of inspiration that comes from external things and of course there’s the internal inspiration.
It’s good that you can get that inspiration from a country or a city that you haven’t grown up in. Does it feel like your growing up again in a new place where everything is new and exciting?
Yeah, it’s very, very similar to when I moved to Sydney and I was only 18 and I joined a bunch of bands and I don’t think any band that I played in had a person that came from Sydney. They were all from either North Queensland, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne or from country towns. No-one was from Sydney but they were all gathered there and there was a musical environment. It was like man if you get to Sydney and play in some bands there you’ll learn a lot. So that’s what I did and coming to Nashville was the same experience for me. The people that I work with not that many of them are Nashvillians. They’re from all different parts of America but they’re here in a concentrated musical environment. They are moving here to be a part of it. You can gather together for a common thing. Some common ground.
There seems to be a large contingency of Aussies and Aussie musicians that have moved or stay in Nashville.
I always say this “Be careful walking down the street in Nashville because you’ll trip over an Australian for sure!” (laugh) They are just everywhere!
Do you all sometimes get together and reminisce or talk about what you miss about Australia?
To a certain degree. Often in celebratory times like Christmas and that kind of a thing there will be a lot of Australians having a Christmas party every year. Your Aussie mates will show up or you go to their place. I think there is a spirit of Australians here and its good. I think Aussies have a good way about us. Were pretty easy-going people and by and large pretty friendly and hungry people.
And have a great sense of humour!
Yeah! We don’t mind taking the piss with each other. That sort of thing! You know were not allowed to take yourself too seriously as an Australian in Australia. It’s like “Aww come on mate what ya doing?”
Well you haven’t lost your accent at all. I can still hear your Queensland accent.
Yeah, my accent really revs up when I talk to my family. I can get very, very Australian. I have not adopted the American accent at all! Plus, people love the Australian accent here. They can’t get enough of it!
Lastly, I need to ask you because I only recently found out that you actually wrote this song but tell us how it came about that you wrote the song Take It From Me by Girlfriend? I loved that song back in the day!
It was a lot of fun. Actually, I helped to put that group together. A friend of mine Noel MacDonald who is a phenomenal singer/song writer/producer and I were music partners for a while and we put that band together and wrote some of the songs. He went on to be the producer and write their records and manage them. I went off and just did my own solo career as I felt it really wasn’t for me and I needed to do my own thing. Yeah, I helped put that band together and wrote some of their earlier songs. I enjoyed it. I love music in general and it was a lot fun working with them.
Interview by Anastasia Lambis