Richard Marx faced a professional dilemma in the months leading up to recording his new album, Limitless. He was happy with his life and work. He was able to tour the world and had ample opportunity to write songs with other artists. The thought of getting in the studio to make his own was not a priority.
“It’s always something I thought about, but I didn’t really have a burning desire to get back in the studio,” Marx said in a call earlier this week. “I love making albums, but it comes to a point where it starts to become less and less viable to me. … Like, ‘what’s the point?'”
Yet when he would occasionally revisit a handful of songs he stored on his phone, his mind would wander to the possibilities. If he ever got back in the studio, these songs deserved to be recorded, he thought.
“I needed to be reminded that the point is that songs still happen to me, they still come through me,” he said. “I love seeing from a little germ of an idea to the finished product.”
Marx didn’t fully dive into the potential for a new album until he received a call from BMG, which wanted to know if he had any new music to release. Having a viable partner to release and distribute the music gave him the motivation to get the job done. Once he started writing, the ideas developed quickly.
“Once I gave up the thought of trying to write a cohesive record, it really became much more fun,” Marx said. “Why can’t I do a couple of songs that are sort of country rock, and then a really beautiful naked piano ballad, and really super modern pop—who says I can’t?”
Marx said he was surprised at how much inspiration he drew from his collaborators like Michael Jade, Sara Bareilles, his wife Daisy Fuentes and even his son Lucas, who also co-produced the album. All of them helped him avoid rehashing old ideas.
The song with Bareilles was actually written a couple years prior to the Limitless sessions. At the time, Bareilles rarely co-wrote with others so the opportunity was especially new and exciting. The two spent a weekend together and Marx remembers that by the end of the session they came up with two songs that were good—but not great. That’s not unusual for two songwriters working together for the first time.
“It’s a little bit of a first date. You’re sort of feeling each other out,” he said. “You’re not quite comfortable with each other, so you’re a little inhibited.”
On the day Bareilles was to fly out, Marx played her the demo for “Not In Love,” a song that he had been working on but was missing an ingredient. Her initial reaction was that it was strong enough, but he insisted the last verse was missing a spark.
“She rewrote the last verse with me,” Marx said. “She jokes that she didn’t do much, but what she did was so powerful that it made me feel like the song was really complete.”
A quick search of Marx’s songwriting discography provides an impressive journey through generations and genres. He has left very little ground untouched over the years. He credits his ability to adapt to the way he composes his lyrics.
“I’m a very music-driven songwriter, so the first thing that happens is the melodies come,” he said. “Once the music starts to happen in my head, it’s not linear, I already know what the record is going to sound like and whether it’s a pop song, or a rock song, or a country song or an orchestral song.”
Marx is proud of his vast collaborative catalog, from The Tubes to Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger to hard-rockers Red. Recently, he checked off a personal bucket list accomplishment by working with Burt Bacharach.
“I worked very hard to get in the room with him,” Marx said. “He doesn’t just write with anybody and he protects his craft.”
As a career songwriter he’s seen how the music industry has radically changed, which he sees as a double-edged sword.
“It’s much easier to put your music out. It’s much harder to have it make a difference,” he said. “It just gets swallowed up in the white noise.”
Here Marx points to Coldplay’s album, Everyday Life. He said it’s obvious how much effort the band put into it, and Coldplay fans ate it up, but as a whole, it quickly seemed to fade to an afterthought once people’s attention spans moved on to the next thing.
“The things that really poke through and have legs, like Billie Eilish or Halsey; that is a much more difficult thing to accomplish,” he said.
Marx said he sees touring as what can sustain his career—hopefully into his 90s like Tony Bennett, an artist whose career he’d love to emulate. At his recent shows, he’s noticed an influx of younger fans who sing along to songs written 30 years ago.
“The only way that these kids know my songs in this way is that their parents still play those records, and that is an incredible gift,” he said.
While the tours will continue, he sees his career as a songwriter and musician much differently, and said that while he’s sure that he will have more things to say and write about as he gets older, but that he may have other priorities.
“Do I want to be in a dark studio today or do I want to be walking on the beach with Daisy?” he said.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.