Neil Sedaka has enjoyed a long and illustrious career but he is about to release his first ever acoustic album.
I caught up with the singer songwriter to chat about the new record, why he chose to record this way and what lies ahead.
- You are about to release your new record The Real Neil so what can we expect from the new album?
Well it is primarily new songs and it is my first acoustic album in my fifty five years of recording.
It is piano and voice and at the beginning of the record I speak to the audience to say that this is how I write songs - this is the pure form of the song with no embellishment or gimmicks.
I am one of the last writers who can write hit singles, if I can blow my own horn, there were many many years ago but I am still one of those who can write hit singles.
- As you say you have recorded the track very simply with just a piano so why did you decide to record like this? And what do you think recording like this does for your music?
I think it is very intimate and very personal as the lyrics are very personal to me. Also it shows that songs are the basis of the success - today with all the production and all of the layers of sounds it still comes down to the songs.
I was from the Brill Building in New York and we were taught to write intelligible lyrics with very catchy phrases and memorable tunes and I think that that is the basic success of a song.
Also the last track is very special because it is my first piano concerto and I call it Manhattan Intermezzo and I will be debuting it October 17th at the Albert Hall with the London Philharmonic.
- Well you have slightly touched on my next question which was about the piano concerto so I was wondering what made you go down this path?
I started as a concert pianist at the Julliard School here in New York and it is my first love so I really have gone full circle back to my roots.
I was always a very studied musician, which has helped in the pop writing, but I wanted to go back and write some serious music - not that the pop is not serious - but some classical music where you have much more creative freedom.
I am very very proud of the collection and I will be doing tan concerts - all of which will be piano and voice - and it is going to be over two hours of music.
It goes from A-Z, I have been writing for sixty years, so it goes from the early Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield songs on to the Phil Cody songs of the seventies and then I started writing my own lyrics soon after.
- So how does writing the piano concerto compare to penning a pop song?
Well it takes much more time and you have much more of a challenge with the harmonic rhythm, the phrasing - musically it is much more demanding and it takes much more knowledge and musical background.
- But now that you have tackled writing a classical piece for the first time would you ever consider going down this path and exploring it a little further?
I do and I have already. The Kentucky Symphony here in the United States has commissioned me to do a new piece which will open their concert hall next week in Kentucky and I call it Kentucky Capriccio.
Then I also write a symphonic piece Joie De Vivre (Joy Of Life) which will also be performed at the Albert Hall.
Manhattan Intermezzo was interesting because I am from New York City and I wanted to musically describe the melting-pot of nationalities, the sounds of New York and spirit of New York and because I was born and raised here so I was very comfortable with that.
- As you said earlier The Real Neil is your first acoustic album of your career so why did you decide that now was the perfect time to put out a record like this?
Because all of the records are so over produced and they need embellishments and gimmicks and as a singer-songwriter I am very proud to be part of the history of American rock and roll.
I feel that songs should be presented in their purest form - the way that they were written at the piano or the guitar.
I am very proud that I have lasted so long in this very trendy business as many of us are gone or have lost our voices but I am very happy to say that my voice has held very well.
- What do you think has been the secret to your longevity?
I think that I can reach people’s emotion and I can reach what is happening at the time culturally. I often get emails form people who say that have helped them emotionally or physically - music is very therapeutic.
People have gone through hard times and I find that they write to me and say how my music has helped them through difficult times.
- The album isn't out for a couple of weeks yet but how have you found the response to the record so far?
I have had terrific reviews and a wonderful response from people who have listened to it so far. I would like to go out with a flourish and I would like to go out with one more #1 CD.
I have had a few over the years and that feeling is very magical and it would be marvellous to have one more.
- Robert Cotto is a co-producer on the record so how did you end up working him and what were you looking for in your producer this time around?
Well he helped choose the new material - he is my assistant as well and so he knows me very well. We went through some classics and I did do three old Sedaka classics at the piano; Amarillo, Laughter In The Rain and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.
He was a good sounding board and he was very helpful going through the new songs - I had written more than what was on the recording - and he directed me to what he felt and I respect his opinion.
- You go back to a few of your best known tracks on this album and put a bit of a different spin on them to what we are use to so how did you find returning to them?
They are old friends - I have written over a thousand over the sixty years - and it is like revisiting old friends.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do is interesting because I had a hit with it twice; I did it in 1962 as a rock tempo and then again in 1975 where I re-recorded it as a slow ballad. So I mixed the two versions together on The Real Neil.
- You have enjoyed a career that has spanned nearly sixty years so what has kept you in the industry for so long?
I think that it is the joy of performing and the pride in still writing songs that I can perform in front of the people all over the world.
I think reaching people is a great gift and I love to share - the adrenaline rush in front of a live audience is second to none; there is a marvellous rush that you get that you don’t get on television or when you are in the studio recording.
- How have you seen the industry change during the time that you have been in it? And what do you think of the industry at the moment?
It has become much more technical and unfortunately the internet has reduced the sales of records - young people will download one and then their friends will copy it and that is unfortunate.
But I have a very strong fan base all over the world and if they are interested they will take the whole album.
The music is coming back to melodic and I think that there are a lot of wonderful bands such as Maroon 5 and Coldplay and then you still have Peter Gabriel who is marvellous. But there are also some wonderful people going back to melody and that is a good sign.
- We have also seen changes in the way that music is both recorded and bought and sold so how much have you embraced these changes as they have happened?
You have to go along with the times. You have to sell your albums on the internet and there are YouTube clips of me from all over the world through all the sixty years in all of the languages - I have recorded in six languages.
I think that that is a good thing because some of the songs are lost, I call them the forgotten children, but you can see them on YouTube or you can revisit them on an old recording on the internet.
- You mentioned earlier than you are going to be over here in the UK doing a few shows later this year so what can we expect from those shows?
I will do songs that people know Neil Sedaka for and then I will do some of the neglected ones - song of the songs have slipped through the cracks over the years but they are the hidden tracks.
I made a conscious effort to write different kinds of songs that are different tempos as I use to buy records and would be disappointed when all of the songs sounded the same.
So I have got tracks that are different tempos and different moods; to happy to sad as well as funky songs and emotional ballads. It is going to be a big body of work.
- Finally what is next for you?
Bill Kenwright has produced a show called Laughter In The Rain which is the life story of Neil Sedaka - I saw the previews in theatres outside of London last year and I am very proud of it and the reviews were very good.
Hopefully the show will open in the West End in the spring of next year. There is a wonderful young boy called Wayne Smith who plays me and someone plays my wife, Carole King, Elton John, Tony Christie. It is a chronological study of when I was born in 1939 to1975 and Laughter In The Rain.
It is very surreal to watch from the audience all these wonderful actors singing and going through my life. I will be coming to London to finish the last fifteen minutes of the show as the real Neil.
Neil Sedaka - The Real Neil is released 1sy October
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw