Interviewed June 2011.
Barry Manilow is one of the top pop recording artists of all time. He has sold more than 80 million albums around the world. I had the honor of catching up with Barry Manilow by phone on June 7, 2011 just a week before the release of 15 Minutes, his first album of all new songs in 10 years.
Bill: You've had a really impressive run doing covers albums, and it has been 10 years since an album of all-new material? Why now?
Barry Manilow: Well, you know, I missed writing songs. I'm a songwriter, although the cover albums enabled me to get my arranging chops up there. It was kind of fun doing that, because I love arranging music, and producing music, and I don't even mind singing these songs. So that was fun, and they were very successful. We had a great run with those and the last one was called The Greatest Love Songs Of All Time, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful album, and that got me a Grammy nomination. So it was a beautiful run of, what were they, six albums in a row. But I really did miss songwriting. So when we were done with that, while we were doing the last two, I began to come up with...I began to hatch this idea about what would I do with an original album, and I came up with this idea.
Bill: You consider this one of your first guitar-driven albums instead of piano-driven. What inspired that?
Barry Manilow: Have you heard the album yet?
Bill: Yes, I have.
Barry Manilow: Well, you can tell. Usually my style is more piano-driven. Since I play. On all those albums I play the piano, but on this one...the reason I went toward guitar was because I was creating a story about a young person who wants fame, who gets fame, who has trouble handling it, blows it, and then starts all over again, and I was imagining a young person would play guitar. They wouldn't play piano like I did, and so I wrote with guitar in mind, which was difficult because I don't play guitar. So I wrote the whole thing imagining guitar playing the music I was writing, and when I was done I went into the studio with some great guitar players, and it took longer to make this album than any of the other albums because I don't play guitar. I was hearing stuff in my head, but when I've written arrangements for guitars the guitar is usually part of an orchestra. On this album the guitar is the lead instrument, and I really had to somehow communicate to these brilliant musicians what I was hearing in my head.
It's really not just writing notes on a piece of paper. This is about a feel, and since I couldn't play the guitar I had to describe and somehow communicate to these guys what I was imagining the guitar sounding like. So it took much longer than a regular album ever did for me.
Bill: Can you tell us something about Enoch Anderson, your lyricist for all of the songs on the new album 15 Minutes?
Barry Manilow: Yeah, Nick and I, his name is Enoch, but I call him Nick, we've been friends since the "Mandy" album. Maybe a year before that. That's a long time ago. We've written songs for my albums for years. He was the right guy to collaborate with on this album. He writes for situation and character so well, and he's not a Broadway lyricist, because that's another kind of lyricist. Nick writes beautiful lyrics for situation, and yet they're still pop lyrics. So he was the right guy to choose for this one.
Bill: With the subject matter of the new album in mind, are there any particular nuggets of advice you would have for people dealing with their moments of fame?
Barry Manilow: Yeah, watch out! Watch out! (laughs) You know, I've seen it first hand. First of all, what's interesting for me is to write an album about somebody going through this and in the middle of it I realized I had gone through every single song and actually experienced every single one of those situations except for the very last two songs where he's really down and has to pick himself back up again. I never went down that far, but I got close, and certainly from the beginning until the end I went through every single song, which was a surprise. I didn't mean it to be an autobiographical album, but I found myself remembering that I had been there.
The advice is to do the work because you can't not do it. Don't do it for the fame. Don't do it for the money. Don't do it for the applause. Do it because you have something to say, and you can't not do it. Then you've got a shot, but if you do it just to become famous, that is very dangerous.
Bill: I've read that you added the song "Bring On Tomorrow" to your Vegas show with a good response. Are there other songs from 15 Minutes that you are thinking of adding to the show?
Barry Manilow: Yeah, we're putting in two more when the album comes out next week. My band and I know the whole album. We're gonna put in two more and see if the audience doesn't run out for orange juice. (laughs) For an audience, it's the worst thing a performer can say, "I'd like to do a couple of songs from my new album." They run up the aisles. They haven't done that with me, uh, yet, but I'm gonna see if they'll sit through two more.
Bill: Do you have a personal favorite song or songs from the album?
Barry Manilow: Well, as of now I think "Bring On Tomorrow" is really a beauty, and it seems that the public is really liking it.
Bill: It sounds like a classic Barry Manilow song.
Barry Manilow: It does, and I only did one of them on this album. I didn't want to do a whole batch of those. I wanted to tell the story, but this one felt like the right one, the right place to put a big, building, Barry ballad, and the audiences are loving that one. So, that would be my favorite this afternoon.