(This interview was originally published May 28, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Nick Richards. He is best known as the founder and lead vocalist for the band Boys Don’t Cry and their memorable 1986 hit single “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”. It came together while Richards owned one of the biggest and most popular studios in all of London, the Maison Rouge. The band is generally considered a one-hit-wonder, but has more recently resurfaced due to Richards’ organizing other '80s artists to join him for Boys Don’t Cry and Friends '80s Parties. Find out more about how it all started, how their big hit song came to be, what he’s up to now and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Nick Richards…
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a musician and singer? How did you get your start in the music industry?
Nick: When I was 15, I formed my first band whilst at boarding school in England. Band was called ACID 4 piece. I was singer. It was 1975. I knew then I wanted to be a performer.
Q: Please discuss your personal musical influences and who molded and inspired your voice, songwriting and career.
Nick: Bowie and Jagger were everything I wanted to be.
Q: In 1983, you purchased the Maison Rouge Recording Studios in London. How and why did you buy this studio? Please give us some historical perspective on who has been recorded there especially from the '80s.
Nick: By 1983, I did not really feel that I was going to make it as a singer/songwriter and started to look in to other ways to stay in music. I had just formed a small indie label called Legacy Records. I then saw an ad in a London newspaper saying that a large freehold building with a recording studio in Fulham (where I lived) was for sale. It was owned by Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull). Ian wanted out, so he could move to Scotland and fish for the rest of his life. It was a great deal to buy the building in central London; I would have two studios and offices for the label. I borrowed $600,000 from my father, who was an investor, and bought it within a month of meeting Ian. The studios were fairly run down at the time and I was one of the first ever studios to go totally digital by 1984, a huge risk at the time.
Our first big project was the Wham! album (Fantastic). It was huge, as you know, and we quickly became the hippest studio in London. We marketed the Maison Rouge on the back of the Wham! album and sold out both rooms easily from then until I sold out to Robin Miller, Sade’s producer, in 1992. Our biggest acts to record there were Duran Duran, Wham!, Queen, Culture Club, Tears for Fears, Level 42, Grace Jones, Shakin Stevens, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Genesis, Mike + the Mechanics, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Trevor Horn, Bananarama, Nile Rogers, Escape Club, a-ha, and so many more I could go on forever!
Q: How and when did Boys Don’t Cry come together as a band?
Nick: BDC came together in 1984 and were basically the in-house studio band. We recorded in dead time at the studio, which was very rare as it was always so busy. Sundays were the normal days when it was quiet.
Q: Many people assumed the band’s name came from the song by The Cure originally released in 1979. What really inspired the band’s name?
Nick: We got the band’s name from a line in the 10cc song “I’m Not In Love” not the Cure song! [the whispered line, “be quiet… big boys don’t cry”]
Q: When and how was the band discovered and signed to Profile Records (the same label as Run-DMC) for the U.S. market? What role did Paul Oakenfold play in that happening (I have read where he is credited with discovering the band)?
Nick: Paul Oakenfold was hired by me to promote 12 inch records released by my label, Legacy, at clubs. He did not discover the band, but dropped off a white label promo copy of “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” at the Limelight night club in New York City. The head of A&R at Profile Records heard the song there one night and traced it back to me in London! After a phone call, the deal was done and Profile had signed Boys Don’t Cry for no money, but if “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” became a hit, they would pay a great advance for an album… which they eventually did!
Q: Please take us back to when “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” was conceived and written. What is the back story and what inspired the song? How long did it take to write? Were the lyrics written after the music?
Nick: I had spent a Saturday night watching Clint Eastwood cowboy movies like For a Few Dollars More. We had the next day Sunday booked in studio and I had this saying in my head, “I wanna be a cowboy and you can be my cowgirl”. Everybody loved it and we decided to put it to a piece of music that Brian Chatton had written a year earlier. I had failed to come up with a lyric for it before. I wrote the new lyrics with help and ideas from Nico Ramsden (guitars) and Jeff Seopardie (drums) within an hour and recorded it straight away. I was not very happy with myself singing all four verses as it sounded too boring. So Jeff’s girlfriend, Heidi Lea, who was with us at the time, performed verse two. We mixed it that day in about 3 hours. It was never mixed again!
“I Wanna Be a Cowboy” became a surprising hit song in 1986 driving Boys Don’t Cry out of obscurity and on to the charts reaching #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is described as a “spaghetti western of song” and took on a life of its own becoming a hip and kitschy cool (far from traditional) pop/dance track. Madonna even mentioned it as being her favorite new song that year. Profile Records hit the jackpot in 1986 with the success of this single as well as the success of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell album and their crossover hit cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in the same year. Here is the video for “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” by Boys Don’t Cry…
Q: Is there an intended meaning behind this song? Was it supposed to be serious or novelty?
Nick: The song was meant to be a joke and to make people laugh, but also we thought it would make a great dance track. That turned out to be true.
Q: When you actually recorded the song, did you feel you had something special? Could you have ever anticipated the success it would end up having?
Nick: We never ever thought that the song would go on to do what it did – never!
Q: What changed for you personally and for Boys Don’t Cry after the huge success of this single?
Nick: Not much really. I was surrounded by superstars at the studio all day long. All it meant was that I felt very proud of the song and that my label had a huge hit as did the studio. I was already panicking about a follow-up record!
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
Nick: I have never gotten sick of it ever. I am very proud of it, really!
Q: Your video received frequent airplay on MTV and this exposure had to have helped the song’s success. What are your thoughts on the impact that MTV had on music in the '80s, especially in the U.S.?
Nick: Actually, Martha Quinn, who is a great friend of mine now, told me that MTV hated the video as it was not rock n roll enough! But they had to play it due to massive demand. MTV was great in many ways, but the fact that you now had to make a video as well as a record was terrible for small labels like ours. Videos were so expensive and could be crippling to an indie label.
Q: Your follow-up single “Cities On Fire” was quite a departure from “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”. It received some early attention from MTV, but never captured the audience. Please tell us about the challenges of living up to the novelty perception that your first hit created for the band. Was it frustrating and/or disappointing when your follow-up single did not have success like your first?
Nick: The head of Profile Records decided that “Cities On Fire” should be the next single as he did not want us to be a novelty band. We had recorded it months later because we were one track short of finishing the album. I had disagreed with him over this choice, as radio was starting to play “Hearts Bin Broken” from the album, which is what the promo team was pushing. I fell out with him very badly over this matter and it caused the split between Legacy and Profile. He had made a huge mistake and cost us huge amounts of album sales. The album only peaked at #55, when another hit from it would have made me a lot of money!
Q: I don’t personally look at the term “one-hit wonder” as a negative because it is one more hit than most artists ever get to have. What are your feelings about that moniker?
Nick: One-hit-wonder is now a cool term, well that’s what I tell everybody!
Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the break up of Boys Don’t Cry in 1988 just 2 years after having a hit single.
Nick: After a failed next album with Atlantic, we all went our separate ways. We did not feel that Boys Don’t Cry could go any where else, and Legacy was starting to struggle financially. I was working on new talent every day.
Q: Some '80s pop superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. From what I can tell, you certainly seem to do more of the latter. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective?
Nick: It is just fashion and timing. Nostalgia is a huge weapon in this industry. The '80s will live on for years – people love to dance and the '80s was all about dancing!
Q: After nearly three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time?
Nick: The music business has changed because records do not exist any more. It is cheaper to work new talent and there are many ways to promote through the internet. But there is huge overkill and, to me, touring is the only fun thing to do anymore.
Q: Tell us all about your Boys Don’t Cry and Friends '80s All-Star Party. Why did you begin organizing these? How has the experience been so far performing at these?
Nick: I put the show together because I knew that people did not remember Boys Don’t Cry, just “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”. I have so many friends from the era that it made sense to get them on stage with me. Everyone is an addict for playing live! That has proved to be the case. We only had one hit, so performing some of the biggest hits of the '80s makes it a better show for the crowd.
Boys Don’t Cry and Friends '80s All-Star Benefit Concerts include the original stars from the original bands performing their biggest hits. Many have been held to benefit children and schools. In addition to Nick Richards and Boys Don’t Cry, the line-up has included Terri Nunn from Berlin, Martha Davis from The Motels, Roy Hay from Culture Club, Deon Estus from Wham!, Fee Waybill from The Tubes and many, many more.
Q: What else is Nick Richards up to now? Tell us about any new music being released by Boys Don’t Cry.
Nick: We have put out a new single in March on my label Microrich. I wrote it with my eldest son James, who is also in the new line up. Mike Licata is on drums, Aaron McLain is on guitars with James and Doug Gild is on bass. The new single is called “Don’t Go Jumping With Frogs”. Our brand new website is now up www.boysdontcryandfriends.com [not active anymore] too. We are working on bringing the Boys Don’t Cry and Friends '80s Party to a residency in Las Vegas right now. Fingers crossed! This would be my ultimate ambition.
I am so pleased that Nick took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Please stay up to date with Nick on the Boys Don't Cry official Facebook page. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Nick Richards for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Boys Don’t Cry’s “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” and, even more, for going back to the '80s for a little while with us here as well.