He composed songs that will never die. Je t’aime, Humana or Si tu m’aimes, performed by Lara Fabian, were written by Rick Allison, in moments of divine inspiration. He is also the one who produced nine of the famous singer’s albums, sold in millions of copies all over the world. After 14 years in which they were an extraordinary couple, on both artistical and personal levels, Lara Fabian and Rick Allison parted their ways, but people continue to listen to the songs they wrote together. For the first time in Romania and exclusively for LaRevista.ro, Rick Allison talks about his life as one of the greatest composers of our time and about his common history with Lara Fabian.
You are of Irish and Russian descent. How did that influence your music, your creation, your style?
It’s a very good question, because I’m still trying to figure out the answer. When it comes to those two influences – the more Western Irish-English one from the background of my mother, and the Russian influence, which is more into the deep – they both count. It’s a matter of trying to blend those two things without thinking about it. When I get into the rhythms I like the excitement, I like the audience to feel it, so I have this Irish approach. But deep inside of me, I have an Eastern soul. I would say I’m an Irish guitar player and a Russian piano player. I never think Russian when I have a guitar in my hand and I never think Irish when I play the piano. I am basically trying to find the best answer to your question, but I think that, in the end, there’s no answer; you let it come to you when it comes to you.
One thing is sure: love is the main theme of your compositions. Does this have to do with your Irish or Russian part? Or love is something that doesn’t connect with this kind of elements, like nationality?
No, I don’t think it does. Love is universal. I had the chance to be raised by my parents, who were very loving persons; but that would not be the answer. I think it’s more simple than that: in everything that I see around me, in everything that I can feel in relationships – family and couple, children or any human beings – the basic common element is always love. It all comes down to love and everything around love, which could be anger, or hate, or intensity, or passion. They all come from love, this is what motivates us and dictates how we feel things and how we respond to things in life.
I’m not a big believer, but if someone like God would come to a group of people, He would say: You’ll take care of talking and writing about love. That’s going to be you, because your personality fits that, because you have a sense of looking at people and trying to translate this emotionally. And that person is me. I feel like I’m at the right place when it comes to love and stories about women and men. I feel good when I do that; I guess there are a lot of people who feel good about doing this too, so if I can bring something there, I’m happy.
Is there anything more important in the world than love?
Nothing I can think of. Love will make you do anything. We are made of love and we live around it every second of our lives.
I know you lived for a long time in Montreal. Do you currently live in Paris?
Not now, but I’m planning to settle myself down in Paris in the next three months. I was here for a very long time, and then I was always in-between Montreal and Paris and travelling to Los Angeles, or to New York, or to London. But my two main places were Paris and Montreal. In the past five years, I’ve decided to stay in Montreal, to take care of a venture I wanted to experience at the time; it was a big multimedia building that I completely equiped with a sound studio, an image studio, a rehearsal room, a montage room…
You are talking about Espace dell’Arte.
Yes. I ran that place for five years, but I sold it two years ago. It was a big commitment, it was a wonderful adventure, but after a while I started to miss writing songs and getting involved in album and show production, so I decided to take a one year break and then get my studio back again, in Montreal.
But now I’ve decided to get back to Paris. I’ve been writing songs, right now I am working on two French albums. I am back in music, practically. I’m working with two wonderful artists; one is Lola Dargenti – we’re doing a French and a Spanish album together, which will be finished by April. And the other one is Mickael Petrau. I finished the production of the record and we’ll be releasing it in April – the first single and the first video.
Why do you preffer working in Paris, when everyone regards America as the best place to do such a business?
Well, don’t get mistaken by what an American production is. Right now you’re facing 60 % of rap and R&B music and country music, some of the rock bands who have been there for 30 years and some teenage projects. That’s basically what the American music business is today. Pop music and middle-of-the-road type of repertoire is something different in America today. It’s not exactly those times when you had Billy Joel and Elton John in the charts every week. It’s a different time. And it’s not exactly in my DNA doing this Los Angeles – New York – London kind of music production. French music is what I do the most; I’ll concentrate on US collaborations in the future, but not now. Now the artists that I’m passionate about are here in Paris. And my kids are here, so there are two main reasons for me to stay here. I enjoy being with my kids and with my friends. I’ll go to Los Angeles probably by the summer. There is a very talented artist, her name is Romina Arena, and we just had a collaboration on a record called Morricone Uncovered. The album was just released and it’s got great succes. It was wonderful for me to be able to write a song with Ennio Morricone for that record. That leads to new possibilities, but America is not my priority, I don’t need it right now.
How was it like to work with Ennio Morricone?
It was like a dream come true. I was very nervous in the process of this collaboration, because it was the first time his music was to be listened with words… And I was already impressed with the rest of the record. He made everything easy for me to work thru Romina Arena, she wrote the other songs, sings the record, and the production was also very advanced. It will stay in my mind as one of the greatest moment as a songwriter, that is for sure.
You started singing at a very young age, in a rock band in Brussels. Why did you change your mind and decided to become a composer?
Because I guess I never took the singing job very seriously. I started as a singer in a band, then I continued being in bands and singing in piano bars. One thing I know is that this kind of activity – a pop-star doing his job – is not me, it’s not what I enjoy; I cannot stay on a TV set for a full day, waiting to sing for 10 minutes, I just cannot do it. My personality is more involved with art when I compose music. And when you compose music, you start to be of service for other talents, you start to get impressed with other people’s talent. It’s just my personality that dictates me to be true to myself. My talent is to find talent in somebody else, and I’m happy about it.
That’s interesting, because people in the showbusiness can’t wait to get to the celebrity part – to be on TV, to get promoted everywhere…
Celebrity would take me out of my loneliness, and I like my loneliness. I enjoy my relationships, I enjoy being with my friends and my family, but I wouldn’t like to be that exposed. OK, I could try to do the promoting part for a while, but then it wouldn’t be fair to the record company and to the audience, because I would only think about going home sooner and being alone. I can live my life the way I want to do it, without being forced to offer any excuses. What you have to pay back for all the exposure and all the success… You have to be ready to pay that price.
And it isn’t always worth it, is it?
I guess not. And those who choose to pay it usually have somebody to blame for it. I’ve got nobody to blame, I’m happy. I was really blessed until now, and I guess the next 20 years are going to be even better, because I have a better experience about what other artists can bring to my production and to my song-writing. The rest is for me to enjoy.
But still, you launched your own record, “Je suis un autre”.
This project came out in a very spontaneous way. The studio was in my house and there were a lot of things I wanted to experience. I had started working on the songs a lot of time before releasing them, because I haver had the time, always being busy with something else. I realized, when I finished the record, that it was great, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do: I don’t want to do records. The record company, Universal, insisted that I deliver it. We had a meeting where we discussed about promotion, but I was very honest about it and I told them I couldn’t do all these things. I did as much as I could, but as I said, it doesn’t fit me, I preffer composing than doing records for myself.
Do you have any rituals when composing a new song?
No. There are many forms of starting a new song, but most of the time I have the idea of a song in my mind before I put my hands on an instrument. I can hear it; I’m a multi-track kind of spirit. I can hear what the strings are going to do, I can hear the vocals and it’s all in my head more than in my hands. Then I’m memorizing what I want to do with a new melody and I go for it. As for the context, there are two elements: I try to escape every possible thing that can stop me from writing. I need a quiet place, I need the right people around me. My job and my passion is based on my feelings, on my imagination and my inspiration, so I’m trying to guide myself in the right situations, where I’ll be creative.
The other technique is to have various angles about a possible song. I’ll give you an example: right now I have a note here on my desk that says Love is a liar. It’s something I’ve written and I know I’m going to write a song about it, even if I don’t hear it now in my head. But I’ll keep that door open and the song will come to me, all of a sudden, at the right moment and place.
How much time do you work on a song?
I never work a lot of time, maybe for a couple of hours. If the song is not there during this time, it means there is no song. The pretext, the idea has to get to a part of maturity very quickly. I don’t consider writing a song for a whole day.
And is there any secret of writing a good song?
Oh, no. I don’t think there are any secrets, it’s a way of living. You have to be very open-minded to people, to conversations, you have to be very curious. You have to sit on that bench, listen and watch people and their lives, listen to their stories. The mistery is really into the relationships that you have with people. You don’t have to be afraid of being sensitive, of being open, of putting yourself in a little bit of danger. It’s strange: a song can be born out of something very small, like five notes. And then you have thousands or even millions of people singing your song, and you still don’t know why. It’s wonderful when your songs live every moment, ever day, for such a long time. When I see my songs played in so many places of the world… I think I’m very lucky about it. Everytime it happens I’m thinking about that moment when I was in front of the piano and wishing the song good luck. I like people to be happy about it.
But when you started writing, did you ever think that your songs would become so popular?
Honestly, no. I produced my first album when I was 26. And I had my first No.1 hit when I was 30. So everything happened very late in my life; I had to go through other things before that. I played the guitar for many years and I started learning to play the piano only when I was 25. Now I’m 48 and I’m starting to write songs for movies. I have two movies that I have to write music for, here in Paris – one of them will become a musical. But you see, it happens late in my life.
In the ’90 you really had to be successful with a record. And the songs had to be very good, and they still had to be good for at least 18 months. This aspect is the same now. If not, you’re out of business. I was lucky with the Pure record for Lara, because it was a phenomenal period for writing songs; everything was in the right place: the people I had around me, the staff I worked with, the studio where I recorded it, the arrangements, the mastering. Then I went to Sicily for a few weeks to take a break, and I never thought I had such a successful record. I was exhausted, I was sleeping and I didn’t even know I had a No.1 record. I’m happy because after so many years – there are 15 years this year – I know more and I’m more involved in everything I do because I had the chance to take part of a story like that. But you have to work hard. I don’t know a single artist who has a No.1 hit without having to have worked hard for it. Every great artist I met had to work hard!
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