In late 2014, we got on the phone with the late pop idol-turned-music exec — just a few weeks before his appearance at the Retrolicious music fest where he performed alongside Colour Me Badd and All-4-One — and chatted about his early memories of travelling in Asia, switching careers and how he would have mentored Justin Bieber. (This story first appeared in issue 1265, Jan 15, 2015.)
8 DAYS: In a 1991 interview, you said you were “probably an Oriental in [your] past life” because you had a huge following in Asia and that the Asian girls in your school liked you. Do you still feel that way?
TOMMY PAGE: I do. I do feel a very special connection with Asia. It was the first part of theworld that embraced my music. I was just a young kid when I got on a plane and landed in Hongkong, just by myself and a big duffel bag. When my record company told me that everybody loved my music out there, I started to promote it. I visited Singapore — the first stop of my first overseas tour — in 1988 and my song, ‘A Shoulder to Cry On’ had started playing on the radio. Singapore and Malaysia were the first two countries where I found my fans and I was really touched at how much my music connected with them.
In the late 1990s, you switched careers to become a music label executive.
I loved being a performer, but as you know, it’s hard to have a really long-term career as a singer. But at the same time, I’ve wanted to be in the music business all my life and so I decided to go work at Warner Brothers Records in the A&R (Artists & Repertoire) and Radio Promotion departments. I was there for 15 years and during that time I helped to nurture the careers of Josh Groban and Michael Bublé.
You later worked at Billboard and are now with Internet music company, Pandora. What’s your take on music streaming, which is a sensitive topic these days?
It’s inevitable that digital streaming is the way the music business is heading towards — it’s the fans’ way of saying they are consuming music in a different way. It’s controversial because songwriters don’t feel that they’re getting paid enough from the streaming and the streaming is replacing album sales. I do think that we’re working it out, but it’s a lengthy process for all sides, trying to figure out the right business model. But with Pandora and Spotify, they have the artists in their best interests. Think about it: before streaming came around, people were stealing music and downloading them without paying for them.
Why did you decide to perform again?
Two years ago, I was offered to do a concert in Jakarta but I hadn’t performed in a really long time. Thankfully, [producer] David Foster, whom I worked with before, was very generous to let me use some of his musicians, and I put together one of the best bands I’ve ever played with. The concert sold out and I loved every minute of it. I felt like I was in touch with my old spirit and the artist inside me. I [was also inspired to] return to the recording studio and I hope to put out a few new songs this year.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of your one and only Billboard No. 1 single, ‘I’ll Be Your Everything’. Did you ever expect that to be such a big hit?
No. That song was a gift to me. I was on tour with New Kids on the Block and Jordan [Knight] played me a song that he had started writing and it was just half of what would eventually become ‘I’ll Be Your Everything’. I finished it with him and Danny [Wood]. ‘I’ll Be Your Everything’ and ‘A Shoulder to Cry On’ — these are pieces of work that describe me and I’ll always be proud of them. There are some artists who don’t want to play their hits because they’re sick of them. I’ll never get sick of my hit records. To me, they’re blessings.
Has your style changed much since the 1980s?
If you look back at the late ’80s, artists like Vanilla Ice, New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli wore spray-painted leather jackets and the MC Hammer pants and had their heads shaved at the side with the lines through them — that’s pretty tacky (laughs). Back in the day, I always wanted to wear things that look classic, things that weren’t trendy — and a black suit is never tacky and is always in style no matter what year it’s in. I’ve always strived to have a classic look. But my hair’s not as thick as it used to be. Now, I take my fingers and run them through my hair and poof it up to make it look thicker (laughs).
If you were to write a memoir, what would you call it?
It would probably be called These Paintings Have Become Pictures. In my second album, Paintings in My Mind, I wrote in my liner notes, “A painting is anything that you can imagine in your mind, whereas a picture is a frozen, captured moment in true life… someday, all these paintings will become pictures.” It just meant that my dreams would come true and whatever I imagined in my mind, I could make it happen if I work really hard. I was able to do that with a lot of things in my life which I’m very pretty proud of. I don’t have many regrets. I’ve always lived my life very responsibly with integrity. I haven’t done anything to harm anybody. I’ve just been a good person.
If you were to mentor Justin Bieber, what kind of advice would you give him?
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some goody two-shoes (laughs) [but] for someone like Justin, I would tell him to just concentrate on the music. I would also tell him not to drive. These kids are going out partying and getting behind the wheel, they’re gonna hurt somebody. I don’t understand why the Lindsay Lohans of the world don’t get limo drivers — they can afford it (laughs).
(Photo: TPG News/Click Photos)