It seemed nearly impossible to get away from the reach of Michael Learns to Rock at the height of their popularity in the 90s. With mega hits like The Actor, Sleeping Child, 25 Minutes and Paint My Love, it seemed just about everyone knew the words to their songs (and thanks to karaoke lounges all over the island, everyone could also merrily sing along to them at any time).
Indeed, Michael Learns to Rock has been anything but low-key over the last few years, having released three studio albums since 2000, and they're now ready to be welcomed back into the arms of Singaporeans with their concert on September 4. We caught up with singer and keyboardist Jascha Richter as he talks about their success in Asia and what's coming up for the band.
Legend has it that the band was named in hurry... what's the story behind that?
Actually what happened was that we won a singing competition about 20 years ago and we didn't have a name for ourselves. We were quite surprised when it turned out that we'd won, and so had to come up with a name quickly. At that time, Michael Jackson was someone we admired very much, which is one of the reasons we decided to call ourselves Michael Learns to Rock. It was a play on words, and in those days there were also a lot of other bands with names like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Johnny Hates Jazz, so it was just us playing around and it was funny to have a long name.
Is there anything else you would have changed it to, if you were given the chance to do so now?
Well, I've been part of this for 20 years now, and I've accepted that it's a great name, so I'm quite satisfied with it, finally. Although if I had to change it, I'd pick something short like, Sit.
Michael Learns to Rock has gained tremendous success in Asia - was that something you guys had expected, and what was your reaction to it?
It was amazing when we first got reports that our songs were popular in Asia, and then it was a bigger shock when we came down to Asia to play for the first time. It was really such a great experience for us and we've had many highlights with the band, especially in Asia.
One of the most memorable songs that Asian fans will remember is your cover, Take Me to Your Heart of Jacky Cheung's song. How did that happen?
Someone suggested that we try doing a cover of this Jacky Cheung song and we thought it was a great idea. So we heard it and liked it, and I wrote some English lyrics to go with it. It was actually only made for the China market in the first place but it became such a big hit in the rest of Asia as well, which was something that we didn't expect but was a pleasant surprise.
Asia seems to be a lucky charm for you, do you have any plans to collaborate with Asian singers now?
We're actually planning to do a duet with an Indonesian artist, so we're working on that right now. But otherwise we don't have a lot of plans to do more. We've done some duets but right now we want to focus on more original Michael Learns to Rock material.
Having been in the industry for 20 years now, do you still draw inspiration from the same things you did at the beginning?
I think my lyrics have changed in the sense that they've become more personal where before it was more fictional, and not as grounded. Now I'm writing more about things that are well-connected to my life as I experience it.
Writing songs isn't always an easy process, is it something that you do alone or is the rest of the band involved?
I'm the one that writes and comes up with the songs for the band, while Mikkel Lentz is the one who takes my ideas further and makes it into a final production. So really it's a collaboration, not on the song-writing itself but on the song as a whole.
There are a number of musicians and bands using new media to publicise their work, does your band plan to do that?
Well we're happy with Warner Records handling the band matters in Asia now, but of course it's a great opportunity. We have a Facebook site, a MySpace page and our own official site but we use these more to communicate with the fans and that sort.
You've had some really famous songs especially here in Asia. Do you ever get sick of singing them?
No actually, with this band we don't tour and play that many concerts, so when we do go on the road, we enjoy doing it and playing our songs. It's also great to see the songs are promoting themselves through the internet. Some songs that were big in Asia are now getting big in Scandinavia. So it's nice to realise how our songs can actually promote themselves.
This is the first time you've been back in about five years, what can Singaporeans expect from your concert?
We'll play some songs from our new albums and some songs that we realised were big in Asia but that were never played 'live'. So we hope to rehearse soon to add the new songs and we have a few little surprises for the fans... but I cannot talk about that. It's not new songs... it's something else. But I'm really looking forward to coming to Singapore again, for sure!
Michael Learns to Rock is playing at Fort Canning Park on September 4, 2009. For more details check out the inSing.com event listing here.