You wouldn’t think of Neil Diamond as someone who needs to re-invent himself.
But when an artist signs up to work with mega-producer Rick Rubin, he’s not signing up for business as usual.
So the Neil Diamond now hitting concert stages is not only the sauntering showman of the 1960s and 1970s - he’s also this new millennium, toned down, Rick Rubin-ized version.
Did you know that it was not until “Home Before Dark” - Diamond’s 29th studio album, released in May - that Diamond scored a No. 1 album?
“Home Before Dark,” was his second collection of songs with Rubin, who started out producing Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, but has since worked magic with Johnny Cash, The Dixie Chicks and Metallica. Rubin and Diamond previously paired up 2005’s “12 Songs.”
“Both ‘12 Songs’ and ‘Home Before Dark’ are very understated production wise,” Diamond says. “I like them for that reason. They are based mostly on the songs and the performance. It’s nice to get up and sing just with acoustic instruments and such wonderful players and not have all the bells and whistles that usually end up on a record.”
When we caught up with Diamond in November, he talked his relationship with Rubin, his current tour, his showmanship and his fans.
Q: Was it risky for you hooking up with Rick Rubin and doing this?
A: I don’t think it was risky at all. I’ve worked with some of the top record producers in the world. Rick is one of them. We hit it off. We spent quite a bit of time together and got to know each other. It was a very positive experience.
I feel very good about the end product that came from Rick and I working together.
Onstage, these songs work beautifully. They’re among the most well-received songs in the show. For the most part, the show is big hits and songs that I haven’t done in years. These songs tend to stand out very powerfully. I feel very good about that.
Q. Do you feel like Rick got something different out of you than another producer might have?
A. I don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed the experience. I worked very hard on the songs.
Q. Obviously, it all worked out. The album debuted at No. 1. Was that something you were surprised by? Does it even matter at this point?
A. Honestly, I was trying to make a wonderful album. I had no idea it would debut at No. 1. It was not part of my thinking.
The big surprise is that a number of these songs that I do onstage are so enthusiastically embraced by the audience. There’s something very positive about that. I like that very much. Usually it takes years for the audience to accept some new songs.
Q. What should be expected on the set list?
A. I hope they expect a great show and hope I deliver a great show. I want to have a lot of fun. I want the audience to enjoy it. It is the last leg of this world tour, I’ll be finished for a couple of years after this leg. For me, it’s party time.
Q. How do you go about picking a set list that reflects that?
A. That’s a complicated question and I probably can’t answer it in a short answer. I just look for the freshest, best songs that I can present. And put together a new show - this is an entirely new show from the one that I did before around the world. New stage, new lights, new focus, new songs.
Q. How are the fans? Are they going as wild as ever?
A. They’re loving it. That’s one of the great things about it. It’s very heartening to get out in front of the audience and see that they’re loving the show. It’s an inspiration for me. It’s kept me going for a long time.
Q. How important is it to your longevity to have this fan base that is all about you and will eat up every single bit you give them?
A. It’s critically important, but first I have to do work that deserves that. That’s what my focus is. To write the best possible songs I can write, the most wonderful songs that my imagination can come up with, then present them on stage in the most wonderful, exciting way possible. After that, the chips will fall where they may. The audience has been with me through out. And God bless them. I’m a lucky guy to have that.
Q. What is it about you that makes you such a great showman?
A. If I am a great showman, it’s because I love doing the show. I love the performance. It’s different than every other aspect of my work. The writing is very introspective and very reflective and very inward-looking. The recording is done in a small group of people. But the show is extroverted and energetic and it’s a whole other side to my personality. It’s the most fun thing that I do.
Q. How cool is it to see that you have the older fans who have been with you for years and you have these younger fans who might be 20-year-olds, but know all the words?
A. I love that, but I’ve seen generation changes in front of my eyes over the last 40 years. My older fans, don’t forget, were the original rock ‘n’ roll fans, when rock ‘n’ roll was young. We’ve grown older together and wiser. They were the kids who were bopping around when I was doing “Cherry Cherry” in 1966.
Q. You said after this tour, you’re going to have a little bit of downtime. What are you going to do?
A. I’m gonna take a weekend off and then I’m going to start writing the next album.