George Knapp: You know, when I first met you, you seemed to be content to not be known in the US, or at least that’s what you said. It’s nice to be able to go outside and go out to eat and not be mobbed, as you are anywhere else in the world. Part of that was true, I guess. But, but deep down inside, it wasn’t true.
Robbie Williams: It was at the time. You know, a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago, 14 years ago. The spotlight that shone on the from the rest of the world was incredibly intense. You know, like … name anybody that was huge and went mental because they were too huge. That was me. And I sort of made a sane choice. I used to go to Los Angeles every January for the sun. And at the end of one January, I was like, “What am I going back for? I like it here.” I can walk about, I get to enjoy the spoils of my career. I have enough money, I’ve sold enough records, I have enough fame, you know, so I’m gonna live here and be anonymous and I turned down loads of nice jobs in TV in LA and stuff. And yeah, I made a sane choice. And then the kids arrived. My kids arrived and I’m a father of three. And I’m married, to be honest with you, the insane spotlight that shone on me for the longest time, kind of ebbed and moved on to somebody else. And, you know, life became more manageable. That, mixed with the kids arriving. Daddy goes to work now. And I’m like, “Okay, I fancy bit of what America has to offer professionally.” And if something happens, then great. If nothing happens, I’ll do something else. But that’s why I’m here.
Will he be back soon?
Robbie Williams is self-isolating at home after concert dates in Australia canceled. A second residency at the Wynn could happen when things return to normal, Williams tells Mystery Wire’s George Knapp.
Knapp: You’re competitive, though.
Williams: Yeah. I’m incredibly competitive.
Knapp: You see the names that are on the marquees. You see in the trades, the people who have signed these big residencies, these big names.
Knapp: You want not only to be on the same street on the marquee. You want to dominate, don’t you?
Williams: Yeah, which is equally a curse and a blessing, you know, because it’s gotten me this far. The need to compete and go out there and beat, and be, and conquer. And that element of my job, I find a lot of fun, too. So, yeah, I come to Las Vegas. And I was saying to you before, these shows mean more to me than me getting up in a stadium in front of 80,000 people in London or Sydney or wherever. You know, this is a small theater and it’s 1,600 people. And I was more nervous, more bothered, about these shows than any of the shows that I did last year on my stadium tour. It’s a good feeling at 45 to have a fire underneath my backside.
Knapp: You know, it becomes a cliche for entertainers they make it to the Las Vegas Strip and they say to their audience at first, “I’m so proud to be in Las Vegas, so glad to be here.” Not a cliche for you. This is your Mecca. It’s as the reviewers have said, it fits you like a glove this. This has been your stop, your song, your music, your whole life.
Williams: Yeah, my DNA is cabaret. And I know that that’s an old-fashioned, maybe not respected word anymore, but not for me. My DNA, my whole persona, is cabaret. And I want my particular brand of cabaret to be world class. You know, my father is a comedian and a singer, but mainly a comedian. And he in 1974 won a talent competition on the television. So it’d be like “America’s Got Talent.” It’s called “New Faces.” And he became Pete Conway, that’s his stage name, comedian off the television. And wherever my dad was, when I was growing up, I went to work with him and just studied these greats of yesteryear, and just soaked it up and soaked it up and soaked it up and soaked it up. And then when the time came For me to be a professional, that was what I embodied. I wanted to be rock and roll. I want it to be The Who, the Rolling Stones, you know, Oasis. But I don’t know I’m more the “Bob Hope.”
Knapp: I look in YouTube and I see these early, young Rob stuff, younger Rob stuff, and you were singing these songs back then. Musical tastes ebb and flow. These are eternal songs, and you sang them regardless of people whether you want to hear them or not. You wanted to sing them.
Williams: Yeah, well, that was my love. That was my escape. When I was a kid, I got into hip hop really, really early in 1981, but running alongside hip hop was all of these greats from yesteryear, all the glamour of the Rat Pack. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn. Mel Torme, Bobby Darin. It felt like my thing. And it was a time capsule, and it’s stayed with me ever since. And I released an album of covers of swing covers called “Swing When You’re Winning.” And it was my biggest album, sold 8 million albums. And the record company actually didn’t want it as part of my contract. But they had it as part of my contract at the end. I think in the record company thought it wasn’t gonna sell, but then it sold 8 million. And it was huge and it caught a moment. This was before Michael Buble came along and did it properly. But, you know, it’s you know, I’m a big fan of Michael. I’m a huge fan. He is a time capsule and a time traveler for me. Anyway, it’s, it’s been an ever-present for me. That kind of music.
Knapp: First song you sang in public. It’s part of your show now. It’s a Sammy Davis Jr. … becomes a hit for him. It’s “Mr. Bojangles,” Right?
Williams: Mr. Bojangles. Yeah. The predecessor to karaoke was a thing called open mic. And I used to go into a pub with my dad. And there used to be an old fella on the piano. And he’d know, 200, 300 songs. And all the older people in Stoke would go there and sing, that one song that they knew. And I was quite proud as a 12-year-old, as a 13-year-old that I knew “Mr. Bojangles” all the way through. So I sang “Mr. Bojangles” every week in that pub. Real spit and sawdust place. And now to be able to do it, you know, on the Strip in Vegas. It’s genuinely an overwhelming feeling.
Knapp: And sing Sinatra, and sing Dean Martin.
Williams: Yeah, I’m a big Dean fan. I’m a big Dean’s charisma, energy. You know, he …
Williams: The comedy. Yeah, the comedy. He’s my guy.
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Knapp: It’s such an interesting dynamic to see you here. You’re obviously enjoying yourself and it’s such a big moment. And you’re singing the songs you wanted to sing in the place where they should be sung. And yet, you have to walk a fine line for your audience. You want Americans to like you and you want them to embrace you. And so you have a set list that’s much broader than your normal material. And yet you’ve got to cater to your loyal fans who expect you to sing songs that are not known here.
Williams: Yeah, it is a bit of a tightrope to walk. It’s a bit precarious, because you want to get everything right for everybody. And you can’t. So I want to do … and I might be wrong … but I want to do the best show for what I feel Vegas needs. And Vegas wants. Because I’d like people that don’t necessarily know me to be able to come to the show and have a great evening, because I know that when I go and see artists that I know and they play three songs back-to-back that I don’t know, I lose interest. So I’d rather become an entity that’s in Vegas, that you can go and see, that you won’t have to worry about not knowing three songs back-to-back and switching off.
Knapp: Is Las Vegas an end to itself? Can you see playing here forever? Or is it a way to be a beachhead that the Americans in general know you? North Americans know you?
Williams: So far, so good. I’m just really, really enjoying myself. I love the hotel life. I love the food. All of my crew are really excited to be here. You know, I brought my band from England. I brought my dancers from England. We’re all currently high on Las Vegas life. And I don’t know if that stays. I hope it does. But for now, it’s just one gig at a time. One nice review at a time. You know, people are saying great things about the show. People are saying nice things about me. That feels really good. You know, baby steps.
Knapp: There’s a song on your latest album. “I Just Want People to Like Me.” That’s you. That really is you.
Williams: Yeah, it is. There’s a song on Under the Radar 3, which on my website called, “I Just Want People to Like Me,” and I’m being cocky in it. You know, the verses are all about “I don’t care if you like me,” and then the choruses actually betray my real call being, just like me, please, like me.
Knapp: Well, so far these reviews are off the charts. I’m sure you’ve had great reviews and then you get people who are “Ah, he’s too big for his britches,” and they take shots at you. But it’s universal. This is universally off the charts.
Williams: Yeah, yeah. It feels really good. Yeah, it feels really good.
Knapp: You mentioned during the show, during the performance, you said, this feels kind of small. The room feels small to you compared to the stadiums that you’re used to.
Knapp: Different energy,
Williams: Different energy because you go and do it in a stadium and there’s that many people, there’s a sea of people, that they almost become not there, because there’s that many of them. You’re sort of looking into the far, far distance of these little heads, and then close down, and you sort of eyes going all over the place that you don’t get to focus on one person, really. They become that big, that it’s that there’s no individuals. Here in this place, 1,600 people, you can see every single eye, you can see every single smile, and you can see every single yawn. And it’s really scary, because, you know, I’m giving everything that I’ve got and I’m looking out there and I’m sort of like scanning the audience and people are wide-eyed and smiling and I’m thinking I’m sure I’m gonna wait somebody in a minute is going to be yawning and not bothered, but I haven’t found them yet. But it only takes sort of like that one person to deflate the whole ego. Which makes these small places. Interesting. Some of them are metal. I’m really I’m really on the offensive. So, so far so good.
Knapp: I remember talking to you five weeks ago, and you’re planning for the show was kind of … you heard something that the Wynn didn’t want people to stand up during the show.
Knapp: And so you’re suddenly you’re changing the show.
Williams: The show was a lot different. The show was … we planned a completely different set list. And then my wife got involved because she’s the creative director of Robbie Williams right now. And we had a bit of a tense meeting in the bedroom whilst watching the “Housewives of Beverly Hills.” And she was like, “No, no, no, no, no, you’re in Vegas. It’s got to be glamorous. It’s got to be swing.” So, and then I heard that the Wynn doesn’t like people standing up and I’m thinking it’s gonna be an hour and 45 of people sat down. It’s difficult to perform to … you need the energy coming back. So within 24 hours, the whole set list changed and the creative changed, which sort of made the whole thing be even more anxiety-inducing.
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Knapp: I don’t think anybody sat down at all the show I saw.
Williams: No, no, they didn’t. And they don’t, and I’m grateful that the Wynn lets them.
Knapp: You sold out these tickets in 30 minutes for the whole shebang and AEG … I think they probably didn’t know that was gonna happen. They hoped it would, but didn’t know. Did you know?
Williams: I thought we’d do well. It’s great that that happened. You know, it’s great that they sold out in half an hour. I think some events capture the general public’s imagination. And Robbie Williams and Vegas has obviously piqued people’s interest. And it makes the whole project incredibly enjoyable that it’s this successful straightaway.
Knapp: Could it replace touring? You mentioned, you’ve got your wife and your kids are here. You want to spend time with them? You live 45 minutes away. Instead of going to Buenos Aires and to Bulgaria, could this replace that or supplement it?
Williams: Well, I like working. I like going to work and I like my job. And what normally happens is, the life of a pop star is write an album, promote the album, go on tour. And then you go on tour for 15 months, and then you have to wait for another three years before there’s demand for you to go again. Now, I’m not saying that I’ll stop touring touring, because I enjoy that. And I like getting out there. But Vegas could be something that I do in between the three years that I’m waiting to go again.
Knapp: You come here and the tour comes to you.
Williams: Yeah, we shall see what happens. Signs are positive right now.
Knapp: Any talk all right, I mean, it’s only been three performances, but are they’re talking about an extension beyond, or even a bigger stage?
Williams: My management are very careful with me. They under- promise and over-deliver. And there are plans that they’re not talking to me about until they can go, “There it is” in concrete. But they’re dying to tell me something, and I don’t know what it is.
Knapp: Could you imagine young, wild Robbie being loose in Las Vegas? You’re a different guy now.
Williams: I’m a different guy. I have the ability to stay alive in this day and age as a 45-year-old. I come here. Enjoy it. Work. Do a great job. Young Robbie, not so much. Yeah.
Knapp: The paparazzi have hounded you forever. I mean, you’re in a hotel that happens to catch on fire, it’s a front page story. You have an argument with your neighbor about something, it’s a front page story for months. You’re like the Kardashians and a bunch of other celebrities all mixed into one. Have they followed you here?
Williams: No, no, that that’s the spotlight that I was talking about. That spotlight has moved on. Whereas I was the person that they went to 24 hours a day and followed for 24 hours a day which drives you insane. Now, they happen upon me, they happen upon me. And it’s it’s very manageable now. It’s dealable. Before, it wasn’t. If they happen upon me now, then so be it. But yeah, it’s it’s different these days.
Knapp: You’ve sold more records than anyone in the UK, any solo performer. You have such a huge catalogue of material that most Americans have not heard. I mean, I’m sure you’ve sort of thought it out, about how it could go, how it could play out. You could roll that stuff out for a whole new audience — things you’ve done for 25 years.
Williams: Yeah, I could be. Or I could be a totally different artist here. You know, I could be … you know, I could be a Dean Martin with tattoos, which which is which is the hope.
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