Legendary Pop/Soul Artist Michael Bolton Talks About His Excellent New Album, Spark Of Light, His First Album Of Original Songs In 14 Years

Michael Bolton
Michael Bolton
(photo credit: Timothy White)

With a music career that spans four decades, Michael Bolton has been a multi-platinum and Grammy-winning singer & songwriter who is known for being a soulful, powerful singer, a prolific songwriter and a charismatic live performer. He has written & recorded such classic hit songs as “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” “How Can We Be Lovers?,” “Soul Provider” and “Said I Love You…But I Lied.” He has also had hits with his recordings of R&B standards such as “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “To Love Somebody.”

It has been 14 years since Bolton released an album of his original songs (One World One Love in 2009), but he has now returned strongly with his new album, Spark of Light. This album is an excellent collection of 10 songs that were co-written by Bolton, and it shows that Bolton’s lead vocals remain in fine form. This is an impressive album that will not only please his longtime fans, but should attract new listeners.

Bolton wrote and recorded most of these songs in the past two years, in the midst of the pandemic. He decided to take a positive outlook and write songs that are uplifting and passionate. One of the best Michael Bolton songs on Spark of Light is the uptempo “Beautiful World,” which he wrote with rising young artist, Justin Jesso. The song turned out so well, that Bolton and Jesso decided to sing a duet on this song. Another highlight is the title track “Spark of Light,” which Bolton wrote with Nicholas Pettrica (of the band, Walk The Moon) and Tushar Apte. Other key songs are the romantic ballads “Eyes On You” and “Whatever She Wants,’ and the album’s closing song, “Out of the Ashes.”

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Bolton. But before we get started, here’s a brief rundown of his renowned career as an artist, and his lesser-known career as a top songwriter who has written hits for other artists.

Bolton grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, where he learned to play saxophone and started writing songs at a young age. As a teenager, he demonstrated his potential as a singer, and became the front man for some rock bands that landed record deals. However, his first major success in the music business came when he wrote songs for other artists.

In 1982, Bolton wrote (with Doug James) the ballad “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” and it was recorded by pop vocalist, Laura Branigan, for her second album. It became a big hit, and established Bolton as a pro songwriter whose songs were in demand. His songs were then recorded by Cher (“I Found Someone,” a Top 10 hit), KISS (“Forever,” a Top 10 hit), Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers and other artists.

Here’s the video of Michael Bolton’s new song, “Beautiful World”
(feat. Justin Jesso).

It was in 1987 that Bolton had a breakthrough as an artist, when he released his album, The Hunger. This album included his song “That’s What Love Is All About” (a Top 20 hit), and his hit cover recording of Otis Redding’s classic, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The album was certified double platinum.

Then in 1989, Bolton became a star when his next album, Soul Provider, sold six million copies in the U.S. This album contained his own version of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” which reached #1. It also included the hits “Soul Provider,” “How Can We Be Lovers” and “When I’m Back on my Feet Again.”

After that, the hits kept coming and Bolton had multi-platinum success with his albums Time, Love & Tenderness, Timeless: The Classics and The One Thing. These albums included the hits “Love Is a Wonderful Thing,” “Time, Love and Tenderness,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Missing You Now” (with Kenny G), “Steel Bars,” “To Love Somebody,” and “Said I Love You…But I Lied.”

Bolton has won two Grammy Awards, for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for his singles “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He has also won six American Music Awards, and he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This summer and fall, Bolton will be performing shows in the U.S. and Europe, including a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in September with Air Supply.

Michael Bolton Interview
Here’s our interview with Michael Bolton:

DK: Spark of Light is your first album of original songs in over a decade. Have you been writing these songs over a long period of time, or were you recently inspired to write these songs?

Here’s the video of Michael Bolton’s new song, “Spark of Light.”

Michael Bolton: Spark of Light is the first album of about 30 that I’ve released where all the songs are co-written by me. Some of my projects have been anthems to genres of music that I love singing, ranging from Opera and Motown to the Classics. But I started my music career by writing songs—for other artists! That’s how I was making a living before I broke through with my own artist career. I think I have written over 200 songs and they’ve been recorded by some of the greatest—Cher, Streisand, KISS, Kenny Rogers…but nothing stops a singer from singing a beautiful piece of music whether you wrote it or not.

With my newest album, Spark of Light, I think I just had the time to really spend writing and crafting new material—because all touring had stopped due to the pandemic. So I was at home by myself and needed the creative outlet to create something positive out of all the confusion going on around us. Most of the songs were written remotely but then I did have some in-person sessions in L,A. and Nashville and we just started collecting the best of the songs and I’m really proud of this body of work.

DK: I like your song, “Spark of Light.’ How did you connect with Nicholas Pettrica and write this song with him and Tushar Apte?

Bolton: Several of my collaborations are set up through my manager who is looking for writers, producers and artists who will bring something fresh to the table while still being able to find the kinds of melodies and lyrics that will resonate with me. Nick is a great writer and a great singer, and both he and Tushar brought a really contemporary feel to the track that I think is connecting with a younger audience too.

DK: Your song “Beautiful World” is very positive, with a joyful energy. What inspired you and Justin Jesso to write this song and sing it together?

Here’s the audio for Michael Bolton’s new song, “Eyes On You.”

Bolton: It was in the midst of the lockdown and we were both just feeling the weight of what was going on globally and how hard it was hitting so many people on so many levels, and we just felt compelled to find a light at the end of the tunnel, to find hope and express that fundamental human value.

DK: Besides the songs we’ve discussed, what are your favorite songs on your new album?

Bolton: One of my favorites early on was “Eyes on You” which was so natural and immediately felt really cinematic. One of the last songs I wrote, with a team in Nashville, was “Whatever She Wants” and that one surprised me—I think it connected with a lot of fans as a favorite.

DK: I want to ask you about a couple of your classic hit songs. “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” was a hit for Laura Branigan, and then for you. Can you tell the story of how you wrote this song, and how Laura released it first?

Bolton: “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” is a really important song in my career. I wrote it with Doug James and it was just the two of us in a studio with a piano and it started to reveal itself. It’s not that every song you write is autobiographical, especially when you are collaborating with other writers, it’s more like you each bring something personal to the song and maybe add some new ideas as well. But what’s funny is I was recently playing an arena date in Chile with Air Supply, and told them the story about how this song “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” was supposed to be recorded by them, but the head of their label wanted to change the chorus lyric which we said no, so the song went down a different path. Russell and Graham said they had no idea! The rest is history. Branigan had just come off her successful debut album and took “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” to the top of the charts and when I recorded and released it on my own years later it earned me a Grammy!

Here’s the audio of Michael Bolton’s new song, “Whatever
She Wants.”

DK: I’ve always liked your song, “Soul Provider.” Can you tell how you wrote this song with Andy Goldmark?

Bolton: “Soul Provider” was not just an important song but an important album, my follow up to the breakthrough album, The Hunger, which was really a turning point in my career because it was when the label president had shifted me away from hard rock music and more into the power ballads that I’ve become known for. Al Teller was his name, at Columbia Records, and he really defined my path as a successful artist. Our publishing company put me and Andy together and he had been writing his whole life and we just hit it off.

DK: In 2013, you released your autobiography, The Soul of It All: My Music, My Life. What are some of the things that people will learn about you when they read your book?

Bolton: I hope they will see that even though I have been very serious about my career—I’ve always had a good sense of humor. I love to laugh almost as much as I love to sing. And I’m a hopeful romantic at heart.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima