HOLLYWOOD — When you're Robbie Williams, this is how the dating scene in Los Angeles works: You meet a girl, she blows you off, then she looks up your name on the Internet search engine Google, finds out you're one of the richest pop stars in the world, and voila! You get lucky.
"I bump into these girls and they are like really not interested," the British singer explained with his famously wry smile, dressed in a T-shirt and warm-up pants and walking his dogs through the hills overlooking his adopted city. "The next time I see them, they are like, 'Hey, nice to meet you, Robbie!' So I've been told, 'That girl "googled" you, because she knows who you are now.' Hurray for 'googling'! Science got me laid.
"I got laid twice because they thought I was Robin Williams, which is kind of cool," he added.
Robbie's Hollywood dating situation — joke or not — is quite indicative of the current phase of his musical career. An Internet search for his name generates close to half a million pages, yet most Americans are largely unfamiliar with the charismatic breakout star from British boy band Take That!. In 1999, "Millennium," from The Ego Has Landed compilation drawn from his first two overseas albums, was moderately successful in the U.S. And of course there was "Rock DJ," an oddball dance number that the eclectic singer now says he hates, though he likes the video, in which he rips off his skin and tosses it out to adoring female fans. But compared to the Justins and Snoop Doggs, he's still obscure on this side of the pond.
Late last year, Williams signed the biggest British record deal in history, reportedly worth over $100 million, shortly after recording his latest album, Escapology. EMI is hoping this album will finally break him in the U.S. Though he owns a house in Los Angeles and has written several songs about the town, Williams says he isn't dying to make it in the States, and in fact, insisted he's enjoying the relative anonymity.
"I'm very pleased to say I've got a successful career everywhere else," he said. "And this is a massive country. It involves a lot of work. And it involves a lot of ass-kissing as well, and touring for years. I used to work very hard and it made me very ill. And I refuse to work that hard again. So, if [success] happens here by doing very little, then great. But if it doesn't, it's cool.
"I want to sell a few hundred thousand albums here," he added. "And I'll be happy with that."
Featuring a somewhat different track list than its imported counterpart, the domestic version of Escapology fully encapsulates the strengths Williams has developed over the years: a silky smooth and versatile voice, finely honed Britpop sensibilities, swinging bluster, driving power, the occasional veer into starkly emotional territory ("Nan's Song" is about his late grandmother), inventive storytelling ("Me and My Monkey"), emotional self-analysis (most evident in the album's first single, "Feel") and of course, a self-deprecating wit.
"I'm just getting started musically," he said thoughtfully. "I think I'm just finding myself. I can see from this album where I want to go and what I want to sound like. I think the pressure's on the record company. So, all I got to do is deliver [good albums], and I've done that before. And I'm getting better at it each album.
"And plus, if [Escapology] bombs, what the hey," he said with a laugh. "I'm in the hills. I've got my dogs. I've got the life, you know?"
Ryan J. Downey, with additional reporting by Nick Zano