After years of writing shows about everything from creationists, Afghan dancing boys and a Frenchman with a penchant for identity theft, Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne have had it with each other. They have therefore both decided to launch their solo careers at Birdland. On the same night. At the same time. See them as they bicker over who wrote what in their catalog of songs and decide for yourself who will join the ranks of breakout solo acts like Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake - and who will be relegated to the dustbin of history. Come witness the pair onstage together for the very last time until their inevitable reunion concert.
Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser's Tim and Charlie Go Solo will play New York City's Birldand Jazz (315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) on Monday, February 3 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become composers/lyricists?
Charlie: I’ve loved musical theater as far back as I can remember – my mom took me to shows and what not -- but in high school it really became part of my identity. I was lucky in that I had friends who were Sondheim geeks and I could talk to them about the new Adam Guettel or Jason Robert Brown or Andrew Lippa album I had just bought and they’d know what the hell I was talking about. I also had two really phenomenal theater teachers, Ms. Hershey, who sort of got me into theater and Ms. Pressman, who really conveyed that theater was something to be treated with the respect and the hard work with which you would treat other subjects. And I guess I started writing at some point around high school and was lucky enough to go to a college where the student theater organizations would give you money to put any crazy idea up on its feet.
Tim: And, actually, that is how I first heard the hallowed name of Charlie Sohne. I was being a polite composition major in the conservatory, minding my own business, while he was out writing a full length musical about hipsters and pissing off all of the southerners on campus. It was marvelous. Somehow I got my hands onto musical theater songbooks when I was a kid and it turned into my drug of choice. I’d play that music instead of practicing for my lessons. Classic theater songs were made to be played on piano and the juicy harmonies are like candy for a classically trained kid. I played my first "13" chord, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to?
Tim: I'm going to say this and everyone is going to roll their eyes because, well, obviously...Audra McDonald. It's over, I did it, get over it.
Charlie: Guess that's all there is to say?"
Tim: It's our second big concert! I'm excited to show a bunch of our new material from "Run Away Home," our latest effort, and some new songs from "The Boy Who Danced on Air." I'm blown away by how much support I'm getting from my crazy talented friends with this one. I mean, Paul Staroba ladies and gentlemen. He is music directing and I'm convinced he was born with a fancy musical theater spoon in his mouth. And I've got a small but mighty music team on my side, all practically doing this for free. It makes me feel like other people believe in the material as much as I do, and that's the most exciting thing of all!
Charlie: This is also our first time working with Shoshana Feinstein who is a brilliant concert producer and I’m pretty sure actually knows every single person in musical theater.
Tim: ShoFein is a goddess.
Charlie: And of course, the cast: we’re getting to work with many of our absolute favorite people…so there’s really no downside.
Tim: I've always dreamed of doing a show at Birdland. I know and love the Manhattan Transfer song. Same reason I want to do a show at Berkeley Square, wherever that is. Seriously, it's a beautiful club and it's got this amazing legacy. To be allowed to be part of that, in this small way, is such a gift. That's New York for you. So many things that we revere happened right here.
Charlie: Yeah, it makes us sound classy too because it’s called a "jazz club."
Tim: We’re all going to have excellent posture at this concert. I’m going to comb my hair for sure.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after hearing your music?
Charlie: I think we want people to feel the way we felt when we first came up with the idea for the show or read the source material. We choose what we write because the material smacks us in the face in way that leaves us going "that really exists!?" I think that if, over the course of a show, you go places you’ve never been, you develop empathy for people who first seemed distant, you hear music that feels fresh and unlike what you’ve heard in a theater before and, generally, if you’re moved by what you’ve seen – we’ll be happy.
Tim: And it would be great if people want to see the shows these songs have been written for. These songs are tips of icebergs. Which makes them sound as dangerous as they are!
Charlie: We went to the same college, Oberlin – and we didn’t know each other there, but a mutual friend recorded demos for both of us and sort of set us up. Tim, at the time, had a collaborator but recommended I go into the BMI Workshop – that’s where he was and that’s where we both learned a lot about the craft of songwriting. And that worked out well because we basically had the same education from two vastly different institutions – so I think it lead to a unique outlook. And that really helped when Tim finally drove his previous collaborator into the seminary and therefore needed to find someone else to work with.
Tim: It’s proven harder to drive this Jew into the seminary, but I’m working on it.
7. What has been the best part about this venture?
Tim: We're doing a lot of new stuff, and I'm very excited about that, but I must say -- I am loving revisiting songs and orchestrations, taking what I've learned about them in the past year and trying to improve them. We're using a lot of flugelhorn in this concert and I'm obsessed with it. I did "She Loves Me" this summer with a chamber pit, and I was so taken with the trumpet/flugel part. It's right at home in a small ensemble, and it's capable of such great effects. I know I'm going to go overboard with it and make some mistakes, but challenge: accepted.
Charlie: It’s also great to work on songs in the context of a concert – it reveals another side to them. I think we’re very "show focused" writers, which generally is a good thing, but it’s nice to be reminded of how awesome it can be to craft a song in a way that it can also stand alone on stage without context or costumes or staging.
Tim: It's amazing to me how different my life is from what it would be if Charlie and I weren't writing shows together. Somehow, in a short time, everything I do has come to revolve around our projects. It's really wonderful, I'm very grateful. I've learned that the things I thought were my assets as a composer and person are just plain who I am, and the things I thought were my flaws are just who I am not. Luckily, Charlie is a lot of things I'm not and vice versa. That's lucky.
Charlie: Yeah, that’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – because very often, we try to stretch ourselves by purposely writing things that are different from how we would normally approach a song. And what’s kind of remarkable is learning that the products of those exercises – while always helpful – are more often than not a lot more similar to the way we normally write than we expected. To a certain extent, you can’t escape yourself.
Tim: Aaaaaah, get me out!
Charlie: Shhhh. Not now.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Charlie: I think for both us, ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Retreat was really defining – it was moderated by Andrew Lippa and Craig Carnelia and they were very active in shaping the way we think about writing. I think it was our first presentation where Andrew was like "you don’t have to try and show off everything you can do with every song." Basically giving us the freedom to clear away a lot of the BS that we thought was what made us different but to a certain extent was us focusing on tricks that didn’t really serve the dramatic moment.
Tim: I mean, these guys are consummate theatre professionals. There is really no end to their knowledge base and breadth of experience. The Johnny Mercer retreat is a really exceptional program. I’ll never forget it.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose?
Tim: The ability to grant wishes!
Tim: Haha. That’s so depressing!
More on Charlie and Tim:
Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne were finalists for the 2013 Ebb Award. Their most recent show was The Boy Who Danced on Air (2013 NAMTFestival of New Works, 2013 Rodgers Award Finalist, developed through The Lark’s Monthly Meeting of the Minds and Roundtables). Previously, they wrote The Profit of Creation (2011 Yale Institute for Musical Theater,one of ten finalists for the O’Neill Music Theater Conference 2011 and 2012, developed at The Lark and through ASCAP’s 2010 Johnny Mercer Songwriters Program) and the short musical Political Speeches (The CultureProject’s IMPACT Series). Their work has been seen in a sold-out 54 Below Show, Cutting Edge Composers at Joe’s Pub, NYTB at the D-Lounge, NEXT’s EmergingComposers Series, and The Holiday Concert at the Lincoln Center Library. They were both members of the Advanced Class of the BMI Workshop.