Call Answered: Vonda Shepard: "Ally McBeal" + Feinstein's/54 Below Concert
My first introduction to Vonda Shepard was in 1986 when her hit duet with Dan Hill, "Can't We Try" was playing on every radio station. While Vonda had three albums before, most people came to know Vonda's music because it was the soundtrack to the mega-hit David E. Kelley show Ally McBeal, which ran for five seasons from 1997-2002 on Fox. For as big of an Ally McBeal fan as I was, I was definitely more connected to the music. Many of Vonda's songs became the soundtrack to my life. "Searchin' My Soul" was on heavy rotation while I was figuring out who I was with being gay and finding a way to work in the entertainment industry. "Ask The Lonely" played every time I broke up with someone and I listened to "The End of the World" whenever someone close to me passed away.
It goes without saying that I was beyond excited when Vonda Shepard answered my call to discuss her return to Feinstein's/54 Below this July with her concert Songs From Ally McBeal and More. From preparing for this concert to Ally McBeal to motherhood to Broadway dreams, Vonda & I go searchin' our souls in this heartfelt and fun interview!
Vonda Shepard will perform Songs from Ally McBeal and More at Feinstein's/54 Below on Thursday, July 19 at 7pm & 9:30pm. Click here for tickets!
1. This July you are coming to Feinstein's/54 Below with your show Songs from Ally McBeal & More. What are you looking forward to most about your return? First of all, I love New York. I was born there, so it's always great to come back and see some family members, but mostly, I just love the crowds in New York. They just know how to cut loose and I'm going be right with them doing that, so it should be really fun.
2. What will surprise fans about this show? I like to do a lot of variety from all of my albums. The hardcore Ally McBeal fans might be surprised that they actually like some of my original stuff from other albums. I did write a lot of songs on Ally McBeal, probably around 25, like "Searchin' My Soul," "Maryland," and "Baby Don't You Break My Heart Slow," so we'll definitely do those, but I think they might be surprised that they like the variety and the mixture and the dynamics of the show.
3. What will they relish in during the concert? It depends on who you are talking about. I have the Ally fans and then I have people who have never seen the show and they just want to hear songs from my CDs. I definitely have some cross over tunes, but I know the nostalgia for Ally McBeal will come towards the end of the show and they'll just be reminiscing about when they hung out in bars with their friends trying to emulate the vibe in the show and people will feel that nostalgia.
Hopefully people will just relish in the sound of my insanely great band and the delivery. When I'm doing a show, I give 100%. I just don't go through the motions. I try to be in the moment all the time.
4. The concert coincides with the 20th Anniversary of Ally McBeal. In the 20 years since Ally McBeal's first episode, what have you found out about yourself while searchin' your soul? Haha...that's cute. I found out that I was a very strong person because I was able to do that work on the show for five years and pour every ounce of energy into that. Since then, I've realized that I've got some sort of will to survive and a lot of stamina to continue to do what I do, despite the crazy changes in the music business. I have found a way to make it work. Plus, I had a child, so that has kicked my ass in a good way. Between the two, music & motherhood, I realize that I am strong and that I can withstand intense challenges in life, which is a great feeling.
5. How do you feel motherhood has changed you in respect to your work, how much you work, what projects you decide to take on? My son is my priority, but I do put my career up pretty high in my life because I need it, for morale and feeling good/positive in the world. But since my son is my priority, I definitely don't tour too long. I have a maximum of two weeks out on the road at a time, though sometimes it does sneak into two & a half weeks, but too much happens in that time with a child so I have to limit it. I'm a pretty full-time hands-on mom, you know, I make him breakfast, lunch, dinner, take him to school or basketball practice, so the truth is when I do go on tour for a few days or a week or two, it's like a vacation and it's really fun and appreciated, but it's still hard work touring, though it's an important break for me as well.
I also love to perform a one-off concert here & there, like I'm doing in New York. I make sure I have something on the books all the time, just to keep it going.
6. Going back to Ally McBeal for a moment, what was the most challenging part about writing the music for "Ally McBeal"? Something a lot of people don't know is that I didn't write specifically for the show, I wrote for my own albums and the irony is that David E. Kelley, the creator of the show just identified so much with my songs for his character "Ally." It was just this organic connection. Into one of the seasons, I wrote a song called "Soothe Me," which is on my album By 7:30, and David heard the song and then wrote a whole episode called Boy To The World. It was a magical experience with him.
If I had to write for a show, I probably could and would, but it was just so amazing just pluck my songs off of my albums and put them in the show. It was really special.
7. There are a lot of artists right now who are having their catalogs of music into Broadway shows. Do you have any plans or are there any plans on the horizon of having your music come to Broadway? My personal music specifically not at the moment, but I would love it. There have been many, many conversations about bringing Ally McBeal to Broadway in which case most of my own songs would be in it because they were an integral part of the show.
8. Long before Ally McBeal, I came to know you because of your duet with Dan Hill, "Can't We Try." What is something in your life you still want to try that you have not gotten a chance to do yet? I'd love to play a character, like a musician or singer/songwriter in a movie and/or write a couple of songs for a movie that I really connected to. I've sung in a couple of movies before, but I've never written anything for a movie that was used yet.
I'd also love to write a book, like an autobiography. Me and everyone else on the planet. I've kept journals since I was 14, so I'd have plenty to write about. But that will take a few years and after reading Bruce Springsteen's book, I can't just throw something out there, it has to be good.
9. I have a segment to my interviews called "I Can See Clearly Now," where I try to clear up misconceptions about my interviewees. What do you think is the biggest misconception out there about yourself that you would just like to clear the air about? It's not that I begrudge this at all, but most people think the first Ally McBeal album was my first record. I'd like to say that I did three albums before that. I was on Warner Brothers, I got dropped, I did an indie album and Ally McBeal was definitely a big break, but my first big break was touring with Rickie Lee Jones as a keyboard player/singer/dancer. I was a side musician as well as a solo artist. It's not a big deal at all to me, but it's something a lot of people don't realize.
Another thing people don't know is that I was the producer of the music on Ally McBeal. They just think I was the singer in the bar or maybe some of my songs were on the show, but I produced maybe 90% of the music. A lot of my work was behind the scenes. Most of it was me in the studio with my band and the horns section and back-up singers going over arrangements and coming up with concepts, so that is why it was a full time job.
10. Out of all the songs you've written that were used in Ally McBeal, which one(s) just put an immediate smile on your face & which one(s) were just gut-wrenching for you to have them use, that perhaps got you all choked up or made you cry? "Maryland" is a very special song for me. It gives me a very warm, happy feeling when I hear it as does "The Wildest Times of the World," both were on my album It's Good, Eve, which is the indie album I did before Ally.
I know already mentioned this one earlier, but the song "Soothe Me," is just...I basically moved to New York for a guy and I wrote a whole album about him called By 7:30 and the song "Soothe Me" is on there. That song just kills me.
11. Speaking of "The Wildest Times of the World." If you wrote this song today, what do you think some of the lyrics would be given everything going on? It would be tempting to be a little more expository in terms of politics. I think it would be a little more angry, if you know what I mean. Instead of "I have fallen. I have stood up," it would be "We have fallen. Are we gonna stand up?" Things are a mess right now.
12. For somebody who doesn't know your music that well, what would be a reason for them to come see your show? Well, I think I can pull them in emotionally. As I mentioned earlier, the show is very dynamic, so we can be very intimate one moment and then just ramp it up into a big frenzy with exciting, soulful moments of hitting high notes. Just the emotion and dynamics of the show will keep you happy to be there.
And if you don't know my music at all, my guitar player has played with Tina Turner for 22 years and my bass player has worked with Bruce Springsteen, I have a killer band, and it's going to be a great overall experience.
And if people don't know, I'm going to sit outside after the show and sign CDs for about 15 minutes or as long as I can.
More on Vonda:
Vonda Shepard has sold over twelve million albums and has won two Golden Globes, two Emmy Awards and two Screen Actor’s Guild awards. She also holds the Billboard prize for selling the most T.V. soundtracks in history.
Vonda began playing piano at the age 6, took voice, dance and acting for many years and has been playing clubs since the age of 14. Born in New York City, as a child, her family moved to L.A., where Vonda spent most of her life growing up. At the age of 20, Vonda was invited to join Rickie Lee Jones’ band, as keyboard player, singer, dancer and “alter ego” of Rickie Lee. At the same time, she was in artist development with Warner Bros., and finally got signed to Reprise to release her major label debut in 1989, titled Vonda Shepard. "Don’t Cry Ilene" was a hit on V.H.1 and made it to top 11 in the A.C. charts. In 1986, Vonda also had a major pop hit with the duet "Can’t We Try," with Dan Hill… this one made it to #6 on the pop charts. From 1986 – 1990, she also toured as keyboard player/back- up singer with Al Jarreau.
In 1991, Vonda released The Radical Light on Warner/Reprise, which had the original version of "Searchin’ My Soul;" the theme song for Ally McBeal. Indie life followed, with It’s Good, Eve… Vonda’s most critically acclaimed album to date.
It’s Good, Eve led directly to Vonda’s friend, David E. Kelley, offering her the job of music producer, as well as chanteuse in the bar of his new show, Ally McBeal. The doors flung wide open, at long last. Vonda had written many of the songs on the show, and when musical guests would appear, she was the “behind the scenes” producer of the music, reading the scripts and interpreting David’s message, through the emotion of music. Four Ally McBeal albums accompanied the five year run, including a Christmas album. In 1999, Vonda recorded and released By 7:30, an album of all original material, right in the middle of the frenetic, yet thrilling schedule of Ally McBeal.
When the show ended, did Vonda take a hiatus?? NO!! She began writing Chinatown. That album was the transition back to life as a singer/songwriter/touring artist, and it really helped her re-entry. More indie years followed with From The Sun, Vonda Shepard, Live, A Retrospective (C.D. and D.V.D.), Solo, From The Sun, Live in San Javier, and her most recent album Rookie.
On another note, Vonda had one of the most unexpected and exhilarating experiences of her career; her belated debut as a musical stage actress. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend Randy Newman hand-picked her to play the part of "Martha"in his version of Faust, which thrilled audiences at New York’s City Center. For her first stage acting role, Vonda earned grand reviews from New York’s tough theater critics; Said Playbill: “Indie-pop singer/songwriter Shepard was the find of the evening, at least for audiences unfamiliar with her five years of acting and singing on Ally McBeal.” The Theatermania.com critic called the Newman/Shepard duet of “Feels Like Home” “one of the year’s great stage moments to date.” New York Times theater critic Christopher Isherwood weighed in with a rave, too, calling her duet with Newman on “Feels Like Home” “the song that received the warmest reception” and adding: “Ms. Shepard’s soulful singing brought out the yearning quality in Mr. Newman’s own.”