INTERVIEW: CHATTING WITH “RENAISSANCE” MAN CHEYENNE JACKSON

CHEYENNE JACKSON HAS FOUND HIS CALLING.

Cheyenne-Jackson-CD-Cover-RenaissanceThe 40-year-old Broadway veteran, best known for his originating roles in shows like Xanadu and All Shook Up, is returning to his musical roots. On his new album, Renaissance, Jackson masterfully channels the classic crooners, jazz artists, and rock-and-roll stars of the 1950s and 60s. Paying homage to the music he was raised on, he has put his own twist on the greatest hits of the era. With this record, Jackson has passionately revived the American songbook with his stunning range and signature, soulful baritone voice.

Taking a break from filming the upcoming sixth season of American Horror Story, Jackson chatted with me about his new album, returning to Broadway, his thoughts on this year’s Tony Awards, being gay in the entertainment industry, and more.

What does the album’s title, Renaissance, signify to you?

Funny, nobody’s asked me that! I’ve definitely gone through a renaissance, or a rebirth if you will, over the last 4 years. These songs in particular are ones that I’ve toured for a while now. Everything has kind of culminated in this group of songs that have meant so much to me. Plus, my music teachers always called me a “Renaissance man,” and I just liked the idea of doing something old but also something new.

The album is adapted and expanded from your tour, “Music of the Mad Men Era.” Why does music from this time period resonate with you and what made you decide to record your own album interpreting these classics?

Strangely, this is the music that I grew up listening to. I was a 12-year-old in rural Northern Idaho who listened to Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. For some reason, that’s the type of music that I was drawn to. I loved the feel of it. I loved the sound of it and it just seemed very natural to me.

As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve sung a lot of different things in a lot of different styles and genres, if I really get quiet and listen to what I like to do the best and what moves me the most, it’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook and it’s jazz in particular.

So for the last few years, touring this kind of music in clubs and in big performing arts centers just made sense. It made sense to want to record these songs. Most of them are ones I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times. But because they’re such great, classic songs, as you get older and have more experience, the songs themselves morph and change and take on deeper meanings. That’s kind of how it all happened.

This era had so many incredible songs to choose from. How did you curate which ones were included on the record?

It was a really natural process. Like I said, having done a lot of these songs for years and years, I definitely don’t sing them the same as I did 4 years ago. I love that idea that it’s ever changing and morphing and that it can mean one thing one day and something else the next. When it came time to choose, I definitely wanted to pick songs that meant the most to me, and that would work within this linear story I’m trying to tell on the album.

All but one of the songs are ones that I’ve performed in concert before. “A Song For You” is the only one that’s a brand new song for me, but everything else is something I’ve done many, many times. I just tried to pick the best versions because some of these songs on the album are just maybe piano and drums, but in concert I do them with a full orchestra. And vice versa. So I really wanted to focus it.

In addition to all of the covers, the album also includes an original song that you wrote, “Red Wine Is Good For My Heart.” What’s the story behind that song? What inspired you to write it?

Thank you for asking because that is a very personal song to me. My grandma died a few years back due to complications from alcoholism. And, you know, I am an alcoholic and I’ve been sober for 3 years. It’s a huge part of my story. I wrote this song at my friend Michael Feinstein’s house a few years back and I was kind of struggling with the bridge. He came downstairs and I was like, “Sit down and write this song with me!” So we finished it up.

My grandma’s favorite thing to say was, “Well red wine is good for my heart!” She clung to that, but it was ultimately the thing that killed her. I also just wanted to honor her life and her relationship with her man of 30 years. It’s a deeply personal issue for me as well, so I wanted to mark that in some way.

Do you do you plan on going back on the road with another tour to celebrate the album?

Yes! Right now, I’m shooting season 6 of American Horror Story – which I don’t think they’ve announced yet so you may be getting an exclusive there. But yeah, once we’re done shooting this season, then I’m going to have some time to tour a bit. But right now we’re in the thick of it.

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Speaking of American Horror Story, what can you tease about this new season and/or about your character?

Literally zero! Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me. We are absolutely sworn to secrecy.

What’s your favorite part about working with Lady Gaga? I know she’s coming back for the new season as well.

I would say my favorite thing is her passion. She’s one of those people that is so passionate about whatever it happens to be at that moment – whether she’s talking about jazz or if she’s talking about a film she loves. While we were shooting last season, she was obsessed with the documentary series, The Jinx. She was obsessed with Robert Durst and that whole story.

It’s just fun to be around somebody who is so committed to whatever they’re doing. So many people have so many things going on and so they become a little bit scattered. The thing about her is that she’s always all in. That’s cool to be around. It’s inspiring.

Vocally, how does singing the style of music on Renaissance differ from when you’re singing musical theater or the type of pop found on your previous solo album? And moving forward, do you plan to continue releasing records that are more along these lines?

I do and here’s why. I’ve really been searching my heart and my soul over the last several years because I just wanted to find my sound. What is it and what do I want to do? So if I really clear away everything else and just get quiet and listen to what it is that moves me, all I have to do is look back to what it was as a kid – and that’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook. It’s great melodies. It’s jazz.

I think for a long time, I resisted it, because maybe I thought it was a little bit nerdy. I just wanted to be a cool, edgy singer/songwriter. And honestly, even though I can write pop music and I’m pretty good at it, it’s not the thing that I’m supposed to be doing. What I know now is that this is the music that I’m meant to be singing. It’s the most natural fit. My voice has always been really old-fashioned. As a 15-year-old kid, my high school choir teacher was like, “What is happening with you with sound?” I had an old-fashioned, jazzy type sound. The phrasing, the intonation and the vibrato – all of it just naturally lent itself towards that. And I fought it for years! I wanted to be George Michael! I wanted to really try. Even though I can sing that stuff and I love it, if I really get honest, this is the stuff that I love more than anything else. And I guess I’m kind of coming out.

Honestly, I was talking to my husband about this last year when I was planning this album, and I was like, “I guess I have to just accept and come out with the fact that this is what I do.” It was kind of a breakthrough for me. It’s freeing actually.

You’re really establishing your artistic identity.

Yeah, exactly! And it only took me to 40. Whatever.

Recently, you reunited with your former co-star Kerry Butler to sing “Suddenly” from Xanadu (in full-costume!) as part of a charity benefit performance. If you could revisit and revive any character in your career, whom would you want to play again?

Good question! Well being able to do a little bit from Xanadu again was definitely towards the top of the list. That show was so important to me and to my career. As for who I’d like to revive? Danny from 30 Rock was a very fun character. He was so in-your-face clueless about life. I think it would be a fun thing to see what he’s doing now. And to see if he’s mastered saying the word, “about.”

The last time that you and I chatted, you mentioned that you wanted to make your New York stage return with an original musical as opposed to a revival. Do you still feel that way? And do you have any idea when your fans might be able to expect to see you on Broadway again?

I do still feel that way, for sure! More than ever, actually. Given the last two years on Broadway, and especially this last year, there’s just been so much incredible new material. I’ve got to say, when I saw Hamilton, I had heard so much about it and it was so hyped up. With something like that, you think, “There’s no fucking way this is going to live up to what people are saying.” And happily, it just exploded my expectations and exploded my brain. It shows what the power of musical theater can actually do. So yeah, more than ever I definitely want it to be something new. I have had a couple of offers to come back in the last couple of years for certain revivals, and it just hasn’t been the right fit. It has to be something that I just immediately say, “Yes!”

So yeah, I really don’t know. I don’t have anything on the immediate horizon. There are talks about some things that are a couple of years out. But I definitely try to come back every 6 months or so and do something. For example, doing The Secret Garden in concert at Lincoln Center recently was really fun.

That was incredible, by the way. I had such a great time at the show.

Thank you! I did too. For Ramin (Karimloo) and I, it was such a highlight. And Sierra (Boggess)! You know, I love Broadway and I totally do want to come back. It just has to be the right thing.

You just wrapped filming the movie adaptation of Hello Again alongside the likes of Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton. What was that process like and how do you think this film will stand out from other contemporary movie musicals?

Another good question! Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to stack up. This is the first movie musical that I’ve done and it was challenging in that we sang live.

Oh wow!

Yeah! We had little inner-ear things and we were singing to just a piano track. So we’re doing the scenes and we’re actually literally doing the song in the moment live. Which was cool from an acting perspective, but it was definitely challenging. I don’t know how it’s going to come across. I think it’s going to be cool.

It’s very experimental in terms of the scope and it’s very sexy. I mean, that’s what the whole movie is about – each person’s sexual connection and then that person with the next person with the next person with the next person. I had a really good time. Audra and I both did things on camera that we’ve never done before! You’ll see when it comes out. But we definitely just had to kind of go, “Okay, are we doing this? All right lets do it! 1, 2, 3, Go for it!” But yeah, it was a really fun cast. Martha Plimpton is fabulous and really good people. I’m anxious to see it and to see how it all comes across.

As an out gay man in the industry, what were your thoughts on the recent controversial interview that The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin gave to Vulture about the glass closet in Hollywood?

Listen, I mean, everybody has their own experiences. He’s clearly sorry about what he said and redacted it and has gotten in trouble. I think he probably just got a little excited and I don’t believe in judging.

First of all, I don’t believe in outing anybody. And when people do decide to come out, it’s nobody’s business how they do it. I’ve been out for a long time now and I’ve watched these guys come out younger and younger and it’s very cool. I actually just saw Colton Haynes a couple of days ago and we chatted about this. It’s a new world and the industry is changing, and I think it’s because of these new, younger actors. So we need to lift each other up. We need to support each other in however we choose to come out because we’re all together. We’re all on the same team. Tearing each other down and speaking ill of each other’s experiences is not going to help anybody. It’s not going to help the process. So I’m glad that Noah apologized and kind of took back what he said, because I thought it was really ill conceived.

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How do you plan on celebrating Pride this year?

Well, we just had Pride in LA. So we kind of bopped around a bit and then we went to my niece’s birthday party. Then, I’m singing for Pride in P-town on the 4th of July. I’m doing a big concert at Town Hall.

That’ll be fun!

Yeah! That’s always a very Pride-filled weekend.

What was your personal highlight from the Tony Awards this year? Were there any specific performances that really resonated with you?

Oh god, yes! Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple. It was insane! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see The Color Purple on stage. I’ve seen her perform “I’m Here” a couple of different times on talk shows and such, but holy crap! Insanity. Just insanity.

I thought the Tony’s this year were the best they’ve been in a decade. They were so exciting and there were so many good live performances. I also really loved Carmen Cusack’s number from Bright Star. I thought that was really strong. And I loved Jessie Mueller in Waitress. That was really, really powerful. So were so many of my friends, like the She Loves Me cast. And obviously Hamilton.

But the thing that pops into my mind immediately is Cynthia Erivo. That’s just how you do it. In fact, I watched that performance about 10 times. As soon as it was done, I just kept rewinding it and rewinding it and rewinding it.

I get to a point sometimes where I think I’ve got it figured out. I’m like, “Okay, I know how to interpret a song. I know how to really sing it from my gut. I know how to make these words my own.” And then you watch something like that and you realize, “Holy shit! I have so far to go. There’s so much more I could do!” That’s what I love about watching my peers. You can’t help but watch something like that and think, “Man! How does that happen?”

Thank you so much, Cheyenne! Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

I think that’s good. This was really great! Thank you so much.

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: TALKING SAPPY SONGS WITH ALAN CUMMING

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Alan Cumming isn’t just one of the busiest artists in Hollywood. He’s also one of the most versatile.

Highlights from the past year alone have found the 51-year-old Scotsman co-hosting the Tony Awards, reprising his own Tony Award-winning role as the Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, garnering his third Emmy and second Golden Globe nominations for his co-starring role on CBS’ The Good Wife, publishing a New York Times bestselling memoir, and touring the country with his latest live musical act, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs. And he’s far from slowing down.

Hitting stores this Friday, Cumming’s second solo album will preserve this critically adored live show. Gearing up for a concert celebration at New York’s Carnegie Hall next week, Cumming chatted with me about his music, books, creative process, what’s in store for The Good Wife, and much more.

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ALEX NAGORSKI: Firstly, what’s your definition of a “sappy song” and how did you curate the track-list for this record?

ALAN CUMMING: I suppose a sappy song for me is a song that gets me emotional. There needs to be a story in it or it needs to have something that I can connect with and that can really make me feel. So that was really why I chose these songs. The year that I was doing Cabaret on Broadway again, my friends and I would play a lot of different music in my dressing room. A lot of the songs I sing on this album and in this concert are songs that I heard for the first time then. Many of the songs are by artists that I never thought I would like or are songs that one could be a little snippy about. But actually, there’s something about them that really resonates with me. All of the songs are songs that I really like, but I also feel that I add something new to them with my interpretations. Otherwise there’s no point in me just singing a nice song. Anyone could do that and there are plenty of people who can do it a lot better than I can.

As a musician, how do you feel you’ve evolved between this album and your previous release, I Bought A Blue Car Today?

I think I’ve found my voice a little bit more. I got better at adjusting songs and I know which songs are more suited to me. Over these years of performing, I’ve grown to understand my musical aptitude a bit better. I think I’ve zoned in on what I’m good at.

One of my personal favorites on the album is “Someone Like The Edge of Firework,” which you had previously released as a standalone single. What inspired you to mash up the songs that make this one up?

Years ago, I was in a club and the DJ played all three of those songs (Adele’s “Someone Like You, Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and Katy Perry’s “Firework”) consecutively. I remember thinking that they all kind of sounded the same. They’re all the fucking same! I loved the idea of that and I really like all those songs. I realized that just because so much of our culture is repetitive, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the way it is. And I actually like it! I love the reaction that song gets when I do it. Everybody freaks out, so I of course really enjoy that. And it’s just nice singing all those songs because it does makes you think, “Wow, they are all the same. They’re all the same structure.”

If you had to only sing one song every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Oh my God! That’s like Survivor with my album. One song?! That would be horrible! There’s a song that I made up that I sing to my dog when it’s lunch time. I’d probably sing that because it’s fun and would also be useful. As for off the album? Gosh, this is Sophie’s Choice. I don’t know! Maybe “Somewhere Only We Know,” originally by Keane. I’m pretty sure I might do that one.

Next week, you’ll be celebrating the release of the album with a concert at Carnegie Hall, where you’ll be joined by friends like Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, and Ricki Lake. How do you think performing these songs on such a large, iconic stage will be different than performing them in an intimate venue like the Café Carlyle where the album was recorded?

Well, I mean obviously there are some technical differences when it’s a bigger space like that, and you’ve got to bolt up the show a bit. But, you know, I’ve been touring Sappy Songs since the Café Carlyle residency. I’ve mostly been touring on weekends (because of shooting The Good Wife) all over America. And over the holidays, I was actually in Australia doing a concert there too. So I have been at much bigger venues with it already. It was kind of funny going back to the Carlyle to record the album this past December. Suddenly being back there, where it’s like 100 seats, it’s kind of a shock to your system just in terms of the acoustics and the amount of people in the room. But what I realized is that it doesn’t really matter what the number of people or the size of the venue are. It’s actually just about making a connection with people. You can do that in a huge venue and luckily I’m not worried about that. I kind of realized over the last six months doing it in so many different theaters that are so many different sizes that it’s just about me committing and being prepared to be vulnerable and open. That’s what does it, not the size of the venue.

At this concert, will you be exclusively performing music from the new record, or do you plan on adding in some oldies or surprises as well?

There will be a couple of surprises! There will certainly be a few because the show will be divided into two halves. I’ve obviously also got some guests joining me, so I’m going to be singing a little bit of stuff with them as well. So yes, some of my greatest hits will be appearing! Basically, it’ll be Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs but with a couple of little changes here and there.

You’ve already accomplished so much in your career. You’ve acted on screen and on stage. You’ve published a memoir and a novel. You’ve had your own photo exhibition and award-winning fragrance. You even have your own line of kitchen products at Fish’s Eddy, and the list goes on and on. With the release of this new album, what creative itch does making music scratch for you that these other forms of artistic expression don’t?

It’s not really like that for me. I think it’s all the same. Everything I do is all the same. I’m just telling stories and I’m just trying to express myself as a person. I’m an actor and I play other people all the time but a lot of my work is also about me. I put a lot of my personality and my life into the books and this record and into my work. I view myself as a storyteller and I use many different forms to tell those stories. In a way, I think this record is kind of the purest form of that because I’m sharing a lot of stuff and quite intimate things about my own life and my own experiences in it. It’s kind of the perfect fusion to be an actor and tell other people’s stories and then also have an outlet to tell my own stories at the same time. This record and this version of this show includes so much of what I’ve been doing in my work for a long, long time. So it scratches a lot of itches, if you will.

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One of the things that I thought made Not My Father’s Son such a captivating read was how brutally honest and vulnerable you were when describing your journey of discovering your own self-worth. Has the reaction from readers to such a personal story been similar or different than what you imagined it’d be when you were writing it?

The reactions were actually hugely surprising to me. I’m still nervous about it because you’re really putting yourself out there with something like that. I was nervous about how my mom and my brother were going to be affected. But what I didn’t bargain for was the really incredible response from people who said, “Your book has enabled me to deal with things in my family or talk to one of my parents” or “It’s actually inspired me to be honest in telling my story.” I know for sure that you can come out with something and never say, “I think I’ve really inspired a lot of people to do things in their lives that they were otherwise too scared to do.” So that has been truly amazing. I didn’t really envision that but I don’t know how I could have. It’s been really overwhelming in an amazing way and that’s been a really beautiful thing about it.

That’s incredible. You’re also working on a third book at the moment. What can you tell me about that?

Yeah! I’m not quite sure what I’m going to call it yet but it’s a book of stories and photographs I’ve taken over the years. In a way, it’s another memoir-ish type of book, in that it’s all things about my life and stuff that’s happened to me. But this time, it’s done in a way either inspired by a photo or there was a photo taken at the time I’m talking about or that is connected to it in some way. Because of that format, I’m actually getting to tell far more stories. It’s got a lighter tone than my last book. It’s full of little stories and fun montages and photos I’ve taken in New York City, as well as longer stories about certain things. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together. The book will be coming out in September.

I can’t wait to read it! Eli Gold, your character on The Good Wife, recently revealed a major secret to Alicia (Julianna Margulies) that viewers have watched him keep for years. How will the ramifications of this confession continue to play out in the coming episodes and is there anything else you can tease that fans can look forward to in the rest of this season?

Well, she’s obviously hurt. It’s funny because the night that we recorded the album was the same night that that episode aired. I told the audience what happens and even said in the show, “Tomorrow I could be the most hated man in America.” It’s interesting because people were wondering why Eli would tell her that now. What he told her about happened so long ago that maybe people had forgotten about it. So what’s been lovely is that Eli has been getting sympathy from a lot of viewers as well now that he’s finally come clean. I find that really fascinating. In terms of what happens, Alicia’s of course not going to just go back to normal straightaway. It takes a little while. But there will be a rapprochement. They do become friends again. Thank god!

Phew! What attracted you to Florent, the upcoming Showtime dark comedy about New York restaurateur, Florent Morellet, which you’ll be starring in?

I hope I’m going to be starring in it! It’s still kind of in the early, early stages but I’m very hopeful that this is going to be something that is in my future. In a fun way, Florent the man and Florent the restaurant are this kind of gateway to New York over the decades. He opened his restaurant in the 1980’s and the Meatpacking District has changed so radically since then. So has New York actually. His story of being a gay man during that time obviously was a rocky road and with various tragedies and triumphs. He is an incredible force of nature. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him but he’s just a bundle of energy and a kind of supernova. And so I just thought it was really great focusing on how one person and one restaurant could be so important to such a big city. I actually used to go there to eat. When I first moved to New York, I lived in the West Village a couple of blocks away from there, and I would go frequently. It was when the Meatpacking District literally had blood in the streets.

Oh wow. Speaking of New York, is there any chance that we’ll see you on Broadway again any time soon?

I hope so! I don’t have any concrete plans right now but I’m always trying to come back to the theater. I’ve got some things I’m talking about, but it won’t be for a while. Maybe I’ll do something in 2017, but I’ve got too many other plans for this year.

You’ve played so many diverse characters throughout your career. Out of them all, is there one that you think is the most similar to you personally?

I don’t know! I mean, I don’t really play characters who are like me. I think a lot of the bigger characters I’ve played, the more extravagant people, are what people tend to think I’m maybe like. That’s not true. I once did a movie where I played a taxi driver who was a nice, lovely guy, and he kind of sounded and looked like me, but he wasn’t me at all. In a funny way, I suppose Florent might be the closest. He’s someone who came to New York and has a great lust for life and has a real eclectic taste in people and things.

I know you’re an O.B.E. (Office of the British Empire), but if hypothetically, you were running for President in 2016, what would your campaign slogan be?

Holy shit! That’s a good question. It would be, “Shut Up, Stupid People!!” Definitely with two exclamation points.

Thanks so much for chatting, Alan!

Thank you! Nice talking to you.

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE Q&A WITH CHEYENNE JACKSON

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This fall, Cheyenne Jackson will show off a brand new and dark side of himself as one of the leads of the upcoming fifth installation of American Horror Story opposite Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer.

After successful recurring roles on shows like Glee and 30 Rock, the acclaimed 39-year-old actor is no stranger to television. He’s also appeared in 18 films, such as United 93, Love Is Strange, and Lola Versus. His diverse career consists of eight Broadway shows, including the original productions of All Shook Up, Xanadu and Finian’s Rainbow. And on top of all that, his voice has been featured on a dozen different albums, including a recently Grammy nominated West Side Story recording with the San Francisco Symphony.

But before he gets to work on the top secret American Horror Story, Jackson will return to his stage roots for a headlining concert at New York’s revered Town Hall venue on Friday, June 12 (buy tickets here). I caught up with Cheyenne about this upcoming show, his plans to return to Broadway and release a new album, this weekend’s Tony Awards, his love for Taylor Swift, and more.

NAGORSKI: What is a distinguishing characteristic about your Town Hall show on June 12 that will make it differ from your previous concerts?

JACKSON: It’s my last big show before I begin 8 months of American Horror Story so it’s kind of the “best of” all of my different shows. It’ll include my favorites and songs people have often requested.

What will the ratio of covers to original music be?

5 to 1 I’m guessing.

CheyenneAlso performing at the show will be Laura Benanti. What made you choose her as the one to share your stage with? And will you be performing any music together or will these be completely separate sets?

She’s a great friend and we’ve only done one show together and I just really wanted to sing with her again. We’ll be singing together.

Is this a one-off show or do you have more touring plans through the rest of the year?

One off. This is it for a long time so I’m going to go big.

Do you have any plans for a follow-up solo album to 2013’s I’m Blue, Skies?

Yes! The album is half done, I’m just trying to make myself sit down and finish!

Earlier this year, you released the charity single, “Find The Best of Me.” How did you initially get involved with amfAR and what made this the perfect song to release as a benefit for them?

I’ve been an ambassador for amfAR for 8 years. I love them so much and when Dan and Laura Curtis asked me to sing a song for charity, it was a no brainier.

Currently, what/who are the most played albums and artists on your iPod?

I could lie and pick something super cool, but honestly if I look at my most played, it’s an even mix of Broadway, top 40, some obscure jazz, and opera. Taylor Swift is in there too.  Sue me, she makes good music.

Recently, you had a residency at Café Carlyle, where you covered Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” What can you tell us about working with her on American Hotel Story: Hotel and is there anything that you can tease/share about your character on the show?

I could tell you details about American Horror Story but then I’d have to kill you with Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

Belated congratulations on your wedding! How will you and Jason be celebrating your one year anniversary this September?

Thank you! I’ll be working so we can’t leave town but I’m sure we’ll do something special and chill.

Next February, you’ll be one of the headliners of the Broadway on the High Seas cruise alongside performers such as Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christine Ebersole, Liz Callaway, Judy Kuhn, and more. What are you looking forward to most about this experience and what is the one item you’ll have to take on board to keep you from getting homesick?

Hanging with my peers is what’s the most fun and it’s not long enough of a trip to get homesick.

You’ve often mentioned that 9/11 signified a huge turning point in your life in that it gave you the confidence to become a performer. Can you please elaborate a bit on this?

I innately felt after 9/11 like life was slipping me by, and at 27 I decided to follow my dream of being a professional actor. It made me really feel how precious life is and I went for it.

Do you have any plans to return to Broadway anytime soon? If not, what type of show would be the most attractive to you to lure you back to the Great White Way?

I keep trying! Every year I’m offered something great and I try and make it work but it hasn’t happened yet. I’d love to do something new. I love revivals, but I’ve done enough of those for a while. Somebody write me something!

This year’s Tony Awards are being hosted by Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth on June 7. What or who are you most excited about seeing at the ceremony?

So many! I loved Hand To God, The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time, and On The 20th Century. Hopefully I’ll get to see Fun Home and Something Rotten before the awards.

You have openly spoken about your struggle with alcoholism. What role did music have in your journey to sobriety?

Not an overtly huge one, but definitely a comfort to me and a conduit for expressing my pain.

What have been both the most rewarding and challenging roles you’ve played to date? And what is your dream theatrical role?

Rewarding?  Sonny in Xanadu, Danny in 30 Rock, and Billy in Behind the Candelabra (I only had two lines, but it was extremely rewarding). The most difficult was Mark Bingham in United 93. My dream theatrical role hasn’t been written yet.

Cheyenne1

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THE REBIRTH OF THE VERONICAS

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The Veronicas are back and better than ever.

In the seven years since the release of their last album, Hook Me Up, Australian twin sisters Lisa and Jess Origlassio fought a highly publicized battle with their old record label, traveled the world to find inspiration for their masterful and biting songwriting, fell in and out of love, and above all else, rediscovered themselves artistically.

Their comeback single, You Ruin Me,” off their new and superb album The Veronicas (released via Sony’s Red label), spent several weeks at #1 in Australia and quickly became certified over 3x platinum. After a hugely successful and hotly anticipated tour in their homeland, The Veronicas have returned to the United States for a series of intimate, acoustic shows before bringing their full rock concert stateside later in the year.

I caught up with the girls over a bar of peanut butter chocolate about their new record and its upcoming deluxe edition, the band’s rebirth, their gorgeous latest music videos, their passionate social activism, their Real Housewives taglines, and much more.

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JESS: Do you like peanut butter? You have to try this chocolate, it’s so good.

ALEX: I love peanut butter. Thank you!

LISA: Jess, what the fuck? How did you know this was so good?

JESS: I just saw it at the Whole Foods on Houston Street. Listen to the description on the wrapper: “creamy peanut butter cradled in dark chocolate.”

LISA: Are you kidding? I would like to jump in that.

JESS: I like how it says “cradled.” That’s so specifically worded.

ALEX: That is seriously unreal. I don’t want it to end. So, there was a seven year gap between the releases of Hook Me Up and your new and self-titled album. In your opinion, how had the landscape of pop music changed between these two records and in what ways – if at all – did that impact you as artists/songwriters while creating this album?

LISA: Oh god, was it that long?! I thought we’re getting younger not older.

ALEX: Well you look younger, so …

LISA: Bless, bless.

JESS: I think that the biggest change was the up rise of social media. That happened at such a rapid pace. When we first started, we were one of the first bands on MySpace. So that just goes to show how it was back then and how these things have changed. I think the accessibility between fans and artists has become so intimate, which is unreal. We’re so stoked about that because even back then, we were so excited to be able to be close with the fans, and I think it’s important to have that direct interaction and we like to see their reactions firsthand – what they think about the music and giving things to them directly from the artists. It takes out the middleman. Whoever fucking likes the middleman anyway? The middleman is always there just to you know –

LISA: Buffer.

JESS: Yes! He’s always the buffer. And I understand the middleman is important for a lot of things but taking him out gives you that direct, personal, genuine relationship with fans, which as artists –

LISA: Is everything to us.

JESS: It’s the greatest. We love that.

LISA: I mean, it’s so interesting to know that we have fans all over the world.

JESS: It just gives us such a great concept of where things are being embraced. And just on a completely pop culture level, you are able to stay connected to so much information. I think that serves as a really great source of inspiration.

LISA: For us, inspiration for our writing and for our music is life. All the different experiences in life.

JESS: I think that being able to educate yourself with the internet at your fingertips and being able to research your own passions and even look into what your fan base is into and where things are progressing is a really important part of it. You just didn’t have the ability to be able to do that before. You needed someone else to be able to go log in and look at statistics. Now we’re able to do that ourselves.

LISA: And then obviously sonically the landscape has totally changed. Back when we were releasing our last record, Hook Me Up, and “Untouched” and all those songs, it was very hard to get them to be played on the radio because they were deemed “too electro dance.” And when you look at music now …

ALEX: That sound is everywhere!

LISA: Back then, “pop” was kind of a dirty word. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry hadn’t come out yet. There came a rise of the female pop star that was doing things a little more in that sonic vein. So I think it’s so crazy how just radio and pop culture is –

JESS: Now sitting.

LISA: It’s cool. It gives you a place to react off, that’s what we do as artists. This is where things are and you continually react off that middle ground. So creating this record, we didn’t want to make something that sort of seemed like we’d already done that. At the beginning of this, we decided that we weren’t going to just go back and do that sound again because it’s now happening and relevant. Instead, we went back and challenged ourselves.

JESS: We just started writing songs and telling our stories. And I think the next record, which we’re going to start working on really soon, will be very production heavy in a completely different way. But for this one, we really needed to just go back to our roots. We wanted to leave all the shit behind with the old record company and just go back to finding ourselves at our most base foundation of The Veronicas, which was us sitting down, writing on guitar and crafting the melody, vocals, and lyrics from that.

ALEX: Part of what I think makes this new record so brilliant is that it expertly fuses the pop/rock aesthetic of your first album with that more electronic feel of your second album to create something that’s not only a sophisticated evolution of your sound, but an exciting new one as well. Was this amalgamation a deliberate choice or did it just kind of come about organically?

JESS: Very much organically. It was very much led by us. If we could physically produce our own records, we would do it ourselves. We’re just that type of personality. That being said, we haven’t yet mastered the art of full production, so it’s just all our opinions and our thoughts. We sat down and we really worked with each producer on what we wanted to hear.

LISA: As we did with our second record with Toby Gad. Songs like “Untouched,” “Take Me On The Floor,” “Popular,” – with all those songs, we very much dictated how we wanted them to sound. But those had a very 80s electro template, whereas these songs didn’t have a template. The song itself was the thing that we started with, it was like the seed. And then we built around that and we didn’t try to overdo it.

JESS: But songs like “Did You Miss Me” and “Line of Fire” have very obvious production elements to them. We really just had fun with that in a way that we hadn’t really done before because there was no predisposition to a genre.

LISA: Yes. It was just what we heard in our minds. We felt very free and very inspired through every little part of the process. From each sound to each lyric to the way things were mixed and mastered. We’re very, very hands on in a way that made for music that is just a natural progression.

JESS: Did you just eat a piece of chocolate off your arm?

LISA: I was like “peanut butter chocolate mmm.” Very organic progression for that chocolate to make its way from my arm to my mouth.

JESS: Sorry to interrupt. That was just really funny. Anyway.

ALEX: It’s too good to waste! There were many songs you had written since Hook Me Up that didn’t make the final cut of your third album. Was it difficult to curate the track listing given that this record was in a way a reintroduction of your band to the world?

LISA: That was very important to us.

JESS: To get that right, yeah. There were a few different combinations we tried. It wasn’t too hard though, because I feel like the songs themselves sat in a storyline of what we’ve been through anyway naturally. So it was just placing them right.

LISA: I started saying it sort of embodies the themes of life, death and resurrection. So starting with “Sanctified” just made so much sense as far as this being our rebirth. And, you know, regeneration comes in seven year cycles, so it’s so funny to hear that it’s been seven years since the last record. When I hear that, I’m just like, “this is not a coincidence.” We truly do feel like this is our rebirth.

JESS: It’s definitely not a coincidence.

LISA: I was very much into that whole swampy, bluesy, soulful, moody scene in our downtime. I went to Nashville and did a lot of writing and jamming with a bunch of different artist friends and that inspired “Sanctified,” which just felt like such a good place to start. Then we move into “Did You Miss Me,” which we felt like was our sort of real signature song. Lyrically, we actually draw a lot of inspiration from the movie we named our band after, Heathers. So we actually quote a bunch of Veronica Sawyer’s lines in that. And then obviously ending on “You and Me,” which is completely stripped back and bare. For that song, we did one take, harmonized the whole way through together, just on an acoustic guitar and it just felt like the truest form of where we’re at and who we are. So there’s a lot of soul bearing on this record. I like to say that we wear our hearts on our sleeves and the knife is in our hands. In true Veronicas form, we still do write about heartbreak and we’re a bit vengeful sometimes.

JESS: We write about the every mysterious understanding of love. It is the hardest thing to be consistent in understanding love. It mutates and it takes on different forms at every moment of everyday and things change and people are insecure. Love in its purest form shouldn’t affect what love in its purest form is but it does. And it’s crazy that we as humans still have not mastered the concept of just the simplest form of what love is.

LISA: We’re always trying to conquer what that is. It’s that mysterious kind of force that fucks us up or is our driving force. It’s kind of wild. So we love to write about that in all of its forms.

ALEX: You’ve teased that a deluxe version of the album will be coming out with seven unreleased songs added onto it. When do you anticipate that to hit stores and how do these new songs compare to the rest of the record?

JESS: In June or July. I actually just sent an e-mail to Sony about it yesterday. They’re some of my favorite songs. Some of these songs mean an incredible amount to us. They’re very, very personal.

LISA: These are ones where I was like, “Man! We should have put that one on the first version of the album!” So yeah, they’re some of the best ones I think we’ve ever written, definitely.

JESS: One song you may have heard online, “Sugar Daddy.” We’re going to include the full version of that and six other songs.

ALEX: I love that song! That’s exciting. From the moody “You Ruin Me” to the calls for social change in “If You Love Someone” to the most recent and gritty “Cruel,” shot on the set of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, all of the music videos that have spawned from this new album thus far have been incredibly cinematic. Which of these were the most fun and/or challenging to film?

JESS: Thank you! I think the most challenging one out of the three was “Cruel,” just because of the physicality and stunt work.

LISA: Yeah, definitely.

JESS: Even the weather. We were in the desert about two hours out of LA and it was –

LISA: Below freezing.

JESS: So fucking cold! And we were wearing these latex outfits. There was a moment in the video where I thought I was going to freeze to death. But it was worth it because the location was unreal. We did our own stunt work, including a knife fight I did with the lead actor. It’s hard enough to think straight when you’re freezing in the middle of the night in the desert! And he had a real knife that he was using. So he was getting really close – I mean, he’s a proper stunt guy so it was fine – but there was this element of fear because I’m thinking, “there is a chance that this could go wrong and if that happens then this knife is going through me.” It’s not a rubber knife, it’s not a retractable knife. There’s a real risk there. But I think that that added to the intensity and the magic of the video. You get a different outcome doing it head on like that. That’s how we approach our songwriting, so it made sense that we would approach it with the risk of real injury with the video.

LISA: And we’ve been so meticulous and hands on with the creation of these video clips. We definitely wanted each one to have its own cinematic feel. We wanted the songs to be the soundtrack to their own mini-movies and their own worlds. “You Ruin Me” was wild because we shot that over 3 days. That one was tough for me just because of what the song means to me. It was still so fresh and new, so I wasn’t used to being that vulnerable and in the moment in front of so many people. When we were shooting that, there was actually quite a big crew. So that one was a little bit overwhelming, but I think that just added to the magic of the video. Specifically regarding “Cruel,” we love Tarantino and David Lynch and we wanted the video’s vibes to reflect their kind of darkness and black humor.

ALEX: You recently completed touring in Australia and in the UK. When will you bring the Sanctified Tour to the US?

JESS: We definitely plan on doing that this year. I’m thinking probably after August, so it will be towards the end of this year. But we’re just doing as much promo right now as we can and we’re trying to make sure that we’re doing lots of competitions at all the different stations so that we can meet fans in each city. Even though they’re not full shows, it’s fun to be back and meet them all. We’ve been waiting to for so long. They’re so cool. We definitely want to bring the whole band to do our full rock show production sometime this year though.

ALEX: In addition to being exceptionally talented musicians, you’re both very passionate social activists. Highlights include protesting against Proposition 8 in California and joining the “Wear It For Pride” campaign in Australia, posing nude for PETA, becoming ambassadors for Sea Shepherd, and lending your voices to speak out against the forced closure of aboriginal communities in Australia. How do you balance your music careers with your philanthropic efforts and how do you recommend that more people get involved with these causes?

JESS: I think as far as the balance, it’s just to live the value system every day. So then that comes out through the music.

LISA: Yes, it’s literally integrating it into us as people and then that will come out through the music, through our art, through just being immersed in it every day and being able to talk about it.

JESS: We need to be able to have more and more conversations about our government system and structures and helping our wildlife and helping people in need and all the things that go on as far as social conscious goes. Then it’s going to become more comfortable for people. See the thing is that I think – especially in pop music – people are scared to get political. People are scared to be too outspoken because nobody wants to alienate a possible fan.

LISA: Not even just pop music, it’s even in the acting world too. It’s funny how much people don’t want to step on the wrong toes or offend anyone because it’s deemed too political. It’s like you don’t want to offend the wrong person because then you might ruin an opportunity. But then you’re just living in fear and not standing up for what you believe in. You can’t do that. That’s not who we are.

ALEX: Especially since you have a unique platform to do so.

LISA: Absolutely! That’s even more of a reason to stand up.

JESS: If there’s anything that we try to encourage, it’s to ask questions. We’re not saying people need to think like we think. But especially young people need to be encouraged to challenge and question everything. The difference between us and animals is that we have the ability to question “why?” for everything. Everything we do. We grow up in a school system that teaches us to conform and then by the time we’re old enough, we wake up and look around and go “wow, this hasn’t helped progress our society or our communities or ourselves in any way.” All this does is feed into a very capitalist mindset of prioritizing the wrong things, which are status, monetary value, material things –

LISA: Ego.

JESS: At what point do we say, “No, the important things in life are love, compassion, understanding yourself and understanding those around you”? If you’re fearing something, it’s because you do not understand it. You don’t have to agree with it, just try to understand it and to question the structures of authority that we have put in place. The problem is there’s a disconnection there. People think to themselves, “Well, I didn’t put that person in that place, so I have nothing to do with it.” Yes you do! If you’re a person of this universe, you have a part to play in this. We were born with a voice to speak up, so why not use it? Why sit there and be complacent? Why sit there and not ask why?

LISA: I really liked what you wrote on Twitter the other day. Let me pull it up and read it because I don’t want to paraphrase anything. It’s a Paulo Freire quote that says, “Washing your hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” So many people remain neutral! They say, “It’s got nothing to do with me,” and it just comes down to a very, very simple concept of injustice. If you see injustice, speak out and do something about it.

JESS: Injustice to animals, injustice to your neighbor, or anyone! It can be as little picture or big picture as you choose, but if as humans we just sit around and allow injustice to continue, we’re digging ourselves into a world where no one can possibly survive. We cannot live in it, and that’s why we’re faced with the adversity, conflict, and misunderstanding that we’re faced with today.

LISA: Absolutely.

JESS: We need people to stand up and say, “This doesn’t work for me, my community, my family, my loved ones.” Otherwise nothing is going to change and the same things will continue on. We need to just encourage people to question and to educate themselves. We’re in a digital age where we are able to access information that we weren’t able to in the past. So why not use it? And then just love. Love, love, love, love, and be compassionate and understanding.

LISA: It will always bring you back to love.

JESS: That’s the important stuff.

ALEX: I agree! To end on a bit of a silly note – a recent Australian hit stateside has been the TV show, The Real Housewives of Melbourne. Obviously, you’re from Brisbane, but hypothetically, if you were to be on the show, what would each of your introductory taglines be?

LISA: We haven’t seen it yet! That’s so funny.

JESS: I want to watch it now! Isn’t the wife of someone from Silverchair on it?

ALEX: Yes! Jackie, Ben Gillies’ wife, is one of the Housewives and he’s on it all the time as well.

LISA: Amazing. We should do each other’s. Jess’ would be, “I’m into spiritual psychology and I’ll pick you apart.” I don’t even know if that really made sense. That’s just funny for me.

JESS: Yours would be like, “I may be short but I’ll always measure up.”

ALEX: Those are awesome!

JESS: That was a funny question. I just want to sit there and write those sorts of things for those shows now, I’d like that job. I wonder whose job that is, that’d be fun.

LISA: That’s hilarious.

ALEX: Is there anything about the new album or anything else that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to add?

LISA: Your questions were so beautiful and you’re so eloquent.

JESS: Thank you for such a beautiful interview and for letting us rant.

LISA: And for sharing the peanut butter chocolate with us!

ALEX: Thank YOU! This has been so wonderful. And I’m going to buy that chocolate in bulk.

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Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH BONNIE MCKEE

bonnie-mckeeBonnie McKee is no stranger to the top of the Billboard charts.

Over the past three years, McKee has been responsible for penning nine No. 1 pop anthems and has sold more than 28 million records worldwide. She’s worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, Adam Lambert, and Kylie Minogue, and her biggest smashes to date include Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me,” Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite,” and a whole slew of Katy Perry’s greatest hits – including “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Part of Me,” and the current #1 single in the country, “Roar.”

But earlier this summer, McKee decided to step out from behind the scenes and revisit her dreams of becoming a performing artist. Thus, with the release of “American Girl,” the debut single (available on iTunes) from her upcoming album, the California-born singer/songwriter made the transition from just being the voice behind the lyrics to actually being the voice singing them.

As she prepares for the release of her as-of-yet-untitled album (slated to be released by Epic Records in 2014), McKee chatted with me about the release of “American Girl,” her creative process, her secret recipe for songwriting success, how she plans to balance her performing and songwriting career, and much more!

Congratulations on the success of “American Girl” so far!

Thank you so much! We’re still in the grind so I won’t be happy until it’s gone all the way.

You’re responsible for writing nine of the biggest pop songs of the past few years. Which one would you say is your favorite and which one would you say is your crowning achievement?

Let’s see. Well, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Teenage Dream.” That’s a big one for me. But I think my favorite right now is “Roar,” the new one that I wrote for Katy Perry.

You started out as a performer then switched to exclusively songwriting for a little while. Why did you decide that now was the perfect time for you to re-emerge as a performer again?

Well, after I released my first album, I got dropped from my label, and I kind of had to start writing out of necessity. It was always my secret plan to be an artist again, so I just knew that I had to come back ripe with ammunition. I needed to have a story and I needed to catch people’s attention. I was good at songwriting and I hoped that through that, I could get back to being my own artist again.

How indicative is “American Girl” of the sound of your upcoming album?

Very. It’s all very colorful and full of pop anthems. I’m pulling a lot from my influences like Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. It’s definitely going to be really big and fun!

Do you have a title and/or release date planned yet?

Not yet. I’m still writing. Most of it’s done, but I like to write up until the last minute. You never know, it could be that last song you write that’s a spark of genius and could be the title of the album. So I’m going to wait until I decide what I’m going to call it.

Why did you choose “American Girl” as your re-introduction to the pop world?

Well I felt like “American Girl” was the quintessential Bonnie McKee song. I’m known for my lyrics and big melodies, so I felt like it was very me. I pulled from my own real life experiences and it just seemed like the most obvious choice.

The video for “American Girl” is filled with so many familiar faces. How did you get all of these celebrities to participate?

Most of them are friends of mine. I just sent out a mass text and e-mail. I wasn’t expecting that many people to participate! It was really moving actually. When I got the Tommy Lee video back of him in drag as me flying upside down in the air and playing the drums, I literally was bawling. I was crying. I filmed a reaction video and sent it to him and was like, “look what you’ve done to me, Tommy!” It was just so overwhelming because that song had been on my hard drive forever and no one had really heard it. So for the first people to be hearing it to be these people, and then for them to get so creative with it, was really over the top and overwhelming.

How is your creative process different when writing for yourself versus writing for other artists?

When I’m writing with other artists, most of the time, I have that artist in the room. It’s like a therapy session in a way because I’m picking their brains about what they’re going through and what they want to say. So they share their feelings and I take that and I turn it into a pop song. When it comes to myself, I have to dig a little deeper. I’ve written so many songs in my life that I really have to push myself. There really are so many things to write about in a pop song, so I like to get really creative with my lyrics and try to say something kinda quirky that I don’t think a lot of artists would want to say. So yeah, I’d say I get a little quirkier with my own lyrics.

For the fans that have been following you from the start of your career, will the songs you had featured on your MySpace in between your first album and now ever be available to download or buy?

Yes! There was one song called “Thunder” that got remixed by Rusko – he’s a really awesome DJ. I sent him the acapella and he did this whole thing to breathe new life into it, so that one got kind of a life again. “Stars In Your Heart” may actually make the album. I’m actually planning on making a video for that one either way, even if it’s just for online release. And then I think “Love Spell” will have a new life too. That’s a song that a lot of big names have recorded. A lot of people have wanted that song and I’ve heard so many great, famous voices on it. But I don’t want to give it up! It’s a song that I wrote for myself and is very personal to me, so I’m excited to sing it.

You’ve also written a lot with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who are pop songwriting legends in their own rights. What’s the best piece of advice they’ve ever given you?

Literally every time I write with them, I learn something new. I always try and let the professionals do their thing and I try to pick up as much as I can. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is simplicity. It’s easy to try to get overly clever, but I think it’s important to instead just pick and choose the moments where you want to be clever and let the record just be accessible. So yeah, I’d say simplicity is definitely the most important thing I’ve learned from Max Martin and Dr. Luke.

So is keeping it simple your secret formula for writing so many #1 hits?

I guess so. It also helps working with all of these amazing artists and songwriters, so it’s always a collaborative effort. But yes, I think that’s the key – writing a song that people can relate to, even if they don’t speak English. As long as you can sing along to it and still feel something, that’s what works. So phonetics are also really important.

I know you yourself weren’t present at the VMA’s this year, but what were your thoughts on the mob of redheads who were all chanting your name on camera?

I thought it was amazing! It was so cute. I didn’t even know that was coming, so when I saw it, I was like, “Oh my god!” It was quite a surprise. It was really cool. It’s awesome to know that you can have a Bonnie McKee costume – and the fact that it’s recognizable is really awesome. It really warmed my heart.

That must have been a really big moment for you!

Yeah! It was a big moment for me. It was one of those moments that I was like, “oh my god, this is really real,” so it was pretty cool.

Speaking of the VMAs, what was your favorite performance of the night?

There were some really good ones! It was a really exciting year this year. I feel like the past couple years have been pretty dull. I really enjoyed Lady Gaga’s performance because she always brings 110%. And of course, Katy. She’s always great. It’s always exciting to hear the songs that I wrote being performed. Every time I’ve seen someone perform a song live that we wrote together, I cry. Every single time. I’m a big cry-baby. So that’s always exciting. And of course, Bruno Mars.

It must be really interesting to see all the visual narratives and choreography and production value added to the performances of these songs that you wrote and seeing how all those things play out on stage together.

Yeah, it’s really cool! I’m always excited to see the music videos too because I feel like every time I write a song, I have a video for it in my head. I’m always imagining what the video for the song would look like. That’s kind of how I write, so it’s always fun to see how they turn out.

As a co-writer of “Roar,” what is your response to the allegations that the song sounds too similar to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”?

Yeah, I heard about that. It’s funny because people forget that we wrote this song months ago. We wrote the song before “Brave” came out and I had never actually heard it. Then when I listened to it, I was like, “oh yeah, I guess that is kind of reminiscent,” but it’s a total coincidence. I had never heard the song before and I think it’s a great song, by the way. I love Sara. I think she’s so talented. And it happens all the time. I hear stuff on the radio that I’m like, “what?! I just wrote something like that!” but there’s no way that anyone could have copied that because nobody in the world’s ever heard it. But it’s just kind of something that happens and I think it happens all the time.

Will we be hearing more of your songs on Katy and/or Britney’s upcoming albums?

Yeah, I wrote 4 songs on the new Katy album, Prism. I’m really excited about those. We really had a lot of fun writing them together. They’re really different and fun. She likes to get experimental so they’re kind of a departure from her last album that I worked on with her. As far as Britney, I don’t know. If they call me, I’ll definitely do it. It’s always so exciting to hear an iconic voice like Britney’s singing the words that I’ve written.

That actually leads in nicely to my next question –  Do you ever get nervous or star-struck when collaborating with artists of that caliber? For instance, I heard you wrote a song on Cher’s upcoming album. That must have been quite an experience!

I know that Cher recorded a song that I wrote and that was really exciting, but I don’t know if it made the final cut of her album or not. That happens a lot – where the artist will record like 45 songs and they’ll pick the best from those, so I have no idea if she’ll be using it or not. But either way, it’s an honor to have her voice singing my song. She’s just an idol of mine. But yes, absolutely, I get nervous. Britney Spears is someone I grew up listening to and idolizing and watching and studying, so to see her in the flesh and to hear her voice was just really surreal. I’ve gotten to meet all kinds of people – like Steven Tyler was a big one for me. I got to sing for him and he got to sing for me, just me and him and a piano, so I’ve had tons of amazing experiences. It’s been very rewarding being behind the scenes.

What’s one song from the past year that you didn’t write but wish you had?

Hmm … “Call Me Maybe” is maybe 2-years-old now, but I wish I wrote that one. From top to bottom, it’s just a perfect pop song. There are no holes, no questions about it. It’s just a perfect pop song. And Carly Rae [Jepsen] is a total sweetheart.

After your album is released, how do you plan on balancing your career as a songwriter and your career as a popstar?

Well I’m fortunate in that I’m able to pick and choose who I want to write for and what I want to do. But I think for now, I’m an artist. It was always my #1 goal to be on stage and to be able to move people with my own voice and have that experience of sharing my music with people. There’s just nothing like that. So I think I’m going to focus more on my own artist project. As far as songwriting stuff – I’ll do things that I can’t say no to. If Katy calls, I’m not going to say no. If Britney calls, I’m not going to say no. If Cher calls, I’m definitely not going to say no.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your album or any of your upcoming plans that we didn’t talk about?

I don’t think so! I guess just buy the “American Girl” single on iTunes!

bonnie-mckee1Originally published on PopBytes