GETTING “OBSESSED” WITH LENA HALL

IF YOU’RE NOT OBSESSED WITH LENA HALL YET, 2018 IS GOING TO CHANGE THAT.

Lena Hall Obsessed: HedwigKnown for effortlessly blending the worlds of Broadway and rock-and-roll, Hall is kicking off this year with a groundbreaking and hugely ambitious creative endeavor. The first Friday of each month in 2018 will mark the release of a new EP in her Obsessed series on all digital and streaming platforms. Each of these EPs will pay homage to a different musical act/artist that has shaped Hall into the extraordinary performer that she is today. And what’s more, the 37-year-old will release a music video every single week of the year to accompany all 54 songs that will appear across the span of the 12 Obsessed EPs.

This month, Hall launched Obsessed with a tribute to Hedwig And The Angry Inch, the landmark rock musical for which she won a Tony Award and received a Grammy Award nomination. I spoke with the theater icon about her creative process, the various musicians she’s covering, her upcoming tour, her new film and television roles, returning to Broadway, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: How did you come up with the Obsessed series and what made you decide to release these EPs on an unprecedented, monthly basis? 

LENA HALL: I did a show at the Café Carlyle (in NYC) with Michael C. Hall called “Obsessed – Radiohead.” It was such a hit that I wanted to make it a series of concerts that highlighted one artist per concert. I decided that an album series was a good way to tie in the “Obsessed” concert idea and give fans around the world access to the shows in some way.

Around the same time, I did a series of videos for Complex.com called “Stripped,” where I released one video per week for 20 weeks. This was a way to give fans content and the feeling that I was singing live for them in their living room. Kurt Deutsch of Ghostlight/SKB Records came to me and offered to do a formal release for my next Obsessed album, which was announced as Hedwig.

After a meeting with Kurt and Kevin Gore, we all decided to combine the ideas of the Obsessed albums and concerts and the “Stripped” videos to make it a yearlong series. We concluded that a good way to keep people interested in the series was to do one artist per month, with the EP coming out at the beginning of the month and the sister videos coming out every week that month in support of it. Each EP (except for Hedwig) matched the month it’s released. Some EPs have four songs and some have five depending on how many Fridays are in each month.

Are all of these EPs meant to be standalone pieces or is there a larger narrative linking them to one another?

There is no larger narrative other than these are all artists I love and want to introduce to a brand new fanbase. These albums and videos are a love letter to each of these artists and bands. My personal favorites! This is just the first 12. I hope to do multiple seasons of this series!

Are you recording straight covers of the songs you’re featuring or are you reinterpreting them somehow? What does that creative process consist of?

It depends on the song. Some songs are very close, where the only difference is my own vocal interpretation. Others have been reimagined. I wanted to focus on what made the song stick out to me. The lyrics, or the chord progressions or simply the way it was sung. Sometimes I cover a song the artist covered. A cover of a cover. In this case, I did that to illustrate how someone else’s genius interpretation of a song made it iconic.

Why was Hedwig the natural choice to launch this series with? How did your experience playing the show’s titular character on its national tour (in addition to reprising your Tony-winning performance as Yitzhak) impact your approach to these beloved songs?   

We started with Hedwig because it has had the biggest impact on my life. From the first time that I saw the show and heard the album to playing Yitzhak and winning a Tony Award to finally playing Hedwig! There is no show on Earth that has had such an impact on my life. The original Off-Broadway cast recording was something I listened to, on repeat, trying to sing along wishing the songs were in my key!

The artists you’re covering include such varying acts as Elton John, Nirvana, Pink, David Bowie, and Radiohead (to name just a few). How did you go about selecting the musicians you’ll be paying homage to?

These are all artists that are markers of different stages in my life. They bring up strong memories of experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today.

Once you’ve selected the artist(s) you’ll be focusing on for each EP, how do you go about narrowing down the songs in their respective discographies to decide which ones you’ll be recording? 

I selected a few hits but also wanted to cover some of the songs that spoke to me that were more B-sides, the songs I listened to on repeat that rarely got airplay. It will hopefully inspire the listener to dig deeper into each artist’s catalogue.

Which of the series’ upcoming EPs do you think your fans will be most surprised to hear? 

I’m not sure. I think the artists themselves are a very eclectic bunch. Each one will be a surprise to someone, except for maybe Hedwig. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that choice!

You’ve also created performance music videos for all 54 songs in this series. As a performer, what role do these videos play in your Obsessed journey?

I wanted a way for fans who can’t get to my live shows to have some kind of connection to me.

Vocally and creatively, what have been the biggest challenges in the recording of this series? 

Recording the entire series in 8 days! That was the biggest challenge. To give you an idea of what that meant, we recorded from 11 A.M. – 7 P.M. for 8 consecutive days and we did about 3 takes per song, give or take. That means I sang a total of about 162 songs in 8 days. At the same time, we filmed the entire recording session for the YouTube videos.

When do you plan to release full details about your upcoming tour in support of Obsessed? And what can your fans expect from these live shows, beginning with your Rockwood Music Hall Stage show in New York at the end of January? 

We should have a full concert schedule out soon! For now, I am planning to do one show at the end of every month to celebrate that month’s artist and tease the next artist. I will also take fan requests to play some favorites from the past Obsessed albums. Hopefully, I will be able to tour most of the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe (schedule permitting).

If another performer were to release an Obsessed: Lena Hall EP in the future, what would be on it? How do you think this musician could best capture your essence and artistry within a handful of covers? 

I’m hoping I will have some original solo material in the near future for them to cover! I would be interested to see how someone like me would influence a new artist.

Do you have any plans to return to the Broadway stage anytime soon? If not, what type of production/role would entice you to come back? 

I hope to return to Broadway very soon! Whatever it is, I will be 100% passionate about the project and I will put my heart and soul into it every single night!

Becks (which hits theaters and VOD February 9) marks the first movie in which you’re playing a leading role. What are you most excited about for when your fans see this film? 

I am excited for fans to see me in a much more intimate setting. The film is more up close and personal. I love this movie and all it stands for as well as the soundtrack. Hopefully people will relate deeply with the character I play and with the themes. We are very proud of it already winning at the L.A. Film Festival and getting such critical praise prior to the release!

Later this year, you’ll also be making your debut as a television series regular on the new TNT dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, alongside Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs. What can you tease about your character, Sayori? And how will the series differ from/build upon the world introduced in the acclaimed 2013 film of the same name that it’s based on?

I can’t say much about the project because I want something to be a surprise. But I will say that, to me, Sayori is the most interesting character on the show and is the type of role I have been dying to play. The TV show will focus more on the class wars that occur within the train.

Thank you so much, Lena! I can’t wait for the remainder of the Obsessed EPs and to see you on both the big and small screens this year. Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about? 

Nothing to add other than I am looking forward to getting everyone’s feedback on all my projects in 2018! Thank you!

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH THE TING TINGS

The Ting Tings Super Critical

When The Ting Tings exploded onto the music scene with their dynamic debut album We Started Nothing in 2008, it seemed that the pop / rock world had discovered the latest jewel in its crown.

After a string of infectious hits, the band’s star was on the rise as they were featured in Apple commercials, performed at MTV’s Video Music Awards, toured with Pink, won award after award, and much more. But when their second album, Sounds from Nowheresville, was released in 2010, critics weren’t as kind to the UK artists and the success they enjoyed was quickly forgotten.

Four years later, The Ting Tings have reemerged bigger, bolder, and better than ever. Consisting of members Katie White and Jules De Martino, the band has just independently released their superb third album, Super Critical (iTunes), a passionate and unique love affair between the genius sound of their first record and their recently discovered affinity for Studio 54 and 1970’s disco. I chatted with White about the band’s evolution, the new album, their upcoming US tour, and more.

The Ting Tings Super Critical

How do you feel you’ve grown and evolved musically between Sounds from Nowheresville and Super Critical?

What we found quite interesting is working with somebody else in the studio because it’s always just been myself and Jules. Both Jules and I have short attention spans so we would literally write songs and change them 30 times within the space of two days, and then have a nervous breakdown, hate it, and that would be it. Having somebody like Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran) in the studio with us, he’d go, “stop. Get away from the Pro Tools, don’t touch anything, go home, sleep on it and come back and listen to it tomorrow.” It was just a revelation to us because we’d go home hating it, then come back the next day and hear it with completely fresh ears and be like, “We love it! We love it!” That was a huge revelation for us and I think it really opened our minds to working with other people on the next album. We were always quite against it because we thought “oh god, no” and worried that they’d change things too much and we wouldn’t sound like us, but it was actually a much more endurable process.

So how did Andy end up working on the record in the first place?

It was completely random. We moved to Ibiza to record this third album and this guy walked into the studio one day. He looked kind of freaky and I had no idea who he was until he revealed that he was Andy from Duran Duran, and we just became friends. He’s really entertaining and has an amazing story. He’s a complete lover of every kind of music.

What happened was we kept getting asked to write for other artists and we were quite nervous to do that because we were in the middle of recording our album and we were worried that starting to write songs with other artists in mind would disrupt our whole brains. So Andy asked us to come to the studio once a week and kind of dump some ideas on him and then leave him to it, and we thought that was great because we wanted to work with him. But we were also a little frightened because he’s our friend so we didn’t know what we’d do if the songs that we worked on together ended up sounding like shit. We were worried that it would be really embarrassing and ruin our friendship.

At the same time, it was the perfect opportunity to do something that wasn’t so pressured. So we went into the studio one day with him and we recorded a song and we actually finished it in one day. But then we listened to it and thought, “Oh my god, we’re not giving this to anyone. We’re keeping it for ourselves.” And then we didn’t end up leaving the studio for 9 months and we were like, “you’re co-producing our entire album.” We had never worked with anyone before and it was just amazing.

We were in Ibiza, which is a beautiful island off the coast of Spain and we didn’t go to the beach once. We didn’t even go to one restaurant. We just stuck in this bunker, basically, which was hot and humid, and just had the time of our lives fantasizing about writing music and he’d tell us about how he used to go to Studio 54. It was just an amazing experience.

Why did you choose to go to Ibiza to write and record? What was it about being in that specific setting that inspired you so much?

It’s definitely become a thing for our band now that we go to a new place every time that we record. We love to feel almost like a new band and because there’s only two of us, it’s hard to feel like that. After our first album, I remember my mom saying, “Take time to remember this feeling because you can only be a new band once in your career.” It’s a very special moment because you’re not jaded and you’re not worried about how somebody will critique your songs, you’re just working out of complete naivety, which is a great place to be. Obviously by your third album, you don’t feel that same way. You’ve toured and you’ve seen all the reactions and it’s a lot harder to make decisions knowing what you know. So for us, we wanted to try to get back enough of that feeling to write new songs and get really excited again.

We’d been to Ibiza to rehearse for about four weeks before we went on tour. We finished touring Spain and we didn’t want to go back to England. We wanted to go somewhere nice and so we said, “Let’s go to Ibiza!” It’s got a really odd and interesting character because it’s kind of the place where it’s crazy party central in the summer. It’s so famous for its clubs. And then in the winter, it’s just the people who don’t know when the party stops or there’s weird, fun characters who have lived there for years in their own funky houses in the middle of nowhere with their hippie lifestyles. We just found it quite fascinating.

It’s weird because we didn’t actually make up any music that sounded like Ibiza, which is so bizarre. We kind of made the opposite. It was all techno and EDM that would be playing in the clubs in Ibiza and we’d go to them and party and have a great time. But then we’d go back to the studio with Andy and realize there was never even a single song that you could sing along to. They were all just beats that you would need horse tranquilizers to enjoy – which is ok, but we thought there might be another way.

So then we would talk about Studio 54 and we’d imagine ourselves being there. It was so glamorous and all champagne and cocaine and a bigger thing about that was that the BPM of those records from those days was a lot slower, so the dance floor would move in different ways. You can’t dance the same way to beats today, it’s almost like people are kind of jerking around and that’s it. But when you look at the footage from the 70’s, people really danced and it looked really cool. So we wanted to write a record that people could dance to. We loved going to the clubs in Ibiza but it is quite interesting that we made a record that doesn’t sound like it. It’s a bit ridiculous really.

The album really is heavily influenced by pre-EDM nightlife and 1970s New York. Aside from being able to dance to it, what is it about this disco-infused sound that you wanted to explore and what challenges did you face folding this into your signature pop/rock sound?

No challenges really, no. Especially because we had Andy helping us. Andy was in a band with Bernard Edwards out of Chic. When he ended Duran Duran, he started a band called Power Station with him. Nile Rodgers really showed him a lot. What was interesting was that because we were making our own version of that sound, it didn’t end up sounding pastiche, and was instead a weird mix. It’s not totally 70’s. It comes from all three of us, and I wasn’t even born in the 70’s. Then there’s Andy, who took all this influence from Nile Rodgers but played it in his own way as well. I think it was actually pretty easy to write because we made such a good team and had such a love affair in the studio.

You’ve openly discussed that you had a lot of difficulties making your second record. Do you feel that with this third one, you’ve found your footing and are ready to in a way, reboot the band?

Yes, definitely. It will be different. We put the album out on our own label this time. I remember when we first started as a band, we put out “That’s Not My Name” and “Great DJ” and all that all on our own, and obviously we were really scared. Then record labels came knocking on our door and like any new band, we inevitably signed with one to get things going. We wrote that first album in our bedrooms, all on our own. It was pretty much finished and then we signed it to Sony and had an amazing time.

We’re a difficult band because we write completely pop songs but if we try to just be a pop band, we fail miserably at it. We don’t function as pop artists who have huge teams around them and writers. It takes us 2-3 years to write an album and pop artists don’t function like that – they have writers and producers consistently churning out hits for them. And they do that beautifully, but we’re just not that band. We’re just an awkward band that’s almost indie in our mentality but we can’t write indie rock because everything that comes out of our mouths is pop, so we don’t really fit very well with either.

When a major label gets a rock band, they know how to work that. They get the right magazines and do what they need to in order to get the cool points. And with pop bands, there’s another way. As a band somewhere in the middle, we were nobody’s baby. We were always so polite to them but they’d ask us to do things like go walk red carpets and we’d just say, “no! We’d rather sleep at home and be miserable all night!” and that’s just not how it works when you want to sell records. By our second album, there was a meeting that we heard about where there were like 20 people discussing what we should sound like and we just thought, “What the fuck!” We’re the wrong band to work like that. We’d totally fail with 20 people, all who have different opinions of what our second album should sound like.

We’re just much happier now. It’s a totally different approach and we’re putting out the record we want when we want, it’s not like we’re timing it based on a projected chart position. Just like bands like The xx or London Grammar, you don’t feel like it’s forced upon you. But if it’s a good album, maybe over the course of the next year you’ll think “wow, that band has really picked up momentum,” so that was the way we wanted to work on Super Critical. It was less pressured and more creative.

What artists/albums were you listening to the most during the writing/recording of the album?

We listened to Diana RossDonna Summer, and we listened to a lot of Chaka Khan’s early and funky stuff. I became a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, but that was more about the songwriting. It wasn’t so much the sounds of the records but the song melodies. I’ve got an obsession with Stevie Nicks.

What’s your favorite song on the record and why?

I’ve got two. One is “Wrong Club” because it’s one of those songs that sound really uplifting but is really quite depressing when you listen to the lyrics. It’s got a real melancholy feel to it. I’m a big fan of bands like The Smiths, who were masters at doing that. You hear this beautiful song and you listen to the lyrics and they’re about getting run over by a bus and you just think, “That’s amazing!” I also really love the song “Failure.” We wrote that song with the most sugary, syrupy melody. We wrote the melody first and thought it was too sickly sweet for us so we wrote a song about being failure and thought it’d be fun to make such a sweet sounding song be about failure. I love it. I think I just like miserable songs.

Obviously the name Super Critical comes from a track on the record, but why did you feel it was the best title for the album as a whole?

We named it, in all honesty, after a bag of weed in the studio called “Super Critical.” All three of us were like, “is that really what it’s called?” And then you think about it and “critical” is really an amazing word. So then we started to write the song and we wanted to subvert the word to mean a few different things, and we couldn’t think of a better word to name our album. It sounds funky and could mean 2-3 different things that people can read into, whether it’s something to criticize or it’s a moment in our career that’s super important, so we liked that aspect of it a lot.

There’s a hilarious scene in Horrible Bosses in which Charlie Day’s character sings your hit “That’s Not My Name” during a cocaine binge. What was it like seeing your song used in the film that way and are you looking forward to the sequel?

It was brilliant. I found it very funny. I am really looking forward to the sequel, I thought it was a good film. It’s very surreal seeing your song used for a coke binge in a car in a movie.

Currently, you’re touring in Europe, and next year, you’ll be embarking on a headlining tour stateside. Aside from hearing the new album live, what can fans look forward to from these shows?

I don’t usually like to read things about us because it usually gives me a nervous breakdown, but I saw somebody write on Twitter, “If you go see The Ting Tings, don’t expect a nice, polished pop show” and it’s really not that. It’s disorganized and it’s raw. Even though the new album is very smooth, we still manage to bend the songs to sound rough around the edges. It’s just how we like to perform.

The Ting Tings Super Critical

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BETTY WHO

betty-who-22013 has shaped up to be a huge year for Betty Who.

Following the April release of the 22-year-old Australian singer/songwriter’s debut EP, The Movement (iTunes), Who is hard at work on her upcoming first full-length album (slated to hit stores next year via RCA Records). Her song “Somebody Loves You” also serves as the soundtrack to a recent viral video of a flash mob marriage proposal, which has already garnered over 10,790,000 views on YouTube. And just last week, she churned out her first official remix (for Demi Lovato’s “Neon Lights”).

Taking a break from the studio, Who caught up with me about her musical origins, debut album, current tour, love of Britney Spears, the proposal seen around the globe, and more.

betty-who-1ALEX: For starters, where did the stage name Betty Who come from?

BETTY: I wrote a song when I was seventeen or eighteen in high school about this boy who didn’t really want to be with me because of moral stuff. You know, he was super conservative. He didn’t kind of like my lifestyle, I guess, which is really silly cause at eighteen my lifestyle was just like … I had gay friends. So I named this song “Betty Who” kind of randomly. Then I had this song that I was working with my producer a year later and we were talking about stage names and he was like, “Well, you’re going to have to have a name that you’re going to be comfortable being called for the rest of your life cause that’s how it’s going to happen.” And then I was like, “what about Betty Who?” and it just felt so right.

Where were you when you first saw the “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal” video and how has it impacted your career?

I was at the hairdresser actually. I was sitting getting my hair done and my manager emailed me the video and I started to like cry at the hairdresser’s. It’s definitely, like totally changed my life. I told the boys that too. When they came out for the VH1 performance to New York, I got to meet them and I remember sitting down with them and just being like, “you’ve actually changed my life, like really.” So it’s been amazing. I love that if my music was going to stand for anything, you know, it would be this.

Absolutely. I’d say then that it’s safe to assume that you will be singing at their wedding?

I think that it’s definitely in the cards.

Your music as a whole has been very embraced by the gay community in particular. Do you think that there is some sort of specific reason for that?

I had a friend describe it to me this way once. I think that gay men like to emote and they like to dance and I do both of those things in my songs. That’s basically what I heard a friend say that and I think that’s a really good description of why my music is the way that it is.

You recently signed a record deal with RCA, which is home to some of the biggest names in pop. How does it feel to be joining the ranks of people like Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink? Is there a lot of pressure?

Yeah. There is. I was talking to RCA for a couple months before I signed with them. So when I walk down the halls of RCA now, I still kind of don’t really feel like its real yet and I don’t know if it will until like I have an album up on the wall or I have a picture up on the wall, you know what I mean? I think because I haven’t really released anything through RCA yet. It still doesn’t really feel real. So, I’m waiting. Like on the floor that the RCA offices are, you walk out of the elevator and there’s just like pictures of Justin Timberlake, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera – I’m waiting to have my photo up there and I’ll lose it, I’m sure.

That’s going to be so exciting!

I know, right?

So actually speaking of Britney Spears, you’re very open about your love for her. Do you have plans to check out her Vegas show and what are your thoughts on her new song, “Perfume”?

Yes, Britney! My queen! I would actually love to go to her Vegas residency but you know, I live in New York so it’s a little bit more difficult to go to than if I were to live in LA. But I definitely will make plans to sneak away for two days when I’m in LA sometime and drive to Vegas with friends and go see it. I also like any Britney song that comes out. Like I will buy and I will love. You know what I mean? I don’t know if Britney could make a bad record, so “Perfume” is great.

I totally agree! Part of what I love about your music is the glittery, feel-good, 80’s throwback vibe that I get from it. Who are some of your biggest musical influences and what is it about this era that made you want to put your own contemporary spin on it?

Sure. I loved Michael Jackson when I was growing up. And you know, I loved Madonna, I loved Cyndi Lauper, I loved Pat Benatar. I remember listening to “Love is A Battlefield” when I was like fourteen maybe and like yelling it in my room. I love that music from the 80’s and 90’s is really fun. I think that pop music got really dark in the last couple years, and I mean that’s fine too and that’s great, but I also miss the sparkle of “Like A Virgin.” So for me, it’s really fun to make music that touches on that, but also gives it a way to exist in the world now that doesn’t just sound like I’m making a sound alike record.

Would you say that in today’s pop landscape that’s what makes your music stand out and distinctively Betty Who?

I guess. You know, a lot of people are making music that also is like 80’s throwback. If you listen to “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, it sounds like a 80’s record. So you know, I don’t know if I could be honest and say that like “oh yeah, well, like I’m the only one doing it.” But I definitely think that there’s an honesty in my lyrics and in my writing that very much makes it me. I think that’s what makes it different because I write all the music and so much of me goes into it.

Of course. So, originally you had plans to follow up the release of The Movement with a second EP, but I understand that you’ve since scrapped that idea and are instead working on putting out a full length album. Can you confirm those rumors?

Right, yes all of that is true.

Will the album then be an extension of the sound that you introduced on The Movement or do you think fans will be surprised by what they hear?

I think it’s very much an extension of the EP. All the songs from the first EP will be on it.

Have you chosen a first single yet?

I haven’t. Lots depends on that so I don’t have a lot to say about that yet.

Will fans who are coming to see you on your current tour get a taste of some of the new songs that the upcoming record will offer?

Yes, absolutely.

What’s your favorite one to perform live?

There’s a song called “Heartbreak Dream” that is not out anywhere yet and it’s just like a really high-energy song and people have been responding to it really well. So I’m very excited to release that. Out of the older songs, “High Society” is my favorite to perform – just because the energy in it and the way that people like it. Now, when people sing a long, it’s really amazing – especially the “we’ll drink Chardonnay through the day ‘cause we say so” part.

Awesome! Do you have a title or a release date in mind yet for the album?

No, neither of those things.

Can you tell me a little bit about who you’ve been working on this record with? Is it the same team behind The Movement? Or are you also collaborating with some new faces?

Sure. It’s mostly just me and my producer from the first EP, Peter Thomas. He and I did almost the entirety of the record, and then there’s one song on it that I wrote with this band called Ghost Beach. I don’t know if you know Ghost Beach, they’re amazing. I played a couple of shows with them, that’s how I met them, and we’ve become friends, and we recorded this awesome song, so that song will be on the album.

Well I can’t wait to hear it! Did you dress up for Halloween this year?

I did.

What or who did you dress up as?

Well I was in LA, and I was in the studio all Halloween day and I got out at like maybe 5:30 or 6, so by the time that I was leaving, I was like, “I don’t have a costume, I’m running late to this party that my friends want me to go to. Like I’m just not going to have a costume.” And I texted my friend that and she was like, “Just come as one of the girls from The Craft with us.” And I was in a black velvet skirt and a white shirt already, so I was like, “oh, perfect.” So I just stopped by CVS, I picked up knee high socks, a costume necklace and some dark lipstick and I found a black velvet hoodie at CVS, which is like the grossest thing in the whole world. And I wore that. And I was like “It was perfect.” I was already in costume.

I love that. So what’s been your favorite pop song of 2013 so far?

Oooh, that’s a good question! I think “Rock N Roll” by Avril Lavigne.

Really?

It was the most underrated pop song of the year! It’s so amazing and so well written and has so much energy. I just yell that song in my shower and it didn’t even get a chance to be as great as it is, I think. So, that’s my answer.

 Originally published on PopBytes