Life and touring after Ali McBeal
Multi-award winning singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard is performing in Bury St Edmunds this month. She talks to Wayne Savage about why she feels lucky having music in her life and how she almost called it quits
VONDA Shepard admits her tongue was firmly in cheek when she christened her 14th album Rookie.
“I’m 53 you know,” she laughs. “I’ve been around all the blocks, as I like to say, not just one. I was just being cheeky as you say over there. I feel like I should actually have more (albums) considering my age. I’m a little bit hard on myself with that kind of thing... But I had other things I was doing in my life, like having a family.”
The Los Angeles based singer-songwriter and musician, coming to The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, October 13, confesses there have been moments when she’s thought about calling it a day.
“About three years ago I thought ‘well, maybe it’s just over at this point’ because I wasn’t writing, I couldn’t write, it was a major block. I thought maybe I just had nothing to say.
“Then I go out and do a couple of gigs and think ‘this is so much fun, I need this in my life’. Truthfully, I feel very lucky to have music because life can be stressful at times, and it’s such a great outlet. When I come off tour my husband (acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom) says I look younger and better because it’s like it gives you this energy, it’s amazing.”
A range of things were behind Shepard’s writer’s block. She’s perhaps best known over here for writing Searchin’ My Soul, the theme song to the American legal comedy-drama series, Ally McBeal, starring Calista Flockhart, aired on Channel 4. She says it’s never easy writing an album.
“Every single album I’ve written has been incredibly painful and effortful. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and it’s just gruelling. So the thought or making another album – I was justifying it by saying ‘I’ve got plenty of albums, plenty of songs’.
“It sounds very graphic, but you need to get it out of your system and be brave and face the writing process’, which is tough. I realised I needed new material to be inspired, even if I play one or two new songs on stage it really helps the whole show, and I also needed to release some stress I was feeling.”
Shepard was no stranger to fame, enjoying success in the States with Can’t We Try and Don’t Cry Ilene.
“Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow, which never was a hit but should have been,” laughs Shepard. “Actually Taylor Swift has covered that song on a YouTube video so I’m just hoping some day someone will cover the tune.”
However, Ally McBeal came at an “incredibly good time” for the multi-Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy award winner, who not only appeared in every episode but also served as the show’s musical director.
“Truthfully, I feel very lucky to have music because life can be stressful at times, and it’s such a great outlet”
She had moved to New York and was living in a “sweet” apartment in Chelsea writing the album By 7.30.
“I was working very hard, trying to get gigs, playing for like 30 people, lugging my keyboard in the rain, that’s the cliché and it’s true. I was 31, 32, thinking ‘what is this?’. I worked so hard my whole life playing clubs, I had a record deal with Warner Brothers and now I’m barely scraping by.
“When (creator) David Kelly gave me a call after I played a show in LA I was beyond thrilled and beyond ready. I had so much energy and so much desire to continue doing music so it was an incredible gift at that time in my life.”
It saw her work seven days a week reading
scripts, going into studio to rehearse with the band. It was an “overwhelming” amount of work, but she wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Most of my work was behind the scenes. I got to produce Sting, Chubby Checker, Gladys Knight, Al Green and all these legends. It was a blast.” Shepard has no problems being so well known because of one song.
“When you look back at the lyrics – ‘I’ve been searchin’ my soul tonight, I know there’s so much more to life’ – it brought me to the place where there obviously was so much more. I’ve got a lot of depressing songs that are very cathartic and I’m happy I wrote them but Searchin’ My Soul is a very uplifting, fun song to sing. The audience lights up when they hear it so it makes me happy.”
Apex audiences can expect to hear it, songs from Rookie, Chinatown, By 7.30 and what she calls the party section towards the end featuring some “Ally songs”. Last year’s sell-out UK tour was the highlight of her year and she can’t wait to return.
“I had so much fun performing for my fans in the UK. I’m thrilled to be coming back and I’m going to sit down after every show and sign CDs and meet the fans if they want to come and say hi.”
Shepard doubts there’ll be chance of starting work on the follow-up to Rookie while she’s on the road. She usually sticks to her journal, although occasionally something will spark inspiration. She’s just excited to do the tour.
“Definitely when I come home I’m sure I’ll have a lot of inspiration and experiences and I’ll definitely hunker down. It will be a good time to start again.”
Shepard won’t be lacking in things to write about, with America’s upcoming presidential election.
“I can’t wait for November because I definitely want to see Hillary (Clinton) win,” she laughs.
“I’m getting that out there. It’s this crazy, crazy atmosphere here in the US, and it’s unbelievable how people speak their minds in a way that is so rude, so uncaring and full of lies. It’s a terrible time in some ways, that’s why I’m hoping she crushes him (Donald Trump).”
Singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard