Saturday, May 14, 2011

Actress Alicia Witt looking to break into music business, will perform this month at SPACE in Evanston

 Photo credit: Richard Agudelo


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Actress Alicia Witt has become a familiar face through her roles on such TV shows as "Friday Night Lights," "Law And Order," and "Cybill," and through films like "88 Minutes," "Two Weeks Notice" and "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Now she wants to become a familiar face in the music world as well. The classically-trained pianist just signed a deal with Newark, NJ-based entertainment services company Rock Ridge Music to manage her music career, and recently released an EP on iTunes along with the single "Me Or New York."

Witt will perform at 8 p.m. May 29 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., www.evanstonspace.com. 

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 a the door, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Witt about her growing music career and how she looks to balance making music with acting.

Q - What goals did you have in sitting down and making the EP?

I wanted to do music for so long, and to finally record some stuff, was an incredible experience.

I'm working on a full-length album. But I have so many songs, so it's just about choosing the ones I want to record. Hearing what different producers bring to the things that I've written is such a great experience.

I want to keep the songs truthful to what I intended, but at the same time allow them to become a whole different thing through the ears of someone who didn't create them in the first place.


Q - I was looking through your bio. You started playing piano when you were 7, and you listened to '30s and '40s show tunes. I kind of hear that in your music, that big sound. Is that what you were going for?

I don't think I was going for anything specific. There are people who I love that are making music today, like Sara Bareilles, Pink, and Ben Folds, all kinds of artists today that I think are also drawing from a very melodic base.

I just generally love songs that mean something. It can be any genre, really. I like to know what the words are, and I like to know what the story is.

I love music that takes you somewhere, even if  it's just outside of your head for a moment. And that's what I think I related to when I heard all those great songs from the '30s and '40s when I was growing up.

But that not all I liked. I also loved Billy Joel and Elton John and Paul Simon. I thought Barry Manilow had some incredible songs, and they were a big part of my growing up as well.

Q - It seems like you have tried to incorporate music in the different acting projects you've had over the years. How was singing with Randy Newman in "Ally McBeal?"

It's hard to describe how awesome that was. I've always been a bit obsessed with his music. And to get to sings his songs in the show was a dream. I would love to have the chance to work with him again.

He was so sweet and humble. At a certain point, they were setting up a shot. We had a few minutes where we weren't going to be needed.

About 10 minutes went by, and nobody else was around. There was a pause in the conversation, and he looked around and said to me, "Do you think it would be OK if I went to the restroom?"

Q - Wow, like he had to ask.

Yeah, he looked around to make sure he wouldn't be holding anybody up. I said, "Yeah, I think you can go. I think they will wait for you." He was so sweet and so talented. I really look forward to the part of the Academy Awards every year when he sits down and plays.

Q - Of course, you have a lot going on. You recently signed with Rock Ridge Music. What made you want to sign with them?

I had a really good feeling about them. There's so much that an indie artist has to do to get their music heard. There's a limit to how much I can do.

From the first time I talked to them on the phone, it just felt right. I got this sense that they really understood what I was going for and that they were as passionate about what I want to do as I am.

This is an exciting new chapter. And what is amazing about Rock Ridge is that they basically do everything. They are going to be instrumental in introducing me to songwriters and producers. It's just a full team of people who are passionate about music, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Q - Of course, you are working on your full-length album. What should people expect from the album? Are you building on what you did with your EP?

I like a lot of different genres of music. I think there's going to be a variety. It's definitely going to be a collection of tracks that are produced by different people.


One of the new tracks that will be on the new album is "Me Or New York." It's something that I only released a few weeks ago, and it's on iTunes now.

Q - You do have a busy acting schedule. You currently are working on "Cowgirls N' Angels." How has that been going?

It's been going great. We're shooting in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There's something great about being on location in some place remote where no one from the cast and crew lives ordinarily.

We end up having a real community of friends for that brief period of time. Last night, I went out for some local music, and it was really fun. It was a different feeling to be in a smaller town, and I like the fact that when you are in a place for a month or so, you get to feel in a way how it would feel to live there.

I'm lucky to have pseudo-lived in a lot of different places. It's one of my favorite things about doing this for a living.

Q - Speaking of that, you've done so much in your career, you've been in so many different roles. Do you have any favorite roles or projects?




Oh, a lot of them. One of my favorites, which I haven't seen yet in its entirety, is a movie called "The Boarding House" with Nick Stahl.

It was filmed last year in New York, and it will hopefully be coming out later this year. It's a very small love story about these people who are so afraid in their own ways.

They both really want something to happen for each other, but they're just kind of stuck. It's some of my favorite character work so far. I'm really excited about that one.

I loved making "88 Minutes," because I got to work with Al Pacino.

Q - Was it sad wrapping up "Friday Night Lights?"

It was incredibly sad. I'm in the series finale, which I was so grateful, because I didn't really know if I'd be in it.

The way they worked on that show was that you really didn't find out until a few days before you left for Austin if you were going to be in the next episode or not. So the whole time I was doing Season 4, I didn't really know how many episodes I was going to be in.

I ended up being in most of them that year, but I had no idea if I was going to be back in Season 5. And when I heard I wasn't going to be in Season 5 at all, I felt kind of sad, because I wanted to get to say goodbye to Cheryl.

I loved that character so much. She's so different from me, and yet I really identified with her at some level. I felt like if I had been born in a different place and my life had taken a different turn, I could have been Cheryl. Who's to say?

So I was so thrilled when I found out at the very last minute that I was going to be in the last episode. I got to be there and be a part of the ending of what I think was one of the best shows on television in recent years.

Q - It also seemed to be a good jumping off point for some of the actors and actresses in that series.

Speaking of which, it's crazy but true, Madison Burge, who I of course worked with in "Friday Night Lights," is in "Cowgirls N' Angels" as well.



When she called me to tell me she was going to be doing this movie, I couldn't believe it. I actually went to hear live music with her last night.

Q - As far as balancing music and acting, do you always see the need for having both in your life?

I really do. I can't imagine one without the other. The music is somewhat more of a new thrill. 

I can't imagine a world where I was only primarily acting, and I also can't imagine a world where I am only doing music, because I love slipping into characters and having these adventures.

Ultimately, I would like to do them both equally, and I would love to go on tours and have this be as big a part of my life as picking up and going to Stillwater for a month.

When I first started playing gigs, it was definitely really scary, but I knew the worst that could happen was nothing. And the fact that people come to the shows and listen and know the songs is beyond a thrill.
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