Alicia Witt talks with Target Audience Magazine about her passions with acting and music, how people compare her to Billy Joel with lady parts and some of the stories behind her songs.
Interview and photos by Danielle Boise
Alicia Witt has been known for the better part of more than two decades as an actress; performing on both the silver screen, with getting her start in David Lynch’s “Dune” along side with performing on the small screen in vastly eclectic roles in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Sopranos” and “Ally McBeal.” Witt doesn’t limit herself to just performing in front of the camera, she also is an extremely talented singer songwriter; recently Witt just finished touring to promote her full-length live album Live at Rockwood. Alicia Witt talks with Target Audience Magazine about her passions with acting and music, how people compare her to Billy Joel with lady parts and some of the stories behind her songs.
When did you realize you had a passion for music, since you started out acting at a very early age, did the musical part of your identity go online at the same time or has it evolved as you’ve grown?
It’s definitely evolved; I always knew I wanted to make my own music and play gigs, but I started out as a classical pianist. The same age I made my first movie; when I was 7. I competed for seven years but I knew I didn’t want to become a professional classical pianist. I supported myself as a lounge pianist while I was making my way as an actor. It wasn’t until about four and a half years ago that I really started writing/singing in earnest. I guess it had to wait ’til the right moment for it to start to make its way out. Now I can’t imagine my life without it.
What made you decide to embark into the realm of music with your self-titled 2009 EP release?
The EP came about because really, in the interest of time, I felt between my schedule and that of the producer I worked with on it; I didn’t know if we’d get to finish a full-length album. I have so many songs, at first we did rough sketches of about eight or nine of them, but chose the four that are on the EP ultimately to finish and release.
What does making music feel like to you? How would you describe it? If someone would ask you, how would you describe you’re sound?
I never know quite how to answer that. Obviously, I think the best is for someone to come to my show, or listen to the new live album, then draw their own conclusion about how they would describe my sound. Plus I’m still finding it, you know? However, I usually tell people that if they like Billy Joel, Elton John, Sara Bareilles and/or Ben Folds, then they would probably like my music. Someone after a recent show described me as “Billy Joel with a p—y” and that feels about right to me!!
You just released your live album with the help of the Kickstarter fans, when will you be recording your next CD in studio and do you have songs already written for it? Are you currently writing any new material for maybe a future album(s) or are you just in the middle of a tour cycle and strictly focusing on the task at hand?
I finished my three week album release tour with a show at Hotel Café in LA on June 14, now I’m in the process of starting to figure out who will produce my full-length album. As for songs, I have zillions! The hardest thing is figuring out which ones to choose to record. Plus, I’ve written 4 more in the last few weeks.
Do you see yourself transition more from acting to fully devoting your time, space and energy for your musical aspirations?
No, I don’t want to ever give up acting. It’s not an either/or scenario for me. If anything, bringing my music into my world has made the acting side of things much more rewarding; like a big part of me that lay dormant for so long is now alive and it makes everything better and more fulfilled. As an actor, you spend an awful lot of time sometimes waiting, waiting for the phone to ring to tell you you’ve got an audition or an offer; waiting to find out if you got a job after you had a great audition; waiting when you’re on set or on location to shoot your scene. Now all that previously empty time is full of music.
That being said, I would like to get to a point with my music where I can turn down acting jobs to go on tour. Acting still is very much been my bread and butter and in an ideal world, I’d like for music ultimately to be equal to that.
Are there specific stories behind your songs that are the impetus for them or do how they come to life is just part of the creative process for you?
Usually a song is inspired by something that either happened or that I felt, even for a moment, and then elaborated on and then it goes from there. ‘Anyway’ is about the end of a toxic relationship and is very personal and raw for me. “I Hope It’s Me” was written in an afternoon; initially inspired by feelings I had for someone specific who I knew, but as it progressed it became more about that universal feeling of loving someone who may be right at the wrong time and so on.
You are truly an artist, going from acting on both the small screen, with “Cybil” and “Friday Night Lights” and then on the silver screen in such films, like “Four Rooms” (which is one of my all-time favorite movies and I love your snarky character in it) to your recently released “Cowboys & Angels” – with that said, which artistic release feels more connected to who you are right now? If you had to choose between your music and your acting career which one would end up on top?
I don’t have to choose, so I won’t! They are both equally a huge part of my heart and soul.
What is the difference for you when you get up in front of a camera to act vs. getting up on stage and performing in front of a live crowd singing?
Performing my own music is so much more personal and vulnerable. It’s a thrill unlike anything else I know. There’s a certain safety to acting for me, especially because I’ve been doing it literally my whole life. I can reveal parts of me that are so personal but under the guise of a role – you feel much more protected somehow. Or at least I do.
How do you decided what sort of script to pursue?
I just love playing great characters. Particularly ones that surprise you as the story progresses; characters who you think you have nothing in common with and then by the end you realize they’re not that dissimilar from you. I try really hard not to play the same role more than once. My biggest objective has always been not to get typecast, often to the detriment of working as much as I could have. The upside now though is that I really feel that the roles I get offered are all over the map, and that makes me really happy.
At the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas you performed solo for the Friday Night Light’s Event, but when you performed the following weekend in Atlanta, Georgia for 99x’s Unplugged in the Park, your band came out from L.A. to perform with you – do you prefer one over the other?
They’re both so different! I definitely love playing with my band but sometimes it’s just not feasible and even when it is, there’s a certain freedom and openness to playing just me and the piano. Plus, I don’t have to write out a set list!
What are a few things that most people would be surprised to know about you?
Two things: I will take you down at “Galaga” and I make a pretty mean watermelon margarita.