Wednesday, January 20, 2016

ALAN CUMMING: An EXCLUSIVE interview!




Brother Glasgow:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

with 

ALAN CUMMING


Alan Cumming is truly a man for all seasons. Depending on whom you ask, this award-winning performer is best known as either a versatile actor (The Good Wife, Spy Kids, Goldeneye, The Smurfs, etc.) or an exceptional entertainer and vocalist (Cabaret, Bent, Macbeth on Broadway). If being beloved on stage and screen wasn’t enough, Cumming is also an author (Tommy’s Tale, Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir), a television host, a recording artist, and an activist. For a man barely into his 50s, he has achieved so much since he made his film debut three decades ago. The list of awards he has been nominated for is staggering. However, the fact that he has won a significant amount of those awards – including a Tony – is a testament to his talents. While Hollywood A-listers try their hardest to remind us of their diversity, Cumming calmly proves it in his career choices and dedication to his craft.
One of Alan’s greatest loves is music. Sad, sappy music. Music that touches the heart and brings the tears out to play. You know. That very same type of music you pretend not to like in front of your friends and co-workers yet you sob uncontrollably when you listen to it alone?! Thankfully, Cumming doesn’t hide his guilty pleasures – in fact, just the opposite. On Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live At The Café Carlyle, he performs some of his favorites in a brand new recording of his critically-acclaimed live show. Backed by three musicians – Lance Horne on piano, Eleanor Norton on cello and Chris Jego on drums – Alan offers up an array of songs that have deep meaningful connection to his life. From Annie Lennox’s “Why” and Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” to Elaine Stritch’s “Ladies Who Lunch” (from Company) and Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner At Eight.” Cumming doesn’t just perform these songs – he gently caresses and molds them into something even more intimate. His version of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” is as warm and heart-felt as you’re ever going to hear. Sings Sappy Songs is successful on so many levels, yet it is the emotion in every performance that brings it all together. If there was a Grammy Award for sincerity and passion, then Alan would have yet another trophy to add to his collection.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Alan Cumming about Sings Sappy Songs and more…



STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: I love the whole concept of Sings Sappy Songs. I’m a huge fan of “sappy” songs...
ALAN CUMMING: Good. Me, too.
SPAZ: How are you feeling about the whole concept and the journey you’ve taken to create it?
ALAN: It’s really an interesting sort of journey. It’s something much bigger than what I thought it was going to be, because I realized that a lot has to do with me challenging people to connect with songs that they might have preconceived negative notions about, or preconceived notions of how they should react, too. And actually I’m saying to them, “I connect with these songs and I’ve told you you’re coming to a show called Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs so you know that much.” When I was doing Cabaret on Broadway last year, my dressing room became Club Cumming – I would D.J. and I’d put songs on that people would dance and let loose, just have a great time. They’d go, “Who is this, who is this?” And I would always say, “I’m not going to tell you,” because I realized that if I just challenge them to just enjoy it and not make a mental block for themselves then they would. But of course, a lot of the time, at the end of the song, I would say, “Well that was blah, blah.” There’s one song with Jessica Simpson – a good undervalued member of the American musical pantheon – and they’d all go, “Whaaat? Jessica Simpson?” I said, “But you loved it didn’t you? You’re having a great time dancing away to it and wasn’t that an incredible arrangement and everything?” And so, I find that with the Sappy Songs show is that you can see people actually listen to it in a different way probably from how they have been conditioned to listening to it. And so that notion of asking people to look at things and connect with things in a different way has been a much bigger deal than I had imagined.


SPAZ: The songs really do take on a new persona on this album. I especially connected with “Somewhere Only We Know.”
ALAN: Oh yeah, beautiful song. I love that song.
SPAZ: However, when I saw that you were going to do “The Climb,” I was thinking, “Oh not ‘The Climb’! Not ‘The Climb’!”
ALAN: Yeah, exactly. (Chuckles)
SPAZ: But then, it’s all about interpretation. It’s all about mood. And it’s all about connection to the audience.
ALAN: Absolutely. And I sing it genuinely and authentically from my heart, and I think that’s what I wanted to do. It’s interesting because the album comes out on the day that I play Carnegie Hall, and it’s going to be nearly three thousand people in the audience, hopefully, and I’ve been talking with the promotor and everything, and I don’t want the sound to be any different. I don’t want us to lose that intimate thing. It’s still going to be a piano, cello, and drums. I think that’s partly because sometimes the meaning and beauty of songs can kind of get lost in a big production. You don’t really hear them. You just hear a kind of a style. You know there are some great songs out there, but they may be done in a way that you just kind of don’t hear them.

SPAZ: Do you approach these songs as a lover of music or as a performer?
ALAN: I think I approach them as just something that I had a gut feeling I could sing them and they would resonate with people in the way they resonate with me. I’m just reinterpreting these songs in a more genuine way, I think. I think that’s what people connect to in a more authentic way. The other thing I do is I kind of link them in my lead up to them. I think that in a concert like this you always have to believe in some way that everything I’m saying has some connection to me as a person, and I really like that as well. So, you’re allowing people to think that they’re seeing more of you in each song, and they are. You know, I wouldn’t sing a song if I didn’t feel I could understand it and had something to say.

SPAZ: Each track you perform on Sings Sappy Songs holds a certain memory for you. Are you able to separate yourself from that memory while you’re performing or are you taken back to that moment each time you sing it?
ALAN: There’s kind of like Pavlovian responses to them. I’m completely taken in to that moment. Even in rehearsals, I get all weepy sometimes. I love that about it – I completely feel I’m back in the center of the song again. And also, the stories I tell in between the songs, they usually lead up to them. Like, I talk about my grandfather where I sing “Goodnight Saigon.” I talk about my father before I sing “Dinner at Eight.” I talk about a former lover before I sing “Complicated,” and I set things up with the audience. I’ll say, “I’d like to sing a song about my father,” and I talk a little about my father and then I sing this song that’s a very intense, sad song. It gets me into the mood of it too.

SPAZ: Was there a longer list of songs or are these the ones that really spoke to you – or sang to you, so to speak – and demanded themselves to be part of this show?
ALAN: Well, there was a longer list. I knew I was going to do a new show for a long time and so I spent a lot of time listening to all this music and keeping a file on the computer of songs that I would like to perform. There were other songs that I loved to sing – I loved everyone’s reaction to them when I would play them at Club Cumming – but there was no point in me singing them. I didn’t add anything to them so I dropped them. And with these songs, everything is as it should be. Everything finds its right place and I think it’s really great – it really works as a journey as well for an evening.


SPAZ: Looking back a little bit, what came first: your love of music or your love of performing and entertaining? Or did it all come at once?
ALAN: I think it was all at once. I was actually in Scotland last weekend filming this thing for Visit Scotland. My mom was there, and she always tells a story about when I was a little boy, saying I wanted to be a Pop Star and everything. I said, “Mom, every little child says they want to be a Pop Star.” And she goes, “I know Alan, but you meant it.” (Laughs) I do a lot of different things, but really they’re all the same thing – connecting with people and telling a story whether that’s singing, acting, writing, or directing. I feel that’s really what I wanted to do and that’s why I’m doing this job. I love the feeling of actually connecting with people, and you get that in such an amazing direct way when it’s just you in a room with people in it and you’re singing songs. There’s nothing like it. Really, it’s amazing.

SPAZ: Have you ever wanted to set aside the acting and just focus on music for a little while? Or are you pleased with the balance you’ve had?
ALAN: Right now, I really like it. Since I did the new Sappy Songs show at Café Carlyle I’ve been touring weekends and things like that. I’ve been going all over the country and next week I’m going to Australia for three weeks to do concerts there. That’s also because I’m doing The Good Wife and I’m doing the concerts around it. But if I weren’t doing that, I might have liked to plan a regular tour where I do performances during the week and not just a weekend. But…I actually like the way it’s spaced out like this, and I feel like when I go to do a concert, it’s an event for me, as well. To me it’s special, and I love just kind of zooming in, meeting people at the theater, doing the show, going out on the town, and having a really great time. It’s special for me, and I like it this way. I’m sure it would be special the other way too, but I think it would be more of a chore, more of a job.


SPAZ: I noticed that you don’t hide your Scottish accent when you’re singing in this show. Is that a conscious thing for you?
ALAN: Absolutely. This has been a long time for me to do a show like this – 2009 was the first time I ever did a concert on my own – a concert as me. I’ve wanted to for a long, long time. I used to do standup comedy with another guy and we sang songs. We were in character. I loved that. I loved how raw that was just standing on a stage and just looking at people and then talking to them. So in a way I’m doing standup comedy again, but it’s in the middle of the song. So, it’s a similar thing, but I’m doing it as me. A long, long, long time ago when I would see people that I admired and liked, I’d always wonder why, if they were really trying to be as authentic and true and make you feel things through singing a song why they were putting on a funny American accent when they sang. I could never understand that. And then I remember the very first job I had in theater, Macbeth, and one night I was coming into the theater and in the back there were these geeky boys with specs on, tuning up their guitar or something. “Who are those geeks?” And they were The Proclaimers and they were just starting out their career doing a gig in the bar of this theater. I saw them later and very soon after that they were a sensation in Scotland. They were the first people ever that really used their own and they’ve got quite thick accents. And I loved them for that. I loved the passion and how unusual it was. It made me feel like, “Why do we do this? Why do we put on this funny accent when it’s not our own?” I think it’s just that Pop or Rock music is predominately an American medium and so people are conditioned to think they have to do an American accent to make it sound proper.
SPAZ: Exactly.
ALAN: And I disagree. I think that actually the more authentic and honest and true and the more you connect with people is by sounding like yourself. I don’t think I could do it any other way.
SPAZ: Your listener will be able to connect more with you because of the fact that you are true to who you are.
ALAN: Absolutely. That’s exactly it.

SPAZ: I was recently listening to your 2009 album, I Bought A Blue Care Today, and I don’t like to make comparisons but it reminded me of an old David Essex record.
ALAN: Oh, I take that as a huge compliment. Thank you. I love David Essex.
SPAZ: Yeah, especially since I believe that both of you are coming from the same place musically.
ALAN: Yes, I think so. He sounded like himself.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning, musically?
ALAN: Well, actually, it’s quite interesting, John Kander of Kander & Ebb has just released all of these demos and things that he and Fred Ebb made when they were doing all of their composing. And also just some other songs that he has written over the years that he’s recorded, they’ve recorded together. It’s absolutely fascinating because you hear these embryos of songs that you’re going to love later. It’s just beautiful to hear people who are being authentic and real. Then Natalie Merchant, an old friend, sent me her Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings. So I’ve got that in my iPod right now. The other night, someone asked if I could put my music on. I had forgotten but I had like eight different remixes of Ellie Goulding’s song, “Love Me Like You Do” and they came on one after another. And everyone was kind of, “This is a really long mix!” I’m slightly obsessed about that song right now.


Thanks to Alan Cumming

Special thanks to Michael Croiter, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky


ALAN CUMMING

ALAN CUMMING SINGS SAPPY SONGS:
LIVE AT THE CAFE CARLYLE

2.5.16

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