Special SOUND OFF Interview: Linda Eder - Part 1
Today we are talking to the internationally renowned recording superstar who is also known to theatre fans for her stint onstage in JEKYLL & HYDE - and for her brilliantly big Broadway belt - with a fantastic new album out now on Sony re-teaming with her frequent collaborator/composer/producer, Frank Wildhorn - the talented and alluring Ms. Linda Eder. In this all-encompassing two-part conversation we discuss her many studio albums recorded over the last two decades, as well as her demo work on the countless Wildhorn musicals over the years and the future of those shows (HAVANA is coming!). In Part II, we also look ahead to her own future and discuss what can be expected in her upcoming concert series promoting the new album NOW, which she will be performing songs from in her upcoming concert at Town Hall. A truly theatrical album featuring a spellbinding title song with lyrics by Tony-winner Maury Yeston, NOW is Eder at her best. Linda also shares the inspiration behind the new album and what the music of Wildhorn means to her, her favorite tracks and recollections of the studio sessions - plus, her equestrian endeavors and much, much more. NOW is available in stories, on Amazon and on iTunes, and further information about Linda's concert appearances - including her Town Hall concert - can be found at her official site here.
Part I: Someone Like Linda
PC: What does it feel like to have such a huge Broadway fan base? You are such a recognizable Broadway star from really just one show.
LE: It's so strange. I just did the one and the whole rest of my career has been albums and concerts. But, you know, I sing a lot of Broadway material, so, I guess JEKYLL and Lucy in it made a big enough splash that it took me into that category.
PC: Of Broadway diva?
LE: (Laughs.) Yes, yes.
PC: One of my absolute favorite Christmas songs is "The Bells Of St. Paul" and I've interviewed both of the songwriters - Frank Wildhorn and Maury Yeston - about it. Could you tell me why that song is particularly special in your catalogue?
LE: Well, my father is from Austria and I think that's what gave Frank that whole idea to do it like that - and, obviously, we had been going through Europe and we had spent some time in Vienna. Plus, it's such a beautiful word - the name Vienna is so musical. And, the city itself is so romantic. I think that's probably how it transpired.
PC: Right. It's the cousin to "Vienna" the song, as well. Tell me about recording that Christmas album in the summer.
LE: Yeah, you know, that's always the case - you're always ending up making them the season before. I was wearing a full-on 100% wool Norwegian sweater authentically knitted by a Norwegian mother - with a wool hat that went along with it. Yeah, I was hot!
PC: In more ways than one given the cover!
LE: (Laughs.) Well, I don't know if I was hot in the other way - but, I was definitely physically hot.
PC: Was that your horse on the cover?
LE: Yes. He actually passed on a few years back - he was a little bit older at the time of that photo. His name was Luke and he was a Freesian which is a very, very photogenic breed - you almost can't take a bad picture of a Freesian horse. So, he's the one we chose for the cover.
PC: So, it wasn't photo-shopped? It's a great shot of you both.
LE: Aww, no, it wasn't! The only thing was he was sticking out his upper lip in the photo. You know, their lips are very mobile so they can pick up a little tiny bead of oat off the ground and find it with their lips - they are very, very sensitive lips and they are very flexible and they can stick them out. In this one particular shot, he was sticking his lips out and it was really funny.
PC: Speaking of your album photography - which is always so glamorous and perfect - was your BROADWAY: MY WAY cover filmed in a Broadway theater?
LE: Yeah, we filmed in a couple different places - but, it must have been. There's a shot where I'm standing on the stage and they are shooting out into the auditorium. Then, there was a building we used for the background shot. Please don't ask me for the name of the place because my memory doesn't work that well! (Laughs.)
PC: And the GOLD art is so modern and severe. I love it.
LE: Thank you. Thank you.
PC: Are the photos personally chosen by you with a lot of input all the way through?
LE: Oh, yeah - always. Always.
PC: Your albums - similar to Sarah Brightman's - have an emotional theme that usually informs the musical choices: NOW is the new songs; GOLD is more pop-sounding; BROADWAY: MY WAY is theater music; your last album is more country sounding - how do you devise the themes?
LE: Well, yeah, some of them have been theme-oriented, obviously - the SOUNDTRACK that I did was all songs from movies, whether it was a title track or a song that was prominent in the movie. So, sometimes having a theme just helps with marketing.
PC: Such as?
LE: As far as that one - SOUNDTRACK - goes, they had picked out several different ideas and the movie idea seemed like best because I could already hear a lot of songs I wanted to record on it.
PC: What about some of the other album's themes? BROADWAY: MY WAY?
LE: Well, the Broadway album was easy because, even though I had only done one show I had sung a lot of Broadway material and there were some great Broadway songs that I wanted to do. And, then, it was my idea to call it BROADWAY: MY WAY because, obviously, I was not the traditional Broadway singer when I made that. Nowadays, you hear a lot more pop-type singing on Broadway - but, in the older days, last century, you would be criticized by a certain section of the theatre community that only likes a certain singing style. So, that's why with BROADWAY: MY WAY, it was a way of saying, "Well, I like these songs, too, and this is how I would do them."
PC: Tell me about recording "Anthem" from CHESS - one of the great scores of the 1980s.
LE: That's one of my favorite Broadway songs. That song just blew me away.
PC: Are there any other songs from that show you want to do?
LE: Yeah, it's a wonderful score. I think it's a case where it's a better score than it was a show, though. I have to say, I love ABBA, too.
PC: What have been some of your favorite tracks that you've recorded over the years? Wasn't "Vienna" originally recorded in 1989 in Europe?
LE: Yes. My first record deal was with BMG International, but we actually recorded it here in the States. It just belonged to BMG International - they just licensed it after that. But, yeah, I've sung so many songs and I've recorded so many, but a lot of them I've also performed so much, so that tends to color my idea of what my favorite song is. So, there are some that I have sung too many times for me, but it might be someone else's favorite. (Pause. Sighs.) One of the songs that has stayed at the top of my list for a long time and still is, to a certain extent, is "If I Could" - I just love it - and, also, "Bridge Over Troubled Water".
PC: Paul Simon, of course.
LE: Yeah, I love him. I just love so many styles of music that it is so hard for me to just pick one.
PC: You have done so many songs.
LE: They just revolve in my mind so different with every show I am doing - with every show I am doing a new batch of them and I always have a favorite from that, but, then, I forget something else that I've done. I get that question all the time, "What's your favorite song?" and it's the hardest one for me to answer.
PC: OK. "Bring On The Men" or "Good N Evil"?
LE: (Laughs.) Yeah, "Bring On The Men"! You know, that was the one colossal mistake they made where I should have played the diva card and insisted it stay in the show [JEKYLL & HYDE]. But, you know, they brought in a new director for Broadway and he wanted to change it and we all went along with it - but, we shouldn't have because it was a mistake.
PC: You were so kind to the fans at the stage door of that show. What was the experience with Jekkies like? Do you feel like connecting with the fans one-on-one is important?
LE: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You know, that has always sort of always been my M.O. and the fans knew it - and they became fans for life. And, we meet them still at stage doors all the time. I've never been one to rush through - I stay till every last picture and hug. I'm known for that, but that's just the way I've always been.
PC: I have to say your first show with Frank, SVENGALI, is probably superior to JEKYLL for me. Can I say that?
LE: (Laughs.) No, I really enjoyed them all. I really enjoyed the score of SVENGALI - I thought it was great.
PC: Too bad it's never been properly recorded.
LE: Yeah, just demos. But, now, of course, everything finds its way onto the internet so a lot of people have recordings of it. (Pause.) Yeah, it's great music.
PC: Tell me about recording concept albums - you recently did the PETER PAN by Leonard Bernstein in addition to the Wildhorn material. How do you visualize a role? A show?
LE: Well, for me, it's never really been a problem - once I've heard the song, if it's right for me, I sort of innately know what the song is about and something just happens. You know, the mood is right and something just happens. I'm not a trained performer, so, for some reason, I was always able to connect with my emotions and find my way into the song. I don't sit down with a pencil and paper and flesh out the character and visualize the plot - I just take it song by song and if it's working, it's working.
PC: I was curious if you remember your series of appearances on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW - especially, you singing "Vienna". She has done this column and is still such a fan of yours.
LE: (Laughs.) That felt like a really important moment because she was so good for Broadway shows, and to have her as such a big fan - it was a huge boost.
PC: It really raised your national awareness.
LE: Yeah, she and Kathie Lee Gifford, both - the two of them - became such huge, vocal supporters of mine on national television that there is no question that they were both responsible for a major boost to my career. I was on both shows - I think I was on ROSIE four times, the first being "Someone Like You" [from JEKYLL & HYDE].
PC: Tell me about your experience with that song - then and now.
LE: "Someone Like You" - no matter how you slice it - it's just a great song and people love it. People do it for weddings and they tell me all the time they heard it or they sing it or whatever. It's just a great song and it was a great way to be introduced to a national audience in a Broadway sort of way.
PC: It was not your first TV appearance, of course.
LE: STAR SEARCH was my first exposure to a national audience. People saw me for 24 weeks on national television from that - but, aside from "I Dreamed A Dream", I didn't sing any other Broadway songs.
PC: What do you think of the recent resurgence of that song with Susan Boyle and the Lea Michele/Idina Menzel duet on GLEE - plus, Lea Salonga does it on the brand new LES MIZ DVD.
LE: Oh, I've always loved that song. LES MIZ is still - to this day - my favorite Broadway score. I love that song and I love Patti LuPone's version of it. And, I thoroughly enjoy singing it - and I love it. I mean, with that one, it is so easy to fall into the ocean of that song - it's just so brilliant. I've heard so many great renditions of that over the years.
PC: What was it like singing "Gold" at the Olympics?
LE: Well, that's the common misconception - I didn't actually sing it on the Olympics! Everyone thinks I was there, but they used a recording of it. It was sung on the recording while Kristi Yamaguchi skated - I was at home in my sweats watching it on TV like everybody else. (Laughs.)
PC: That's one of your best songs. Tell me about the genesis of it - it wasn't originally written for the Olympics.
LE: Well, it became used for the Olympics, but it was actually written for CAMILLE CLAUDEL - that's what I was recording it for; for that character. It just so happens that it was also a perfect song for the Olympics. But, no, it was written for CAMILLE - not the Olympics.
PC: Could you tell me about doing that show onstage - that is Frank's best score in my opinion.
LE: Well, I put two of the songs from it on my new album NOW. So, now there are three songs from it that people get to hear now. It was really a very good piece - but, it's very difficult to do because no one knows who Camille was and it's not a happy ending. It was really good, though, and audiences really loved it. It's too bad it didn't go forward.
PC: "A Woman In His Arms" is one of Frank's very best songs. What an unassuming and insinuating melody.
LE: Yes, it's so haunting. You know, that's my favorite kind of show - something that is dark and sexy and romantic and has all the elements of tragedy. It had comedy, too, and anger - I got to scream and cry. Plus, I had love scenes with Michael Cumptsy - how can you complain about that? (Laughs.)
PC: It's a Sondheim inspired score in some ways, I think.
LE: And Nan Knighton did brilliant, brilliant lyrics.
PC: As well as in SCARLET PIMPERNEL.
LE: Yes, they are so good in that, too.
PC: What are some of your favorite lyrics you have sung? And, also, what about the ones you've written yourself?
LE: Yeah, I've written in a bunch of different styles and I like to think I have a little bit of a knack for it. But, I would have to say that Jack Murphy and Nan, both, have written such clever lyrics for me over the years. Jack is so smart and witty and funny in his dry, dry sense of humor kind of way - and so brilliantly smart. And, Nan, is equally as smart - and, she is also a woman and so romantic and writes romance in a poetic way that is slightly different from any other songwriter.
PC: And what about Maury Yeston - one of Broadway's best, from NINE?
LE: Oh, yeah! He's got his own whole thing all together - he's very unique and I can always recognize a Maury Yeston lyric. He comes at it from a very unique angle, as well - a very brilliant man.
PC: "Now" is one of the very best songs you've ever recorded - his lyrics are a big part of the reason why. That one is the single!
LE: I love that one. I loved it when I first heard it. I heard it as classical-like like that and when we recorded it I wanted to record that harmony right after - when I sang it I immediately heard that harmony. That, to me, is what made the melody come even more to life - it's that beautiful harmony.
PC: I agree.
LE: I do it live onstage and I have a great musician in my band who plays viola, violin, keyboard and guitar. We sing it together and it goes over really well.
PC: It sounds so rich on the recording.
LE: Thank you. I love singing my own background vocals - for years, that has been my favorite time in the studio. (Laughs.) "The leads are done, you know, so now I can go in and record background vocals!"
PC: Can you give me another example?
LE: Like, on the album, the arrangement of "More Than Heaven" is something that I created with Billy Steinman, my musical director - and, it's actually all me in the chorus. Even though it sounds like there are guys in there - it's all me.
PC: It gives it an eerie quality, as well.
LE: Yeah. Definitely.
PC: Have you recorded any of Jim Steinman's songs - demos, perhaps?
LE: I have never performed them live, but, of course, I am a fan of his big rock anthems. Of course - they are great! Anyone who says they don't like them are lying!
PC: Would you ever do a full-out rock album or more work with Rob Evan - your duets on the album are great.
LE: Yeah, we did an album called TEARS OF HEAVEN that Frank wrote to be done in South Korea and Rob and I do a few duets on there.
PC: And he is on NOW, too - the B&N Bonus Tracks.
LE: Yes, those are from the TEARS OF HEAVEN concept album.
PC: How did those bonus tracks come about?
LE: Yeah, they always like to have bonus tracks because, you know, Barnes & Noble wants to have a special incentive to buy the album there - that's why they put the bonus tracks on there. So, we used the TEARS OF HEAVEN tracks because it hasn't been released over here yet.
PC: And there is also a song from DRACULA. Were you ever involved with it onstage at any point in the development?
LE: No, I was never involved with DRACULA. I mean, yeah, I did the demos, and I did a song on the new album, but, no, I never was planning to do it onstage. I love the song we do from it on the record.
PC: Are you glad it was the case that you never did it?
LE: (Laughs.) Yeah, but that's always the case - it's a crapshoot. The critics always rag on him. But, the public loved JEKYLL and PIMPERNEL. You know, some of the best music Frank has ever written was in THE CIVIL WAR.
PC: He feels the same way.
LE: He gets the blame for it - but he had nothing to do with that show not succeeding. That was a different director coming in and changing the whole concept from what it was really supposed to be and changing it and ruined it - and Frank gets all the blame. I wasn't around for DRACULA - but, I know it wasn't successful and that's not Frank's fault. He doesn't write the book or the lyrics, he doesn't direct it - but, yet, he gets the blame.
PC: And it continued with WONDERLAND.
PC: What is it like to get this batch of new songs for NOW - or, were some sitting around for years?
LE: They are just all these great songs that never had a home before this record. So, we had done these demos ages ago and we looked through all the demos picking different songs. Then, because I wanted to do a certain number of them and, also, some new ones - it's a combination of both.
PC: Like with "The Mad Hatter" - did you want to make them your own with your idiosyncratic arrangements?
LE: Well, with that, it's not so much the arrangements, but what it really comes down to is: you either know how to sing swing music or you don't. No offense to anybody on Broadway - there are many, many fine voices - but, they are trained actors who learn to sing most of the time. They sing in a very Broadway style - which lends itself to acting a song. Some of them are wonderful musicians, but some don't play musical instruments at all - so, if you aren't musical in that sense you can't even have the ability to sing swing. You can either sing swing music or you can't. You either feel it in your body and your voice or you don't - and I love swing music.
PC: It comes though.
LE: Like with the swing songs on the new album: I either feel them or I don't and - with that particular song - that's the only way I can hear it. I don't even think of how I'm phrasing it - it just happens automatically.
PC: What about phrasing?
LE: I think that phrasing goes along with musicality. So, you're either a musician - I can play piano innately - I am a musician and I was born a musician, it's just that my voice became my instrument. You're going to hear singers who are good singers - who have an instrument; but they might not be a musician.
PC: That's a fascinating theory.
LE: Phrasing is all a part of that, too. It's the ability to hear, to comprehend, to know what's coming out and how it's being perceived - and the ability to translate your emotions musically. And, some people, they either don't hear what they are supposed to be doing or they don't have the mechanical ability to translate it - you know, there are a lot of different elements you have to have. Not everybody has it all - they might have one or two or more; but, not all of them. But, as far as knowing how to phrase: everybody is hearing the same singers I am hearing, so what's stopping them from phrasing well? (Laughs.) I don't know. It goes back to: they're not musical.
PC: A lot of your best up-tempo songs are from HAVANA - and the same is true on NOW. The score seems to be so much fun and Frank told me recently that it is aiming for Broadway next after all these years.
LE: Well, again, it's another one of those things where he can write all these great songs and it all falls into the hands of the bookwriters - and you have to have a good book.
LE: If the story can't make it on its own merit, it doesn't matter what kind of music you write for it. It was very frustrating and I was very frustrated when those things would happen - when he would get blamed - because it really isn't fair.
PC: Your albums together will last longer than the shows will run, either way - even if they run for twenty years.
LE: Oh, exactly - and, that's the only reason they're musicals in the first place! (Laughs.)