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BWW Interview: Christy Altomare Talks Songwriting Process, Inspiration and More About her New Album WANDERING BIRD

Wandering Bird shot to #4 on the iTunes pop album chart, and features 14 personal songs written by Altomare about personal growth, acting, social media and more.

BWW Interview: Christy Altomare Talks Songwriting Process, Inspiration and More About her New Album WANDERING BIRD

Christy Altomare is one of Broadway's brightest, warmest lights, a performer who radiates an unmatchable aura of magnetism and sparkle every time she takes the stage. Altomare is known for her performances as Wendla in the National Tour of Spring Awakening, Sue Snell in the off-Broadway production of Carrie, Sophie in Mamma Mia on Broadway, and most recently as the title role in Anastasia on Broadway, for which she earned a Drama Desk Award nomination. She is also a talented singer-songwriter - her albums "Waiting For You" and "After You" are currently available on iTunes.

Altomare has just released her newest album, 'Wandering Bird', which features personal songs about her life written over the last ten years. We spoke with Christy Altomare about bringing her new album to life, the inspiration behind the songs, her songwriting process, and much more!

Let me first ask, how are you doing? How has this past year been for you?

Well, it's been a pretty crazy year. Things got desolate in New York City, I made it to July, and then I decided to spend the rest of the year with my family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It was actually wonderful because it was time that I wouldn't have been able to spend with them otherwise. So, I got to hang out with my nephew, and sister, and her husband, and my mom and my dad. And then I got asked to teach in Boca, so I went down to Florida to teach, and I got my vaccination shot beforehand. Then, I made the seamless transition back to New York and I found that New York City has really come back since I've been here last! I've been back in New York for about a month now and I love it, I love the people, the energy. The restaurants are even cooler than before because they all have outdoor seating options. So, I think I did the perfect balance, and I really feel like the city is coming back and it's going to be even stronger than it was before.

When did you start writing this album?

When I was younger my parents asked me, "What is it that you want to do, to study for college?" And I was always a songwriter, and I was really passionate about musical theatre. And so, I auditioned for ten schools and I got into CCM [University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music], which is a very prestigious college, and I remember thinking, "Well, does this mean that I have to put my songwriting to the side?" And my dad said to me, which is something that I still stand to 'till this day, that "Sometimes things take precedence in life. There will be times where you'll have to focus all your energy on musical theatre and doing a show, and there will be other times where musical theatre will not be the priority that much, so you will have the time to work on your music." And that's what I have done ever since.

For example, when I wasn't booking so much in New York, I would be writing, and I would be going to all of the songwriting circles like Writer's Block or The Musical Theatre Factory, where people would just go and they would share their art. And I even did a workshop reading of a new musical I had written with a friend, a musical version of 'Pericles', so I always had been writing. And throughout that time, I had been writing songs even when I was in shows, I had been writing songs when I was on tour with 'Spring Awakening', and songs during 'Carrie' and songs during 'Mamma Mia', so all of these songs were just stored up in a drawer somewhere, and there were certain ones I always knew I wanted to put on an album whenever I had time to do it. This last year I kind of summed it all together, there are maybe four or five songs that I've written in the last year that are on the album, and a lot of the other ones are from the last ten years that I've been writing.

This album is a lot of about self-reflection and growth, was that theme a conscious choice when picking the songs for the album and writing the ones in the last year?

As one does go through their twenties, you learn and you grow a lot, so within the last ten years I've grown a lot, I've learned a lot about myself, I've learned a lot about myself in relationships to other people, and I've learned about the kind of person I want to be, and I've learned about the love that I want to share and give to the world. I feel like, ultimately, we are what we give to the world. When I was younger, obviously you're just figuring out who you are and what it is that you want out of life, and I'm still learning, it never ends, you're always learning. But, the older you get, the more clear you get about the kind of person you want to be and the kind of goodness that you want to put out into the world.

At first, I had thought about calling this album Dark and Light. Life is filled with these moments of darkness and these moments of lightness and I've always said this, and I believe this is true, that every seemingly negative experience that you've had in your life is a blessing in disguise. And so, I have found, for me, that even in writing those songs that seemingly were sad, I learned and I grew from it, and I became stronger, and a better person, and a better partner to the people around me. A better friend, a better daughter.

So, the beginning of the album is like, "These are my thoughts about life," and then it goes into the journey that I had to go through to get there, and it sort of comes to a halt around the song 'Haunt Me', and then it slowly revs back up again. That was the only song on the album that we did without a metronome, out of time, and it's just me and my guitar. Every other song has other instruments to it, other elements to it, but that one was really just the depths of my soul pouring out. And it goes from that seemingly negative place to that reflection and the moral and 'what is the real answer?' Which is that it always gets easier, and that that you can always just love yourself, because that is enough.

And then the last song is 'Wandering Bird'. And 'Wandering Bird' is really just understanding the acceptance that this is the way life is, every day can't be the happiest day of your life, we are human, and so we experience the contrast and that that is okay. And that when you can fall in love with that contrast and realize that everything that happens in your life is for your own good, and it's healing you and it's making you a better person each day, then you're truly free. In my mind I feel that I am the wandering bird, I am the singing, flying bird that doesn't go south for the winter, it just stays in the sky while the rain is falling, and the snow is coming down, and the leaves are changing, or its too hot. Whatever the weather may be, I'm learning to just love and accept all that is for it is all for my greatest good.

How do you build a song? Does a lyric drop into your head first or do you get the melody first? Do you just sit down with a guitar and see what comes out?

I think for me the melody and the lyrics sort of come hand in hand and they are married to one another. I have these weird superstitions that I've developed over the years... I always write with a pen and a piece of paper, so if my arm gets tired I will never lay down because the second you lay down I feel like you've given up. So, even if you're tired you have to sit up while you're writing! Usually when I'm writing a song, I'm either on the floor or on my bed playing my guitar with my legs crossed, and another trick I learned is that if the energy is stagnant, sometimes I'll stand up and walk around my apartment and I'll just sing. I'll sing almost gibberish melodies and sometimes something will just hit.

And other times you're just so overwhelmed with emotion that it pours out of you and you can't explain where it came from, it almost feels like it's magic, like you didn't even write it at all. 'Lightning Bug', I actually woke up at 4:30 in the morning with the melody in my head, and the lyrics in my head, and I pulled out my ukulele and I very quietly wrote the whole thing. So, that can happen too, where you just have a melody that's in your head.

That's the best when inspiration just strikes at unexpected moments.

And you always have to be ready, you always have to know that when it's coming to take that time to write. Because sometimes I'll feel it, that little tap on your shoulder, and you'll be like, "Ah, I'm too busy," and then the moment has passed. So, you really have to stop and take the moment to allow yourself to dive into it if it's knocking on your door.

How did this past year affect you as a songwriter? Do you think the album would have turned out differently or the same if the past year hadn't happened the way that it had?

It definitely provided me the time to focus on it in a way that I never would have had the time to focus on before. There's always a concert or an event or a show or an audition, and when all of those things cant exist because of COVID, it really created this hyper-focus on this passion that I've always had, but it provided me to really get it the way that I wanted it to be done. Because I think that any time you're working on something and your mind is sort of spliced in another direction at the same time, if I'm working on the album and then I have to go do press for something, or I'm working on the album and then I have to go do a concert, it's not going to end up being the same. So, having had the time to really just focus all of my attention on, "How does this instrument sound?" and "What if we brought this down in the mix?" or "Oh, we have to redo this vocal," these are things that I probably would have never done if this wasn't COVID times, I probably would have just had a one-pass at every song vocally. We were really able to take the time to put our whole hearts into it.

What was the process of recording the album like?

It started around last August, and basically, I went home to Pennsylvania, and my dad has always had a passion for production, and I had wanted to work on this project and he happily agreed. I love working with my father because he has this incredible creative brain, and the two of us together is so much fun. A lot of the times I'll say, "I hear an organ on this," and he'll be like, "I was thinking an organ!" The two of us just had this perfect symbiosis, this one connection where it's like the things that I don't know how to do, like adding a drum track or something like that, certain things where he understands the technicality of mixing and mastering something that I cant do, he can do, and we can sit together and he can say to me, "Okay, is this the sound that you're after? Is this the sound that you're looking for?" And he can collaborate with me, and together we really make a good team because on many fronts we were aligned on every aspect of what we wanted each song to sound like.

That's so special to get to work with family, most people don't get to say that they get to do that!

My father has been my collaborator since I was thirteen years old. We've worked together on... this is our third album. And as the years pass we've both gotten better at our craft. And we're both very passionate about it which is really exciting, because you put two passionate people in a room and there's just nothing but this overwhelming sense of love and purpose in your heart, to the point where the joy is in the doing, and it's great if other people are listening. And that's the hope, that other people will appreciate the music. But when you have this desire to share your art so strongly it overrides any of the other things, you just have this love in your heart for the craft of it all.

It's such a personal album, were you scared or nervous to release it?

Oh, absolutely, there's always a fear any time you share anything that's just you. When you have a group of people working on a project, no matter how it shakes up it's like, "Okay, well, maybe we all failed!" or "We all succeeded!" but when it's just you, and especially in this context, you do feel very naked and vulnerable and open. But, I knew this was something my entire life that I'd wanted to do, to share.

Why do we want to share art? Why am I a performer? I'm an actress because I want to express the human condition to my audiences so that they can see themselves in my character and know that they are not alone. And so, that's the exact same thing with writing a song. You write a song because it pours out of you, and you're hoping that it can help someone in some way, that they can listen to that song and it can remind them that we're all human, and there's that one thing that connects us all and bonds us all, and we've all been through the dark times, and we've all been through the happy times, and we've all experienced every single type of emotion, and nobody is alone in that experience of the human condition. And there is a beautiful connectedness with all of that. So, that is why I write. And because of that, even thought it is scary and it is vulnerable, it's kind of one of those things like you feel the fear and do it anyway because your heart knows it's what you're meant for.

And the album is doing so well. How do you feel now that it's not just out in the world, but that people are loving it so much?

I am so grateful and thankful to everybody who has been supporting me. For a year I've been like, "I'm coming out with an album!" And for a year people have been like, "Okay! When?" And so, I'm grateful for their patience and for the continued support of me. It's surreal to wake up in the morning and to know that you've accomplished something and put your heart out into the universe. I'm grateful, that's the only thing I can say. I'm grateful that people are listening to it, and my hope is that if I can just make one person have a better day, then my work is done. It's amazing, it's humbling, it's incredible. I'm just floored, I'm so thankful to everyone who believes in me and likes my art.

I mean, who could not like it? It's so good!

Thank you so much, thank you for listening to it! Every single song has its own little story to it. Like, 'No One Needs to Know' was basically about me sitting around on my phone for two hours, and being like, "Two hours just went by and it felt like nothing, what am I doing with my life? I'm doing nothing but just sitting here on social media!" And it's all about that moment of you love it in the moment, but you secretly know you're wasting your life away a little bit, and so there's that love/hate relationship you have with it. And there's a little bit of pain that is associated with that hate part sometimes, when you go on YouTube or you just spend a little too much time watching memes or hanging out on Insta or Twitter. So, that's kind of what 'No One Needs to Know' is about, this sort of disdain-slash-love for technology.

'Dancing in the Air' is all about being an actress. Even though it's about a girl that walks a tightrope in a circus, it's really my experience of being an actress and staying in that state of hustle, and just focusing on the work, and focusing on the craft element of being a performer. And how that's really all that matters because that's where all the joy comes from, it's in the craft.

Do you have anything else you'd like to share with me? Final thoughts?

Thank you to every single person who took the time to listen to my music, I do not take that for granted for one second, I am so thankful. I love writing, I love creating, I love performing. My heart feels so full to have come out with this album. And please stay tuned for more things involving the album to come because I have a lot more exciting things I am working on up my sleeve!

Listen to Wandering Bird below!

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