BWW Interview: Jaime Cepero Talks Songwriting, Plans For His Original Music, And Not Defining Himself by SMASH
One year after debuting his first concert of original music, Jaime Cepero is back for more.
Fresh from a successful run of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD! THE MUSICAL! at Theatre Row, the star is set to return to The Green Room 42 on Saturday, May 25 with a night of originals called SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY 2.0, the latest in the venue's "New Writers" series.
Naturally, 2.0 is a follow-up to his 2018 debut concert, SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY AND THE BOYS THAT PLAYED ME, with Cepero mixing songs that will be familiar to fans as well as new material.
"This show is sort of an extension of what we did last year, incorporating some new lessons and scenarios I have gone through, and some new music from some new projects I am very excited about sharing," he teased.
Along with an opening performance from the recording artist Stones, the show is slated a feature a number of mucial guests, including Paul Victor, Courtney Daniels, Stephanie Nash, and Michelle Dowdy.
Ahead of the performance, we spoke with Cepero by email about songwriting, his multifaceted plans for his work, and not defining himself by his time on SMASH.
This interview has been edited for content and length.
TF: Have you always written music?
JC: I have. When I was about 12, my dad saw me messing around on a piano at a friend's house; he bought me an electric keyboard the following day, and I spent hours writing little ditties in my room. It wasn't until recently that I started to share this writing experience publicly. But I have always been writing since then.
TF: You did SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY AND THE BOYS THAT PLAYED ME around this time last year. What made you want to do a show specifically around original songs?
JC: Most people don't know this side of me, so I guess it sort of stems from a longing to express myself in this way. I also have several musical projects that I have been working on that I am finally ready to share.
TF: Are there any major learning lessons you took away from last show?
JC: It was really cool to watch my friends sing my music. It was a validation that creating a platform for other artists to shine is something that truly makes me happy.
TF: Do you have an endgame in mind for these songs, whether it's an album or a musical? I know you already have experience with the latter from composing FRANCOIS & THE REBELS.
JC: Some of these songs will definitely go on an album, eventually, and some of them are from newer musical projects. I have plans for them all, but they are in the beginning stages at the moment.
TF: I'm curious, what time span from your life do these songs cover, and do you feel like you've changed as a songwriter in that time?
JC: It really depends on the piece. Some of these songs I wrote a few years ago and brought back to rework; some of them are brand new. They span a lot of different moments of my life. I think, as an artist, we are never really the same as we move forward. We are all a product of our environments. I'm certainly not the same Jaime I was five years ago, and I won't be the same person five years from now either.
TF: Is there one particular number you're most excited about for people to see?
JC: I'm working on a musical with a Working Title of PRODIGAL SON about a gay man who is rekindling his relationship with his abusive father, who has begun to lose his memory to Alzheimer's. It's very different stylistically from my other stuff, so I'm excited to share a song from that piece.
TF: You have Stones opening the show and some special guests as well. Can you tease a little bit about what they're doing?
JC: Stones is an incredible artist and songwriter. She's been one of my best homies for a while now, and I am excited to give her the space to show off her skills both as a singer and a writer. I think audience members are going to really enjoy her music and her vibe just as much as I do.
TF: The show sounds like a really interesting mix of sounds, including "punk rock, gospel, and a hint of musical theater." I saw a tweet of yours, where you said, "Black singers can sing other genres besides gospel and R&B." As an Afro-Latinx artist, is that something you've run into a lot in the industry, people thinking you should sing a certain type of music?
JC: Certainly. I have been in auditions where I'll sing a rock song I really like and, immediately, I'll be asked if I have Stevie Wonder or Motown in my book. It's a struggle sometimes to be your most authentic self in an industry that wants to make you fit into a box. My aesthetic is a part of who I am, but it shouldn't be the defining mark of my artistry.
TF: Many people first came to know you through SMASH. Do you feel any pressure when you're doing a solo show to reference that in some way?
JC: I don't. SMASH was an incredible and challenging experience in a lot of ways. I am forever grateful for the opportunities it opened for me, but it's not something that defines who I am and what I stand for. The person I was while filming that show is a completely different person than who I am now. Not everyone always understands that, but it comes with the territory of television.
TF: You posted a selfie, giving a nod to Billy Porter with your style moment for AIN'T TOO PROUD's opening night. With Pride coming up, I'm curious what other queer artists are inspiring you right now, in one way or another.
JC: It goes without saying that Billy Porter has been a huge inspiration to me, and he has been one of the kindest mentors and friends I could have ever been blessed to know in this industry. I'm so proud of the work he is doing and the doors he continues to open. As far as other artists, I am in LOVE with Lizzo! She is literally all of the things I aspire to be. Her body positive/sex positive vibe totally aligns with my work in activism. It's really been inspiring to watch her seize her moment by the horns.
TF: Along with SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY 2.0, what else are you working on this year?
JC: I was just in a reading of a new musical version of John Waters cult classic movie PECKER this month. It went great and there is some talk of movement. I also just finished a run leading the company of the new rock musical NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Off-Broadway, which went awesome and was so much fun.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.