You might know Alicia Witt from her body of work as an actor on shows including Friday Night Lights, Law and Order and Cybill, and from the films 88 Minutes, Two Weeks Notice, Last Holiday and Mr Hollands Opus to name a few. But she is also a classically trained pianist and accomplished singer/songwriter. for the last 3 years, she's been performing her original songs at venues across the country such as Hotel Cafe and Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles, and Joe's Cafe and The Living Room in New York. She will be performing May 29th at SPACE in Evanston. Ticket information below.
Her self-titled first EP is out on iTunes. Alicia's first music video, for the single 'Anyway', was played on MTVu and VH1.com. She also appeared as musical guest on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in summer 2010, and is currently working on her next album.
“...what a voice. It comes from tender, intimate appeals, soaring to roof raising heights, as she all the while works the piano with ease and command...where Witt really excels is in her ballads, personal and universal poems of love, longing, and everyday girl issues. Her lyrics flow with a poetic polish, and her piano playing rivals that of rockers Billy Joel or Elton John.” - What Duvet Said, review, 12/09
To help raise awareness for Art of Elysium, Living Philanthropic will donate $1 and TicketWeb will match every $1 donation for every ticket sold for Alicia Witt’s performance to Art of Elysium. If you would like to participate and join the Living Philanthropic team or make a donation, please visit: http://www.crowdrise.com/lp-may
I recently sat down and talked with Alicia about life on screen and off.
Buzz: Where did you grow up?
Alicia: I was born in Wooster, MA. But, I basically moved to LA when I was 14. So, I kind of feel like I grew up in LA. That's where all my formative experiences were.
Buzz: What made you go into acting?
Alicia: Well, I sort of accidentally became a part of Dune, which was my first movie, and I was 7 when that happened. If that hadn't come along, I'm not sure I would've become an actor. I think it was something I always wanted to do even when I was little. I just didn't know what it was called, if that makes sense. I loved watching old movies and reenacting the scenes. I would just pretend I was Julie Andrews, or, you know, those great women. It didn't really occur to me you could do that for a living. I ended up being asked to come to New York to audition for David Lynch. It was an incredible experience. Especially, because it was the biggest movie of that time, with all the special effects, and wardrobe. And all these very well established respected actors that have been doing this their entire lives, and making a living at it. And I think, not only for me, but for my parents, that was a big thing, because they always supported me in wanting to do this for a living. And I felt like that being such a great experience had a lot to do with that. Like my dad chatting with Jose Ferrer and that kind of thing. They were the best examples of what actors should be. And David is the nicest director. Literally, now that I've been doing this for most of my life, I look back and think how lucky I was that he was the first director that I got to work with. He's really such a good example.
Buzz: What was your favorite movie that you've done?
Alicia: It's so hard to pick one. I think one of my favorites is definitely The Boarding House, which hasn't come out yet. I've seen a little bit of it, and I really love it. What little I've seen. It's still being edited. It's with Nick Stahl. It's a very awkward love story between these people that are both a little stuck in their lives, and both really sheltered for different reasons. And they both want this, but don't quite know how to make it happen. It's just very complicated and very simple at the same time.
Buzz: Which movie that you've done means the most to you?
Alicia: That's again so hard to pick. Making 88 Minutes was an incredible experience, because I got to work with Al Pacino. I definitely put a lot into that movie. There were quite a few re-shoots on that. I had a great time making it though. It was amazing to watch. I mean Al put so much into it too. To say he's one of the greatest actors ever is just an understatement. And it was also hugely inspiring to get to work with him and to come away from the experience liking him even more than I had before, because he's such a good guy, and such a pleasure to be around. I felt very grateful to have gotten to know him. Another one of my favorites was Playing Mona Lisa. That one stands out for me because it was the closest to myself that a role has ever been in so many ways. Just everything I was going through at that time in my life. It was like the movie just reflected all of it, and it was a really tight-knit cast. It sparked lasting friendships for years afterward. It was shot in San Francisco, and I was going through a break-up at the time. But it was a good thing. The next chapter of my life was beginning. It was just one of those incredible experiences, and I got to play the piano in it. It was just really special.
Buzz: What made you transition from acting to songwriter?
Alicia: I've always wanted to do this. So, it's not so much a transition as it is finally, all of these years wanting to do it just culminated, going from it being a wish to being reality. It wasn't something I could have done any sooner, I just wasn't ready yet. For me, I always dabbled in it. I always wrote songs here and there. I sort of made a go at it around the time of Playing Mona Lisa actually. I met a few people who listened to my songs and saw some potential there, and did a little bit of work on it. But I just wasn't ready yet. I didn't think they were very good, and I think there was something there, but i wasn't very prolific at it. I wasn't inspired. Then I just got discouraged. I didn't really focus on it again until about four years ago. That's when it really started happening again. This time I found myself writing songs like once a week. Then suddenly I had a bunch of songs, and some of them I thought were pretty good. I was sitting in my living room with my best friend, after a girls night in, and I mentioned to her I was writing a few songs and she asked me to play them for her, and I did. I'll never forget how she just sat there in that chair and said, “You need to play these somewhere other than your living room.” It made me wanna cry. I thought, well, I always wanted to, so I started doing really small things. I played with other people, like I'd get up at someone else's show and do one song, and I would be so nervous. Then I started writing with some other people as well, and the more I did, the more people I met. I just started building this network of friends, who were amazing musicians and songwriters, and people who ran venues. Just, it all came together, and the more I did it, the more songs there were. It ran to the point where I can't stop writing, and at this moment, I have so many unfinished sets of lyrics in my blackberry at any given time. I just finished another song last night. I have a lot of demos laying around the house. I need to do full studio versions of them. I just gotta find the right ones to put on the next album. But you'll get to hear a lot of stuff you haven't heard before at the show.
Buzz: Who are your musical influences?
Alicia: I love Billy Joel and Elton John. Probably my biggest influences. I also love Sara Bareilles and Pink. I love Shawn Colvin also. Whenever I do songs that are written on the guitar, I think of her stuff. I just think she's amazing. I love Ben Folds also. I love Rufus Wainwright as well. Those are some of them. There's so many really. There's a lot of bands I like. There's a band called Everybody Else, they're an LA-based band. And I recently met the lead singer, and co-writer on a lot of those songs, and I think we're gonna write something together, but I really enjoyed their music. I like a lot of Train's stuff too. I also love Five for Fighting. I am obsessed with Tom Waits.
Buzz: What do you like to write about in your music?
Alicia: So many things. There's sort of no boundaries. The song I wrote last night, for example was definitely inspired by a feeling I had, because I spoke with someone I haven't spoken to in at least a year or so. It was one of those odd things where we took a break from each other. Then we ended up talking for over an hour on the phone, and we had a nice conversation. The thing is almost an imagined thing. It's interesting. I have this idea that's floating around in my head. It's called “Is This What You Meant.” It's not about me or this person. It's about someone that walks away from another person. Then really regretting it. The song is basically saying, is this what you meant? It wasn't about the scenario that I was going through. It's almost like a “what if” idea that I ran with, about someone who's feeling really lonely, and regrets pushing someone out of their life. When I wrote the song “Blinds,” the lyrics were inspired by the end of my relationship that I was in, which was really about the time I started writing prolifically. That was just about the feeling that I knew it had to end. I was in this relationship for a long time. I'd known for quite a while. The thing was nothing was wrong. It just wasn't right. I came up with this explanation which was I had gone blind to him, because he was still as lovely as he had ever been. I wasn't seeing him anymore. The songwriting began after he moved out. I wrote a love song that's about the ultimate love. When you've had so many relationships, you get to a point where you finally meet somebody that you know you're gonna have the most meaningful relationship with before saying “I love you.”
Buzz: What message to hope people will take from listening to your music?
Alicia: Whatever message they want. I hope that if I can inspire people half as much as some of the great artists I've been inspired by, that have inspired me, then that would be incredible. Somebody, after one of my shows, said to me, that my music made her feel less lonely, and I though that was the most perfect thing to wish for, and the biggest compliment of all. The kinds of songs I strive to write are ones that can be interpreted however you want, and they don't have to mean what I meant when I wrote them. In fact, for me, when I play them, they don't mean what I meant when I wrote them.