Is Gonna Get You
by Jay S. Jacobs
If you really want to get Lucy Woodward hot and bothered, all you have to do is bring her… cheese?
“Love gets me hot and bothered. [And] I guess, cheese…,” Woodward laughs as we sit together in a Cosi coffee shop in the Olde City section of Philadelphia, where she is visiting to do some collaborative writing for the follow-up to her recent second album, Lucy Woodward… Is Hot and Bothered.
“Ray Charles,” she continues, listing more of her favorite things. “And chocolate. Chocolate gets me hot and bothered.”
Woodward laughs at the surreal track the conversation has taken. “No one’s really asked me that. Oh my God, I shouldn’t have titled my album that.”
Now, guys, before you start hitting her shows with a block of cheese, beware – dairy products aren’t half of what one will experience at a Lucy Woodward concert. (Though she cheerfully acknowledges it would be funny, picturing men at shows “just handing out cheddar cheese! That’s a great idea.”)
You know what fellows? A Lucy Woodward show will get you hot and bothered.
It is a sultry, jazzy, torchy experience that feels genuinely out of time and at the same moment timeless. In fact, more than any other artist, perhaps the music and showmanship of a Woodward show is reminiscent of the early, jazzy shows of young Bette Midler. (Yes, her publicist originally made the comparison, but it fits… wow, does it fit.)
Hard to believe that only a few years ago Lucy Woodward was on the precipice of being a pop star. Woodward had recorded her debut CD While You Can, which spawned the minor hit “Dumb Girls.” She also co-wrote Stacie Orrico’s smash single “(There’s Gotta Be) More To Life.” However, even though she enjoyed the experience, her current musical track feels much more natural to Woodward.
“When I was at Atlantic [Records], I got thrown into the Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson world – a big girls with guitars world,” Woodward says. “I guess it was a misconception because I got lumped into skater rock sometimes. I think that I felt some regrets about it, because maybe I didn’t speak up enough during the making of the record. At the same time, I’m also very proud of what I’ve learned. If I had done an Atlantic record number two, it wouldn’t have been this.”
The “this” she is referring to is Lucy Woodward… Is Hot and Bothered.
The album was self-funded and recorded as an independent, though Woodward ended up signing an interesting deal with the Barnes and Noble bookstore, which released the CD exclusively through all their stores and their website.
“I was doing a show at Joe’s Pub in New York, last May or June or something,” Woodward recalls. “One of the music buyers was there and left her card with one of the girls who sell my CDs. I called her and she passed me on to the head music buyer. He said every few months he does a ‘discover-a-great-new-artist’ program. They push a new artist, whether they are on a label or not. It took a long time for it to happen. I had to redo a photo shoot. They don’t work with you as intently the label, obviously, but they want to make sure you’re not on the cover with a bikini on. We worked very well together. It was really, literally, right time, right place.
“There are so many times when you’re like ‘why can’t I have luck like that?’” she says, faking crying. “This is one of the situations where I was an independent artist. I funded this record on my own. I got a job to go through the ups and downs of life. What am I going to do next? You just go: we’re going to just make the record. It was like the perfect thing. I wanted my demographics to be older. I wanted to play it for people my age. A lot of my teenaged fans have grown up now, so now they are able to get into clubs and see me. Atlantic was a very young age. This is [for the] 25-50 or 25-40 woman who buys records.”
The album’s success and critical acclaim led to more good things. As we were sitting at the coffee shop Woodward told me she had just signed with the legendary jazz label Verve earlier in the week.
The album itself was made in collaboration with an old friend, Itaal Shur – a friend who had a history with penning hit songs himself. “I wrote most of this record with [him]” Woodward says. “We’ve been friends, best friends, for like ten years. He wrote the Santana ‘Smooth’ song with Rob Thomas. So he did very well.” Woodward also used to be a member of Shur’s short-lived New York buzz band Itaalatron.
It’s all part of a fascinating and wide-ranging life of this late-20s chanteuse – and she’s barely gotten started. Woodward has had a wanderlust most of her life. She was born in London, lived in Amsterdam and essentially grew up in the middle of the New York music scene.
“I moved to America when I was five, so I lived here” Woodward recalls. “My father stayed there and remarried. All my summers were spent in Holland. We’d travel all around Europe and camp out everywhere, because that was how he could show me his world. He was British and my mom was American. So at a young age, I could go into… it wasn’t a survival mode, [but] you’re in different places, people speak different languages and you had to do whatever you had to [in order] to make friends. It was just the summer and a few weeks here and there – throughout my whole life. You kind of got into a groove. I feel like I can adapt anywhere. I love to be in hotels. I just need a place to put my head and it is home. I’m very comfortable with change. I’d come back home and my friends were like, ‘Oh, I just sat around all summer.’ There’s this world out there they don’t even know. If only everybody could be exposed to that. It was a bad divorce that my parents went through, and at a young age. My brother, it hit him harder than me. But there were so many benefits that came out of it, just being able to have worldly experiences. I got the travel bug really young.”
She comes from a musical family – her mother is an opera singer and her dad a composer – so music always came naturally.
“In the womb, that’s when the early stuff is going on,” Woodward said, “so my parents would listen to classical music. That was what I would to listen to for the first ten years of my life. My mom was an opera singer, so it was always going on. I’d listen to my mom. When I was twelve they would have these things where you can go into a studio and do a demo and they have the backing tracks. You would go make a demo of a song. I was like, oh, my God, I like this. I like being in a studio with headphones. You only had one take… maybe you would have two takes… and I did ‘Material Girl’ and I did some Debbie Gibson songs. That was the first rock and roll concert I ever went to, it was Debbie Gibson. That was when I [realized] this is what I want to do. It just felt so right. I had already been doing music for so long – piano and flute – but this was different. This was something I could actually have a career with. I knew that, at the age of twelve.
“I went to the Manhattan School of Music when I was sixteen,” Woodward continues. “I skipped my senior year to go to college and you have to breathe be-bop or you didn’t belong there. I did leave after a year, but I got really into jazz. My first gigs were singing jazz standards on Bleecker Street in New York where I was waitressing. So, that’s my love. That got me started writing songs. I was singing jazz.”
That singing career seemed to have achieved liftoff a few years ago with the release of the debut CD. Turns out Woodward got a sampling of the rock-star lifestyle, which did not exactly play out as advertised in millions of people’s American Idol daydreams. Still, it was an interesting ride and one that Woodward is glad she experienced – even if it wasn’t always glamorous.
“It was weird,” Woodward acknowledges. “The first time I heard [‘Dumb Girls’] on the radio, I think it was about to play on Z100 in New York. They told me it was going to play at 4:00 with Cubby, the big DJ. They were like, ‘We’re going to announce it. Here’s the time. Listen up for it.’ I was having serious cramps. I’d been throwing up for 36 hours.” She laughs at the memory. “So, he played the song. I was like, oh, my God, that’s so weird, then went to the bathroom.
“Then I started doing radio touring, went to different cities – and it was very bizarre hearing it. You’re driving on the way to the station – you’d always listen to the station that you’re going to visit and they’re welcoming you because you’re going to go on next. Like, ‘In fifteen minutes, we’re going to have Lucy Woodward here.’ And you’re like…” she makes a funny face “and the whole car was like ‘Wow!’ So, there are some real moments.”
Woodward is proud of the music on her debut, even if she feels the music she is doing now is really more representative of her personal style. However, though her musical tastes skew more towards the jazzy torch world, she prides herself in being the kind of songwriter that can capture many genres.
“I can tap into writing different styles,” she says. “I’ve always been able to do that. A few months ago someone asked me to write a song in the style of ‘Suddenly I See’ by KT Tunstall, for a film, and I’m like, okay, cool! I picked what writer I wanted to write with and was able to tap into it. It doesn’t mean it is right for me anymore. I would have written that song a few years ago if I were doing another Atlantic-type record. But, I grew and I changed.”
Woodward is also comfortable with the fact that Stacie Orrico had the big hit with her song “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life,” acknowledging that the young singer had really nailed the song. In fact, Woodward feels that her version of the song – which she has released as a B-side and on iTunes – may not have done as well as Orrico’s.
“That was a song that was meant for my record, before I even knew she existed,” Woodward recalls. “[However] I felt my record was done and didn’t need to say any more than it did. I felt ‘More to Life’ was a little bit younger of a melody. It was almost the extra step poppy. My record was done, so Kevin [Kadish], who I wrote ‘Dumb Girls’ with, was [also] working with Stacie. He wrote [Orrico’s hit] song ‘Stuck.’ He already had a relationship with her. He was like, let me just play this for her and see if she likes it. She was coming from a Christian artist market. She didn’t want to do the whole ‘I’m taking my clothes off’ thing. She was sixteen or whatever. That was the message in that song. She said, ‘I’m very comfortable singing this.’ My version is more pop/rock. Hers is much more hip-hop. I could totally buy it. She was an MTV girl. I wasn’t. I was a little more VH1, so it wouldn’t have worked the same way. I have no regrets. It paid the bills for a long time. I’m proud of it.”
Now, however, Woodward is ready to pay the bills for herself. And Hot and Bothered is opening the doors. She felt a new freedom when making the album – allowing herself the room to experiment with styles and tempos that appealed to her. The CD is a steaming gumbo of jazz, torch music, girl group pop, dance, folk and whatever other styles that tickled her fancy.
“With writing, I’m not looking for anything,” Woodward says. “It’s just whatever comes naturally. I had no one at a label telling me what to do or how to write a song. Not to say, ‘that’s not a hit.’ So Itaal and I would basically get together every day and write a song to see what would happen. A lot of songs didn’t make the record. Sometimes, it took song a day to write; sometimes it took two months to write. It was like, let’s tap into this. Let’s do this. It kind of came into a mixture of all of them. There’s always a pop influence, but it is torch. I wanted this to be a modern day torch record.”
This mood and tone came from constant experimentation and tweaking in the studio. For example, the album leads off with a blast of strutting defiance with “Love Is Gonna.” However, the song, though it has a great, simple melody, wasn’t that easy to nail down. In fact, it went through three vastly different productions.
“When we first wrote it, it was really hip-hop, like Missy Elliott,” Woodward recalls. “There were these string arrangements that were amazing. And basically the melody is ‘Swan Lake.’ It’s Tchaikovsky. Which has kind of been done before, but I was a ballet dancer when I was a kid and Itaal is really classically driven. We were like, we should make this funky. It went through that hip-hop version. It’s just hip-hop, I’m not doing a club record. I remember there was another version which was a little less hip-hop. Then we ended up on this, which is full-strings, lush. People can say, ‘oh, it should be the next James Bond theme song, you know? A little Shirley Bassey thing – which I’m big into, she’s a big influence. There was such a fire to her, like ‘Come on baby, light my fire.’ There were some amazing arrangements. No one’s doing shit like that anymore. So I just go with it. When you know it’s right, it’s right. You can keep reediting and reproducing and re-singing vocals and rewriting verses. You have to stop at some point.”
This is best shown in what may be the most stunning moment on the CD – the simmering love-gone-wrong song “Slow Recovery” in which Woodward portrays a woman trying to survive a particularly hard breakup.
“I had written that after I got dropped from Atlantic,” Woodward recalls. “I wasn’t going through a breakup, but I had known what it felt like. It was originally called ‘Fast Recovery.’ My co-writer, James Michael, said the word ‘Slow’ is so much sexier. I knew how to tap into a breakup because we both had one, but I wasn’t necessarily going through that at that time.”
Then she can also do smoldering strutting be-bop sexuality in “Sugar,” “Use What I Got” and “Submarine Love,” the shimmering girl-group pastiche “You Found Me Out,” the be-bop wanderlust of “Geographical Cure” or the simmering passion of the ballad “Hot and Bothered.” However, just because she can be sexy that doesn’t mean dirty, like so many of her contemporaries.
“It wasn’t difficult,” to straddle the line between sexy and sexual, Woodward assures. “I don’t sing raunchy stuff. I’ll swear a little bit, in talk I may bring up a sexual issue, but I will never be raunchy. I just don’t go there.”
It is all about feeling to Woodward. She simply hopes that her music touches people, just like the music which has inspired her over the years makes her feel.
“Just that it moved them in some way,” Woodward says. “Even if it was one song. It made them think a little bit, whether it’s self-reflecting or about the world.”
She feels this way not just about her music, but about her life. As she settles into the recording of her follow-up for Verve Records, Woodward enjoys living life on her terms and being a part of arguably the greatest artistic community in the world – New York City.
“In New York, I carry a book around with me everywhere,” Woodward says. “I have my book, a notebook and an iPod, because I just don’t know how I’m going to feel. You know what I read last year? To Kill a Mockingbird. I was like I need to read it. I didn’t finish college, and I’m really trying to tap into what I missed. It took me a while… you know, you read a few pages on the subway. I would love to take a whole year off and just read books. I love reading, but sometimes it’s a time thing.”
Then there is the traveling which Woodward has loved since childhood. However, Woodward’s roaming is not just for fun. Over the years, she has made it a habit to do charity all over the world – from playing benefits at home to visits to Kenya and Rwanda – to help in any way she can.
“I do a lot of benefits because it’s my job,” Woodward says. “My job as a human being. Sometimes you go through music and you’re like, oh, this is the most self-absorbed business you can be in. The entertainment field in general you’re writing about my problems, my problems. I think because I had traveled as a kid, I was open to other worlds. I saw lots of things that other people didn’t have the chance to see.
“The Africa thing started about twelve years ago, when I went to Kenya with my best friend the first time. She grew up there. Her father still lives in Nairobi. I’ve been there five times. Her father five years ago founded an orphanage called Cura. A group of us this summer – about eight of us, my brother and a bunch of friends – we went to paint their walls and play with them and sing songs with them and play soccer with them. It was such a natural thing to do. Now I feel like it’s such a passion of mine to raise money for this. I’m planning a benefit for maybe December or January in New York. Those things, when they come along, I can’t say no. It’s not a money thing. It gives your music and your life a purpose. I finally feel like I have something to offer, to balance out the times when you’re also self-obsessed with my songs. Not that that’s all I think about all the time, but it’s very easy to fall into ‘my world is about me.’ It’s a very bizarre thing. I think about other things, other than Lucy.”
|#1 © 2008 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2008 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2008 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2008 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2008 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.|
|#6 © 2008 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.|
|#7 © 2008 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 1, 2008.