Hooked on Swing
by Jay S. Jacobs
If you haven’t checked in on Lucy Woodward since her 2003 rocking hit single “Dumb Girls,” you’ve been missing a jazzy good time. You see, while Woodward had fun with the pop rock of her debut, her true passions have always been swing, torch and soul. She first showed those colors in her independently released 2008 album Lucy Woodward Is Hot and Bothered. That led to her signing with the legendary jazz label Verve. The first fruits of that new partnership was Hooked, a smoldering set of vintage-sounding jazz with a hip, modern sensibility.
We recently caught up with Woodward to catch up with her career and learn a bit about some of the influences which helped to mold her.
Both of your parents were involved in music. What are some of your first musical memories?
I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t any music going on in the house. My parents are both musicians. We lived in London and Holland until I was five. My dad was always playing the piano and I was sitting on his lap or watching him study or work on a piece of music. That was always lingering. If he wasn’t playing, there would always be some classical music. These were classical musicians, so really only classical music for years. Then, when my parents split, my mom took my brother and I to America. My mom was an opera singer, but she was also a belly dancer. So there was a lot of doing her own scales and singing her arias at the piano, but then she’d blast this Middle-Eastern music. Elementary school and high school, that’s what I remember so much of, a lot of Turkish music, Lebanese music and her practicing. That was the first time I probably ever heard drumbeats (laughs) and percussion, because classical music was a very different rhythm.
What were some of the things you were passionate about growing up in New York?
Music and dance. I started ballet when I was five and stopped when I was about 14. I played piano when I was a toddler, but when I was eight, I picked up the flute, and the flute was probably my first obsession with anything. Over dolls. Over kittens. I would practice an hour or two before school. I practiced at lunch break. I had band in the afternoon. I would come home, have a snack and practice for another few hours before and after dinner. I just could not put that down. My mom always said that if I came home with a test that I didn’t do well on or I did do well on a test, my first place to go to was playing the flute. Whatever emotion I was feeling. Then I really got into dance. I took a lot of dance lessons and a lot of ballet. So I’ve got to say flute playing and dance were the big main ones for me. I tried softball for a minute, but they kept throwing me in the outfield where no ball would ever be hit, so I ended up just doing pirouettes and sitting in the grass. I wasn’t a sports girl.
Do you still have any things from back then that are still sacred to you – that you have to take with you no matter where you move?
I moved to LA almost three years ago from New York. Photos are everything, especially because now everything is digital. So hard copy photos are everything. I left a lot back home, I put it in my mom’s basement. Photos I’ll always take those wherever I move to. There is a book that I grew up with. I forget what it was called, but it’s a little English book about a doll and a teddy bear. I had it in the Seventies and there was a store in SoHo where I saw a newer version of it. I bought it for myself, I don’t know why. I was like, I need to have that, because it just made so many memories come up. But I think photos are the big one, though. I don’t need a lot of things in my life, but photos – all the memories are there.
What were some of your earliest influences musically?
My parents, just from playing in the house. I remember Chopin piano sonatas were always on. We lived with my grandparents for a while, and I remember that was Vladimir Horowitz, the famous pianist. We played his records over and over. Those go so deep in my heart. Even if I [recently] called AT&T and I was being held on hold, they were playing the Chopin piano sonata and I just go to this place. Even with my mom as an opera singer, even though I don’t sing classical music, those kind of melodies and the melodic and harmonic structure of Chopin – these big, big, big melodies going from major to minor all the time, that had a big effect on how I looked and made music.
What was the first record you bought?
It was Like a Virgin by Madonna. That was an album, you know, vinyl. But my mother really didn’t want me listening to anybody’s music where she was wearing a bra on the front cover, so I remember there was a battle that I really had to fight for it and I had to pay for it myself. But I lived in a world of hand-me-downs, so my first cassette, I remember a cousin giving me Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual. The first pop records I ever had as a birthday present were 45s: my two first 45s ever were “Tell Her About It” [by Billy Joel] and “King of Pain” [by the Police].
What was the first concert you ever went to?
Debbie Gibson at Radio City. (drolly) It changed my life. Never forgot it.
What music do you put on when you are in a bad mood to cheer you up?
There was something, I wasn’t in a bad mood, but I was moody. It was down the past two days… I can put on 1970s African funk. I couldn’t even tell you band names, because I have a whole compilation of like a million bands, but definitely crazy disco African funk from the Seventies will change my mood instantly. And Brazilian music, usually Antonio Carlos Jobim will do it for me.
What songs can automatically make you cry when you hear them?
Yes. Sting, “Shape of My Heart.”
What records would you say you have listened to more than any other in your life?
Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Talking Book by Stevie Wonder and probably Björk’s Homogenic.
What do you listen to when you are feeling romantic?
I’m gonna say D’Angelo’s first record.
What song do you most wish that you had written?
I wish I wrote “The Girl from Ipanema” [written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Norman Gimbel and Vinícius de Moraes]. I wish I wrote “P.Y.T.” from Thriller [written by James Ingram and Quincy Jones]. Actually, I wish I wrote “Wanna Be Starting Somethin’” [written by Michael Jackson] from Thriller. I could go on and on and on. I wish I wrote “My Funny Valentine” [written by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart].
Are there any records that you are you ashamed to have in your collection?
Your first album was more rock-oriented than jazz. When did you decide to go into more of a jazzy direction?
I studied jazz, blues and soul even before I got that first record deal, so it was already in my makeup. When I got that deal, we all decided this was the direction. I was in that vein of making pop/rock music. It was a no-brainer to go do that. It was my first record deal. I was very excited. I was writing all the songs. I was just learning how to write pop songs. But for years before that, my first gigs ever were singing jazz standards in coffee shops on Bleecker Street and playing with big bands. So, I just basically went back to my roots. I remember specifically for [the movie] The Ice Princess, I was asked to sing the Björk song – well, it’s actually Betty Hutton, but Björk covered it – “It’s Oh So Quiet.” That song, which I think Björk did in ’91 or ’92 is an amazing big band number. This movie The Ice Princess, they asked me to sing a cover of it. I knew it inside and out and I remember cutting it in like an hour. I flew to LA literally for one hour and then went home. In that moment, I said, “Oh, my God, not only is this song amazing…” I don’t know how well you know it, but it’s a lot of screaming and wailing and singing and swinging. It’s really vocally satisfying and I found myself so happy after I finished that session. I was like, I need to be writing this kind of music. I need to be writing music that is allowing me to sound like this on my own stuff. Why aren’t I doing that? I had just gotten dropped or was just about to get dropped from Atlantic and I remember thinking this is the sound I have to do. I need to really treat myself as a vocalist and not worry about what was on the radio and not worry about the biggest and most expensive pretty current pop song – I need to sound best at what I do, vocally.
How cool is it to be part of such a legendary label like Verve?
It’s cool. It’s changed a lot over the years, but I’m very proud of the fact that I can say that I’m on Verve.
With Hooked do you feel you were able to capture the old-school feel of older jazz albums?
I think I did. We thought about the style of the record a lot when I was making it. It couldn’t be too poppy. It couldn’t be too vintage. I’m not doing a Madeleine Peyroux record and I’m not doing a record full of jazz standards. I need it to have a swing and be sassy and have great arrangements on it. I hope we captured quite a bit of that.
You just toured with Rod Stewart. How did that happen and what was that experience like?
Oh my God, amazing. My ex-boyfriend, and one of my closest friends, is the bass player in the band. Conrad Korsch, who is a monster bass player. He’s been Rod’s bass player for maybe nine years. We’re really, really close. He was in LA recording some stuff for Rod. He said, “Hey, Rod needs a third backup singer. Can you come to the studio in like an hour?” I cancelled my dentist’s appointment, I was on the way to the dentist, and I went right there. We had a great time singing. Rod was so into creating background vocals. He was a joy to work with. We recorded a song. Then that led to the tour. We had a great time. We were in Australia, Indonesia, Paris, New Zealand. We’re going to go to Vegas next Friday for two weeks. It’s a really fun show. He’s doing all the Faces stuff and a lot of early Rod. No jazz standards.
The song you did with him, he’s been doing a lot of covers lately. Is it a cover or a new song or what?
His song on his album? I just sang backgrounds. It wasn’t a featuring Lucy thing or anything. It was just a background part. I don’t know if it made the record or not. I’m not sure because they are still working on the record, so I really probably shouldn’t mention the name. But it’s a great song. It’s kind of like a new modern version of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I could see the route that he’s going is the good old rocking Rod, which everyone loves.
You have a new girl-group side project called The Goods. What should we expect from that?
Yes, I do. We’re so excited. Holly Palmer, who is a recording artist…
Yeah, I have her first album, I believe…
Oh, you do? Yeah. So Holly Palmer and Michelle Lewis, who is also an artist on Warner Brothers, she is a songwriter. We all had the chance to sing together. We’re all friends, for many, many years. We respect each other so much. I wrote a lot of songs with Michelle Lewis on my Verve record, so we already have a long writing history. We had this opportunity to sing together at a party and we loved how we sounded together so much. We were like, Oh, my God, this is too inspiring. We have to do something with this. We decided we’d write a song and see what would happen. We wrote one song and that led to another song. We’ve written like a half a record. Then we throw some covers in. Our first public gig is April 3, where we’re featuring kind of a half Lucy gig, half Goods gig. It’s at Hotel Café on April 3. It’s so good to sing with other singers in this old… it’s very Andrews Sisters inspired, but they’re very modern lyrics. We get really sassy, really dirty, really bluesy. It’s inspired from Andrews Sisters plus a lot of soul. We’re really psyched about it. Who knows what’s going to happen, but we’re enjoying every moment of being together.
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Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 15, 2012.