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The brilliant and extraordinary talented Madeleine Peyroux released her latest album which focuses on some of Ray Charles’ most iconic songs. Peyroux, along with the collaboration of Larry Klein, brings the classics back to life in The Blue Room. TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Sarah Douglas had the opportunity to talk to the talented singer who revealed the story behind the albums intriguing name, her feelings toward being compared to Billie Holiday and what she is looking forward to the most about her upcoming shows.
TheCelebrityCafe: Your new album The Blue Room came out just over a week ago- tell me how your fans have responded to it.
Madeline Peyroux: Well, I don’t know yet. I haven’t been playing live and I haven’t seen much of the reaction because my relationship really with the audience is when I get on stage and I get to interact with people that are there in person. We’ve had a few articles and some of them were really lovely, and I’m really grateful for the attention that I’ve gotten. I’m really looking forward to the next step.
TCC: This album features some fantastic classics which you’ve completely made your own. Tell me how creating a new sound for an old song compares to writing your own songs like on your previous albums.
MP: Writing your own songs has this different tact than singing because I was a singer before I could do anything. So that was my joy and now, I still love the idea of writing as someone that loves the medium of songs, I still consider myself a singer and covering these songs is like covering it’s a luxury if you will, of being able to work with the best of the best. That’s just one of the wonderful things that can happen if you’re able to build your own repertoire. I’m really just very lucky to be able to do that. As far as the joy of being able to create a new song goes, it’s pretty impossible to figure out how that works unless you’re Ray Charles. I do think that what we tried to do on this record was with an approach of honesty. To be able to say, for example, just stepping into the shows of whoever would have sung this song 60 or 70 years ago before Ray covered them and being aware of how different the world is and how different we are as people- for me singing a song that was written for a guy to sing Red Newman’s “Guilty,” which is really I think is interesting in itself as it’s just me doing this song, would create a whole new backdrop and back story to the song and that’s what I’m going for based on a self-examined honesty and in terms of all of these songs and lyrics and the stories behind them.
So, whether that creates a new sound that’s a totally different question perhaps but I think that it’s relative to the bottom line for me which is this is a dramatic reading, this is a story telling event, and it doesn’t matter the context- you can Folk you can call it Blues, you can call it Jazz, but the American aspect to this music I think is crossing those boundaries- bordering those boundaries maybe, and because of that it really made a lot of sense for us to try and cover something which in many ways epitomizes that about American culture.
TCC: If you had to choose a favorite,the one that means the most to you, which would it be?
MP: From this record? It will change from day-to-day, I’m very close to all of them and I think that it’s really hard to answer that question because it’s like asking somebody which child they favor or which family member they like better. That’s hard for me - I could tell you why all of them are my favorites [laughs]. It’s true, and there are only 10 songs here so we did pick the best songs that we could and we worked quite a bit, 2 years or so, preparing the list of songs from the various options. I don’t know if I could answer that.
TCC: You worked with Larry Klein on this album and he said some wonderful things about you, can you tell me about your experience working with him?
MP: First of all, this was his idea [laughs]. Working with him is huge and it’s been years, this is actually the fourth record we’ve made together of mine and we’ve known each other since 2005 so we’re going on, maybe even 2003 when we started talking,, so we’re going on 10 years, so I think you get past a certain point when you’re working with someone that you don’t even need to talk about things anymore it just becomes like an unspoken understanding. And, as a singer, Larry works with singers in a way that no one else does and he continues to keep the bar high and gets better at it if that’s even possible- he does. So I think that with this record he is generous and very kind to me and said I want to make this kind of a record and I want you to be the one who does it with me and it’s quite an amazing experience. I don’t feel that this is my record, I feel that The Blue Room is a real collaboration and perhaps the best work that I’ve ever done has come from those kinds of projects, whether it be a song on a record that just so happens to have the kind of energy for everybody involved, the creative spark of everybody involved and me being intrinsic to that. On this record I think every piece of the record is a group effort.
TCC: What is the meaning behind The Blue Room? Can you tell me how you came up with that?
MP: There is a bar in Burbank I believe it is the oldest bar in Burbank, actually it was the photographer for this album with whom I really wanted to work named Rocky Schenck and we had many discussions and he suggested this place and I think that he was aware of it because he frequents the bar sometimes. It’s a very little place in Burbank and I think it says it’s the oldest bar there and that’s the name of the bar and it has a neon sign outside and we did the photo shoot there and I realized that there were so many things that happened there that day, for example, the jukebox there, the atmosphere, the people that were drinking at 10am and their histories. One gentleman was there because he was feeling depressed about something and he told me his history and that he was from Alabama and that he lived through civil rights and had gone to Vietnam and I asked him ‘What are you doing here in California?’ and he said, ‘Well I couldn’t go no further.’ He was just a beautiful soul and also one of the first things he said to me was ‘Don’t give me any music I don’t need any more music’ [laughs] he said, ‘I know all of the music that there is already and I could tell you any song that was ever written from 1960-1974’ or something like that. I guess for me there are too many variables in order to talk about what it is to be American, but I made it something that is grounding and “The Blue Room” first of all is a real place for me because I’ve been there, and second of all I think there was an interesting ambiguity to it. It’s like elbow room, saying everything doesn’t need to be a huge proclamation it can be introverted. So for me, The Blue Room is an introverted side of these songs. It’s sort of serendipitous of how it all came together and you’ve got the real scoop on why I called it that!
TCC: You’ve been compared to the likes of Billie Holiday, someone whom you’ve called an influence in your own music. What is that like for you?
: MP: I’m nowhere near Billie Holiday, but I am a singer that you can use to admire and live with the intention of being a part of the legacy that is American music a part of which she created so I am honored to be a part of this and I’m honored to feel that way right now.
TCC: You are heading out on tour, what are you most looking forward this time around?
MP: Singing! We will be presenting these songs and it really will be the first time that we are presenting them, and I am singing them, in the context that they were arranged and we made the arrangement for the record with a string quartet and sometimes a larger string section... I will be able to float into this wonderful record and I am looking forward to that. The arrangements are fascinating to me the songs are really rewarding for me and I think that’s the excitement me here for me to actually be able to perform his record for people. It always is, perhaps there is a difference between recording and a live performance that I’ll never be able to articulate. I get the question sometimes and I really don’t find a very personal answer to it. There is the obvious thing you think about which is that you have more time to create and explore things in the studio because you are behind the scenes. Other than that I’m just overwhelmed by the joy that comes from a live performance. I just feel like there is nothing more powerful ever. Even if it’s on the TV or radio there is something to that, the energy of coexisting is more than I can imagine, so that is what I am looking forward to and singing these songs and presenting them in the best way we know how.
Madeline will perform two shows Friday evening at the Lincoln Center: The Allen Room, as well as two shows March 23.
image credit: Rocky Schenck, The Blue Room album art