Musical Discoveries: You've been writing and performing songs since you were at the High School of Performing Arts. Have you harboured a desire to record an album since then?
Helen Slater: I have as you said always been writing music. But, to make a record was something only in the last few years I started to think was possible.
Why is that?
I think I saw composing as a hobby, even though I was doing it all through my twenties and thirties, it felt more private. Then when I took a songwriting class at UCLA I kind of saw the whole world open up and thought there are artists out there who are making music that is authentic and really really good. It may not be the most popular but there is a place for it. I think about the kind of music I love, acoustic, melodic, and I guess it kind of took a bit of courage on my part to think I could be one of those songwriters.
Please tell us how the One Of These Days album was made.
I love this question! Mostly because the way the album was produced was such an act of trust and surrender. The CD was recorded live in Nashville and all the tracks were done in one day!! The musicians were given the charts and I would run the song one time and then we would all play live.
I can't say enough about how thrilling that experience was. There were a few times when someone would want to fix something but mostly it was done exactly how you hear it. Having grown up doing improv and writing Bus and Truck musicals at Perorming Arts I so loved the vibrancy and aliveness of making a record all together without a lot of nitpicking. I suppose some things could be better and I know for a fact that I am a better musician today than when I made the record but I still feel there is an excitement about it being live. And that we all felt it when we were recording.
What about the arrangements?
I remember my producer Phil Swann just giving all the musicians an image to work with--he used the image of a "vibrating column of air". I was a little embarassed when he first said that to them but I think it gave a gentle road map for the feel of the album.
Has your very successful acting career got in way of your music or have you managed to keep playing and writing throughout?
I have always played music. Since I was nineteen and rented a flat in London for the year I was doing Supergirl I ALWAYS rent a piano when I am working on location. I am writing music constantly. I have a Songlab that meets in my home every other week and I am so grateful to have the chance to perform and write as much as I do.
With acting I am being led by the script, other actors, the director, etc. But with songwriting I feel it is much more self reliant and allows me to be in the creative experience without being as dependent on others.
What sort of music did you listen to during the early stages of your film career?
I remember during The Legend of Billie Jean I would listen to the Doobie Brothers, Ricki Lee Jones and Carly Simon a lot!! Indigo Girls, Carol King, Joni Mitchell and I know it's alittle odd but ok here's a big confession--Barbra Streisand. This has to do with not only how amazing I thought her voice was growing up--Funny Girl, A Star Is Born, etc. But, I thought the musical theatre pieces by Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, etc. were just exquisite.
What are the inspriations for your songs?
I think I used to write a lot more straight from what was happening in my life but as I've gotten older I find I can take aspects of things and use it as a seed for a larger idea. On "Remember Last Sunday," the song is about a woman who has lost her husband and coming to terms with that kind of unfathomable grief. I haven't had that happen to me but I can relate to feelings of loss and longing.
Also in Phil Swann's songwriitng class we were given assignments to write in different styles and that was a great tool to shake up ideas that aren't necessarily based on your life. I wrote country, motown and musical theatre. It was incredible!!
How would you characterize the material?
Personal, melodic, poignant.
And the style of the songs, how would you characterise them?
I would characterise my music as reminiscent of the 70s. Carly Simon, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones and Laura Nyro, with hints of musical theatre in there. The last song on the CD is from my musical The Ugly Duckling.
Were there other singing / songwriting projects prior to the album?
I wrote a musical based on "The Ugly Duckling" (but not for kids) that I am still hoping to get produced. I have been peeforming my music forever in little clubs around Los Angeles. I have written at least half a dozen wedding songs for my friends (but only when they ask me). I am currently writing a musical based on themyth of Psyche and Cupid. And this year at my daughter's school I wrote the song for graduation. I am SO psyched about that!!.
A lot of your lyrics contain instances of every day events--going to the hardware store, walking in the park, buying ice-cream. Do you sometimes find something magical in the ordinary?
I'm not really thinking when I'm writing about the magical being in the ordinary. I think it's more about telling a story with images--not getting too esoteric, although a lot of my earlier songs were like that--I learned a lot at UCLA and the Songwriters Guild about painting pictures. I learned that although songwriting is a craft and there are loads of techniques and tricks you can use I find writing closer to a channelling experience or "fishing". By fishing I mean I feel like I'm fishing in my psyche for a song--and it's more intuitive--following the flow and giving space to what's there.
Has becoming a mother changed the way you look at the world and the way you reflect that in your music?
I am less selfish. But I am more insistent on being part of the creative experience. I find I am a better mother, lover and wife when I am writing. When my daughter was small I wasn't writing as much and I didn't miss it.
But once I had more time on my hands when she was in shcool full time I found it unbelievably helpful to be disicplined about writing.
How did the experience of making this album compare with making a film?
When I'm acting with great actors who are in the moment and playful and have a great sense of give and take there is no difference.
What artists are you listening to now?
Indigo Girls, Allison Krauss and Jonatha Brooks.
How does playing your music live compare to acting in front of a theatre audience?
I was playing the Borders circuit recently and really loved not knowing anybody!! I was so much less nervous. I am currently playing piano for my improv group "The Bubalaires" and I don't get nervous doing that. And in general I am not nervous when I am acting. It's hard to compare!!
What led you to release your album on an independent label?
It's my own label and at the time I was just so excited that it was happening! It was like all of a sudden saw that I could do this dream I've had and that it wasn't going to cost that much and that I could actually do it. It felt miraculous.
Has there been interest from any of the majors?
Why did you choose to keep your acting career in the background of publicity supporting the album's release?
Acting has been a wonderful means of support and creativity but music is my main love and focus. I was just in a small independent movie called Seeing Other People and I got these lovely reivews and my first thought was how wonderful if it could somehow lead to making of the next record.
So singing and songwriting is your true passion?
I have a lot of passions, but songwriting is a deep love affair with me.
How would you say the internet has influenced your professional career?
The internet has been incredible in regards to the selling of my CD. I don't know how it's affected or will affect my acting career.
Why does your website only focus on the music project?
I will post if I am acting in something but mostly I want to sell the record and get interest for the next one!
What are your future hopes, plans and dreams?
I very much want to make the next record. And ideally I would love to be on tour at some point--opening for someone.
One final question we've got to ask because our readers want to know: which of your films is your favourite and why?
My favorite movie? Oh, that is hard! Truly there are things about all of them that I love! I would probably say Ruthless People has a special place in my heart becasue of the comedy and how much fun it was to do scenes with Bette Midler.
Thanks Helen for all of these insights!
Thanks for helping me with this record. I so appreciate it!!