Singer/ songwriter Vonda Shepard told David Hennessy about her new album, 25 years since Ally McBeal and why she feels at home in Ireland.
American singer- songwriter Vonda Shepard has just released her 9th solo album, Red Light, Green Light.
She is also be coming to the UK on tour.
Vonda’s face and voice will be recognisable from 90s/ early 2000s TV hit, Ally McBeal.
Vonda was the series’ resident musician appearing in all five series of the show and sang the theme tune, Searchin’ My Soul which was a massive hit.
Vonda has sold over 12 million records worldwide and has won two Golden Globes and two Emmy awards.
She has also won two Screen Actors Guild awards and holds the record for selling the most television soundtrack albums in history.
There are currently celebrations and events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the show so it was a good time for the album and for The Irish World to catch up with her.
Vonda’s latest album, Red Light, Green Light, came together over lockdown.
Vonda says: “The album was written and recorded during the height of the pandemic. It took a massive amount of discipline to go through this process, but the isolation actually lent itself to going deep into the writing.”
The album is made up of both energetic tunes and soulful ballads, reflecting both joy and pain.
Produced by her husband Mitchell Froom, the album deals with themes like unrequited love and the challenges of parenthood but always manages to sound hopeful and not at all like it was created at a time of great uncertainty and when people were separated from their loved ones.
Vonda told The Irish World: “Thank you, I’m glad it doesn’t sound like a lockdown album which is probably good news.
“It was very intense.
“I just sank down into the songs and deep into the deep emotions, whether it’s Made of Rain or Shine your Light.
“But as you may have noticed, it’s part of my personality that the choruses are uplifting and positive in a lot of the songs and that’s just how my mind works.
“If things are not good, I can talk about the negative but then I always want to see the silver lining.
“So I put that in the songs like Disappear: No matter what, despite all this craziness, I still think life is beautiful.
“I’ve tried to find the beauty in life so it’s got the balance on it, you know?
“It’s got the balance of heavy emotions but also uptempo, uplifting moments like A Paradise.
“Even though A Paradise is about wanting to escape and go out and go crazy- which we couldn’t do- so it was my way of going out, writing that song.
“I got to party in my house in the studio on that song.
“And then some of the songs like Disappear have that very powerful deep kind of feeling where you have the visuals of the ocean, the sea and you have the visuals of wanting to escape, but then the uplifting chorus- I think life is beautiful despite this.
“So it’s got both.
“On all of my albums, even if I have some ballads, I always put on some fun up tempo tunes.
“Probably my forte is the mid level, the mid tempo. Just straight ahead. I don’t want to call them ballads but just those tunes that are mid tempo, they have a lot of thought put into them and a lot of emotion and depth, but also the uplifting spirit.”
Was it good to have the album to work on when things were so bad outside? “It has been amazing.
“I mean I had to focus and have the discipline to go in there and actually sit and dive deeply into the emotions and the songs.
“But it was a great gift.
“It helped the pandemic pass more quickly for me.
“It was so tedious for everybody.
“To have a project, I could just block everything else out and focus on that.
“And to have a house in which to do it, have a couple of different choices of pianos to use, a studio, it was an incredible opportunity that I had.
“And I kind of seized it thankfully, and found a way to have the discipline to keep going in there rather than binge watch movies.
“But believe me, I did a little of that, that was a good escape as well.
“But having the album to focus on was the best thing that could have happened for me during the pandemic.”
Vonda Shepard was born in New York in 1963.
She began playing the piano at age six, began writing songs at eight, and played her first club at 14.
As a child, Vonda had wanted to be an astrophysicist, but after her first music gig, she never looked back.
Between 1985 and 1996, Vonda toured as a backup singer and keyboardist for Rickie Lee Jones, Al Jarreau, and Jackson Browne, opening for Browne during his 1996 tour.
After performing as a backing singer for many years, she eventually got her own recording contract.
Vonda’s first chart appearance was in 1987, when she recorded a duet with Dan Hill entitled Can’t We Try.
She released her first self-titled album in 1989, but it made little impact but did yield one chart single, Don’t Cry Ilene.
After three albums, Vonda was cast in the popular 90s legal drama, Ally McBeal.
Vonda was the resident performer in the bar where the characters would hang out at the end of each show.
Vonda had a massive worldwide hit with Searchin’ My Soul.
She produced over 500 songs for the series.
Vonda was a big part of the show’s sound and it did great things for her and her career.
It is now 25 years since the show started: “It’s unbelievable. It’s really shocking when I think about it, it I won’t say it flew by but man, it’s gone.
“Those 25 years happened and life was lived.
“It does not seem like 25 years, I must say.
“It was a great time. You know, it was a great time in my life and I’m very happy to celebrate the anniversary and come out and play some songs for people in a couple of weeks.
“It’s going to be a big party and big celebration, so I’m very happy.”
Was it all by chance? “In some ways.
“I mean I was friends with David E Kelley and his wife, Michelle so I had actually invited them to a show but I had no idea he was putting together a new show called Ally McBeal, I just happened to be doing a gig and invited them.
“So the fact that they were my friends didn’t hurt, it wasn’t a total new discovery.
“He was a fan of my music from a while back, but the timing was incredible.
“I feel proud of it (the show) and I feel really happy to have been part of something so special and unique. And lasting.
“People still love it.
“I have two kind of lives.
“I have my own solo career with my own songs, my own albums and then there’s always Ally McBeal in the background and that’s a lovely thing to have in my life as well.
“It was an amazing gift and the timing could not have been better.
“I had this album It’s Good, Eve which was my solo album I did, my first indie album after I was on Warner Brothers, and I was kind of struggling with my career. I wasn’t struggling creatively.
“I was doing a lot creatively, but to have that album be the reason I got the show and to have so many of those songs on the show, it was just an amazing gift in my life.
“I had a tremendous amount of energy for working and touring and playing and producing and I got to do it all and it has a lasting effect on my life and I’m very grateful.”
Starring Calista Flockhart in the title role, Ally McBeal would tell the story of a group of lawyers and what was going on in their professional and personal lives.
It would be where a lot of people first saw now famous faces like Lucy Liu, James Marsden and Hayden Panettiere.
“(It launched) so many.
“Josh Groban is somebody people didn’t know before the show and that show really broke him.
“Jane Krakowski is a big, big star.
“Since Ally McBeal she’s been on 30 Rock and been in lots of movies so that really launched her.
“I mean we had Rod Stewart and Elton John- and they didn’t need to be broken, that’s for sure.
“We had Gladys Knight and Al Green and Jon Bon Jovi.
“One of my backup singers on the show, her name is Renee Goldsberry, ended up in Hamilton in the original cast and won the Tony for Best Female Singer. That’s pretty huge.”
Ally McBeal was known for its surreal and dramatic fantasy sequences. Vonda thinks this is something that makes it memorable but that it was also notable for having a strong female lead talking about things like sexual harassment and other issues that weren’t spoken about previously: “I think that’s a huge part of it.
“A female lead talking about issues that were not talked about and also just the quirky nature of the show, the unusual way they used special effects to show the thoughts of the characters.
“It was having quirky characters that were just really different and unique.
“And then all the music and how David used the music to kind of be the Greek chorus.
“That was something that that was very heavily incorporated into the show and people seem to really love that and I loved it.”
A part in a TV show may have even come sooner to Vonda as she had explored acting before committing to music, even trying out for the part of Michael J Fox’s sister in musical drama Light of Day but losing out to Joan Jett.
“Well, I studied acting for about five years, and I did do some screen tests and did some acting.
“I actually auditioned with Michael J. Fox, or I did a screen test with him for a movie.
“And I did not get it but I got all the way to that point, which is pretty far.
“And I was up for another movie.
“I think if I had stayed in acting, I might have gotten somewhere but I’m really happy with how things went.
“Music was much more my style than acting.
“I learned over the years, once I started going on the road that music was much more fulfilling to me than acting.
“So I got to be up there on stage and mostly I was singing and a tiny, tiny bit of acting on the show, so I landed in the right space here with the music, I would say.”
Vonda has been lauded with numerous awards through Ally McBeal but it is not these accolades that she is most proud of.
“I guess I’d have to say I’m most proud of some of my songwriting.
“Ally McBeal was a blast and it was a great gift, and I really am appreciative of it.
“It was fun but I think what I’m most proud of wouldn’t be the accolades and the awards, it wouldn’t be those.
“It would be just the songs themselves.
“Just to have those songs, that they didn’t exist and then they did exist because I found a way to sit there for hours and weeks and months and write them, that’s a good feeling to me, like I have accomplished something in this life.
“That I can help maybe heal somebody’s soul if they’re sad and they get uplifted by a song, that makes me feel really good.
“And if they just want to be in a good mood when they hear my music, that makes me happy.”
Vonda has hit the road with Sharon Corr in recent years.
“It (the connection with Sharon) goes back because my husband Mitchell produced the Corrs, he did I think four albums for the Corrs.
“And she and I met in Ireland when I came over to visit him.
“We met over there and they’re such a fun family, just a great, great family and so she came to visit LA.
“I think she did a record with Mitchell here and we started chatting and we thought, ‘Let’s do something together, we like each other, we share a band’, and it turned out really good.
“We sang some tunes like You’ve Got a Friend and we did Weather with You, the Crowded House song, and Mitchell produced Crowded House so it had like a familial feeling.
“There was a great energy to those shows and I’d love to do it again some time with her.”
Vonda and Sharon took their show to Ireland among other places.
“I love Irish audiences.
“They are just open and warm and ready to enjoy the music and have fun.
“Part of being on tour is driving during the day in the van to the next gig and seeing the gorgeous countryside and the little houses overlooking the sea.
“I just go, ‘Woah, I could live here’.
“My band and I always talk about moving over there because the culture is so beautiful. We love it.”
Vonda has Irish blood herself: “My mom is a quarter Irish so I’m a solid eighth Irish for sure.”
Does she feel at home in Ireland? “I kind of do actually, I’m not just saying that because we’re doing an interview here.
“I do have that feeling actually.
“Maybe it’s that eighth DNA kind of pulling me back home.
“It’s mostly just people I’ve met and coming over there and chatting after a gig backstage with these lovely people.
“I just felt that people over there are very genuine.
“I like the Irish people and when I hear Irish music, I definitely feel moved by it.”
Red Green, Green Light is out now.
Vonda tours the UK 4- 20 October culminating in a show at London’s Bush Hall.
For more information, click here.