By Charles Romaine
Originally published on Advocate.com November 28 2008 12:00 AM ET
fascinating study in contrasts. She’s a Broadway
star, famous for her roles in Hairspray and
Wicked, but she can also bring the audience to
its feet at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, as she did
when she performed with Brian McKnight at a tribute to
Aretha Franklin a few years ago. She now calls Los
Angeles home, but she grew up in Olympia, Wash., and
Portland, Ore. She went to college in Cincinnati before
moving to New York City, where she soon found herself
on the fast track to musical theater stardom.
first sit-down with Advocate.com -- coffee at Java
Detour, a new hot spot in the heart of West Hollywood,
a presumably quiet place to chat about her debut
album, Superhero, in stores December 2 -- almost
turned out to be a train wreck.
I showed up about
15 minutes early to make sure we could find a table,
and to my horror realized there was a Prop. 8
protest rally being held at the nearby
intersection of Robertson and Santa Monica. Obviously
I completely support the protest, but for the purposes of
this interview I was afraid the chanting and constant
horn honking might prove to be too much of a
distraction for Shoshana. I was a little embarrassed,
fearing she would expect me to have known about this,
but as soon as she walked in the door she alleviated
my concern. I tried to apologize for the chaos, but
she just smiled...
Shoshana Bean: This is awesome! Forgive me if I
talk too loud, I was on a plane and my ears are all plugged
Advocate.com:I heard you were in New York, doing a concert
version of Wicked. We did the fifth anniversary for Wicked
last night. It was so fun; it was all the cut scenes
and music. Stephanie J. Block, who played Elphaba, and
Jennifer Laura Thompson, who was one of my Glindas,
did the first act, and then Kate Reinders and I did the
I know you stepped in for Idina Menzel when she
broke her rib or something? I had been standing by for her for four months.
It was literally the last weekend of her run before I
was taking over.
What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?At the time I moved here I was working with a label and
management team that was based out here. I had
finished the run of Wicked, and I had finished the
tour. Moving to L.A. was something I had always wanted
to do. Right before I got Hairspray, I was like,
I’m coming to L.A. I had come out to
visit a friend, and more happened in, like, a week
networking-wise and connection-wise… This is where I
need to be! You can go have dinner someplace and meet
like 15 people. Then Hairspray and Wicked
happened. When the management team that I had been with
pretty much my whole run of Wicked said, "You
need to move to L.A. for us to make anything happen,"
I was like, "You don’t have to tell me twice."
I figured I’d give it two or three months to
see how it goes. And then once I got out here I was like,
"Why am I going to do that?" Because if nothing happens am I
just going to run home? I need to really move out
here, and I did; and I’m super happy here.
I felt like being
in New York, I was so involved in the theater community
for so many years…it’s impossible to extricate
yourself. Even when I am living out here I am flown
back in once a month or every couple months, to do
some benefit or gig or pinch-hit for somebody. It’s
impossible to really be focused on doing something
else, so I thought, I need to get as far away as
possible. There were too many times in my life
where I had started to do music and then been taken
away by another job. I needed to resist temptation.
So music has always been number one? Always! I went to school for musical theater
because I knew it was a way I could do music and go to
college at the same time. I guess I could have majored
in songwriting. I really didn’t think that this would
be the path I would follow, but once you get in it and
wrapped up in it…it’s sort of like a
fish in a stream.
You’re sort of lucky. The style of music you sing
and what you’re amazing at is what’s
popular in musical theater right now. Everything
is pop-rock. Twenty years ago everything was so legit. Well see, that’s just it though. That
stuff I can do and I love to do, but nobody ever
wanted to hear it, so I ended up in the more pop-rock
musicals; but I love some legit. I just don’t look
legit. I’m not going to get to play Eliza
Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
Well what you do is so fitting right now in musical theater. And it allows me to parlay it into my music.
I’m always getting, "How are people going to
react when you come out with this pop album?"
They’re not going to be shocked at what I’m
I’ve seen the YouTube video of you singing
"How Will I Know." Baby! You know? Yah, I don’t think
it’s going to be a surprise.
And the writing? Is that something you’ve always done? Yes, it is something I’ve
done…probably since high school. I was pretty
insecure about it up until this album, until I really had
something to say. I think for a long time I tried to
say what I thought people wanted to hear, or tried to
pattern myself after somebody else. So often people
say, "You sound like…" or "Whose career path do you
want to follow? Who do you want to sing like?" So if I
wanted to be like this person, I should probably write
songs like this person. It got to the point though
that so much was happening in my own personal life that I
was like, "Fuck it. I’m going to write what’s
actually going on and it’s not necessarily with
the purpose of being heard or being a big hit, but I
just have stuff that has to come out." And that’s
what people started actually responding to.
Do you mind if I ask? I read in the liner notes
that there was a tragedy that inspired this album. Yes. I was dating a man who was killed in a car
accident. And I had never… I mean, I had lost
my grandparents, but it had been sickness and you knew
what was coming. To lose someone like that… I just
didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine the vast
range of emotions that happened. That more than
anything was what I had to talk about -- along with the fact
that I was like, "I can’t wait!" I mean, there
were so many things that he had wanted to do and plans
we had made. If I die tomorrow, what have I left? What
have I done? Other people’s work. I’ve
replaced other people. I’ve sung other
people’s lyrics. That’s great and all, but I
haven’t left my part.
Is it scary for you, saying I don’t ever want to
make a decision based out of fear, when so many people do? And I did for many, many years. And a lot of
people do…and now I see it and I call it out.
And people are like, "Well, it’s not that
easy." Don’t tell me it’s not that easy!
Is this the catalyst for you then -- to just say,
"Fuck it! I’m afraid, but I’m doing it anyway"? Yes, and then once you make that decision, you
can’t go back, because life supports that
decision. There have been opportunities for me to sort
of go back…and there is that temptation because this
hasn’t just been a labor of love, it’s
been all my time, all my money -- everything has gone
into this. So, you know, it gets panicky sometimes, but
it’s absolutely been worth it and there was
absolutely a lot of fear that had to be worked through
to do it.
So who in your life is there for you when you start
to get what I call the spins -- the whole "What the fuck
am I doing?" Well, I have my two best girlfriends and then,
actually, the person who did sort of put this into
motion is another great friend of mine… I
played him something -- and this was before I had decided it
was going to become an album -- at this time I was
just writing music and producing it so that I was
creatively moving forward. I was still hoping that someone
was going to come in and sweep me off my feet and tell me
exactly what I needed to be doing. I told him, "I
can’t afford to keep doing this." And he told
me, "You’re being selfish!" He said, "Even if
it’s just 10 people who are dying to hear you do an
album, you’re being selfish. You’re
robbing them. Think of the people we’ve admired
who go into hiding. And we wish they’d do another
album or do another show. You’re robbing the
world of inspiration…" I’d never thought
of it unselfishly.
Do you go into the studio and work, or do you write
at home? Most of the writing happened at home. I start my
basic ideas best on my own, and then I’ll bring
people in to help refine it or if I get stuck. I had a
lot of tracks from different producers and I would just
write to those in my little garage band. Then
I’m prepared when I go into the studio and
I’m not wasting time. I’ve already done my
background arranging, I’ve already written
everything that’s in my garage band, and I can
just play shit back…
So what is the dream of Shoshana Bean? Well, I have a couple of dreams. One of the
biggest was to get this album done, and it’s
done now. I want it to have a life and I want it to be
heard and respected. I love being able to perform my own
stuff. I’d really love to be able to open for
another artist. Go on the road with it, to just
continue to make records like this… whether
it’s independently or not. Now that I know how
to do it, it’s less of a daunting process.
It’s more about the writing. There are roles in
musical theater I still want to play. I’m not
done on the stage.
Well, I’m really amazed. It’s inspiring to
see an artist take a bull by the horns and go out
and make it happen. Well, it’s less scary than it would have
been years ago, because now so many people are
succeeding independently. And there really is no choice
if you want to get it done. The fact that artists are still
having a life independently is so inspiring.
I’m doing it independently -- so Britney and I
can release an album on the same day, which we are -- and it
doesn’t feel like she’s competing on my level.
Well, she can’t sing, so… No, I agree with you -- but she still has hot
tracks. I’m a respecter of singers, but you
can’t deny that track is hot. You can’t.
I hear you’re going to be performing at Upright Cabaret. Yes, the Best Of 2008. I’m so flattered.
Are you going to be performing songs from the new album?I don’t know… I hope so. We’ll see.
I am sure they are going to have suggestions.
It’ll be "The Best Of!"
in stores Tuesday, December 2.Click herefor more on Shoshana Bean.