Vonda Shepard, the singer-songwriter most famous for playing herself in the hit show Ally McBeal, will perform at Feinstein’s At The Nikko on Friday, Feb. 2, at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8:00 p.m., before she embarks on her 2018 European tour.
Shepard will perform a variety of hits from her 14 albums, like “Maryland” and “Baby, Don’t You Break My Heart Slow,” as well as favorites from the TV series that made her a household name to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere.
As she prepares herself for her Bay Area performances, Vonda took some time out of her day to talk to us about her time on Ally McBeal, what she’s done professionally since the show, and what she likes to do when she’s in San Francisco.
Was Ally McBeal a good career move for you or do you feel that it pigeonholed you in some ways?
Ally McBeal was an incredible gift to me, at a time when I had been dropped from Warner Bros., was struggling financially, still had a tremendous amount of energy for music and writing/playing. It was much more than just a good career move — it gave me new life. Also, in terms of your question of being pigeonholed, I have come to the place where over the years since Ally, have brought those fans around to my newer music, as well as the albums I did before Ally. Also, I completely embrace the end of the show, where we do the Ally, uptempo songs… I do not begrudge those days at all and feel like a very lucky woman to have had that amazing experience. It’s a wonderful moment to see the nostalgia and people on their feet, with the memories of those albums… not to mention the fact that I wrote several of the songs on the Ally albums (smiles).
How did your role on the show come about?
I was friends with the creator of the show, David E. Kelley. One night I played a show in L.A. an invited them down. It was a fortuitous evening, as it was right when David was looking for a musical voice for his new show. My image was projected on a screen, and with that and the songs, which were from my indie album, It’s Good, Eve, David realized I was the voice/ producer he was looking for. Many of the songs from “Eve” are in several episodes of the show, and the show brought a lot of people to discover “Eve”. (I will be bringing copies of the vinyl to sign after the show, along with other CDs, etc…)
Since you were playing yourself, was it easier or harder in some ways to play the part?
It was the easiest thing I could imagine… especially since I had very little acting on the show. Most of my job was behind the scenes, as the music producer, but getting on stage and lipsyncing was very natural. The difficult part was that I would sing very complicated “licks” at the end of phrases, and I had to match them in the lip sync! I didn’t make it easy for myself, and sometimes the songs would have been recorded the night before… not much time to memorize. And even though they only showed me for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, we filmed the entire song, in case they needed to use a different part of the song. So I say it was easy, but there was a tremendous amount of work involved. (Especially behind the scenes, for me.)
Do you have a funny behind-the-scenes story that you can share with our audience?
No. Haha! Kidding… I recall an episode called The Joke, I believe, where we had to do 23 takes. Calista kept cracking up in a certain spot of the filming. It was funny, then tedious, then I felt terrible for her!! Everyone applauded when she got through it without laughing.
What have you done since the show?
Toward the end of the show, I knew there would be a vacuum for me, so I began writing the album Chinatown. It was a wise decision, because I may have felt lost, after such a consuming project as Ally. I toured before, during and after the show, worldwide, and haven’t stopped. I even brought my son on the road with me when he was one! I’ve put out several albums since Ally, including From The Sun, Solo, Rookie, Chinatown, Live in San Javier, and a couple of others, and I am leaving in a week for the U.K., where I go once a year on tour. I also have a tour of Spain and France this summer…yay! I get to go to beautiful countries and cities and play music for people. It’s a good life.
You’re playing San Francisco next week. What can our audiences expect?
I’ll be bringing a full band of stellar musicians! We’ll play a few from the new album, Rookie, and mix it up through the night with uptempo and acoustic, intimate moments, then kick into high gear toward the end with some Ally favorites, like “Searchin’ My Soul,” “Tell Him,” etc.
How do you like playing in San Francisco?
I absolutely love playing San Francisco, which is why I return every year! And Feinstein’s is a special venue, in that it’s very small and intimate, so it really had a living room feel. Much more fun than a huge venue! And the crowd seems to really listen and be engaged. We’re very much looking forward to it.
What do you like to do when you’re in town?
Usually, on a show day, there is the routine of going to the gym, warming up, doing soundcheck, having dinner, doing the show. That’s about all there is time for. I’ll probably get out on Saturday and walk around the city. I just like wandering and finding a cool cafe where I can write for awhile and read the paper. I love Chinatown, where I buy these beautiful little night lights and lanterns… maybe I’ll get some of those.
What’s one important lesson that you could share with a young musician that’s aspiring to be like you?
Be true to yourself and your passion in music, rather than chasing what is popular at the time … unless you just LOVE it! Better to forge the path for others. Practice a LOT. If you’re a writer, read the book Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott, where you’ll learn to never go with the first draft. Edit!! Work hard on your songs… don’t settle for mediocre. Stick with it, until the song, music, lyrics bring you absolute GLEE! To create something that will be here forever and never existed before is very special. Make it as good as you can. And play live a lot. Get up there.
Name one thing that most people would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m a very good cook, I don’t watch T.V., and I read a lot!! Okay, that’s 3 things, and maybe nobody would be surprised!
Vonda Shepard performs at Feinstein’s At The Nikko on Friday, Feb. 2, at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8:00 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Olive Creative Strategies Inc.