Interview: Lucy Schwartz
This summer I was lucky enough to cover Lilith Fair’s stop in Portland, Oregon. I dodged raindrops, grabbing shots of the amazing women performing that day. One of the best parts of covering the show was that I discovered a bunch of new music in the process, and I was drawn to Lucy Schwartz, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter from Los Angeles.
Lucy comes from a musical family — she’s the daughter of David Schwartz, who works in the entertainment industry composing snappy tunes for “Arrested Development,” “Deadwood,” “The Oblongs,” and more. Lucy is following in his footsteps, and has gained success of her own writing to picture, penning original songs for films such as The Women starring Eva Mendes and Annette Bening, Shrek Forever After, as well as NBC’s series “Parenthood.”
Her latest album, Life in Letters, is a rich pop record produced by Mitchell Froom (Soul Coughing, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello) that’s one of my favorites of 2010. Lucy and I had a lovely conversation about her Lilith gig, her new album, and what it was like growing up in a musical family.
So, how was Lilith Fair?
It was amazing. You know, it’s really exciting, because you been working up to this one moment for a long time and you get there, and you feel the energy of the crowd, and everyone was really into the music. All my CDs sold out, which was really cool…and standing up and singing next to Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, and Sugarland was just surreal.
The finale was awesome. That was a cool song you guys sang [10,00 Maniacs' "Because the Night"].
Yeah, I was nervous because I hadn’t had the chance to really listen to the song and I had no idea what was going to happen. They didn’t really tell us anything — they just were like, “Come up on stage, sing!” [laughter]
So how did you get that gig?
I heard that Lilith was coming back and I was just really determined to be a part of it. I made sure it got to the people that needed to hear it, and I got the date, which was really exciting.
Nice — did you jump up and down when you got the call? [laughter]
Oh yes, there was lots of jumping involved.
Did you go to Lilith back [during] its original run? Well, maybe not, aren’t you kind of young?
I didn’t. Yeah, I was seven or so when the first Lilith Fair came around, so I was busy swooning over Hanson. [laughter] Not really into cool indie music yet.
Who were the singers you had with you, your band?
The singers were Annemarie Cullen and Cynthia Catania, who are both the most recent additions to the band — they’re from another band called Saucy Monky…I wanted to have a lot of “female power,” [laughter] because of Lilith. It’s hard to find girl musicians, or really any musicians, that sing and play, and so it was such a joy to find them.
I noticed that; there were a lot of girls up front who had guys in their bands. You know what I mean?
I’m think that Colbie Caillat’s whole band was guys, even her background singers.
I think that Lilith found kind of a balance; it’s a festival for women — the guys may help up us out, but we’re up front.
They exist, too.
Yeah, they do. There are penises in the music world, a lot of them.
I will quote you on that. [laughter]
Go for it! Speaking of penises in the music world, how was working with Mitchell Froome? He’s amazing, I love him.
Girl…[laughter) It was great! We had worked together before; I wrote two songs for The Women, which was the first time I had written for film. I worked with Larry Klein on one song, and Mitchell Froome on the other song. I just really like the experience of working with him and so I came back with this most recent album. It was really like a collaborative effort; I feel like we worked together really well. He was excited by the fact that I didn’t want to do just very simple piano and vocals -- I wanted to make it about interesting sounds and try to do something different.
There’s a lot more going on there on the album than piano. Do you compose your music on piano?
I usually write on piano, and a little bit on guitar, although I don’t consider myself a guitarist yet. I always come up with these crazy chords that don’t exist, but somehow it works.
There are guitarists out there that are classically trained that totally warp their tuning to make their guitar sound weird -- so, you’re ahead of the game.
Even with piano I pretty much write and feel music through just listening with my ears, and not really thinking about it technically.
You write all the lyrics too, right?
Right on. Are the lyrics about you and your personal feelings? Sometimes I feel like you’re singing about characters.
I think it’s abstractly my real life, but it’s never real stories about what’s happening --- it’s sort of different characters of the music. So if the music is a certain mood, then I feel like I’ll delve into certain part of me that is that mood, and a story will arise from that.
One of the most interesting stories, I think, is in "Shadow Man." What is that song about? I was listening to it and I thought to myself -- who is this shadow man?
"Shadow Man" is about someone who’s not present in their life, and not leading a meaningful life. I had just left school and decided that I was going to do music full time, and I think it was just me wondering if I was doing the right thing. I think the song is sort of saying yes, because I don’t want to be somebody who’s just going through life and going through the motions. I want to be doing something that’s important to me.
Yes, I hear you, definitely. So you quit school, just indefinitely?
Yeah. I mean, I went to a semester, but at the same time I was recording and writing for films. I was so distracted that I felt like I couldn’t fully do both, and music is my passion.
Hey, music is a trade, you know? You’re learning a business; you’re learning how to navigate the world.
Definitely. I feel like a businesswoman most days, lately. [laughter]
You come from a musical family and your dad works in television, doing music, right?
How much do you think he’s influenced your career? Has he been with you the whole way trying to get you to do it, or is it been like, “Hey, Dad, can you help me?”
I feel like when you tell someone you have a family of musicians they’re always suspect of whether it’s coming from you, or whether it’s coming from them, but I think this is definitely something that I wanted to do, and he was always there to help me when I needed it. I think it was definitely inspiring to grow up around music, and basically, I grew up in the studio and watched him write to picture. I think that had a big impact on me and perhaps that’s why I like to write to picture as well.
Are you working on any music for TV or film projects right now?
Actually, tonight my dad and I are writing something together for a possible TV show, but there are also hundreds of other people who are writing for it as well.
You’re going to make a bid?
Yeah. It’s funny, it’s always like, “We need a song and we need it by tomorrow morning, okay?”
Good luck! So, do you have a background in dance? In your video for “Gravity” you dance like you really know what you’re doing.
Well, thank you. I mean, I’ve taken dance over the years but never, like, seriously. I just — I love to dance. I’m always dancing around the house. Whenever there’s music, I’m interpretive dancing.
I did another dance music video recently for the song “Graveyard” that Sonia Tayeh from “So You Think You Can Dance?” choreographed. That was very exciting, because I’m a huge fan [of the show].
Is that you first video off Life in Letters?
That’s a good choice as a first single.
I really like “I Want the Sky,” too. Just so you know, that’s one of those songs that gets stuck in your head!
It’s not just me either. Other people have heard it in my car and I hear them humming it later. I’m like, “Yup, she’s got it.”
That’s what you want! [laughter]
Let’s brainwash the people.
What would you do if you weren’t doing this?
Definitely something in the arts — I think I would love to be a dancer. I just feel so happy when I dance, but I definitely would need to be more flexible and work at it more. Or acting. I was a big theater gal growing up. Which I think you can see a bit — my visuals and videos are all a little dramatic.
Yes, the dramatic flair–I watched your “Help me! Help me!” video for the first time recently, and I was like, look at these puppets and stuff! Look at her making all the little faces and acting out the lyrics! It’s so cute.
Yeah, that one definitely felt like I was back in high school directing a play. I had made all the props myself, I choreographed all the dancing, and everyone who was in it was from my high school.
You know, I thought at first that Life in Letters was your first album, but you put out another album when you were in high school, right?
You’re like Fiona Apple. You were writing songs when you were like 14 years old or something, right?
That’s amazing. I couldn’t even imagine doing that at 14.
Yeah, It’s sort of strange to listen to now because it doesn’t feel like me anymore. It’s such a different period.
Were you really that voice on “Arrested Development” singing “For British Eyes Only…“?
That was me!
Ahh! That is so awesome!
And [I also did] “Mr. F.” Are you a big “Arrested” fan?
Yeah! Everyone I know is into that show, especially since it hit streaming Netflix. Did you just go into a studio and record the part, or did you have to audition? Your dad does the music for the show, so I’m curious.
I was just hanging out downstairs and my dad called me up; I think I was in my pajamas or something. “Wanna come sing this silly little British thing?” And it turned into this theme for the show.
It’s like a mini-cult phenomenon!
Yeah, I love the show, too, so that’s pretty cool.