EMMY ROSSUM on 'INSIDE OUT' Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
August 10, 2007
Despite being known for her onscreen work in movies like Mystic River, The Day After Tomorrow, and Poseidon, Emmy Rossum ranks music as her first and foremost outlet of creative expression. But even though she was able to showcase her singing talents in Songcatcher, Nola, and The Phantom of the Opera, it's only now that she has completely invested her energies into putting together a full-fledged music project, taking a year off from acting to focus on songwriting. The result is her debut album, Inside Out.
In this exclusive interview, Emmy talks about the making of the album and her lifelong love of music. And on a lighter note, she also talks about karaoke dares, her experience of performing the national anthem for a crowd of 100,000, and her take on why people sound better when they sing in the shower.
RadioFree.com: A lot of fans know you from movies, even though you've been singing for most of your life. When you were a little kid, was music your first passion, even before acting?
EMMY: Yeah, music has always been my first passion. I started singing when I was 7, after my second grade teacher at school sent me over to the opera to audition. And I got in, and I sang there for 7 years. And then I only become an actress because I got too tall for the children's costumes there, and loved being on stage, and really wanted to explore what else I could do. So I decided to become an actress. And then I started doing films that incorporated music, like Songcatcher and then Phantom of the Opera, and then everything kind of came full circle back around to music. So even though I'm a little bit more known as an actress, music has always been the first thing in my life.
Having performed music for so many years, why is it only now that we're seeing a debut album from you? What made this the right time?
Well, after Phantom of the Opera, I was approached by record labels to make a record. And I think that now I have been exposed to enough music and kind of developed my own musical taste, and developed my own writing and songwriting, that now seemed the time to make a record. So I decided to take a year off and really focus on this, and hopefully bring people something that is kind of a newer kind of music, and that is very personal, but I think also very relatable, too. You know, lyrically, it's very personal and autobiographical, but I think that it's bigger than me, too.
It seems everything in the world needs to be categorized, and your music is being called pop. But it seems much more ethereal and different than what is typical of pop...
Yeah, I don't think it's middle of the road pop at all, but I think it's ambient pop. I do think that the songs themselves are pop in their structure and in their creation, but I think that there are a lot of kind of rich, layered vocals that aren't the normal kind of pop music that you would expect pop to be. But I think that they do fall under the category of pop. I wouldn't say that they're new age, though I do think that they have a certain ambience to it that has a warm quality, like different kinds of world music.
Do you work with someone in the songwriting process? Do you put together the lyrics yourself?
I have a collaborator in my producer Stuart Brawley. But lyrically, it all starts from me, and we collaborate.
When writing a new song, which do you find to be the more constructive source of inspiration: negative emotions or positive emotions?
That's an interesting question. I think a lot of times, intense feeling--whether or not it's sadness or pain or happiness or whatever it is--is a source of inspiration. I don't think that it only has to stem from when you're down and you're feeling pain, or when you're just purely happy. I think inspiration can come from anything, and I think that you don't need to necessarily write about something that's happening at this very moment. I think that you can write about things that have happened to you in the past or things that are personal to you in that way.
Do you have an overall theme that runs through all your songs on your album?
Well, I decided to call the record Inside Out because I really feel like this is me kind of unzipping all the exterior layers and being the most honest about my heart and who I am inside that I've ever been--you know, I'm not playing a character. So I think all of the things that are really honest and personal to me, the things that I love, the things that I fear, whatever it is about me...The record is about being open and honest, and hoping that people can accept you for who you really are, even as a flawed human--because we're only human.
I'm sure all the songs are special to you, but do you have one or two that ended up being your favorites?
I really love "Slow Me Down" because I think that in today's contemporary society where everything moves so quickly--you know, we're so overpaced--we need to take a second just to slow down, otherwise you'll miss the things that are really meaningful and really beautiful about life, whether or not it's falling in love or whatever it is. So I think that that applies to not only me, but whether or not you're a single mom holding down four jobs to support your kids, or you're studying for your SATs, or whatever you're doing in this kind of overcharged, over-scheduled world that we live in today. I think that everyone can relate to that--wanting to slow down to make a real emotional connection with somebody.
Were any songs particularly challenging from a production standpoint? Maybe a track in which you tried to tackle something in a new, creative way?
There are lots of different kinds of production on the record. I tried to make it pretty organic. You know, I think that the big challenge was trying to create sounds that came from my own voice that would mimic musical instruments that you'd normally rely on in creating the production of a track. So I think songs like "Slow Me Down" that are completely a cappella but sound like they're fully produced tracks with other instruments and drums and stuff like that...I think that was the biggest challenge--to try to test the limits with your voice and how much you can do with that.
I caught your appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last year, in which you talked about singing and karaoke...
Then you performed Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty," which is a hard song to do correctly. I know it would be called karaoke if I tried it, but is it really karaoke when a pro like you does it?
Oh, yeah, of course! I mean, I think that that's something you just do with your friends. And that was actually a dare for me to do that. It was a dare for me to do it, actually, when I did it with my friends, and it was a dare [on The Tonight Show]. I was completely surprised and didn't actually anticipate that I was going to do it on the show that night. We talked about talking about it, but we didn't talk about me actually doing it. And then Jay said like, "I'll dare you to do it," and I did it!
Well, you did a fantastic job of it...
Oh, thank you!
What are some of your favorite selections to perform on a given karaoke night?
[laughs] Ummm...I like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." I like Dolly Parton. I like lots of different things. That's just silly, and music is something I enjoy in every aspect of my life, whether or not it's hanging out with my friends or whatever it is.
Speaking of Dolly Parton, you sang with her in Songcatcher. What was that experience like for you, and who else would you count amongst your musical influences?
Oh, gosh. I mean, the first time that I was in the studio with Dolly was kind of when I really got the bug, you know? She was so creative, and she wrote this song for us to sing together, and that was the first time I got to see somebody writing a song, and it was really kind of the first time I really gained an appreciation and kind of obsession for that. I mean, other people have influenced me. Not necessarily people I've worked with. Elliott Smith, Jem, Sigur Ros...A lot of different people that I think that I'm influenced by.
True or false: people sound better singing in the shower than elsewhere.
Oh, definitely true. I mean, that kind of warmth that you get from the steam...It's great. It definitely makes everyone sound better. Everyone sounds more resonant in the shower!
Are you the type to sing anywhere, like just around the house or driving in your car?
Sometimes I even sing when I'm speaking. People will be like, "Want to go out for a bite to eat?" I'm like, [says in a chimey, sing-songy style] "Okay!" Singing is everywhere for me.
You also sang in your film Nola. How does working on a movie soundtrack compare to working on your own album, in terms of creative freedom?
They're completely different. You know, when you're singing someone else's songs or saying someone else's lines, you find something within yourself that makes you connect emotionally to their experience. But really, the process here was so personal, and getting to really, really make a song of my own and really, really write most of the lyrics was incredibly fulfilling and exciting. And I think you feel like, "Hey, I get to really be myself now."
You recently performed the national anthem at a NASCAR event...
For 100,000 people!
Was that your first experience of singing the anthem for a crowd?
It was. And it was extremely nerve-wracking only because it's our country's song, and there's nothing that can be fouled up more than something that is supposed to be incredibly patriotic, and something that you're supposed to respect. [laughs] So I was definitely nervous for that, because it was my first time singing our country's song. So I hope that I did everyone proud.
I'm sure you did. But how did you prepare for such a big song on such a big stage? Did you do anything to get your mind into the game right before you went out there?
I just honestly tried to think about our boys overseas and how many people are fighting for our freedom, and tried to think about what it would mean to them. And every time you sing a song like that, you think about the real people that it would mean something to, and not just that it's a song. So I didn't really try to think about hitting the notes, I really tried to think about the people that it would really affect, and the people that I thought it really meant something to.
On the subject of performing live, will you be touring behind this album? Will fans be able to check you out live in concert?
Yeah, I hope so. I mean, we're just gearing up for that right now, and I hope to be able to share this stuff...You know, it's incredibly personal, but there's no better feeling...You can't reach through a movie screen and touch people that way. So I really hope that I can.
Will we be seeing you back in film any time soon, or is that part of your career on hold indefinitely?
Oh, gosh, no, not at all. You know, I put the film off for a year and probably just passed outright on 40 things, and signed on to three things that I then had to pull out of, so I've really been focusing on this. But I hope that I can slip in a film later in the year because I love collaborating in that way. But you know, through a director, an actor is just one lyric in a song. You help them fulfill and realize their vision. So right now it feels nice to have other people helping me realize mine.
This might be premature, but are there any plans for a second album?
Oh, gosh, pretty early for that! I hope so. I mean, music has always been the way that I really feel most emotionally connected to the creative experience. So yeah, I definitely hope so. From your mouth to whoever's listening! [laughs]