Lucy Woodward: Can’t-Miss Chameleon Chanteuse

Performances and Artists

“London-born, Bronx-raised singer-songwriter,” reads Lucy Woodward’s press biography. In a nutshell that’s succinct enough, but it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface for a truly versatile performer who couldn’t escape music if she tried. The daughter of a belly dancing opera singer and a classical conductor/composer, it seemed inevitable that Lucy would have a musical life—and that she has.

From background gigs with Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Enya, to commercial jingles and session work, Lucy is equally likely to be found on electronica records with The Scumfrog and Home & Garden, swinging with the David Ricard Big Band, or going full-out classical crossover with Pink Martini and the Joshua Shneider Love Speaks Orchestra.

In 2003, she had a stint as a real-life pop star, with her debut album While You Can and the Top 40 single “Dumb Girls.” True to form, she switched gears and channeled retro Brit pop for her second album, Lucy Woodward is…Hot & Bothered, before delving further into jazz for 2010’s Hooked! release on the Verve Records label.

Now finishing up her fourth album and preparing for a return to The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz club on February 26 & 27, Spotlight caught up with the singing chameleon to see what’s next.

What’s a typical day in the life of Lucy Woodward like?

Numero uno – coffee! Nothing happens before that. My brain works best in the morning at organizing and paying attention to detail. Later, the creative bug kicks in. I need to be creative everyday or I lose myself. I don’t necessarily need to make music everyday but I need to feel like I’m learning something or growing somewhere. I live in LA but I am from NYC and I was raised on very different energy. I am reminded daily by the very nature of Los Angeles, “girl, slow down, where you running to?” So, I breathe better here. But my pulse beats better in NYC.

Behind-the-scenes, there’s been a lot of ups and downs in your career—label politics, etc. Was there ever a time you considered quitting the industry?

I am glad you didn’t ask about “quitting music” because that would be a no. I probably fantasize about quitting theindustry though at least twice a month. Sometimes weekly! It’s gotten really hard since I started out and sometimes I think I can’t believe I am still here and loving what I do. The consistent challenge is making sure the “industry” doesn’t change how I make music. That took me some time to understand on a deep level. Every time I finish writing a song I am proud of or am singing with my closest friends, finishing an album or playing a live show, I am grateful. My parents are both musicians and it’s what I have done since I was born. I have known no other life.

How’s the new record coming along? It’s been a while since first teased the single, “Kiss Me Mr. Histrionics.”

I started making this record just after leaving Verve Records. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the album but I knew it had to be made. My brother heard “Kiss Me Mr. Histrionics” and he got really excited about making a video ASAP, Woodward style. We shot it but only released that teaser as I was still finishing the rest of the record. A few months ago, I signed to GroundUP/Universal (Michael League’s label, bandleader of Snarky Puppy) and will be officially releasing the new record this summer along with that video.

What’s the meaning behind the album’s title, Til They Bang on The Door?

Is it bad that I might actually change the album title? Why is choosing an album title so difficult? This is a lyric from the second verse of a song from the new record called “Never Enough”. It’s about losing yourself (in this case, because of a broken heart) and going a bit crazy behind closed doors trying to get over it. It’s a vulnerable position to be in. You think you’re alone but the neighbors hear your every move.

The last album featured several remakes—from David Bowie to The Jungle Book. Will you be adding any more cover tunes to your repertoire with the new release?

Absolutely! I wish I had recorded more covers earlier but I came from an era where publishers and managers said, “Write your own material! Make yourself some money!” On this record, I cover Ruth Brown’s “I Don’t Know,” Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” Sinatra’s “The World We Knew.” All favorites of mine for as long as I can remember.

Your cover of “It’s Oh So Quiet” is a fan favorite. Any chance you’d ever lend your voice to another Betty Hutton tune?

That is an incredible idea. No one really knows who she is. Most people think of “It’s Oh So Quiet” as a Bjork song. Betty has a fantastic song called “Who Kicked The Light Plug Out Of The Socket” and it sounds like she is being electrocuted the whole time. She is a bold, wild singer.

What was it like performing with Pink Martini? Did that experience inspire the new album?

One of the greatest experiences of my life was singing with Pink Martini. Bandleader Thomas Lauderdale called me very randomly because China Forbes (their singer of 20 years) had to have immediate throat surgery and cancel a slew of dates. They asked me to learn songs in Croatian, Japanese, French, Spanish and Turkish in about 5 days. One of my first gigs with the Pinkies was Montreal Jazz Festival (terrifying!). I have never been pushed so musically in my life and I was so deeply rewarded by it. I didn’t know I had it in me. It inspired me tremendously for the next record.

You collaborated with Phil Galdston on some tracks for the album. Do we sense some epic power balladry in the works?

I love my friend Phil. We have written a few songs together and two of them are on this record including “Never Enough.” Phil and I have a routine: we drink coffee and blab for an hour talking about everything and anything. Then we start cranking away. I leave his house feeling like my brain has just expanded 5 inches physically. He encourages me to think about the world and my place in it in such a unique way lyrically. I treasure him.

Walter Afanasieff is another recent collaborator that may surprise some people. How did that come about?

I have a project called The Goods with Holly Palmer and Michelle Lewis. We are a 1940s harmonically-inspired girl group with single-girl-trying-to-get-love-right-for-once lyrics (think Andrews Sisters meets Sex and The City). Michelle is friends with Walter and she set up a session with him where we wrote two songs in a day. One song we recorded called “So Far So Good” and the other I ended up recording for my next record which is called “If This Were A Movie” about looking at my own life as if it were a film: how would I re-write the script if I had the chance…maybe I’ll sing it at the show. It’s pretty anthemic. Walter oozes musicality. I’d love to sit inside his brain for a day.

At your last gig in Cabaret Jazz, you brought along Holly and Michelle to debut tunes from The Goods. What’s next for that project?

We wrote a musical last year and this year we are going to make a Christmas record – for once and for all!

What can you tell us about the musical? 

Charlton Pettus is writing the musical with us. Brilliant guy. I can’t say anymore about it now – top secret!

You’ve toured all over the world with Rod Stewart. What has that been like…any memorable moments you can share?

I’ve been touring with him for a few years and there are a zillion memorable moments that we share. I think one of the funniest ones was him trying to figure out who I was dating on the crew two years ago. In between chorus lines on “Do You Think I’m Sexy” he would say “Tell me, which one is he? That one? That one?” and would point to a sound guy, then another sound guy. He would make it back just in time for his next line without missing a beat. Some of the best times though have been in his living room doing background vocals for his latest record, drinking tea, singing songs that were still in progress. That was inspiring. He is an inspiring, dapper, soulful man.

Touring with Rod also brings you to Las Vegas frequently for his residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. What are some of your favorite things to do or places to visit when in town?

I wish I could say we go out and hit the town every night but I have to watch the vocal cords which is so boring! I bring humidifiers for my hotel room because the desert is so dry. My favorite places are Lotus of Siam, The Arts Factory and Frankie’s Tiki Room. Sometimes I go hiking or drive to Boulder an hour away and hit those amazing second hand stores. When friends come to the show, we might go dancing but nothing beats the 24-hour Lobby Bar in Caesars. We go there for lunch, dinner or 3 am and just people watch. Just chill with friends and bandmates (we are all really close).

Besides the new record, are they any other projects on the horizon?

My plate is full! I am working on the release of this record and touring dates. I tour a bunch with Snarky Puppy so we are gearing up for more of that this year. I am also giving some master classes this year on singing and my life in the music business which is new for me so I am very excited about that. Also starting to get some new ideas for the next record too. I won’t take as long to put it out this time…

You’ve truly made a career as a vocalist. Musically speaking, you’ve pretty much done it all. Is there anything remaining on your performer bucket list?

There is still so much to learn! I wonder if I’ll ever not feel that? One thing I know I need to do is learn to sing an aria. My mom was an opera singer. My dad is a classical conductor and composer and my stepmom is also an opera singer. Maybe “Habanera” from Carmen? Something really passionate! I’d like to also learn how to skydive.

Finally, what can you say to people who are not quite sure what to expect at a Lucy Woodward show?

Oh, maaaaan. This could take a while. Come, have a bottle of wine, relax and let us do the work, for starters…

Lucy Woodward performed in February of 2016 in Myron’s Cabaret Jazz.