Lauren Marcus can best be described as a musical chameleon. As someone who fits perfectly in any role she is in, Marcus is a powerful force who should not be underestimated.
Not only has Marcus appeared in both off-Broadway and regional theatre productions, but is an accomplished singer/songwriter who plays a wide array of classical and modern instruments. As someone who describes her music as “indie-folk-pop-rock-with-a-touch-of-the-country,” one can understand just how unique her music is.
Marcus will be able to include another accomplishment to her already impressive resume as of today. She will debut her new EP, Never Really Done With You, tonight, July 11, at Joe’s Pub, and introduce a whole new audience to her remarkable singing and songwriting skills. For Marcus, this concert has been a long time in the making.
Marcus’ concert will feature all six of her songs off her new EP, and some songs she has sung throughout her theatre career. As someone whose passion for theatre and songwriting is extremely palpable, Marcus’ performance is sure to be an exciting mix of the two.
Even in the midst of preparing for her album release, Marcus took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Stage Door Dish about her new EP, her love for her pet cat, and the influence theatre has had on her life.
Tell me the process of creating your debut EP.
Where to start? It’s probably been about six years since I started performing my music live. It’s taken me a long time, to be honest. I didn’t feel ready until this year. This is the year when I was like, ‘This has to happen. This is stupid [to wait any longer].’ I really love performing live, but I haven’t done it with my own material. The idea of preserving something forever freaks me out. I kind of have to get that out of my mind. I reached out to my friend, Lorenzo Wolff. I’d been to his studio a couple months ago to record something for my friend Rob Rokicki’s album, and it felt like home in that studio. The second Lorenzo and I met up, I thought, ‘This is so correct’ and we’ve been working on it since May. There are six songs on it. Some of the songs are newer, from the last couple years. I have a band that I play with a lot, and all of them are on this album. I brought in some new musicians that I haven’t worked with before. It upped the arrangement factor because I usually only play with four or five people. What’s really exciting to me about this EP is that I’ve always heard a horn section, and I’ve never had that happen or heard it in reality until now.
Are they all songs you’ve written? Can you talk about them a little bit?
Yeah. I have a song called, ‘(I Got) The One That Got Away (Back)’. That is my favorite song. It feels rude to say that to the other songs on the album, but I just love that song. I’m walking down the street, listening to it and loving it, and it takes a lot for me to love my stuff.
What do you love about it?
I love the title. I came up with the hook four or five years ago, and I never knew how to fit it into a song. I started to write around it, and I had a bit of the chorus, and it was good but I couldn’t think of anything verse-wise. Last winter, I went to Vermont to do a workshop of a show, and the bus ride took hours because we were stuck in traffic. I was playing with words in my head, and the verse started to pop out. I thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting,’ and out of nowhere, the hook came back and it fit together so beautifully. It was one of those songwriting times where I was so glad I didn’t force the song out and waited for the correct thing to match up with it. It pays off. It took five years to finally be written, but it feels like a party. I’m really proud of the writing and how damn fun it sounds.
Who or what would you say are your musical influences?
I love love love country music. My songs are probably less country than they used to be. I’m trying to steer away from that a little bit. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Margo Price and Natalie Prass. Growing up, it was oldies and folk music, like Joni Mitchell. I listening only to the oldies station until I was about 12. It was really weird. Doo wop, Linda Ronstadt – that shit is my favorite. You’ll probably hear it when you hear the album. I loved Linda Ronstadt. She’s one of my favorites. There’s a singer, Melanie Safka, she’s known for the song ‘Brand New Key’. She’s pretty incredible. I did a concert recently, and a writer threw her name out in reference to my voice, and I almost died. No one’s ever said that, and it’s a secret dream of mine.
What does it mean to you to have this album out after so many years?
It means a lot, because it’s been a long time that I’ve been performing with my stuff in public. It truly was a long time before I felt totally ready to do this. I’m surrounded by so many incredible writers and musicians all the time, and it’s inspiring and also intimidating. I’m always in my head about my own stuff, even though I know I like it. This is the first time I’m not trying to psych myself up to be proud and excited about what I’m putting out in the world, I’m just hugely proud and excited about it. It’s hard. I’m one of those people who gets in their head, and it’s hard to get out of there. I’m not so in my head about this, which marks a huge departure from my normal behavior. Huge.
It does require you to put yourself out there in a big way.
It’s insane. I also think, for an actor, it took me four years before I would even say I was a songwriter. Even playing gigs and doing my own stuff, I wouldn’t say it for a long time. It’s a switch in how you see yourself. To add another label, especially one that might be new in comparison to someone who’s been playing with their band or writing songs since they were 16, it’s insane. Also, the process of getting the album out is a nightmare.
Where did the album title come from?
Never Really Done With You is the title of one of the songs. Up until the last few years, I didn’t write a lot of relationship songs. That wasn’t something that I focused on. I had a lot of weird songs about sweatshirts and birds and things like that. I found myself in a wonderful relationship that I’m obsessed with, and all of a sudden, all these relationship songs started pouring out of me. I was like, ‘Where is this coming from?’ I’m happy, and they were unhappy relationship songs for the most part. There’s one song called ‘Down My Back,’ that is very much about my relationship with theatre and acting. I had the realization that most of what I was writing was about that relationship, because it’s hard. It’s a difficult path to take in your life, and the last couple years, I’ve been dealing with that in a huge way. Ultimately, it’s not something I’m ever giving up. It’s kind of an homage to my acting career. I was writing about that, as opposed to my real life relationship.
It makes sense. Everyone has a relationship with their career and their passions.
Yeah. I was just like, ‘Where are these feelings coming from, being so in love with something and feeling so burned and upset? Ohhh, got it.’ In spite of that, I’m never really done with it.
A lot of people in theatre could say that.
It’s like a long, abusive relationship you enter into. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes you want to kill yourself a little bit.
You’re debuting your album at Joe’s Pub. What can you tell me about the event?
Musical Theatre Factory is incredible, and they produced a children’s show I did last year called The Meanest Birthday Girl. I wrote the book and lyrics for it. They asked me to do one of their showcase nights there. Heath Saunders did one, Shakina [Nayfack] did her shows there, Michael R. Jackson is doing one in the fall. Several months ago, they asked me to take one of the nights. I’ve always thought about playing Joe’s Pub, but it terrified me. I’ve done lots of other people’s shows there, but I’ve never done my own, because I’m terrified about selling it out. When they asked me, I thought, ‘I want to make this EP, I’ve always wanted to play at Joe’s Pub. What if we just do it?’ I have the support of these people and Shakina, who are going to have my back and help me put it on. At first I was worried because I’m not doing a ton of musical theatre stuff, but they were super cool about it. I’m hoping to do a song or two from shows I’m working on now, but we’ll see. I’m excited. I’ve never done my own stuff there, and I’ve never had a band this big play with me, so this is going to be new.
You tweeted about working with Charlie Rosen on this.
Charlie Rosen did the horn arrangements for this album. He’s absolutely incredible. That was the day I first cried in the studio because I had just been hearing it in my head for however long I was writing the songs. To hear these arrangements killed me. I thought, ‘This is happening.’
What do you hope people take away from listening to your album?
A few things. Mainly, I want people to listen, have some fun, and maybe dance a little bit. Personally, I have so many wonderful friends who are so supportive and know that I’ve been doing this for a while. There are a lot of people who don’t know I write these songs myself, and I want to show people that this is very much a part of me. I don’t need people sitting there and saying, ‘This is her relationship with theatre.’ I don’t need over-analysis. I just want people to have a good time. It’s fun music. Musical theatre writers write differently than pop writers. I’m so influenced by musical theatre writing. I used to be more theatre-y, and I’ve gone away from that in the last few years, but there’s still a hugely theatrical element that I’m excited to share with people who are not musical theatre people. I’m excited for anyone to put their own story on the song.
You’re also writing two musicals right now.
I am definitely working on two musicals. Kevin Michael Murphy, a wonderful actor who went on tour with Book of Mormon for two years, we went to school together. I haven’t talked about this in a long time. We did a video blog eight or nine years ago where he played a character named Craig Stevens. He was very obviously gay in the vlog, and I played his girlfriend, and we both moved from the south to make it on Broadway. This was before anybody did vlogs. That was just starting. It was the same year as The Battery’s Down and that whole thing. We had these characters that got picked up. Gawker picked it up and thought we were real people. We parlayed that into a live show, which we did at the Beechman, called Craig Steven’s Guide to Making it on Broadway. We did that for a while, then I went to school and he went on tour, and he got back two or three years ago.
We started working on a different show for a year before we realized it was not working at all. We re-morphed it, and now it’s a show about the golden age of Hollywood and this world where, when a ratings star turns 33, another star comes along and kills her and takes her place until she is killed by someone else. We’ve been writing it for a while, and I love him. He is so smart and so funny. He does a lot of improv and sketch. That’s one musical. The working title is The Rise and Fall of Sheila Broadhurst.
The other show I’m working on is going to be a country musical because I really love writing country music. Sometimes I feel like a hack because I grew up in Chicago. It’s not like I grew up in Nashville, I just listened to so much of it growing up. This one’s about an aunt and her niece who are on their way to a mother-daughter beauty pageant. They’re like 30- and 40-something, but they plan on posing as 16 and 30-something. They’ve done one of these many years before, also posing as mother and daughter, when the girl was about nine. That’s the basic premise.
I need to ask about Joe [Iconis]. What is it like to have a partner, both professionally and personally, like him, especially during a process like this where you’re putting yourself out there so much?
I feel like I’m going to start crying. Besides the fact that I get all my graphic design work done for free, because he’s a graphic designer, which is incredible – even right now, I’m about to send him a picture and say, ‘Put this together! I need it by tomorrow!’ – he is the most supportive, helpful person. He has a lot of experience at putting together shows, and he has some albums out. One email will send me into a tizzy, so I can’t even tell you how many things he’s talked me down from or helped me navigate my way through.
Where do I even start? We’re such big fans of each other’s work and we know how important that is to the other person. I think the thing that first attracted us to each other was talent and drive. We help each other, no matter how we can put what we want to make out there or get it done. We definitely have all those nights hanging out at home or getting drinks or whatever, but we know how important it is to the other person to make what they want to make, and we will do anything to further that along.
I’ve been writing on and off in high school and college, and when I went to grad school in Scotland, I really started writing there. When I got back, Joe was one of the first people that I started sharing some of my music with, and it was terrifying. He’s one of the best writers I know. I’ve always thought that. We dated for a while, we broke up for three and a half years, we got back together, and no matter what phase of the relationship, even before I knew him, I thought he was one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard in my life. It took me a couple years to work up the courage to show him my music. I’m not sure I’d be where I am if he hadn’t encouraged me to keep going and told me it was good. At one point, maybe nine years ago, I played him one song when we were together the first time. Looking back, it was an okay song, it wasn’t great, and he was nice and encouraging. When I played him my stuff four years after that, I could tell the difference that he really thought it was good.
We also never bullshit each other, and I trust his opinion. He’s always there pushing me to do more gigs, encouraging me. He gives me a lot of hope. He’s a huge help.
What have you learned from working with him?
A lot. He’s one of the most passionate people on the planet about what he does. He loves theatre, he loves writing, he loves music. As a side note, he also knows more about non-musical theatre music than most people I know. I don’t think people know that. He spends hours every day listening to new bands and new writers. That’s not something I do. I love music, but I wait for him to make suggestions to me. I’ve learned about picking up inspiration from other artists.
I’ve learned that the work truly doesn’t get done if you don’t put in the time. Nothing’s just going to magically happen. Anything that looks like it came out of nowhere probably took hours and hours of thought and work. That’s okay, because it feels better at the end that you worked on it. I’ve learned to surround yourself with people who care about what they’re doing in the same way. I’ve also learned to trust my own instincts when it comes to what I want or what I’m feeling. I don’t know where that came from in me. My parents have always been super supportive, my friends were super supportive, but it’s taken me until the last year or two of my life to not second-guess everything that comes out of my mouth and everything I write. He’s a big part of that. For better or worse in our relationship, we’re both super honest with each other. That’s why we get along so well. I never think he’s not telling me exactly what he thinks, and I don’t ever have to feel nervous that I’m being coddled.
I love that you put your kitten in your list of what people are saying about you. That’s so funny.
I’m a dog person because I’m hugely allergic to cats and always have been. It just became so apparent that we wanted some little animal here. Whenever someone goes away to do a job it’s hard being the one left at home so we needed something. We don’t have enough money or time for a dog and taking it on walks. It wouldn’t be fair. So we talked about a cat for a long time but I was terrified that I’m so allergic. We kept looking at them during adoption days at pet stores and I went to PetSmart and she [Diane Kitten] had the best audition of her life! I opened the cage and she was walking around and I petted her, pulled my hand away, and she came to me for more. So I became obsessed with this cat. We found out we could foster her first for a month or two so we decided to try it to see how my allergies would be. It’s a really long process, by the way, to get a street cat. I think the reality is it was a really nice but crazy cat lady who is fiercely protective and doesn’t want to let her go. So we got her and fell in love and I spend about 80% of my day talking in a Diane Kitten voice and I can’t believe no one has gotten sick of it yet. She’s a full on character and presence in our house. We joke that we come home from auditions and gigs and she’s like, ‘Where were you? What were you doing?’ and that she has this inflated sense of ego and never likes to talk about how she was on the street.
Oh and the follow-up to her audition story is that she had this amazing audition for me where I thought she loved me at first sight. No. We got her home and she wouldn’t come near me for about six weeks. She only wanted to be with Joe. And I’m not a cat person so I didn’t understand that this was normal. I felt so rejected by her but also wanted her love. I went away to do a show and I came back a month later and then she was on board with me. Every day since then, and it’s been a year, I feel more signs of affection from her. I’ll feel like I completely have her love and then something new will happen. I love her so much.
What made you want to put her in your bio like that?
She’s on the album cover too so get ready. I thank her.
I kind of feel like I wanted to set up the tone for what the night was going to be. I just want people to have fun listening to the songs. My music and performing it is super serious to me, but I’m not sitting there alone with a candle in my room, writing and crying. It’s also a really fun thing and therapeutic in a way. Talking about your cat makes you seem like a crazy cat lady in a way that I like.