Transatlantic team Barry Anderson and Mark Petty on songwriting and collaborating long-distance

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Barry Anderson and Mark Petty

New songwriting team Barry Anderson and Mark Petty make musical theatre magic from opposite sides of an ocean. With Mark based in London and Barry based in New York City, this transatlantic team collaborates via Skype and other online resources to write songs that have been performed by the likes of Kieran Brown, Emily Tierney, Nikki Renée Daniels and Gina Beck. They took a break from working on their new album, which releases this winter, to chat with Stage Door Dish about how they got their beginnings and where they are headed next.

SDD: Did you always know you wanted to write music? What was your career like prior to becoming a songwriting team?

Barry Anderson: I always gravitated toward music; my dad’s a musician, so it sort of surrounded me as a kid. I was fascinated by the piano when I was really little, and I remember sitting in my aunt and uncles’ basement, pushing random keys on their upright, pretending to compose background music for tv shows.  When I was eight, I started taking actual lessons, and I loved it.  Toward the end of high school, I started to write more, and I was fortunate to have teachers in my life who encouraged it. My high school choral director allowed me write several things for the choir to sing during my senior year. At one point early during college, my theatre professor wanted to use original music for his production of Mother Courage, and he handed the reins over to me.  It turned out to be such an amazing project. A bit of baptism-by-fire, but I learned a ton just by jumping in and ‘doing.’ So, opportunities like those are what really nurtured my love for the process of creating a song.

Mark Petty: I have written poetry ever since childhood and I have always loved writing. English was my favorite subject at school. I was in a boy band for a few years but the overall experience wasn’t good. I think that none of us were truly ready for it and therefore it ultimately failed. Because of this I spent a long time working within a non-entertainment environment until my husband (the Theatre Director Shaun Kerrison) saw a light in me and convinced me to follow my true passion.

SDD: What is it like working via the internet from across an ocean? Do you find that it’s similar to working together in person or very different?

BA: It all seemed like a bit of a novelty when we began collaborating 2 1/2 years ago, but now it’s the norm for us. And it works well. It’s also been a lesson in efficiency and time management; when we’re working, we’re working.  When you rely on the internet (Skype, iChat, email, etc.), time just seems more precious somehow.  So I find myself coming to our work sessions with lots of ‘to-do’ lists.  There’s no way we could have ever done anything like this 15 or 20 years ago.  The internet has made the world a very tiny place. 

MP: Absolutely fine, it’s just like being in the same room. Sometimes scheduling can be difficult with the time difference.

How frequently do you meet up in person?

MP: Not since our New York concert in May 2011. Barry will be in London in August though for the UK section of the recording of our debut album.

SDD: Where do you draw inspiration for your music?

BA: I think the well of creativity deepens the more specific we get with a subject.  The writing goes quicker and it’s more fun to flesh out a story for the singer when we know the ‘where’s, why’s, and how’s’ of what their character needs to experience during the course of the tune.

MP: Everywhere. Observations, personal stories, there is no fixed formula.

SDD: Are there stories behind any particular songs of yours that you’d like to share? 

MP: “Forever Child” is based on one of my dearest friends who lost a child. Shaun and I are now godparents to both of their children, Ulysses and Indiana. “A New Star Tonight “– written for our good friend, West End actor Kieran Brown, about the loss of his beloved grandmother.

“Suddenly” – written for the West End actress Cynthia Erivo about how she met and fell in love with her boyfriend.

SDD: Do you have a set process for writing a song or does it come together differently each time?

MP: It’s always different. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes it’s the music. Sometimes it’s through something that has piqued our interest. Other times, such as with “Stand Up” and “We Stand Together,” it’s because we have been especially commissioned to write for a particular event. Both of these were for the UK based charity MADTrust (The Make A Difference Trust).

What is your favorite aspect of bringing a new song to life?

BA: For me, it’s that first time a singer breathes their own unique life into it.  Handing sheet music to a performer and saying to them “This song is yours, make it your OWN” is completely exciting to me.

MP: The feedback and an audience’s reaction. Music has always moved me from an early age. To have our songs move and mean something to someone is the greatest compliment you can get.

SDD: What has been your most gratifying moment as an artist thus far? 

BA: In the realm of songwriting, the most gratifying moments for me happen when someone who’s heard one of our tunes says that they were humming it the next day, that it got stuck in their head. I’m a sucker for a good catchy hook, so something like that means a lot to me.

MP: Well, apart from meeting Barry of course…after our London concert at The Delfont Room last year I was approached by a woman who hugged me and thanked us for writing “Forever Child.” She had lost a son a few years back and she was grateful that someone wrote about the issue of losing a child by acknowledging that the memory and love will always be there. It made her think of her son and she was happy. It will always stay with me.

SDD: You had your debut concert as a songwriting team at the Duplex in 2011, what was that experience like?

BA: Umm, exciting. And nerve-wracking. Nerve-wrackingly exciting. Seriously, it was a great night. Lots of love and support from everyone there, both onstage and in the audience. We kind of went into it with a “what have we got to lose” attitude and called upon a bunch of uber-talented friends and colleagues to perform. And I think everyone had a lot of fun that night. It was a one-night-only deal, and the room was sold-out.

MP: Thrilling. It also solidified my belief that my life was finally moving in the right direction.

SDD: What has it been like to have Broadway and West End stars perform your work?

BA: It’s great to be able to give material to performers that are so technically well-equipped as singers. But also beyond that, actors are storytellers by nature. And they are overwhelmingly excited about bringing new material to life. You can’t beat that, especially when it comes to a live performance, in the moment.

MP: Very humbling. The response from such well-known names in the business is inspiring. It’s all about taking a breath and approaching people. If you truly believe someone is right for the song, they will usually feel the same way. You must also always be respectful of their agents though and be sure to keep them in the loop.

SDD: It sounds like you have some exciting projects up your sleeve in the near future, what can fans look forward to from you around the bend?

BA: We are really enjoying the process of putting together an album of our favorite material. It’s going to sort of run the gamut style-wise, and each tune will feature a different Broadway or West End performer. We are excited to finally get a whole batch of studio recordings out and available to those who want to listen!

MP: Our first album due out around Christmas time. More concerts, new songs and a musical are in the pipeline… 

SDD: Stage or screen?

BA: Stage.

MP: Stage – the immediacy of an audience tells you everything you ever need to know about your work.

SDD: If you could delete any song from existence, which one would you choose?

BA: If I never heard “The Macarena” again in this life, I’d be OK with that.

MP: All music, good or bad, is there for a reason and it will affect and inspire some while revile others. That’s the beauty of it.

SDD: Do you have a favorite word?

BA: Behoove.

MP: Serendipity.

SDD: What’s your current obsession?

BA: At this very moment? A YouTube video of Jessie J singing a live acoustic version of “Domino.” Her voice is crazy, and I’m addicted to the song. I watched it about five or six times in a row this afternoon.

MP: Travel – especially the USA. I’ve been to around 23 states in the last few years, and I want to see them all…oh, and Candy Crush, aaarrrrgggghhhh!

SDD: What’s the last great show you saw on stage?

 BA: Kinky Boots.

MP: Peter and Alice with Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. It’s part of a wonderful season of plays in London by Michael Grandage.

SDD: Who is the last person who made you feel star struck? 

BA: Heather Menzies and Angela Cartwright (Louisa and Brigitta in The Sound of Music film). A couple of years ago, I passed the two of them walking down the street where I live on the Upper West Side. (Ummm, fate??) My inner super-nerd recognized them instantly, and I proceeded to quite literally stop them in their tracks. A very lovely, brief conversation and some photos ensued. And thanks to an abnormally high adrenaline rush, I was shaking like a leaf the whole time. I like to believe they felt flattered…my guess is they were slightly terrified.

MP: Lady Gaga – the connection that she has with her audience is astounding. To be in a large stadium and feel like you are at an intimate event is the mark of a true star.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

BA: Sunny, the dog who plays Sandy in Annie. Sweet gig!

MP: Not that I would like to be someone other than myself, but I greatly admire Marc Shaiman. He is one of the nicest people that I have ever met and I will always be appreciative of everyone in the business however successful they are. We all come from nothing and to remember that is very important. He inspires me a great deal.

SDD: Which Broadway star would you most want to get a drink with?

BA: Kim Stanley, if she was still with us. Would love to have had the chance to pick her brain for a few hours.

MP: Jonathan Larson – I have worshipped him for many years. RENT is my favorite musical and I would have loved to have had the opportunity to have got to know him.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

BA: A Cancer.

MP: Passionate, Stubborn, Determined, Happy, Content.

SDD: Do you have any unusual hidden talents or hobbies?

BA: Not really…

MP: I have a crazy knowledge of random movie trivia and I am obsessed with the Oscars. I also love board games. I also seem to be able to memorize capital cities!

SDD: What would people be surprised to know about you?

BA: I’ve never been to Vegas.

MP: It took me a very, very long time to believe in myself…hmmm, and if you want something else, I have an extra tooth behind one of my teeth!

Follow Anderson and Petty at @andersonpetty or visit their website.

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About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.

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