Once Lena Hall completed the Broadway run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch she took off her make-up, put the wig back on the shelf and she turned back to her obsessions. She won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role for her portrayal of “Yitzhak.” Hall also had the opportunity to play the title character during the tour of the show and that included select performances at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.
What do you when you’ve been on both sides of the origin of love? For Lena Hall it meant exploring the artists and music she loved. Stripping them down and letting the music and the lyrics shine. So over the course of 8 days she recorded 54 songs and filmed videos for them. The results of that ambitious recording session is a series she calls Obsessed (SKB Records.) The first EP featured stripped-down versions of six songs from Hedwig. This month’s release showcases four songs by Peter Gabriel. There will be a new release each month. Other artists in her series include Elton John, David Bowie, Radiohead and more.
I recently spoke with Hall about her recordings and also her role in the feature film, Becks, opening in theaters and VOD tomorrow.
54 songs and accompanying videos for 12 EPs – all in a marketplace where most artists say they don’t make money on sales. Why do this?
The sole intention of this is to celebrate each individual artist and also have content coming out consistently. I feel like the marketplace has changed so much in terms of music and it’s changed because of social media. I feel a pressure to have to release content all the time, really good content, and to keep my fans engaged. This is also a great way to be able to showcase what I do and introduce fans of mine who don’t know much about these specific artists I love. I’m like your friend who is saying “you have to listen to this song.” And I’m going to present these songs in a way that’s easy to connect with.
When you do a show like Hedwig, you are locked into the show and the way it was staged. What freedom did starting this series with songs from that musical give you that was unique from the arrangements used in the show?
The whole idea of Obsessed is to strip down these songs into their basic parts and present them in a way that really shines a microscope on the technicality of the song. On the lyrics, on the chord changes, and the melody itself. I challenged everyone, ‘let’s make this as simple as possible.’ In my own personal opinion today everything is over done and over-produced. There’s so much noise and it’s nice to strip it all down.
Your new EP showcases Peter Gabriel material. How did you choose from amongst his songs to perform and why?
For this whole series I’m trying to take some famous songs and some really deep cuts that people don’t know to get them interested in the other version of the artist. A lot of people have heard “Sledgehammer” or “In Your Eyes,” but not a lot of people know “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “Come Talk to Me.” I was really limited in choosing the songs. I had to be very thoughtful about it because it is only four songs. His catalog is mountainous and huge, but some songs I found were not as good without all the instruments. It was finding certain things.
You did all of this in 8 days. Are you crazy?
It was quite a workout. I was pushed to my limit, which is hard to do. But I loved it. By putting a time limit on the recording sessions it forced us to really do full takes and not get too precious with things. I like the idea of this raw, real performance from me. Everyone uses autotune and corrects things. I love hearing an artist who allows themselves to have these moments of imperfection. I’m shocked that we did it.
Would you do it again?
We are thinking about a season 2. It’s something that could go on for years and years. It could go for seasons like a tv show. It was insane I was only able to do five Bowie songs and 5 Elton John songs. I met Sting and I got to perform for him and Trudi Styler. Sting was beyond thrilled and loved my performance. Maybe next season I’ll do “Sting Obsessed” and he’ll come and guest on one of the songs. The would be the dream project, to have them join in the fun.
You appear in the film Becks. Can you talk about the film and the role music plays in it?
It’s a really intimate indie feature and it’s about a singer/songwriter who leaves her home in Brooklyn to be with her girlfriend in LA. The girlfriend cheats on her and she’s heartbroken. She moves back to St. Louis with her mom who is an ex-nun. They don’t understand each other. It’s about finding your happiness without anyone else. When we filmed the movie we had pre-recorded all the music. When we got to filming I ended up playing them live. I’m so thrilled they used that.
When you were 17, you auditioned with “Losing My Mind” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. That’s pretty cheeky for a teenager. How much do you think that level of self-assurance and/or wonderful naiveté has helped you through your career up to and including the Obsessed series?
It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells me I’m not allowed to do something. It never sinks in and I do it anyway. It’s kind of like having that parent who says you need to draw this color between these lines and it has to be this and it has to be that. I just take wax and I pour it all over the drawing. I love taking risks. Somehow I’ve been able to surround myself with people who believe in me and taking risks. You take a huge risk on an EP project. You don’t make money. But they believed in the concept and jumped on board.
I’m sure there are going to be some people who don’t like it and some people who are going to be mad about it. I want people to make their own opinions. I want people to love it and hate it. I don’t care if they don’t like it. That tells me a lot. Of course we want to please everyone, but we can’t.
To keep up to date with the releases as they happen you can visit LenaHallObsessed.com
Photo Courtesy of LSG Public Relations