Illuminates Broadway With Her New Album “Always Like New”
by Eileen Shapiro
“Every night, half an hour before curtain up, the bells of St. Malachy’s, the Actors’ Chapel on New York’s 49th Street, peal the tune of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’ If you walk the streets of the theater district before a show and see the vast, enthusiastic lines, it sounds like a calling: There is certainly no place like Broadway”–Dan Stevens
Multi-Grammy Award winning global phenomena Jennifer Nettles illuminates Broadway with her album Always Like New set to release on June 25 via Concord Records. Jennifer has joined forces with Grammy and Tony winner Alex Lacamoire (recognized for his work on Broadway including Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and In The Heights) to celebrate the re-envisioning of some of the best loved Broadway tunes, embracing modern day epics and familiar echoes of the past.
Always Like New is brimming with heart, adorned with vibrant color and marinated with soulful texture. Nettles has welcomed Broadway back by taking songs from a variety of great musicals and elevating them to a dazzling climax that will delight musical theater aficionados and novices alike. Jennifer and Alex have crushed this record with their talent and dedication, breathing fresh life into standards in a way that makes you want the show to go on and on.
The album will be unveiled at a most appropriate time. The world is opening up and people are no longer howling at the moon. The release will come in time for New York Gay Pride Week, in time to honor the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as well as the reopening of Broadway.
The word “superstar” only touches the surface when celebrating Jennifer Nettles. She has appeared on TBS’ hit competition series Go-Big Show as a judge, portrayed Aimee-Leigh Gemstone on HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones, and delivered a powerful performance in Focus Features’ Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet.
As a singer/songwriter, she has earned three Grammy Awards, two with Sugarland and one for her collaboration with Bon Jovi on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” She also has five ASCAP awards, three ACM Awards, a CMA Award, the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award and the Artist Impact Award from Lincoln Center. Jennifer is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, racial equality, and women’s rights, as well as a philanthropist. She has also appeared on Broadway–in Chicago in 2015. Mostly, Jennifer is true to herself, inspirational, and honest.
Jennifer, congratulations on the release of your new album.....
Thank you. I am very, very excited about it. Let me tell you a sort of kismet moment. We recorded the last note of “Tomorrow”, the last song on the record, on March 12, 2020. It was the day that Broadway closed. So we literally finished recording and everybody’s phone started blowing up with the news that Broadway was closing down. It has only closed one day during 9/11 and it has never closed during any of the world wars. It is such a significant moment in history for this iconic American institution, world known. How many songs have been written for Broadway or about Broadway? The fact that it shut down the last day of recording this album felt so cosmic, so meant to be, so now, thankfully, the world continues to open up and Broadway is about to do so. I just feel like this record is such a celebratory flag to say “Yay!!! Here we come back to celebrate all the beauty that we’re going to be able to see on the stages once again.”
It’s a big deal because it is a high level of excellence. Anytime we get to experience as human beings such an exquisite level of excellence where everyone is contributing at the top of their game, there is a sacredness to that. So of course it would’ve been a big deal even as a New Yorker. As a matter of fact even more so as a New Yorker.
Like “The Night of the Living Dead” resurrected...In any case I love all the songs that you’ve chosen however while I love the theater, I am not a huge Broadway Musical fan. I love punk rock... However, I have to say the way you orchestrated these songs was so over the top. You did songs that I never thought I would like in my wildest dreams, but I really, really liked them.
I love hearing you say this, Eileen, and let me tell you why. Because my collaborating partner for arranging and producing, Alex, and I and Adam Zotovich, the executive producer, we put so much stock into the selection of the songs. The criteria we ended up using in choosing the songs had to be in two parts. It had to be respectful homage to the original composition, but number two, it had to expand that original composition in such a way that it made it reimagined, re-envisioned, and able to be discovered anew. That’s where the title came from, Always Like New, because for me as an artist, not only am I constantly reinventing and evolving myself, but also, the songs symbolize that in the ways that… some of them are modern contemporary theater, some of them are classic, but all of them take the original compositions and hopefully reimagine them in a way that allow for their discovery.
If you were ever to tell me that I would thoroughly enjoy a song like “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” I would have said that you’re crazy. But the way you did it, it was almost like it was a brand new song. You elevated that song to some kind of imaginary realm.
I love hearing that, and also, here’s the thing: People are very specific about their musical taste. Just like you were saying you would’ve never thought that you would like that, people say that about musical theater, country music, just fill in the blanks, according to what their taste might be. But to hear you say that, it has so much significance for me because again, that feels like we’ve achieved what we set out to do, which was take the songs and respectfully reimagine them. The good thing is I’ve been hearing on both sides of the coin, because I have people who are super precious about musical theater. I mean they are protective, but they are like, “Oh, my God, we love this record.“To hear them say that, those that are so super protective of the form and genre, and to hear you say that, who really comes from another background and taste, that to me is super rewarding. So, thank you.
Truth....very refreshing and I almost want to say inspiring.
Yeah, let it be inspiring because that’s what music is supposed to be. I feel like I’m winning today, Eileen...
You’ve definitely won with this one. The fact that you’re releasing the record at such a monumental time, during Pride week.....If just fits.
I think it fits in so many ways. I think obviously within the Broadway community, the gay community is such an intricate part. For those two communities to hold hands physically in the form of this album is a beautiful part of its release for sure.
I think that from this interview and the last interview we had that you are so genuine and I know you will answer this honestly....So my question is who selected the songs, in other words were they favorites of yours or did someone choose them for you?
That for us was the highest goal. Some of them, for example “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ ” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, even “Tomorrow”, but especially those first three…They were always for me in my own head as a writer, singer and composer, that I heard those vocal melodies anyway. So, for years I have been singing them with a back beat, which made them feel for me as a vocalist that they were super accessible, different and celebratory. Starting with those three really as a foundation as we started to expand into those arrangements, we realized what was making those arrangements work. It’s what I mentioned to you earlier, which was that dual inspiration of serving the original, but in a way that made it completely re-envisioned, with respect.
There is not a bad one in the bunch.
There are a lot of classics and then there’s a handful of contemporary ones as well, like “Wait For It” from Hamilton and “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. We wanted to make sure we represented some of the current ones as well.
Your world expands way beyond the average mortal. You do everything. Do you ever stop counting your Grammys?
Well, it’s easy to stop. I just get to three. I would love more. Let’s be honest. And beyond that, I enjoy storytelling across the board and I love the performing arts. If I’m doing it as a songwriter, if I’m doing it as a vocalist, if I’m doing it in TV and film or on the theater stage or on the concert stage, whatever it is, I love storytelling and I love music most specifically as my first love.
Where do you find the time for everything, I mean you’re a singer, songwriter, actress, activist, a mother....
Even I don’t know. I think something that I’ve definitely seen over this pandemic is, good God, how we all learned about ourselves. We have learned shit about ourselves that we wish we didn’t know. We’ve all had way too much time on our hands. But also, the downward pressure that we’ve all experienced this year. The ambiguous loss, the tangible loss, the fear, the anxiety–for me, I have learned that I’m quite accustomed to being much healthier when I have a certain amount of output and a certain amount of input. Creatively, from a performance perspective, from a chemical perspective, I am just used to running at a certain gear, and to have stopped that…Just to put it bluntly, it fucked me up. So, where do I find time for it? I just look at it as a big dance and I just try to step in at the right cue. I say “Yes” to only the things that fill my heart in the right way. I keep reinforcing to the universe, “This is the kind of stuff I want to come my way.”
Kind of like “The Secret.”
Very much...let’s manifest it.
So, the album came out on June 25 and it will be sold as vinyl, CD and online?
I don’t think they did cassette, but I heard among the young kids that that’s becoming a new thing again. Where they are going to play I don’t know? We didn’t do cassettes, but we did vinyl and CD and of course the digital source of your desires.
That is what I am hoping. It is a very specific album in terms of the orchestration. So being able to support that with instrumentalists, I’m looking at now trying to decide whether this is a symphony tour kind of thing or sourcing musicians from local orchestras depending on where I go? I have never had an album this richly orchestrated. All that is to say is yes and I’m looking into the best ways to do.
So, is there anything you’d like to talk about that I haven’t covered?
Yes. As of note, I would like to point out that the only duet on the album–which is “It All Fades Away” from Bridges of Madison County–is a duet that I do with Brandi Carlile, who is loved and is one of your own in the LGBTQ community. It is such a standout to me on the album, for a number of reasons. Number one is vocally, Brandi is unsurpassed, and number two, the song itself is a love song, so for two women singing this song, a lot of times we definitely don’t see (at least I haven’t) two women doing a love duet in popular music, much less in theater music. So I think that song in particular is a standout, and I would just love for people to be able to note that and celebrate it.