Vonda Shepherd is the breakout star of the long-running TV series Ally McBeal, who has sold over twelve million albums and won two Golden Globes, two Emmy Awards and two Screen Actors Guild awards. She kindly spent some time with us to talk about her experiences on the show and what she has planned for 2017.
I listened to your albums religiously back in the Ally McBeal days so how did your role in the show come about?
Hi! Well, I was living in New York City, and flew in to L.A. to do a show. I invited my friend David Kelley and his wife, and it happened to be very serendipitous, as he was just putting together a new show called Ally McBeal. David was looking for a musical voice for the show, and even though we were friends, it wasn’t until he saw the show that night that he realized I was the voice (and songs) he was looking for. I was playing songs from an album I recorded, called It’s Good, Eve. Those songs resonated with David, and he asked me to do the show! Very exciting. I actually just released the album on vinyl last year, for the 20th Anniversary of its release!
The songs in the show paralleled with what was happening to the characters- so please tell us about the process of choosing the perfect music to reflect the storyline.
Most of the time, David would choose the songs from one of my albums, or he’d write lyrics into the script from classics that we recorded. He was the mastermind behind choosing the music, whether it was my songs or some cool Motown tune. My main job was being the music producer — I interpreted the emotion of David’s scripts and would go in the studio to produce the songs with my band. I was trusted to do this, and it usually really worked out. I had a strong feeling for what the scene needed from the music, so the collaboration was quite easy and magical.
What was the atmosphere like on set and do you miss being part of the show?
Once we were all on the set, there was a festive air in the room, but it was usually after having awakened at 4:00 a.m. to be in the make-up chair at 5:00 a.m., after driving for 1/2 hour to the set. When we hit the “bar”, it was about 7:00 a.m. We always shot the bar scenes first thing in the morning, so we were often pretty tired! It just shows you that those people could ACT! When I lip-synced the songs, they blasted the music — this helped us all to wake up! I don’t miss being on the show, but it was a true gift in my life, and I’ll always have wonderful memories of being with the fantastic cast and crew.
You had some amazing duets on the Heart and Soul and For Once In My Life albums with the likes of Al Green, Robert Downey Jr and Anastacia, so please tell us about these experiences.
Working with Al Green was a highlight of my life. When I was 16, my favourite album was The Belle Album, by Al. To be the producer of one of my favourite artists was so incredible! He was lovely and trusted my choices.
Working with Robert Downey Jr. was an honour and also hilarious. He is a brilliant man, but I had to reign him in a bit, as he’s very spontaneous and creative and we had to get the album finished. I appreciated his free spirit — it reminded me of myself, when I was younger.
Anastacia is a fantastic singer… but we were never in the studio at the same time. Due to schedules, I recorded my vocal via internet from L.A. to New York, whilst her producers worked with me. That was a very odd situation, and if Anastacia and I had been in a room together, I think the result would have been even better, but it still turned out pretty good! (She is GREAT!)
When did your passion for singing and playing the piano begin?
I began writing songs when I was about 9 years old, so it really ignited around that time. I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my artist propensities. I went in the studio at the age of 9 and began recording demos. After playing my first show at the age of 14, I decided that I didn’t, in fact, want to be an astrophysicist anymore, but a touring, writing musician! This is a story I’ve told over again, but when I was only a couple of months old, I used to sing and rock in the crib… the crib would roll across the floor and by morning, it was on the other side of the room. They had to nail it down! So it started early!! Haha!
You penned the Searchin’ my Soul with Paul Howard Gordon- so please tell us about working together on this iconic track and why it was the perfect choice for the opening credits.
Searchin’ My Soul took quite a long time to pull together. I was almost done with the song — the melody and lyrics, chords, etc., were finished, I just couldn’t get the first line of the song. Paul came up with that in about 15 minutes. What a relief that was! Originally, David Kelley wanted the song Tell Him for the theme song. My manager asked the producers if I could play them some of my own tunes, so we rented a rehearsal space and 6 producers showed up, including David. I played them 5 songs, including Will You Marry Me, Confetti, etc… both of which made it on to Ally albums… but then I played Searchin’ My Soul. They told me that if I could squeeze the song into one minute, that could be the theme song… so you KNOW I sped up the song and cut it in 59.99 seconds!
Sharon Corr credited you in her latest album ‘for letting me wander in and out of your house every day, for feeding me your delicious food, for our lovely chats and for you singing and playing your beautiful songs’ so were you a fan of hers and The Corrs before you met?
Oh, I LOVE Sharon!! She made an album at my house with Mitchell, my husband, and yes, I fed her very well (I like to cook) and we got to have long talks over dinner, or when she’d wander in for a coffee or tea. She and I got to be very close friends during that time, but I had met her in Ireland, when Mitchell was producing one of The Corrs albums. What a lovely, genuinely kind family. It was wonderful to get to know her better. That was how I was introduced to the Corrs’ music — though I do remember we both had albums out at the same time early on.
You are married to music producer Mitchell Froom, so is your home life constantly full of beautiful sounds and creativity?
Well, I must admit that yes, it is!! It’s also filled with screaming children! And conflict and beauty. That’s what happens when one has children. But yes, I meet and hear incredibly talented artists’ music quite often… and it’s truly wonderful. I remember Tim Finn writing a song in a piano room at our house. Wow… what a beautiful moment to be privy to whilst peeling carrots in the kitchen!
Of all the songs you sang on Ally McBeal- is there one that holds a special place in your heart?
Yes, You Belong To Me. It turns out that my father loved that song. D.N.A. ?
What is next for you?
Well, when you ask what’s next, let’s just say that it has been 20 years since Ally started and 15 since it ended. So we’ve missed a lot of “what’s next”. I’ve put out many albums since Ally, including my most recent album, Rookie (haha!), which is available on my website, as well as iTunes, etc…
What’s next is more albums and touring. I’m thrilled that my touring career has taken me to the U.K. lately… I love playing there! We’re coming to Ireland, as well, in July… and the U.K. I still love touring and am very much looking forward to returning this July!! I leave for Germany in 12 days, as well, so that will be fun, as well. Oh, and there are the basketball playoffs! Can’t forget about that!
Vonda Shepard will be performing at Henley Festival on Thursday 6 July. http://henley-festival.co.uk/