It seems that hardly a month goes by without All That Chat getting a request on how to obtain songs by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, whose songs "Taylor, The Latte Boy" and "The Alto's Lament" are delightful comic gems. In addition to writing MAC Award winning numbers, these two Bistro Award winners have also written material for Murphy Brown, various Disney projects, PBS, and Nickelodeon, as well as having collaborated on several musicals and revues. I caught up with these wonderful songwriters as they were about to head off to California to perform in Los Angeles' Gardenia Room.
Jonathan: Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Marcy and Zina!
Marcy: Thank you for inviting us!
Zina: Yes! I love checking out the website.
JF: I see four MAC Awards on the bookcase over there ...
ZG: Yes: two for Song Of The Year and two for Special Material.
JF: You just won one for Song Of The Year this year ...
MH: Right; for "Welcome The Rain." The other was for "The Music Of Your Life," which we won in 2000, the same year we won Special Material for "The Morning After (Leave)." It was unfortunate: the year we won two MAC Awards we were in Minnesota opening Adventures In Love.
JF: How long have the two of you been writing songs as a team?
ZG: The show you saw last week [Tuesday, June 4th] was our nine year anniversary.
JF: How did you meet?
ZG: I was living in California, where I was a staff writer for Disney Feature Animation. I came back to take part in a BMI workshop, and Marcy was there ...
MH: I wasn't performing that day; I just happened to sit next to you ...
ZG: ... and we hit it off.
MH: I said something about liking your dress ...
ZG: ... and we talked about shopping and food (both laugh).
MH: And we become fast friends. We were friends for about a year before we started writing together.
ZG: Marcy was writing with somebody else and I was writing by myself. After a year ...
MH: ... we decided to try writing together.
JF: Does Zina always write the music and Marcy the lyrics?
ZG: It's not uncommon for Marcy to hand me a musical idea or for me to have a lyrical idea; we have a great 'back-and-forth' partnership.
MH: We've been writing for so long ...
ZG: ... that we sound like each other (laughs).
JF: And finish each other's sentences (all laugh).
MH: Her music is so much a part of my system, that when I'm thinking of a lyrical pass, I can almost hear what Zina is going to do. And more often than not she comes up with something close to what I came up with in my head.
JF: Who comes up with the most ideas for songs?
ZG: I would say 75% come from Marcy.
MG: Of course that means that we've been singing about my crazy love life for years! (laughs)
ZG: When Marcy is alone at night writing, she's drawing from her experiences for lyrics and song ideas, but the ideas are not complete until we get together. "Taylor" is a prime example of how something will happen to us and we will turn it into a song. We were in Starbucks one day and really did meet this young guy named Taylor. We were chatting with him and were totally drunk ...
MG: (directly into microphone) Not totally drunk! Just pleasantly inebriated! With all of our faculties still intact!
ZG: That's right! And for the next few weeks we were going around chanting "Taylor the latte boy, bring me java, bring me joy." That was it; just those two lines. They kept sticking in our head until we thought, "You know, maybe we should complete this song."
MG: For that song, we definitely came up with the chorus first. I could not think of a phrase to finish the first sentence: "There's a boy who works at Starbucks, who is very inspirational, he is very inspirational, because of ... " I could not think of a way to end it, so I just wrote down " ... many things." And we never changed it! I thought I would come up with a phrase later on, but we decided that that was the feel we wanted for the song. So rather than writing something like, "Zina and I were tipsy, and wandered into a Starbucks," we created a character that we didn't expect.
JF: And "Taylor" became your big breakout song ...
MH: Have we had a big breakout song? (both laugh)
JF: Well, it's been performed on Rosie and Garrison Keillor's shows and has been recorded ...
ZG: That's true. It's the 'little theater song that could.' It's getting there.
MH: One of the things we like to do when we write a song is put an emphasis on character and specifics. As a performer, I always did better when I had something to really sink my teeth into; when I had a story and specifics rather than the general 'I love you, moon/June/spoon.' While that can be wonderful too, the way we write really allows people to create their own characters through the songs. We've seen incredibly different versions of our songs performed. "The Last Song," for example, which is a song about an obsessive person ...
ZG: ... something we know nothing about ...
MH: ... really allows people to take it in whatever direction they want. And "Taylor" has been sung by men and women. We try to create a story that allows people to make it their own.
JF: What was the first song the two of you wrote together?
MH: When we first started writing together, we thought about writing interstitial shorts for television.
ZG: Kind of a Schoolhouse Rocks sort of a thing.
MH: We decided we would do little three-minute songs about manners ...
ZG: ... little educational things they could put on Saturday morning television.
MH: So we wrote a song called "RSVP," which was about responding to birthday invitations.
ZG: It was a little French "Be Our Guest" sort of number.
I have to say that after writing that song, we knew that we were going to keep writing together. It was just so easy: she just whipped out the lyric and I whipped out the melody ... we were speaking the same language right from the start. There wasn't any 'getting to know you' stage.
MH: We just had a shared wacky sensibility that showed itself from the start.
JF: Do you have a set time where you get together to write songs?
MH: We try to get together Monday, Wednesday and Friday to work on songs.
ZG: I always come to Marcy's because I have two toddlers at home and it's quieter here! We get together more than when we strictly work together, however. Usually, we have meetings on the 'off-days,' and hopefully one of them will pan out ...
JF: Zina, Marcy mentioned that she had performing experience before you two started writing together. Were you a performer as well?
ZG: I was, although I have been writing songs since prior to high school. I really liked performing, but after my first cattle call here in New York when I was 19 years old and was waiting in a room with 200 people watching them go down the line and decide who would get to sing ... I left thinking, "This is not for me! I'm not going to get to do what I want to do!"
Fortunately, I was writing during that time and I knew I had something that was calling me much stronger in that direction. While I would love to have a job with a steady income, the truth is, as long as I can create music I'm happy. I love the fact that I don't have to wait for somebody to give me the opportunity to do what I want to do; I can write and express myself any time I want to. So I never really actively attempted the performing side; I felt that there are many people out there who can do what I do performing-wise, but there are not a lot of people who can do what I do composing-wise. I can be a lot more unique in that aspect ... at least I hope I am!
MH: I never made the choice (laughs). I absolutely concentrated on writing.
ZG: Marcy still has performing demons, however ...
MH: I actually have never done a professional audition in New York. All the work I have done here has been through friends and stuff. I never did a cattle call.
ZG: See? If you went to one you would go "blech!"
MH: I always thought that performing songs with some degree of personal experience was always more meaningful to me. I always enjoy doing the cabaret shows and don't think too many people would be clamoring for my Hedda Gabler.
ZG: Also, the great thing about what we do is that by performing our own songs we bring something to them that nobody else will, even if they are much better performers ... which most people are (laughs). But a lot of people are interested in the writer's point of view and what was meant when we wrote something.
MH: The fact we get to perform our own stuff and also get to see how other performers interpret our songs is a wonderful learning experience: there is no better way to see how a song lands than to see first hand how an audience reacts. We certainly are thrilled to be involved with the theater companies we're involved with and the opportunities they provide for development of shows, but you can never get too much of direct audience reaction.
JF: You mentioned in your show that you are artists in residence for a theater company. Which one?
ZG: Second Stage.
JF: What does that entail?
MH: They put us in contact with a book writer named Susan Kim, a wonderful writer who developed Joy Luck Club for the stage at the Long Wharf. Together, we have created a romantic musical comedy called Allison Under The Stars, which was workshopped last December. A new draft of it is due September 1st, after which it will be workshopped again.
JF: How long does the 'artists in residence' designation last?
MH: We've been involved with Second Stage since 1998. I think that officially we have a new title: Constance Klinsky Musical Fellows.
JF: Is there a time line for Allison ... to be seeing life as a fully staged show?
ZG: This next reading will be pivotal in deciding that.
JF: This is not the first musical the two of you have written together, right?
MH: No. We wrote Adventures In Love, which was done at the Ordway in St. Paul in April of 2000. We also wrote another show called Dear Edwina.
JF: So that's your connection to Minnesota! I've performed "The Morning After" and wondered why two New Yorkers would include a lyric about the Vikings ...
MH: We needed a song for a male perspective for Adventures in Love ...
ZG: ... and since the show was opening in Minnesota ...
MH: ... we figured they would enjoy the plug! (laughs)
JF: Tell me more about Dear Edwina.
ZG: Dear Edwina is about Edwina Spoonapple, an advice-giving teenager extraordinaire, who puts on shows every Sunday afternoon in her parent's garage in Paw Paw, Michigan. Kids write her letters and she gives them advice. "RSVP" is a response to one of the letters.
MH: Dear Edwina is going up in Beverly Hills, Nebraska and Boston and has been licensed by MTI.
ZG: They are releasing a Junior Version of it, which will be in hundreds of middle schools around the country.
JF: You are performing in Los Angeles shortly, aren't you?
ZG: Yes. We'll be at The Gardenia on June 26th and 27th.
JF: Have you been there before?
ZG: Yes; it's our third time there.
MH: It's great because we have California roots.
ZG: I went to high school and college out there.
JF: What about you, Marcy? Do you have connections there?
MH: My whole family pulled a 'Laverne and Shirley' and moved to the Los Angeles area from Chicago.
JF: Do you have any other performances coming up?
MH: We just lined up more dates at Don't Tell Mama in New York: August 12th and 13th.
JF: You have two Cabaret Sampler albums out. Are you working on a full studio album?
MH: No. But we did just get done doing a bit of studio work.
JF: Really? For what?
MH: We wrote a song that is slightly 'pop,' which we brought to Michael Kerker at ASCAP, who gave it to Marcy Drexler, who is the pop representative at ASCAP. And ASCAP was kind enough to put us in the studio.
ZG: They have a program called Demo 2 Deal, in which they get you into a studio to make a demo of your song,. Then they help you get it to the various A&R people. It really helps represent their membership and is a fantastic program. Let's face it: to have the luxury of having 15 hours in a studio to work on one song is unheard of! When we've had that amount of time in the past we've done about eight songs! (laughs)
JF: What song did you do?
MH: A song you heard in the show last week, "Love Like Breathing."
JF: Ooh! I love that song! Didn't you write it a few days before you performed it?
ZG: Pretty close to it - two or three days before we did it!
JF: Hopefully it will become your real breakout song.
Until you come out with a full studio album, people needing a Marcy and Zina fix are able to purchase the Cabaret Sampler albums, correct?
MH: Yes. The Cabaret Sampler albums were originally intended to give singers a chance to hear our material in the hope they would perform it. The commercial demand for them has been quite the surprise!
JF: If people want to buy them, the best way is ...
ZG: ... to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
JF: Which is also how people can purchase sheet music from you?
MH: If they want to get to us, that's the best way!
JF: Great news! I don't know if you realize it, but "Taylor" and "Alto's Lament" are the most requested songs on All That Chat.
MH: Are you serious???
JF: Oh yeah! Aside from the occasional "how do I get a copy of such and such old song" or "is show X published yet," nine out of ten song requests are to ask how to get those two songs. How much are the songs and the CDs?
MH: Currently, the songs are $8 each and the CDs are $15 each.
ZG: Postage is $4; $10 internationally.
JF: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
MH: There's a benefit that's going to be at The Triad, which is being put on by Alan Muraoka from Sesame Street on July 19, 20, 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. The show is called Screaming Like a Fool and is going to feature our songs sung by Ann Harada, Christine Toy Johnson, Hoon Lee, and Hazel Anne Raymundo.
ZG: It's going to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and APEX, an Asian American mentoring organization for kids.
MH: We're really excited about it and it's very cool: they just came up to us and asked if they could perform an evening of our material for a benefit.
ZG: ... and we said "Sure!"
I'd also like to mention that I do vocal coaching on our material and other songs. I've conducted on Broadway and have worked on Titanic, Grand Hotel and I'm going into Oklahoma! soon as a sub ... people can e-mail me for more information through email@example.com.
JF: Well, I wish you all the best, and keep writing those great songs.