►Original Musical Compositions and Select Covers
This edition we spotlight Broadway musical theater actress turned L.A. singer/songwriter MALEA MCGUINNESS.
My initial interest in Malea had to do with a recent foray this site has taken into New York City's theater world. Malea's credentials there are golden. A former student of opera at the prestigious Tanglewood Summer Music program, Malea did two years of study at Oberlin Conservatory, received a music scholarship to Overland in Ohio (a "hippie school"), and completed her operatic studies at the Manhattan School of Music. In New York, Malea pursued a parallel track in acting, studying at the William Esper Studio For Acting and with Ron Stetson of the Neighborhood Playhouse.
"I remember when I first came to New York, I didn't even have money for a subway token," she told 411 Music Interview writer Tony Farinella earlier this year. She was occasionally finding work doing modeling and TV commercials. "I was walking 50 blocks back and forth, and I was living with two dancers from The Joffrey Ballet. And we were all in this one room. It was always ups and downs. Sometimes I would have more money, but most of the time I just waitressed and did all kinds of things. I barely made it financially, but I think when you really want something and you feel like you're supposed to be doing this and that you really love it, then I think that's what really keeps you going."
Then in 1996 she landed a role on Broadway in The King and I, as one of the wives of King Mongkut of Siam, played admirably by another "crossover artist," Lou Diamond Phillips, who was a Tony Award nominee for "Best Actor" and winner of Outer Critics Circle and Theater World awards for his work in the role. The King and I won the 1996 Tony for Best Revival. Though she stayed in the production for over a year, it proved to be a turning point in her life. "I just felt my personality wasn't the perfect fit for the Broadway people I was working and hanging out with," she told a writer for Interviews of Recording Artists.com. "I liked to perform, but it ultimately wasn't my thing and I didn't think I could live that kind of life. Looking back now, I realize I made the right decision to pursue my dream of making music in Los Angeles." And so she moved to the west coast and began devoting herself to songwriting, supporting herself with another string of odd jobs and the occasional film and TV work. She played "Asian Girl at Gym" in episodes of "Spin City" and "These Shoes Were Made for Cheatin'" (1999), an "Asian Woman" in episodes of the TV series "Special Unit 2" (2001) and "The Wraps" (2001), "Screaming Nurse" in the movie Imposter (2002), and "Kim" in the film Three Picture Deal (2002). But none of this was really taking her where she wanted to go.
Malea's focus is on being a singer/songwriter, or maybe a songwriter/singer, and it has been working out well since the release this year (2007) of her True Believer LP, produced by Scott Hackwith (The Ramones, Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop), which has been doing well on XM Satellite Radio and AAA stations. "Deeper," the first single from the album went to #16 on FMQB's AC40 Chart. The second single release, "Sweet Light," debuted at #27 and was the most added song to the chart in its first week, ahead of Lifehouse, Bon Jovi and Celine Dion. Her video for "Sweet Light" may be seen on VH1, Fuse, YouTube and other outlets. Malea won Female Vocalist Of The Year at the All Access Magazine Music Awards.
I subjected Malea to the usual RARWRITER torture of responding to written questions and learned in the process that Malea, who is of a private nature, is more inclined to verbosity in a live exchange. In fact, that is in evidence in the urgency and intimacy of her performances. She has been playing all over L.A. this fall, including shows at The Viper Room, The Roxy, The Mint, The Knitting Factory, and she premiered another video at The Key Club this last week. Her songs are pleas for healing, but why so sensitive? That's what I was trying to discover, with varying degrees of success. - RAR
My reading of your bio seems to indicate that you grew up in a loving family, but it was a family wherein, from age 6, it was your grandparents who represented your “parental” figures.
This is not unusual these days when a lot of
grandparents find themselves having to help their struggling offspring by
raising their grandkids, but what was going on with
your parents that you were sent to New York to live?
Check out the song “No Man’s land.”
I was taken away from my Mother by Social Services for child abuse. I was
going to be put in a foster home but my Grandparents agreed to take me and my
little sister in to live with them.
I read where you broke down in rehearsal once during a first performance of “No Man’s Land.” What role does emotion play in the thing that drives you to be who you are and produce the material you produce?
It’s everything in my music.
Your bio reads like that of a typically struggling actress, and yet you come across as a pretty stable person. Do I read you correctly? Or is there a hidden, less serene side of you the rest of us don’t see?
I’m a work in progress;)
You have attended some prestigious
schools and received some special music education. Is there any period there, in
those formative years, that you look back on as the touchstone for all that
would follow for you along your professional path?
Yes, my high school music teacher really encouraged me to sing and made
me audition for a music program in NYC on Saturdays. That opened up a whole new world for me.
I had never been exposed to opera or classical music before that.
What is your timeline? When did you
finish up in “The King and I” and come to Los Angeles? How long were you in
“The King and I?”
I was in the King and I for a little over a year.
It seems like you could pursue your
singer-songwriter career anywhere. Why the move from New York to L.A.?
I really wanted a change and felt I needed to see different things.
Are you single? Married? Have a family?
I’m “spoken for.” No
children but one day!
I have read that you went from starring
on Broadway to becoming a bartender. Depending upon how much you love
bartending, that change in occupation seems pretty dramatic. Was that tough for
you? How did you handle that?
It was a dramatic change. I needed to support myself while I transitioned
from Broadway to doing my own music. I had never bartended before I moved to LA!
I don’t know any creative person, unless they come from money, who
hasn’t had to waitress, bartend, ect anything to keep going while doing their
art. It is a very unstable business
financially and usually I had a couple of jobs.
Where are you at with the pursuit of TV
and film work now? Do you enjoy the process? What has been the most instructive
thing about it?
I’m solely pursuing music and am open to any film,
TV, etc. I can put
my music in!
You have experienced rare highs in some
of the most competitive fields of performance. Have you “settled” on your
current focus on songwriting as the thing that most defines you, or is there
still room for acting and musical theater. What is most important to you right
Music is everything to me. But
always open to trying new things that might come along!
Any form of writing can be a solitary
pursuit, maybe lonely to some. Are you a person who enjoys solitude? Or do you
work best in company, with a collaborator?
I do like to write with other people and do so all the time.
I am a person, though, who needs a
lot of solitude and I enjoy writing by myself too.
You have negotiated New York City,
possibly the world’s toughest test of survivability, courage and stamina. For
a girl who cries when she sings her songs, you must have a tough inner core. Is
Yes, I wouldn’t have made it here without one.
Can you compare your life in New York to
your life in L.A.? Is there anything you miss about New York that you don’t find in L.A.,
or anything you love about L.A. that you didn’t find in New York? Or are you
“bi-coastal” and living in the best of both worlds?
I love both cities.
I mostly live in Los Angeles and love the weather. I also feel much more
in touch with nature. I hike all the time, or I can go see the dolphins down in the
ocean fifteen minutes away.
I could never do that in NYC. On
the other hand, NYC has so much culture and sophistication.
People are very educated and value the arts.
The museums, the food, the fashion are just the best.
Do you have a lot of friends? Are you a
“girl’s girl?” (by which I mean one who is fun for other women to hang
around with) or a “guy’s girl? (i.e., able to adapt to the lifestyle of guys
and enjoy the types of things they enjoy, like sports.)
Either/ or is fine with me.
I like to spend time with friends one on one-I’ve never been a big
clique kind of person.
What do you want
to represent to people? Who should your music make us understand Malea McGuiness
I would like to touch as many people as possible with my music.
I’m sure you would like your music to
achieve universal appeal, but at a demographic level, can you describe the
audience to whom your music is “pitched,” i.e., age group, playlist genre.
I think it reaches every
The whole “marketing” aspect of music
– defining your audience and targeting them effectively – is tricky
business. Doesn’t the narrow niche nature of the commercial market require
that you commit to a certain type of music?
I feel that I am making my
own audience and don’t have to try to fit into a certain category.
You are often described as having a sound
associated with ‘70s smooth folk-rock. Are you comfortable with that? Or can
you imaging changing your musical focus with each new album? Would it be smart
to constantly reinvent yourself?
I don’t think that you can do anything but change, and since music is a
reflection of yourself and what’s going on around you it has to change.
Reinventing yourself for the sake of doing that is not very fulfilling.
When did the songwriting bug hit you?
Started writing a few years ago.
Are you a natural performer? And if so,
how did this first manifest itself?
I love to perform but have dealt with stage fright a
When did songwriting become a passion? Is
that the right word?
Yes! I’m very passionate
about it that’s why I love it.
What moves you about music? Do you think of yourself as a “lyric” person or a “music” person?
I read a review of your live show where
the writer generally liked your music, but said it “has the air of one of those feel good shows - highly
professional, beautifully sung, with some good melodies and plenty of heartfelt
emotion - but not suitable for anyone who likes a challenge.” Not
that you have to defend the perceptions of others, but are you thrown at all by
the reactions you get? Can you understand what that reviewer was getting at?
Everyone’s entitled to
How important is aligning yourself with a
good producer to making the music you want to make? Do you work with a dedicated
producer or creative team?
It’s wonderful to have a great producer who hopefully complements you
and expands and understands your vision.
Do you buy music CDs? What are you
listening to these days?
Yes. My most recent purchases were
Rilo Kiley’s new album, Aretha
Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” live album and the best of Seals and Crofts.
Who was the last person you saw perform live?
Annie Lennox-she was absolutely incredible!
What has been the highlight of your life so far?
What is your highest aspiration for your life and your career?
That I reach lots and lots of people with my music, and
that I have lots of happy relationships in my life.
Learn more about Malea McGuiness by visiting her MySpace site.
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