An Interview with Singer, Judith Owen, Whose Smooth Voice and Delicious Harmonies Seduce All In Her Latest Collection of Music!
Posted On 19 Nov 2014
Tag: Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Blue, Blue Jeans, Bossa Nova, Carol King, Chopin, Cinema Sound, Croshal Ent., David Dundas, Debussy, Deep Purple, Ebb & Flow, Ella Fitzgerald, ELTON JOHN, Frank Sinatra, Fred Croshal, Gabriella Swallow, Grammy Museum, Grease, How Sweet It Is, In The Summertime, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Jackson Browne, Jacob Collier, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Judith Owen, Laurel Canyon, Lee Sklar, Lovely Day, Mozart, Mungo Jerry, Nelson Riddle, Nick Leopold, Pedro Segundo, Rachmaninov, Ray Dorsey, Rufus Wainwright, Running On Empty, Russ Kunkel, Seal & Crofts, Slade, Smoke On The Water, Sondheim, Stevie Wonder, Summer Breeze, Summer Nights, Sweet Baby James, Tapestry, Troubadour, Waddy Wachtel
Judith Owen released her EP In The Summertime late last summer. The title track, a re-imagination of the Mungo Jerry hit is transformed by Judith’s seductively smooth voice and delicious harmonies.
The album collects five summertime classics and re-envisions them through Judith’s mantra: ‘What Would Joni Do?’ She turns David Dundas’ “Blue Jeans” from a funky four-on-the-floor to a dark swing enchantment and changes the puppy-love ‘Grease’ tune “Summer Loving” into a ghostly look at a brief relationship with a devastating impact. A loyal rendition of Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and a soul-bearing interpretation of Seal & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” round out the release.
Learn more about this album and how Judith came to be the performer that she is in the following interview.
Can you remember the very first moment that you decided that you wanted to be a performer?
I can honestly say that I always knew I was going to be a performer, so I can’t think of a defining moment. Having an opera singer for a father and being a bit of a drama queen was probably enough impetus! I used to watch him on stage, see his face light up whenever he sang and I knew that that’s what I wanted! I was experimenting on the piano by age 4, playing by ear and copying my big sister but kept my song-writing a secret till I went to drama school and gave my first nerve-wracking, eye’s clenched shut, musical performance. I got love-bombed, and never looked back. When I’m performing, being an entertainer, I’m at my best and my happiest. Most people would rather eat worms than be up on stage, emotionally exposed..I can’t think of anything better!
You just released your EP In The Summertime. Tell me about the songs on it. Where did the inspiration for them come from? Why are these songs so special to you?
I love completely re-imagining covers (My first one was Deep Purple’s “Smoke on The Water”, as a sultry, very female Bossa Nova). I’d just finished recording “Ebb & Flow”, had an August show booked in London, and thought “why not give it a summer-theme?” So I chose an array of “classic” seasonal songs, and turned them on their heads…made them personal to me. These songs were a part of my life growing up, and I wanted them to be clever, beautiful and authentic. The audience reaction was so amazing, I rushed into the studio with my wonderful London-based musicians and recorded them the following week, with the aim of releasing them as a summer EP and companion to the record. It was as simple as that!
Why did you want to do a re-imagination of the Mungo Jerry hit, “In The Summertime”? Have you always liked that song?
I think it epitomizes the British summer like Slade does Xmas! As I said, I’d just finished making the record in LA, as a love letter to the American Troubadour music of the early 1970’s (think Taylor, King, Joni..) and was still in a “Laurel Canyon” state of mind (flowing dresses, beads etc). As a total contrast, this song was out in the UK at the very same time, so I thought I’d give it the Troubadour treatment, and being a MASSIVE Joni Mitchell fan and a bit of a goof ball, came up with this joke-mantra to channel the vibe.. “What would Joni do?” It cracked me up, but was also a great starting place and sort of made sense! I could just imagine her take on this “boys of summer” song, all about getting laid/drunk, as seen through the eyes of a woman watching the boys watching the girls whilst recalling her own young and heady days. The post-show recording, despite being done in the UK, fitted the album perfectly and was a last minute inclusion.
The music video of it, directed by Nick Leopold, shows the quintessential Californian summer scene with a brilliant closing cameo by Mungo Jerry front man and writer Ray Dorsey himself!
What about the Grease song, “Summer Nights”? Are you a big fan of the film?
Of course…it’s a guilty pleasure and actually it’s the cover I’m most proud of as it’s the farthest from the original and the most emotionally engaging. It became a true torch song, a woman’s tale about infidelity, trust, and loss… (you might want to have a glass of red wine when you listen!
Tell me how did you get that particular song airing in 5,000 theaters across the country through September 25th as part of Cinema Sound’s pre-show music programming?
That’s all thanks to Fred Croshal and his team over at Croshal Ent. It’s amazing how many people have emailed, FB’d or tweeted me saying how they went to see a movie and suddenly they’re hearing me! It’s a great platform for discovering music whilst eating popcorn!
You work with a very impressive band! Your drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Lee Sklar and guitarist Waddy Wachtel all played on many landmark albums, including Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty and countless others. How did you meet them all? And what did it mean to you to get to work with them?
Lee had already worked with my husband, and from the minute we met we were golden. Playing with Lee’s like putting the best fitting, cashmere gloves on. When my beloved father died two years ago after battling cancer, I knew I had to do something life-affirming and celebratory, a throw- back to happier times spent with him and my sister, singing along to James Taylor’s how “How Sweet It Is” on our many road trips . Of course that’s Russ on drums and he was the next call, along with the brilliant Waddy Wachtel on guitar. Of course Lee told them they had to record with me and I know they were excited to get together in the studio after so many years. The result was what I’d hoped for… effortless synchronicity and musical recognition and yes, there was that sound, but now it was on my music just like I’d always imagined.
I think the EP compliments the album, in fact it’s “the guys” playing on my sultry version of Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September”. Pedro Segundo (percussion) and Gabriella Swallow (cello) are my British band members and feature on the rest of the EP, and they too bring an effortless vibe to the songs. in fact Pedro will be playing percussion at the Grammy show. Ultimately what I’m doing isn’t a pastiche, it’s a modern take on a classic time. As Lee always says, “we’re just passing the baton”.
Can you think of future songs that you’d like to cover?
Right now I’m thinking of doing a Valentine-themed EP. I’ve already got Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day” done. Valentine’s Day is so crap if you’re NOT with someone, or sometimes even when you are.. so I’d like to provide an antidote!
How excited are you to play in LA at the Grammy Museum?
I’m over the moon. It couldn’t be more perfect, what with the ‘California Dreaming – Sounds of Laurel Canyon’ exhibit being there at the same time. Can you believe it? I’m doing a show with the guys I grew up listening to, who played on the records that influenced me AND, there’s an exhibit in the building celebrating them, that scene, and that sound they were so instrumental in creating…wow!
Can you recall some memorable live shows? And favorite venues and/or crowds?
When I took these guys to London earlier this year, I swear it felt like the greatest homecoming. I was literally the cat that got the cream! My favorite venues are often the intimate ones where the audience feel like they’re in my living room, and the best audiences are the ones who aren’t afraid to feel and want to be entertained.
The 70’s, Opera, jazz, folk, Joni, Elton, Aretha, Carole King, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sondheim, Debussy, Chopin, Mozart…all things classical really.
Anyone new on the radio that you are enjoying?
Check out Jacob Collier on YouTube, he’s going to be a HUGE star.
Living or dead, who are some artists that you would love to work with and why?
I would love to sit at Rachmaninov’s feet, talk Opera with Rufus Wainwright, Perform in a Sondheim musical, harmonize with James Taylor, write with Elton John, make a big band record with Nelson Riddle and hear my father sing one last time..