The Felicitous Route
Even in this day and age, people dream that show business is propelled solely by a combination of natural-born talent and pure luck. While Felice LaZae has reaped the benefits of both in her lifetime, she holds a deep understanding of the other, more laborious ingredients of success: hard work, perseverance and determination.
Born in L.A. and raised for much of her life in Fair Oaks and Sacramento, LaZae’s early life was marked by artistic precocity in a wide variety of subjects, from writing and acting to Olympic-level martial arts. Eventually, she reigned in her interests to hone in with laser-like focus on music. Inspired by singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple, an early love of musicals and her own family’s diverse musical background from New York Jazz to New Orleans roots music, LaZae has boiled these interests down into an idiosyncratic blend of pop on her EP, Give it Away and her latest single, “I Need to Feel,” most recently featured on a promo for HGTV’s Flip or Flop.
Her preferred style is brassy, theatrical, and evocative of wildly different settings, almost akin to the experience of wandering through the buzzing energy of a film studio. At one moment there’s the ‘60s girl-group groove of “Grave Digger,” then the dirt road-stomping howl of “I Need to Feel,” followed by the suspenseful gunslinger breakdown of “Callin Me,” only to resolve in the swelling chamber strings and soul of sweet numbers like “Flowers.” When explaining her M.O., she’ll say that she thinks of her songs as short, self-contained films; she allows herself to change character in order to weave tall tales with a sort of richness that transcends the two-to-four minute confines of the average pop song. It is this literary/cinematic quality to her most lighthearted material which suggests the depth of her character and intellect. Her YouTube channel is filled with inventive covers and extracurricular one-offs, from riffs on TV themes from Wonder Woman and Adventure Time to a series of songs inspired by various novels. Her ear for style and hooks is also aided by her years as an audio engineering apprentice at Studio at the Palms in Las Vegas, where she befriended The Killers during sessions for the band’s sophomore album Sam’s Town, and ended up being featured as the model on the cover.
In the meantime, the up-and-coming LaZae continues the hard work of promotion and profile maintenance in a city of up-and-comers and big-screen dreamers, all the while keeping her identity intact, her goals in sight and—most importantly—her original love of the arts alive. As 2016 rolls ahead, she is optimistic and prepared as ever, gearing up for her debut album and a re-release of her original EP. Recently, we had to chance to catch up with LaZae herself to get the lowdown on the source of her work ethic and her plans to kick things up a notch in the coming year.
What was your musical upbringing like? Did you always aspire to be a singer?
I actually started out as an athlete. During my time in Sacramento while I was young, I was mainly training in Taekwondo, up to a very elite level. But I always loved music. My grandfather played guitar, and he would play around the house, and he used to play with a lot of musicians in New York. From a young age, my mom would sing songs with me. I would say my family is very musical, but they all chose careers in other areas—education, law, things like that. But they’re all very musically inclined. I was brought up in it, I joined choir along with being involved in sports. Eventually I came to a point where I realized, “I can’t do everything.” I needed to make a choice; I wanted to sing and I wanted to be in the Olympics! [laughs] We moved back up to Sacramento; I was still in high school. My parents were very supportive of what I wanted to do, but they wanted me to find a “smart” way to get into music. My mom didn’t want her daughter floundering in the music industry trying to get her foot in the door. I’d been really interested in the technical side as well, so I decided to graduate early and go right into audio engineering at ARC when I was 15. They have a really good commercial music program, a great way to learn my way around and work the studio. I ended up interning at Velvet Tone Studios with Pat Olguin. It was really transformational.
Is there anything from your Taekwondo training that is useful to your music career today?
I attribute a lot of my focus and discipline to Taekwondo, because those are kind of the main dogmas of Taekwondo when you’re training—discipline, perseverance, etc. I applied it when I decided to focus on music 100 percent. My dad was really involved in my Taekwondo training—we both took our black belt class together. So when I decided to focus on music, he told me that being talented is great, but talent will only get you so far—discipline and practice will get you much further. I took it to heart.
You’ve been making some inroads into the music industry lately, including various awards among L.A. based organizations. How is that going?
Recently I did some work for the Grammy Awards/Ciroc in a promotional performance, and I had some music featured on an HGTV program. As far as making inroads—when you come down to L.A. there’s a lot of people trying to do the same thing, and I think that what will separate you from the crowd—and I’m still working on this, so I’m not quite there yet—is just the perseverance. It’s like we’re going up a mountain, and other people are falling off as we’re climbing this mountain. You just have to keep climbing, keep looking up at the top and not looking down, not getting discouraged by how far you have to go. Just stay focused, because it can be a weaving path that can take some time. And you especially can’t be discouraged by “no.” You’re going to hear a lot of noes before you start hearing “yes.” Lately, I’ve been starting to get a lot more yeses, so I feel pretty good.
What is 2016 set to look like for you?
I think it’ll be pivotal. We’re finishing up the debut album, and we’re remastering the EP and getting it ready for re-release in spring. This last year I’ve been really increasing the amount of shows I’ve been doing and I can only imagine going further in the next year. After the album drops, hopefully that will build up some momentum, and I’ll be busy writing the next wave of material. I’m always thinking about the next thing.
How much does literature and/or film influence your music? Do your songs tend to work around a theme?
There’s definitely a theme behind a lot of my songs. I started out as a storyteller. I’ve been writing stories since I was a little girl. I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve always been singing, but I didn’t put the two together right away. At a very young age I would write poems, stories and I would even attempt to write novels. When I write songs, I think of them as little novels or movies. I’m a big cinephile, and I especially love murder mysteries. I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino. So I try and make each song a story. I like to think of them as penny dreadfuls. As far a literature goes, I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho as well, stories that have a lot of mysticism in them, I try to incorporate that into my songs. I like to take stories that may have happened to me and make them into a full-blown tall tale in my music.
Can you tell us about the Book Club Song Series?
I need to start that up again! This was an idea me and one of my best friends Julie Lujano thought would be a great way to combine our love of literature with our love of music. I’ve always known that Julie is a fantastic writer, but we had never sat down and written a song together. You know that feeling you get when you finish a good book and wish you could keep reading it? For me, writing a song about a book I really enjoyed kind of extended the euphoria I felt as I neared the last pages. The book we wrote our first novel-inspired song about is called A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness. We wanted to capture the mysticism and power of the main characters while also capturing their intense love for each other. It was such a completely different way to write a song for me while also being a novel way to examine and explore a book. I really can’t wait to do it again. This past year, the Book Club Song Series has been on hiatus, but we’re going to reboot it very soon.
You’ve been busy getting some of your work licensed for films and TV shows. Do you have control over how they’re used or what media they go into?
Yes and no. I have the control to at least say no. I’m working with a couple different companies right now who are helping with connecting my material to different licensing opportunities. Really, it’s a matter of what they’re looking for, and fortunately, the sound I have kind of lends itself to movies and TV, because that’s what I’m thinking about when I’m writing. It really depends on the person in charge. It’s hard to tell. Last year, with the HGTV commercial, I was really surprised because the song they used had little to do with home and garden—it’s kind of a sexy song! [laughs] But hopefully people will be hearing my songs in movies and on TV a lot more in the next year.
Back in ‘06 you appeared on the cover of The Killers’ Sam’s Town. What’s the story behind that?
So I was working at this recording studio called The Palms as a production assistant. The studio had opened that year, and The Killers were the first band to come in to record. They worked there for about four months, and they’re really just awesome guys. After a while it got to the point where they were like, “Well, we’re done with our session for today, do you guys want to come hang out afterwards?” We went and saw Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails with them. We all became friends, and as they got closer to finishing their album, they had a photo shoot that was planned. The night before the shoot, their product manager gave me a call about possibly being in the album artwork. I wasn’t brought in to be on the cover, I was supposed to be featured somewhere on the sleeve or CD insert. Initially they told me I was just going to be in a white dress, and that was it. But when we got there, the production manager was like, “Would you mind wearing a bikini?” I’d been watching a lot of America’s Next Top Model, and I just told myself, “This is what they expect you to do when you’re a model, it’s OK, you can do this!” Initially, what they wanted me for was to hold up a painting of Brandon Flowers’ grandfather in front of my face, which ended up as the cover for the single “Read My Mind.”
We had a really amazing photographer, Anton Corbin, a legendary photographer. Not bad for one of my first photo shoots! About a month later, I got a call from their product manager saying there was a 95 percent chance that I was going to be on the cover of the album. Apparently nothing clicked in their selection process until someone laid in The Killers logo between me and that goat. [laughs] It was just a matter of being in the right place and the right time, which happens a lot in show business.
You have two chances to catch Felice LaZae around Sacramento this month: Wednesday Feb. 24, 2016 at the Torch Club (904 15th Street) and Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 at H.ART Lounge in Placerville (304 Main Street). For info on these shows and more, check out Felicelazae.com.