Jean Louisa Kelly has had experience on the stage and screen throughout her life. She has done theater, musical theater, TV and film and is well-known for both her role in the John Candy film “Uncle Buck” where she played Tia as well as from the CBS comedy “Yes Dear” where she spent six years playing Kim Warner.
Jean has now turned her incredible talent to composing music and released her first EP, “Willing” last year. The songs on the EP were written and performed by Jean herself. She just released her follow-up to last year’s album, an EP titled, “Relax, Nothing is Under Control”, which Jean describes as being “much more eclectic” than “Willing.” She says, “There is not one song that is similar to the next in this group, they are truly all different genres and styles.”
TNWU was able to catch up with Jean to talk about her career, the inspiration for her music and what we can expect from her in the future.
You have been involved in the performing arts since you were a child and done theater and musical theater as well as TV and movies. You also write and perform your own music – some people would say you are the total package! Which of these art forms is your favorite?
Um, gosh… I think singing is probably my favorite, but it’s kind of tough to decide, they’re all kind of connected – musical theater in particular, that’s the most fun. I don’t do that as much now because I have kids and I haven’t committed to anything long-term. You know when you do a play you can’t really put people to bed at night or help them with their homework. I do occasional benefits where I’ll sing a couple of songs; I did a reading last week from a play, but it was short-term stuff because my priority has been my kids for a while now. Although it is becoming easier to go do my things because they’re more self-sufficient than they used to be, so that’s kind of nice.
How old are your children?
My son is twelve, he’ll be thirteen in July and my daughter is ten.
As they get older do you think that there something else out there that you’d like to explore? Directing perhaps? Maybe composing for musical theater?
I don’t know, I never thought I would be writing music so it’s kind of hard to say what’s coming, but I do know… I’ve kind of learned that I have to stay creative or it’s not good. I’ll create some drama in my life instead of creating it in my art (laughs). So that is a good thing to know about myself.
It’s so funny, I was just thinking to myself ‘I wonder if I would like to learn how to actually do the technical side – you know like the computer – side of music because I know how to get musicians together and book a place and write the music and do all that, but I don’t know how to actually technically work the devices. I don’t know, maybe someday I’ll learn how to do that. Right now, well I was literally just thinking about it, and then I thought, “nah, I don’t want to do that right now (laughs). It’s too hard with everything else that’s on my plate’.
You know, I’m very bossy and directing would probably come very naturally to me, so that, that might be my future, but it sort of depends on how things pan out. I guess my answer is I’m totally open to what the future holds and I’m curious and I like to be creative so I think that the possibilities are endless.
I think that that makes sense for any of us. Keeping an open mind is something that would keep us all from missing opportunities that might pop up in our lives. I think that even on the production side of music you need to be a little bit bossy, so maybe that would work for you!
(laughs) Yep! That might work. I definitely get too bossy when I’m producing the music as it is because, it’s interesting… I find that when I’m making something – you know I’m unable to do this by myself. I have to have the musicians, who are these great guys who are wonderful and I’ve got this amazing engineer who is also acting as my… he’s basically been the consulting producer helping me all along. His name is Michael Eisenstein. I can kind of tell when something doesn’t work for me by… it’s like a feeling in my stomach. Like, if I don’t like something, my stomach will let – I guess it’s my gut – will let me know and then you have to be willing to go with that. At least I do because I’m not happy unless I’ve listened to that (instinct) and I know by now that if I don’t, it’s just going to bother me, so I might as well just listen (to it) in the beginning.
That makes so much sense. I think a lot of people have that inner voice but ignore it or are not really attuned to it.
Right! It’s so easy to doubt yourself, you know. You think ‘Who am I? What do I know?’ But it doesn’t really matter… I mean, it doesn’t really matter the way that I’m doing it. If I had millions of people relying on me for their jobs then that might be different, but this is just… for me, this has been a purely creative process that’s just been for the sake of creativity itself so I feel like if I’m not going to honor that, then what’s the point?
You know, I read recently that science has proven a connection between our minds and our guts – for lack of a better word – and that this connection, this instinct is real. Our stomach or guts do give us feedback on our choices and decisions. People often say, I’ve heard this so many times, that when they finally get something right, they feel it in their gut.
I don’t think I ever really understood that until I started writing music. You know, I’ve been on the earth for a few decades now (laughs), and I don’t think I understood it as much until I started writing music, it got much more specific for me. Which is kind of cool.
What initially drew you to music composition? What inside you said, ‘I should write a song, I should make this into a song’?
The first album I did was a children’s music album and I wrote it when my kids were younger. My daughter was five, maybe four and my son was six or seven and I was in the middle of parenting and I was frustrated. I was trying to get my son to eat his dinner and he wouldn’t eat his vegetables or whatever, and I just ran over to the piano and I started banging out some silly song about the process of me trying to make him eat and it turned into a song that I… I ended up writing about eleven or twelve songs for kids about life and growing up and emotions and all that stuff. There were questions that would come up and I would try to use music to work out the answers. So it was really inspired by my kids and by… I don’t know if you remember that album “Free to Be You and Me” that Marlo Thomas did back in the seventies?
Yes, I do remember that record. I was around in the 70’s.
(laughs) That’s awesome! I loved that – we grew up listening to that and it was kind of the same feeling that I had, so I have to really say that I don’t know if I could have started doing this if I hadn’t started doing it for my kids. Because I think if I had just started writing songs “grown up” songs I would have thought ‘Who am I? I can’t do this’. But when it’s for kids it feels like the pressure is off a little bit. I was so pleased with that album; I love it so much. It’s called “Color of Your Heart” and my friend Heather Reid who is a wonderful musician helped me produce that. She taught me how to make an album and so we made it and it’s a CD – a physical CD. I did the artwork myself for the cover and I love it. But there were songs that came up during the process of writing that album that were too grown up and didn’t really match so I just tucked them away.
A couple of years after that I worked on some them and some other ones came to me and so I wrote my first grown up album if you will. Then I was advised to split it in half and release it as two EPs, so the first half came out last year – it was called “Willing” – and it had five songs on it and they’re all sort of in the same vein musically. They were like a nice grouping they went well together. They were all sort of ballad-y.
Now this group is more up tempo. These were the songs that didn’t really fit in with the last group and they are all so different so that after “Willing” came out I let a year go by and I thought ‘I don’t want to forget about these songs. I want to make sure I finished them’. Because we did record them, we recorded all the songs at the same time with the musicians. So I had to do a little more work on them and we finished them up and that’s why… that’s the progression of how it all went. I guess that’s kind of a long answer.
You currently perform the songs you write yourself, would you consider composing for other people?
I don’t know that I would right now. I mean, never say never, but they’re so personal. You know what I could see… if I wrote a show, a musical, I could see that for sure, but I didn’t go to school for this. I will say that at one point I did consider having other people sing the songs on my children’s album because I know a lot of people and I thought it might be kind of cool to have different celebrities and different actors sing these songs. But then, I really wanted to sing them myself so I said ‘no, I’ve done the work, I want the pleasure of singing the songs’.
The new EP is called “Relax, Nothing is Under Control” which sounds to me like business as usual, what led to this title?
Oh, I mean I guess I found that the more I try to control things the less control I really have (laughs). I’m better off… you know, it’s kind of what we were talking about, following your intuition and allowing life to fill in the blanks. Having a little faith that things will fall into place. I mean… I’m not saying I can do this I’m saying that’s the goal.
We talked earlier about where you get most of the inspiration for your songs, but do you ever get struck by something that stops you to where you think, ‘that would make a great topic for a song’ and have to take notes for later?
Oh yeah! That happened today. I was driving along Sunset Boulevard and I had a song come into my head and I hit the voice memo on my phone and I started singing it because generally if I don’t do that it goes away and I’ll never hear it again!
I wrote a song called “Valley of Fire” last fall for a movie. I was on location in Vegas doing a movie and I went for a hike in Red Rock Canyon and I had an idea all of a sudden for a song and I just went along on my hike and I recorded it into my voice memo bit by bit. Then when I got home, back from location, I went in with my pianist Peter Adams, who is an amazing keyboardist. He helped me put it down, he produced the song for me and I gave it to the guys who are going to use it in the film. That came from a hike, but you know you have to catch the wave when it comes.
The whole technology of the iPhone has made this thing possible. Ten years, twenty years ago you could not have… I could not have done what I’m doing now. The technology is there it makes so that anybody and do anything really!
Do you find composing relaxing or does it get you excited or ‘jazzed up’?
I would say that is relaxing/exciting because when I’m doing something where I’m in the flow and I’m feeling it and it feels right, it is relaxing and exciting and that’s how it is when things are going well. I don’t really have a lot of pressure on me, it’s like nobody’s going to care if I don’t do it so it’s just for my pleasure, so I don’t feel that pressure.
Does it or do you feel different performing your own songs versus those written by others?
Yeah to an extent. When I’m doing one of my songs it’s really pretty much my voice. Like for example, I’m doing a benefit in June where I’m going to sing a couple of old Broadway standards. One of them is from Funny Girl and one of them is from Carousel and the characters determine the voice. It’s almost like a costume and the songs don’t really work very well if you don’t put the right costume on, is my take on it. So it is different and in some ways I feel more pressure when I’m doing my own stuff because I’m cognizant of the fact that I don’t want to be dishonest in any way and I want to make sure that it’s the truth – which is kind of hard because the truth can change in any given moment. I don’t want to be pretending, I want it to be as authentic as it can be so I probably put a little more pressure on myself when I sing my own songs. I will also add that for some reason I always write stuff that’s really hard to sing. The range is really generally pretty big, really high notes and really low notes (laughs).
Is there anything that you would want to tell your 15-year-old self if it were possible for you to do so?
I would have to say “Relax, Nothing is Under Control” (laughs)!
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