As some of you may remember, I interviewed One Life to Live‘s musical director, Paul Glass, for a Popdose feature a couple of years ago. We’ve stayed in touch since then, and I’ve had the opportunity to see musical guests perform a couple of times (to my everlasting regret, I came thisclose to witnessing Snoop Dogg hanging out with daytime legend Erika Slezak, but couldn’t make it). From hosting bands to putting on multi-day musical extravaganzas, what Paul, executive producer Frank Valentini, and the rest of the show’s team are able to do on a tight schedule (and tighter budget) is impressive — and they’re doing it again with The Sound of a Kiss, a seven-song digital EP timed to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
“Frank and I started talking about the possibility of releasing a Valentine’s Day album at the beginning of December,” says Paul now, “and I delivered it to iTunes the first week of February.”
Up against a quick turnaround on top of his regular schedule, which entails scoring and mixing the music for six episodes a week, Glass had to balance time constraints against his fondness for the show’s performers. “We had gotten a huge response on the Kelley Missal song that Danielle sang for her on-screen parents, and I had been wanting to get that to the fans,” he explains.
“Kassie DePaiva is such an important part of the musical fabric of the show and I was in the process of working on her song for New Year’s Eve, so we decided to that would be a perfect fit,” he adds, “and I love working with Kristen Alderson and Brittany Underwood, and feel like their voices need to be part of anything that we would produce. David Gregory performed on our last musical, which was a great experience, and had a song that I thought would be perfect for him — and I also liked the idea of working a duet with Brittany, who plays his love interest Langston, into the album. Because of the crunched schedule from concept through delivery, we had to limit the number of tracks included.”
We discussed The Sound of a Kiss with two of the cast members who performed on the album — and who know a thing or two about the show’s history: Kassie DePaiva, who has played Blair Cramer since 1993, and Kristen Alderson, who has played Blair’s daughter Starr since 1998. Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation:
Kassie, I was listening to your most recent album last night, and one of the things that really struck me about it was how unvarnished the production is. It’s a lot subtler than the type of thing you tend to do on television.
Kassie: Well, that was kind of the point of that record in particular — to have an unplugged sound, more acoustic. David Nichtern, who produced it, just loves bluegrass, and that’s just kind of the feel I wanted for that particular album.
This leads me to another question, which is: How do you approach song selection when you’re performing on the show? How much is up to you?
Kassie: Well, it’s interesting. Sometimes they let me sing songs from my albums on the show — Frank Valentini has been very generous that way — but most of the songs…you know, by the time I find out that I’m singing, it’s already been in the works for a couple of weeks with the writers and Paul Glass — who is brilliant. He already has something in mind. And now because of production, and ABC wanting to own publishing and such, I kinda just leave all that up to them.
Paul certainly knows my voice, and he knows where the story is going, probably more than I do, and he gives me options, definitely. I just say “At least give it to me 10 days in advance so I can learn it!” [Laughs] You know, be true to it. Give it some justice.
The music is just like anything else with the show — it’s about the story. And ultimately, it shouldn’t be our choice, because we’re not the writers and we don’t have the overall picture. I could pick thousands of great songs, but how is it most appropriate to tell the story? Are they using it in Act Six, or is it me singing to Starr, or is it me singing to tell Todd I hate him?
That’s what I think the true strength of One Life to Live is, and how they use me. They can use the songs in different ways, whether it’s a performance or really using it to tell a story. I think Frank Valentini really loves music, and it shows. He uses it to really enhance the palette.
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I know things in daytime tend to have to come together pretty quickly. Was that true for The Sound of a Kiss? What was the process like for you?
Kristen: We didn’t have much time at all. For the “Starr X’d Lovers” episodes, we would record the song maybe the night before filming it — actually, I think it was a week before we started filming this stuff, we had a day where we had a big rehearsal space, and we learned all the choreography. The next week, we went in and recorded the songs, and then filmed the scenes the next day. It was a very fast, fast pace. But I sort of like it like that — it makes it more of an experience, because everyone is so focused, and I just like being busy anyway.
Kristen, let’s about the way your musical aspirations have developed. Obviously, you’ve been on the show for quite awhile, and you’ve started singing more often over the last few years…
Kristen: Well, I’ve always loved singing. My first job was being Molly in Annie on Broadway, and I’ve always had a love for it, and I think one of the things that’s so great about One Life is the way they utilize the fact that so many of us can sing. We’re lucky that they’ve done that. And there have also been a lot of events, like Broadway Cares and the Super Soap Weekends, where I’ve been able to sing and perform. Every time I do, it reminds me how much I love doing it.
To a certain extent, soaps in the ‘80s seemed a lot more open to singing, and it helped the careers of performers like Jack Wagner and Michael Damian. Why do you think One Life to Live has continued to maintain that tradition where other shows haven’t?
Kristen: It helps that we have a lot of musical guests. Paul Glass always tries to get popular artists that are appropriate to the whole vibe of the show, and we’ve also done two musicals — first “Prom Night,” and then “Starr X’d Lovers.” He’s done such a great job — and with this last musical, it wasn’t just original songs, either. We got to mix in some hits.
Does it add another layer to the performance for you when you’re singing as your character?
Kassie: Yes, definitely. I can’t often give the performance that I would if I were recording an album, because I’m coming from an emotional place that’s about the story. Performing on One Life to Live is usually within the context of an oven of emotion, you know, some deep-rooted emotional story to tell, whereas on my albums, I’m just trying to convey an emotional connection to a song, so there are a lot more variables on the show. Plus, you’re shooting a video at the same time — you’ve got to hit your notes, and hit your marks.
Kristen: Oh, it adds a completely different element to be aware of. I mean, we’re not singing live when they film the scenes — they’re playing the recording and we’re singing along. But yeah, it’s just a whole different thing when you’re singing to the sky or whatever. It’s almost like a Broadway thing, which I love, because it brings me back to where I started, in a way.
Usually, when soap characters sing, the songs tend to be ballads, and ones with a lot of big production. Kind of adult contemporary stuff. And it seems like Kristen Alderson listens to music that might be a little edgier than the songs Starr Manning sings.
Kristen: Yeah. When Starr sings, it’s always really storyline-oriented, and she’s had a lot of dark things happen to her. Sad times. And so these are songs that are meant to give her strength — songs like “We Belong” and “I’m the One.” Power ballads. For me, in real life, knock on wood, I’ve had things a little easier than Starr does. [Laughs] Maybe that’s why I’m not singing about things like that.
But it’s always hard to pick songs to sing publicly. I do like to sing slow songs; I’m used to it, and that’s kind of where I’m comfortable. But you know, when you’re singing in front of a crowd, you want to do something a little more uptempo, to get them into it, and get things going. It’s difficult to choose. That’s why I just want Paul Glass to pick them and give them to me. [Laughs]
And also, Paul has pushed me to sing things I didn’t think I could. Like “We Belong” — I thought there was no way I was going to be able to sing a Pat Benatar song, but he said, “You’ll be fine, I have faith in you. I know how you sing. You can do it.” And then I actually sang it! I think sometimes I get in my head about stuff, and Paul is really encouraging.
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Kassie: Paul’s brilliant. I mean, just with The Sound of a Kiss, he worked so hard. He and Dave Marino are really the ones who put their hearts and souls into it. Paul produced the vocals, he found the songs, and he’s just a dream to work with. He’s had this vision for music — in fact, we both shared this vision of music for ABC, long before they started selling it on iTunes.
It’s just so hard for a television company to realize that there is music to be made, and money to be made selling it. You’d think one hand would feed the other, but sometimes things are so disconnected. Finally, though, I think things are coming together as far as bridging that musical gap with the show. But Paul is a genius, and he should get all the glory on this one.
What are your future plans for your recording career?
Kassie: I’m not working on anything right now. You know, I was singing with Kathy Brier [ex-Marcie, OLTL] and Bobbie Eakes [Krystal, All My Children] as the Divas of Daytime TV, and I love that more than anything. I mean, if I could give up my day job and do anything, I just love singing with those women. The harmonies give me chills. But with Kathy off the show and Bobbie out in California, the logistics make it a little more difficult. But we do some concerts every now and then, and we have some possibilities for 2011 — nothing etched in stone, which frustrates me a little, because that is just such a nice break from doing whatever I do. I get so much joy out of being on stage singing with those ladies.
Kristen: I don’t have any plans, but I would really like to do that someday. Anytime I perform somewhere, or I sing — like, for instance, on this soundtrack — it makes me want to do it more. I just feel like I’m still finding out what kind of singer I am. I don’t know what my singing identity is yet. Once I figure that out, I really would like to make an album.