Vonda Shepard Kicks Off Kickstarter Campaign to Fund New Album

You know Vonda Shepard as a star of screen (TV’s Ally McBeal) and stage (the recent New York revival of Randy Newman’s Faust). Now the singer/songwriter is set to conquer yet another milieu: your living room. That is, if you are one of the successful bidders for the in-home concert premium when it comes up for offer as part of her Kickstarter campaign, which kicks off in November.

If booking and hosting an actual Shepard concert is a bit beyond your means, there are lesser prizes to be had, from personalized recordings to platinum records. Of course, for fans, the most valuable item she’s offering may be the one that’s least expensive: copies of her upcoming album, which this crowdsourcing campaign is designed to fund. Dollar amounts can be set on the memorabilia items Shepard will be presenting fans that kick in the right amount. But the chance to finally get hands on her first album of new studio material in six years? Priceless.

What should the fans signing on to her Kickstarter campaign expect, beyond the satisfaction of being exceptionally tasteful patrons of the arts? At the most basic levels, incentives include signed photos, songbooks, and copies of her back catalogue are further incentives. Shepard will also be offering some of the gold and platinum albums she picked up from around the world for her Ally McBeal soundtracks. (“I never put them up, but somebody might like to have them,” she says, “and I’d rather give them away and raise the money needed to make a record.”) At the highest levels of support, she’ll record a one-of-a-kind birthday or anniversary serenade for you and yours, or come up with a studio recording of the cover song of your choice, or bring a trio along to perform a house concert, if you think your abode is ready to abide in the presence of that voice.

What fans will be investing in is her seventh studio album, tentatively dubbed Rookie. It’s a title that bears no little irony, since this year marks 25 years since the release of her self-titled Warner Bros. debut. Being of independent ways and means now, Shepard doesn’t necessarily have to raise a fortune to make a record that’ll sound like a million bucks, thanks to the ongoing participation of producer/maestro Mitchell Froom (of collaborative Elvis Costello, Crowded House, and Bonnie Raitt fame), who’s been behind the boards for all of her albums since By 7:30 in 1999.

The songs have been written and are rarin’ to go. The soon-to-be-recorded album promises a mixture of moods and tempos, with perhaps slightly more emphasis on the upbeat than some past efforts. “Half of the songs I’ve written are these super-funky, dancey tunes,” Shepard says. “I felt a need to go crazy, a little bit, on this album. I’m making sure I’ve got a few songs that really focus on that element—the soulful groove, not as a cliché, but in my own way. And there are even a couple of really catchy, fun, pure pop songs in the lineup, and I’m excited about them, because they’re going to be great to play live.” But the woman who wrote and sang “Baby, Don’t You Break My Heart Slow” is never about to leave every eye in the house dry. “I’ve heard that Paul Simon fills four legal pads with lyrics for one song alone,” she says. “I may not fill four, but when I’m writing an extremely honest, painful ballad, of which there are a few on this album, I do fill up about two!”

Shepard is charging into this project coming off one of the most unexpected and exhilarating experiences of her career: her belated debut as a musical stage actress. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend Randy Newman hand-picked her to play the part of Martha in his version of Faust, which thrilled audiences at New York’s City Center this summer. For her first stage acting role, Shepard earned such grand reviews from New York’s tough theater critics, you could almost believe she’d paid off the devil. Said Playbill: “Indie-pop singer/songwriter Shepard was the find of the evening, at least for audiences unfamiliar with her five years of acting and singing on Ally McBeal.” The Theatermania.com critic called the Newman/Shepard duet of “Feels Like Home” “one of the year’s great stage moments to date.” New York Times theater critic Christopher Isherwood weighed in with a rave, too, calling her duet with Newman on “Feels Like Home” “the song that received the warmest reception” and adding: “Ms. Shepard’s soulful singing brought out the yearning quality in Mr. Newman’s own.”

“In Faust, I was a sassy little tart and kind of a bitch,” she laughs. In other words, not typecasting. “I was wearing high heels and a black dress and vamping around and doing some dancing and sweeping my hand across the piano and flirting with the Devil (Newman).” Those comedic aspects were a kick, but she admits she felt most in her element when the show took a turn for the earnest with “Feels Like Home,” one of Newman’s best-loved and most sincerely felt ballads. “I definitely knew how to do that: sing a song that has that much feeling. I remember how powerful it felt, and what a relief it was, after the bigger, showier numbers with acting and dancing… it really did feel like home.”

Meanwhile, fans would argue that it’s been too long away from her natural home as an artist, making the kind of solo studio albums that would inevitably get her described as “soulful” in each review even if “Searchin’ My Soul” hadn’t emerged as her signature song.

The likely title track from the coming album, “Rookie,” is a song about… not being a rookie. “It’s actually the opposite of what the title suggests,” Shepard says. “It’s about a person who’s been around the block… around all the blocks! The chorus says ‘I’m not a rookie,’ and it really conveys this feeling that I’m a ‘bad-ass’ who’s going to throw it down.” Bad-ass? Maybe playing the Devil’s girlfriend in Faust had some kind of lasting effect after all. In any case, if you want to hear just how upbeat Shepard has gotten in the years since her previous album, there’s just one course for a fan to follow: Baby, don’t you kick her start slow.