Katey Sagal is a woman of many talents. Having made her name in the world of film and television with standout roles on “Married…With Children” and “Sons of Anarchy,” she is every bit as multi-faceted as the characters she portrays. However, which might come as a surprise to some, she has had a long musical career which parallels her acting career. The highlights of amazing aspect of her life are quite astounding, as she has done backup vocals for Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Tanya Tucker, Gene Simmons and more. She also has released two solo albums to date, 1994’s ‘Well….’ and 2004’s ‘Room,’ in addition to contributing music to the “Sons of Anarchy” soundtrack.Showing no signs of slowing down, Sagal is releasing of her new album, Covered, on Entertainment One Music on November 12, 2013. Covered, is Sagal’s first studio album in 9 years, and features a duet with Jackson Browne on Steve Earle’s heartbreaking song “Goodbye.” The album also features covers of songs by noted songwriters Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith, Tom Petty, Ryan Adams and more. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Katey Sagal to discuss her musical roots, the creation of her latest album and much more.
I wanted to start off by hearing a little about your early years. What are some of your earliest memories of music?
My father used to play for me Ella Fitzgerald and took me to see Nina Simone at the Troubadour when I was twelve or thirteen years old in Los Angeles. Those were that kind of influence. I have been singing since I was even younger. I started listening to Laura Nyro when I was a teen. I taught myself to play the paino. I decided I wanted to be just like her! Joan Mitchell was another huge influence, of course. My influences were an eclectic bunch. I had a friend who taught me all about Robert Johnson and I was in a band singing blues music. I had this sort of soul/blues thing going on when I was younger.
Obviously, many people recognize you instantly from your work in television and film. However, you got your start in the music business. What was it about music that made your want to pursue it as a career early on?
I think it was a combination of things. I had a natural ability and my mother had been a singer, so I grew up singing. As a kid, I was socially awkward and music became my calling card. It became the reason people liked me! [laughs] I went to my high school graduation night and I was in the band! I didn’t go with a date, I went and sang! It became who I was! That is absolutely the truth of it. It gave me self esteem and was something I always did.
Your latest album is titled, “Covered.” What made now the time for you to do an new album and what inspired you to choose these terrific songs?
It seems like I make a record about every ten years, which for me is unbelievable! I don’t know how the time goes by so quickly! I was really wanting to make another record, this is my third one. I started to write and found that everything I was writing was something i didn’t like. I have been doing ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and I have three kids at home, so writing takes a lot of time and energy. I just didn’t have that to put in, so I decided I was going to find other people’s songs which I love to do to. I made it more about interpreting the music, rather than writing the music. Bob Theile, who is the guy who does all the music on “Sons of Anarachy,” produced my record. We just started the process of listening to music. That was a long process. We would find a bunch of songs and demo them. They were just guitar and vocal demos. I was looking for songs that hit me emotionally, as well as being right for my voice. There were a lot of things require for a song to be something I wanted to have on my record. Some of this music is nostalgic for me. I did a Laura Nyro song and a Joni Mitchell song because as I said, these are people I grew up listening to. I also found songwriters from the current era that I love so much, like Steve Earle, Ryan Adams and Ryan LaMontagne. I did a lot of listening to new songwriters I wasn’t familiar with. That was fascinating! Ya know, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I feel like the ten we landed on were the best of it. We could tell pretty early on when a song worked sitting in a room with a guitar. If it doesn’t work there, it just isn’t going to work. There were a few songs we started arranging in more intricate stages but we could pretty much tell what was going to work.
What can you tell us about the players who accompany you on this record?
There are great musicians on the record. The basic rhythm section is Matt Chamberlin, Sebastian Steinberg and Lyle Workman. Those guys are amazing! I had never worked with Matt Chamberlin. I love him! [laughs] He is an amazing drummer and for a singer he is an amazing drummer! He is just so musical. Davey Faragher is one the record and he is a phenomenal bass player. Greg Leisz is all over the record as well. There are so many terrific people on the record. That is the core group right there and I felt blessed to have them.
Looking back on the making of this album, what do you consider the biggest challenge in bringing it to life?
Finding the time! [laughs] It was really about making the time! Ya know, when I am not doing “Sons of Anarchy,” I get about five to six months off, so I really have half the year but it seems time gets filled up so quickly. This year, I took three months. I made a little movie and decided I wasn’t going to do anything else except for work on the record. We got the most concentrated amount of work done at the beginning of this year. It was all about finding the time when I wasn’t spending time with my kids, which is a big part of my life. It was a challenge to fit it all in.
When it comes to writing your own music, what can you tell us about your writing process?
I don’t have one set way. I usually just bang around on the piano and guitar while singing along to see what happens. I will tell you, the truth for me is that I need to spend more time with it. It has been a long time since I have been in the groove of songwriting. I try to write other things as well and what I know is that writers need to write all the time. If you don’t write all of the time or it becomes something you rarely use, I feel the muscle gets weak. Sometimes I will sit there and a play a melody and then something happens or sometimes I will write a lyric but most of the time it is music first. However, right now, the muscle is weak! [laughs] I am actually trying to write every day. I am trying to write some things by diddling around on my computer, little stories.
One of the songs in the album is Steve Earle’s “Goodbye” featuring Jackson Browne. He is a huge musical icon. How did your collaboration came about?
I have known Jackson for a while socially. I am not quite sure when I met him originally but I have known him for a while because I am from LA and he is around LA. We have both been around for a long time. When I was recording that particular song, I wanted to use the Spanish guitar and the violin that are on that recording. They play with Jackson and also with Leonard Cohen. My producer said, “Why don’t you see if Jackson wants to duet on the song?” Jackson was in town and sitting in with this other friend of mine. The guitar and fiddle player were also there. I just went down and hung out with them for a little bit and asked him to come sing. He said he would! It was really, really special. I wasn’t there when he sang his part. I had already done mine and he went in and did his. He liked it! That was so great because I am in reverence of him because I think he is one of the great songwriters of all-time. I also did his “For A Dancer” song on the album too. He liked both of them, so it made me really happy.
As you said, you have done an album about every ten years. Did you learn anything about yourself this time around as an artist?
Oh yeah, I really did. The recording process has it’s own learning curve. I think there is live singing and then there is recorded music sininging, just like there is film acting and stage acting. There are different methods and different in and outs. I felt so much more relaxed this time than on my last record. I felt more confident and not as critical, I would say. Early on when I made records, when I was in my twenties on Elektra Records, I was working with a guy named Richie Podolor who recorded my first record. I was so hyper critical of everything that he finally asked me to leave the studio. He was like “Just do your vocals and then leave!” [laughs] He wouldn’t even let me listen to it played back because I was my own worst critic. I was just so intimidated. I think it is a combination of being older, which brings comfort for me, and trusting myself more. I don’t know if that answers you question about ing learning but I felt I was growing throughout this entire process.
What do you consider you consider your biggest musical milestone so far?
My biggest musical milestone? I am going to say it is this record. I really love it and I think it came out really well. I have done some really great things along the way. When I was singing for Etta James, I remember we opened for the Rolling Stones and it was amazing! When I was with Bette Midler, I got to travel all over the world and sang in incredible places. My musical life has been very fulfilling. It just hasn’t been something I have done consistently. So I would definitely consider this new record to be my biggest milestone.
You have a rich history in music and it continues to be a part of your life. Do you have any musical bucket list items?
I would like to just keep playing. At this point in my life, that is my goal. I made this record because I love to play music. If other people love it that would be great but if they don’t, that’s ok too. I will continue to play music! What I would hope though is that this would allow me to continue to perform and have people want more. It is a one of those things where it is like “If you want it, I can make more!” It is sort of a give and take. I just hope to keep going. I feel like I am just getting started in some ways and I would love to keep playing. I love to play live. I hope am inspired to write some more music. It is something I do like to do. I just want to keep doing it!
You obviously have a very busy schedule but do you have any plans on hitting the road in support of this release?
Yeah, we have done a little bit. We performed at Stagecoach this year. I just did the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco and I played the El Rey in LA. We are doing a few choice things here and there. I have this great band so to get them all schedule and all to be there is a challenge but we will as schedules permit! My schedule is pretty open, so I am hoping that will all work out!
You have played so many contrasting characters in your acting career as well as having this amazing musical side to you. Do you feel there are any misconceptions out there about yourself?
I think I am funny and a good comedic actress but I don’t think I am as funny as people think I am! [laughs] I think I am much more serious than people think I am! I think if you once played comedy, they think you are always a standup or something. I am not! [laughs]
I am sure a lot of people out there look to you as an inspiration. What do you consider the best lesson that can be taken from your life and times?
I talk to my children about it all of the time because my older children are both budding artists. They are fantastic actors and musicians. They are great! I tell them all the time it all comes down to practice. I think if you are person in this craft, you have to be self motivated. If you are a writer, you have to write all of the time. If you are an actor, singer or musician, you have to practice. Practice will come somewhat easier if you have a passion for what it is that you are doing. I think to do this and to make a living at it, it has to be somewhat undeniable to yourself. My example of that from my life is I was enormously focused on this path of my life. I have no other skill set really other than to be a singer or an actor. I was very drive and focused. I think you have to be self-motivated before someone will actually give you a job or give you a break. I don’t know if that is the answer to the question but it is really about practice, having faith and being sure it is what you really want.
I am sure you have seen a lot during your journey through the entertainment industry. Any chance we might see a book out of you in the future?
I have started writing a little bit because there are some people who want me to do that. I am considering doing a memoir of sorts but I am not sure what form it will take. It is something I have definitely been trying to focus on.
I know you are involved with some truly amazing charities. Anything we could help shine the light on?
Sure! One of the big ones is The Boot Campaign. You can learn more about them at www.bootcampaign.com. The other big one, of course, is The Wounded Warriors Project (www.woundedwarriorproect.org). Both of those organizations help our returning veterans and do really amazing work.
Anything you want to say to you fans old and new before I let you go?
The record is coming out on November 11th. I hope people really enjoy it and I hope they come hear me sing when I get there, wherever they are!
Absolutely! Thank you so much for your time today, Katey! We will keep spreading the word on all you do!
Thank you so much, Jason!
Katey Sagal’s album hits stores on November 11th, 2013. Order and preview ‘Covered’ from Amazon.com. For all the latest news and developments, visit her official website at www.kateysagal.net. Connect with her on Twitter at twitter.com/KateySagal.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.