Award-winning singer-songwriter SCOTT ALAN presents his one-man musical, The Journey, at London’s Live at Zédel from 27 December to 8 January.
Told through more than a dozen new and established songs, The Journey charts the writer’s story through sexual awakening and battles with physical and mental health.
The show also features music that has been a magnate for some of the world’s greatest singers, from Grammy Award winners Pentatonix to Tony Award winner Lea Salonga.
Here the writer is in conversation with Michael Darvell.
Where did the idea of telling your own story in song come from?
I started working on the show back in 2012. Things changed after I became a huge fan of Benjamin Scheuer’s The Lion. I loved the stage production that I was able to see with my friend Mark [Shenton] in New York, and I adore the album. I had started working on The Journey about two years prior, but it wasn’t landing as I had filled it almost as a song cycle, with me at the centre. After seeing his show I cut all the other characters and just made it into a pure one-man show. It has been developing and evolving since that day.
You have written a lot of songs for other performers, but are these songs written specially for yourself?
The new songs are all written specifically for me, yes. Most of my work is very personal and is written for me in that sense, so even the older material was pretty easy to place back in to its original origins.
Although you have had physical and mental problems yourself, how do they translate into song?
I consider myself a ‘therapy’ songwriter, meaning that I tend to just write whatever I would share in therapy. The only difference is that it is being sung at a piano. I find that any issue or development in my life is easily laid down into a song. It is actually the easiest form of communication for me.
Your show involves a voice, a piano and some humour. Does the humour help to lighten the load of the problems you are writing about?
Yes, I always try to balance my concerts with humour. When working on this show I made sure to keep the script as light and humorous as possible so that the songs can land with the emotional heft that they are meant to. Without humour, it just becomes one long sob story and nobody wants that. I like to have the audience cracking up one minute and crying the next.
You take an unsentimental look at yourself in a comedic way. Have you found this to be a cathartic way of dealing with what was once an unhappy time in your life?
Absolutely. I’m not a comedian, but most comedians will tell you that they are the darkest people. Humour is a way to share your story and make fun of it at your own expense. Once you can have leadership and power over your past, you control it. Humour gives you that opportunity.
Can you be dispassionate in song about a subject such as sexual awakening?
My sexual awakening is different to what might be implied in the text. The song written for this particular moment is my favourite in the show and is one that I will have the hardest getting through. It’s called ‘Quicksand’ and comes early on. It will be the one that I will either crumble while performing or find strength in knowing it’s being talked about.
How did you get started writing songs? Presumably you were a singer and pianist perhaps performing other writers’ songs, or did you always write your own material?
I didn’t start writing until I was 18 years old. I wasn’t taught piano but I sat down at the piano after my parents’ divorce and started to write, to use that communication as a way to share my feelings. That song was called ‘Kiss the Air,’ and was the song that I consider to be my official ‘first song’ toward greater things.
Have you always used your own life for inspiration in writing songs or do you gather material from other sources of everyday experience?
I tend to enjoy writing personal songs more than writing for shows. I have been working on one show called Home (once known as Piece) for many years and writing for characters. Though fun, it isn’t why I began writing. I like to express myself through music, so writing about my personal growth is where I’m at my strongest.
Have you been influenced by other singer-songwriters?
Oh absolutely. I grew up a big fan of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Walter Afanasieff, Diane Warren, David Foster and Stephen Schwartz.
Do you have any favourite singers or bands?
Growing up, everyone would mention Mariah Carey. Now I’m a bigger fan of other singer-songwriters like Jazmine Sullivan, Tina Arena, Emeli Sandé, Marc Broussard, Amos Lee.
What do you think of today’s music industry and can you empathise with the type of output that the current pop music scene has to offer?
I don’t rely on what’s popular. I tend to just stick to my favourites. The older I get, the less time I have to listen to the radio, so I’m starting to really feel old when I don’t even know the popular songs that the ‘young kids’ are listening to these days. Give me some Karen Carpenter and I’m happy.
Do you enjoy touring your show around the country and do you get different reactions depending on the audience you are playing to?
This will be the first time I’m actually performing The Journey live, so it will be my first time before setting out and seeing how the rest of the world reacts to it.
What’s next – or is The Journey your working life for the foreseeable future?
After The Journey at Zédel, I have a few concerts outside the US and then I am back home to Florida to live my life in sunshine and warmth. What tomorrow brings, I do not know. And I like it that way.
* Scott Alan is at Live at Zédel at Brasserie Zédel, Sherwood Street, London W1 from 27 to 30 December 2016 and from 3 to 8 January 2017.
* Scott Alan New Year’s Eve at Live at Zédel features Jon Moses, Lucy O’Bryne, Danny-Boy Hatchard, Alexia Khadime and more.
Compiled by Michael Darvell