“I want people to understand that music hits people on different levels,” said Kristin Chenoweth when speaking about her new album, For the Girls. “For example, ‘Desperado’ was written by men, but [made famous by] women singing it.”
The record is brimming with familiar songs that Chenoweth reinterprets in her own imitable style to great effect, including “The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand’s chart-topping tune from the 1973 movie of the same name; “Crazy,” Patsy Cline’s version of the Willie Nelson–penned song; and “I’m a Woman,” the 1962 Peggy Lee hit.
Chenoweth — who has a multifaceted career, finding success in television, film, on Broadway, and as a solo singer — can manipulate her voice to whichever musical style she wants, from jazz to pop to country to stage musicals. This enviable ability is on full display in For the Girls, which sees her flutter from the achingly delicate, aforementioned “Desperado” to the rebellious pop of “You Don’t Own Me” to the sultry “The Man that Got Away.”
Chenoweth will be performing in Santa Barbara on October 2, at the Granada. I recently spoke over the phone with the amiable, charming artist about For the Girls, including how she chose the tracks and how the title came to be.
The album track list is a delightful mix of styles and genres. I particularly liked “You Don’t Own Me” with Ariana Grande. Even though Lesley Gore recorded it in the 1960s, its sentiment still holds today. I know; I love Lesley Gore’s version — it really resonated with me. When I was making my list, I didn’t know that it was going to be a female-empowered album. But when I had the tracks together, I saw that they were all sung by kick-butt women and thought, “This is for the girls, for the women — and also the men who love us.” I worked on it for a year and a half. And during that time, Oprah gave her Golden Globes speech, turning the world on its ear. I thought, “I know why these strong women are inspiring me.” So that’s kind of how it evolved.
Your interpretation of “Desperado” is beautiful. Thank you, I was very nervous to sing it because it was written by men. But I have felt that that way in my life. So I just went for it. And I fully orchestrated it; it’s never been done with a full orchestra.
It’s funny, because men don’t have any problem writing for women, but society often seems to think that women can’t write about the male experience. Yeah, it doesn’t. It’s funny, though, because on my last record, I did a song that is very much a man’s song. And people were like, “Oh, I don’t know,” and I was like, “I’m doing it. And it’s the biggest hit on that record.”
How did you approach singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”? I thought, “Don’t think about [her version].” Like I can imitate her, but I didn’t want to do that. She would want you to do yours, I thought. So I did. And a lot of country music fans are going to be like, turn this off. But that’s okay. I want people to understand that music hits people on different levels. Just like “Desperado” being written by men, but women singing it.
How did you choose the songs on For the Girls? They kind of tell a little story. I had a long list of potential tracks, and then the songs revealed themselves to me. Like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” by Carole King — my mother listened to Tapestryevery day of my life. And it all just started making sense. And on “I’m a Woman” with Reba [McEntire] and Jennifer [Hudson], we’re all so different [as singers]. But we recorded it, and I was like, “This is a big surprise. I really love this.” Because we are all strong, independent women, and I thought that was relevant.
You are able to change your approach to suit many styles. Do you think that that has to do with opera training? Yes, ma’am. I grew up singing gospel and country music, and my voice teacher said, “I’m going to break your bad habits. And then once I break you, I’m going to let you have your habits back.” And at the time I was — what the heck is she talking about?
The album includes several songs from the ’60s. Was there a reason for that? It might just be what I was raised on, you know? I was raised on Dolly [Parton] and Barbra [Streisand] and Judy [Garland] and Dinah Washington — all these different musical influences. But I think there has to be a [For the Girls] part two, because there are new singers who really inspire me. Brandi Carlisle. [Country star] Maren Morris. There’s a Broadway star, Adrienne Warren, who was getting ready to play Tina Turner in New York.
“You have a voice in your head; that does everything,” she said. “Your niche is going to be the fact that you can do so much with your voice if you train it, and you continue to train it, and live a healthy, clean life.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t take her advice — I had a great time in college. But when it came right down to it, I knew that I wanted to be an artist, and that outweighed a fun party. It does to this day.
4·1·1 | UCSB’s Arts and Lectures presents an evening with Kristin Chenoweth in concert Wednesday, October 2, 8 p.m., at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.