Arts & Culture

Cameo: Molly Ringwald

The actress/jazz vocalist talks about her new album.

Obviously, the public knows you best as an actress, but music is actually your first love.
I’ve been performing since I was very young. The first time I sang in front of an audience I was three-and-a-half. Originally, I thought that’s what I was going to do. Obviously, the acting kind of took over for a while there, but I always wanted to get back to it. My dad is a jazz musician so I was always around it. Piano is his main instrument. But he’s the kind of person who can pick up any instrument—any stringed instrument—and play: piano, bass, banjo.

How did your recent debut album, Except Sometimes, come together?
You know, it was really something that I had wanted to do for years, but I just was too busy doing other stuff, and I hadn’t met the person that I wanted to collaborate with. And it was just kind of like the stars aligned and I met somebody that I really connected with musically, and that’s my pianist and the person who arranges all my music, [Peter Smith]. We met in New York and we started to work together and it kind of went from there. I wasn’t even necessarily thinking about doing an album. I was more thinking about performing in little jazz clubs and just doing it basically because I wanted to, and it kind of grew from there, and the album happened very organically. We got into a groove and we thought, ‘Let’s do a recording of this.’ It was kind of like a commando mission. We did the thing very independently and frugally and then Concord [Records] ending up releasing it. It was kind of like one thing after another and then, before I knew it, I was on tour.

One of those dates is at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills on October 25 at 8 p.m. What are you most looking forward to performing for audiences?
When I first went out on tour I was pretty much exclusively doing songs from the album. But because we’ve continued to perform since then and learn new songs, and, I feel, improved even—I mean, of course, you keep doing something, you improve—so a lot of the songs are a mixture of songs from the album and new songs. And then I never really know what I’m going to do until that day. We usually come up with the song list during soundtrack.

Really? That spur-of-the-moment?
Yeah. I mean, I think that there are different styles. I think some people want to call me cabaret because I’m known for doing something else, and I guess that’s just the word. But I’ve never really considered myself a cabaret performer as much as a jazz singer. I don’t script anything. I mean, sometimes I’ll tell an anecdote that I’ve told somewhere else, but it’s not scripted, at all. I really try to maintain the spontaneity.

The album has 10 tracks, mostly from the Great American Songbook, right?
Yeah, well, pretty much all from the Great American Songbook, with the exception of the cover of “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Yeah, why did you feel it was important to include that song?
When we were rehearsing and coming up with the songs that we were going to do, [Writer/director of The Breakfast Club] John Hughes passed away. It just kind of came out of a rehearsal where he was on my mind, and I said to Peter, ‘Hey do you think we could do this as a jazz song?’ and he started to put these beautiful chords behind it, and I just thought it would be really nice as a tribute to him and also for people who kind of know me for this other thing that I do. It’s kind of like a nice bridge, I thought.

I was surprised at how well it actually translates into a jazz arrangement.
Yeah, it’s surprising, right?! It’s really funny because when you work with musicians, they are so used to hearing some of these songs. Like, the amount of times they’ve had to play, “Stormy Weather,” you know? I really tried to pick songs that were maybe not heard quite as much as, like, “My Funny Valentine,” you know? And all of the guys—any jazz musician who plays that song—gets really excited because it’s so different from what they normally do. So it’s really kind of fun. And also, it’s not symmetrical—at least the way that I do it. I think I cut two lines from it, which is always confusing for musicians, when it doesn’t follow a regular musical pattern.

But, hey, it’s jazz.
It’s jazz.

You can do what you want.

Speaking of John Hughes, next year is the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club.
Yeah, I think it’s coming up. It was released . . . coming up this February, I think.

Do you know of anything planned to celebrate the anniversary of The Breakfast Club?
There have sort of been discussions, but nothing absolutely definite.

As a former child star yourself, what are your thoughts on the proliferation of teen and tween stars today? Do you ever want to give them advice?
No. I feel like everybody has to sort of find their own way. I’m not really much of an advice giver. I recently did this film that’s going to come out—Jem and the Holograms—and most of the stars—actually all of the stars other than me and Juliette Lewis—are young. And a couple of them, I think, came out of Disney stuff. But I was really impressed with them. They all seem like they really have their heads together, and I think they’re all going to be okay. But I really feel like it depends so much on their family background, their education. Aubrey Peeples, who plays Jem, is a serious reader, and I really connected with her because I was always a real serious reader, and I think it really kind of helped me see outside of what I was doing and see the big picture more. So I really just think that it depends on the individual—and also on how good they are at resisting drugs.

Yeah, there’s always that.
You know, I took my elder daughter out last night for a little special time on the beach, and on the way back, I put my iPod on shuffle, and Amy Winehouse came up. And Matilda said, “Oh I love this song.” And I said, “I love it, too.” And then I said, “It’s so sad, the way that she died.” And Matilda said, “Oh yeah, it really was.” And then we were talking about all the young people, the incredibly talented people, who have died from heroin overdoses. And we got in this whole conversation about being an artist. And part of what makes you a great artist is how sensitive you are. But then part of being sensitive is sometimes it’s really hard to be that sensitive and people want to do whatever they can to not feel what they’re feeling. And my daughter is definitely an artist. So I had this whole, incredibly emotional conversation with her about drugs, and promising me that she wouldn’t go there. But it’s true, I feel like it really is hard for so many people who are incredibly talented because of that sensitivity, and learning how to channel it and deal with it without doing the drug and alcohol option.

Right, to have some sort of productive outlet for those feelings. But, obviously, she feels she can talk to you about things, so that’s a good sign.
Yeah, I think that’s really key, but then, you know, you hear about people who had great parents, and the parents did everything right, and it still happens. It’s terrifying.