Last Monday I sat down with rising star Broadway Brassy at The Magician bar on Rivington and Essex to talk about her career, where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going. She’s is out of town for the next couple of weeks, but be sure to catch her at Duane Park in late July and August! (Details below.)
CC: Hello Broadway Brassy! Thanks for coming to talk to us at Cultural Capitol. I guess my first question is, how did you get to New York?
BB: I took a chance, I don’t know. God I hate interviews. I just always wanted to come here to New York City since I was a little girl — always. There was never any wavering, there was never any other place I wanted to be. It was here. So I came. That was that. I finished college, and I just moved. To Staten Island. And it was horrible there.
CC: Why did you go to Staten Island?
BB: Because I had friends there. So I thought, if I go to New York City I should be near my friends. I didn’t know anything. So I moved there, and realized right away that was not where I wanted to be, so I moved to Brooklyn.
CC: Where in Brooklyn?
BB: Bushwick. I’ve been there for six years. You can stick your arm out my window and a train will chop it off.
CC: What train?
BB: The J. I like the neighborhood now. It’s getting better.
CC: What was it like when you moved there?
BB: Oh it was terrible. There are still tons of crack heads, but there are more things popping up. There are bars everywhere.
CC: At least living on the J makes it easier to get here, to the Lower East Side! Let’s get down to brass tacks. When did you start singing?
BB: In general? When I was five years old, on the toilette, singing Whitney Houston out the window. It’s the first time I can remember singing – Whitney Houston, out the window.
CC: Why out the window?
BB: Oh I don’t know. Because, you know, it’s right there. There’s the window, this is the toilette.
CC: What was your first favorite song?
BB: My first favorite song that my mom said I sang is “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” by Tina Turner. And then it was just everything. Growing up my mom would blast me with Broadway music. So very much into that. Like Ruth Brown, James Brown, Otis Redding. That kind of stuff.
CC: Those people were early influences. Did you listen to them in high school and college?
BB: Those people stuck with me. Broadway has stuck with me. Now it’s much more varied. I try to listen to everything and anything. If I hear something I’ve never heard before I want to hear more and more. This isn’t answering your question!
CC: No, no! It’s very interesting that it’s always been about Broadway.
BB: That was the original intention when I moved to New York. But I got side tracked, and I’m fine with it.
CC: How did you end up with Big Apple Burly?
BB: The group of Big Apple Burlesque, we were with another group, and we had a manager I guess. You probably know him.
CC: I don’t know him.
BB: You know him. We decided to jump ship and do our own thing. And then Big Apple just came together.
CC: How long ago was that?
BB: That was five years ago. And the group has changed a lot. There have been different dancers, but it’s always been myself, and Snuffy Patterson, and Ruby Valentine, and Honey Birdette.
CC: Where do you like to perform?
BB: I loved performing at the Zipper Factory. That was my favorite. Joe’s Pub. And I love performing at Corio. And the New York Burlesque Festival is my favorite event of the year. This will be my fifth year. Big Apple Burlesque didn’t apply this year. I applied solo. So I guess we’ll see how that goes. [This just in -- she got accepted!]
CC: Will you have anyone there with you?
BB: Yeah, back up singers and dancers. Gigi La Femme and Anita Cookie singing back up. It’ll be fun.
CC: Have you ever performed with that lineup before?
BB: No, never. I’ve never had back up singers before. I’m really excited about it! But I’ve performed with them before at Public Assembly and the City Winery.
CC: How did you find your niche in the city? I ask because you have a distinctive style, and you perform in a distinctive scene, but it’s not Broadway. I mean, it’s not far off Broadway, but…
BB: Right. It could be Broadway if Broadway had a character like that.
CC: If Broadway didn’t just recycle old movies.
BB: Right, right. I guess my evolution, well it’s changed. I feel like I’ve been getting better and better vocally, thanks to the lessons I take with a Broadway coach – Liz Caplan – so, I don’t know, I think, just the more I do it, the more venues you perform in, the more people who meet you and inspire you – I have a lot of inspirations…
CC: Like who?
BB: Murray Hill and Miss Astrid.
CC: How did you meet Murray Hill?
BB: He had me in his Christmas shows two years in a row. That’s how I really got to know him. Prior to that I guess it was just the burlesque festivals and I just made it a point to introduce myself and be around him. I just think he’s amazing. Miss Astrid was someone I always looked up to from afar, but Big Apple Burlesque does an annual show in Delaware every summer, and she was our special guest, along with The World Famous BOB. So I had a whole weekend with Miss Astrid. And BOB is probably the warmest, kindest person I know in the whole scene. She’s an incredible woman. She’s just so good to people.
CC: Tell the story of …
BB: I was just going to tell the story of the whole Broadway thing. How I came here to do Broadway. Since, I am a Baltimore girl — I auditioned for Hairspray, in front of John Waters — I was his pick. And they had me come to New York. But it didn’t pan out after a whole bunch of tries. Many, many callbacks. I just wasn’t a good enough dancer. And I said, well I’m not going to stop singing, so where else can I sing? Burlesque. As soon as I did it, it was so much fun, and I love the people and the style. I felt like my style fit the scene.
CC: How do you pick your repertory of songs?
BB: Its just stuff that I love. I love bawdy songs or belty songs. I rarely sing ballads though that’s what my mom tries to get me to sing all the time. But at the Elvis Costello tribute show I had to do a ballad. And I feel like I should do more, but I guess it depends on the venue.
CC: How did it feel?
BB: Oh it was great, I loved it. There was a live band. It was fantastic. I much prefer a live band to a karaoke soundtrack.
CC: I guess you probably tear it up at karaoke.
BB: I don’t really go to karaoke as often as I used to. Do you go to karaoke?
BB: What do you sing?
CC: “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf. So much drama.
BB: [Laughs.] Stop right there!
CC: Yeah. You have to love the drama of it. And what it says about love.
BB: [Laughs.] Yeah! I’ll sing “Thriller,” “Billy Jean,” “Man in the Mirror” [laughs]. Oh and Heart. That’s top five. Ann Wilson is a favorite. Ann is unbelievable. I wish my voice was that clear, and could belt that well. That’s the hardest song, that’s what I applied with for the New York Burlesque festival, “Crazy On You,” it’s the most challenging song I’ve ever had to sing. I actually spent months taking vocal lessons to learn how to sing the song without hurting myself. It just takes practice. But now that I can I love to do it. She’s amazing. She still is.
CC: Who are the musicians you like to play with around town?
BB: Other than Brian Newman? Scott Richie who plays the bass? Winky Pahdunk is my favorite sax man. Oh I’m working with this amazing – do you mean like famous musicians? I’m working with this new musician whose name is Broc Hempel, and we’re doing gigs at Duane Park all throughout the summer.
CC: Do you know the dates?
BB: It’s random. Since I’m going to be away so much in July there’s only one in July, and then two in August. It’s just myself and a pianist – while people dine.
BB: No really, we’re gonna kill ‘em!
CC: I can see the entire audience dead.
BB: You should come! [Editor's note: check it out!!! July 23rd, August 2nd, August 27th from 8pm - 10 pm at Duane Park!]
CC: No! I will! What kind of music are you going to put together for that?
BB: It’s been fun. I’ve been taking songs I love and making them “dine friendly,” like “House of the Rising Sun” and a lot of sixties pop, like the Ronnettes and the Shangr-Las, Eva Cassidy, standards. Broc is a fantastic pianist.
CC: What’s the guiding principle behind choosing songs?
BB: Just what I like to perform. I have a notebook, and when I hear something I go write it down, like I want to do that. How do I make it mine. That’s the key. That’s the goal, to not sing it like you hear it.
CC: How do you do that?
BB: Just by singing it over and over and over. I just feel like once I’m in the moment it comes out like I want it to come out.
CC: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the City. What is your favorite NYC neighborhood?
BB: I really like the Lower East Side, probably because I perform here so much. But I think my favorite spot is Union Square Park. I could sit there for hours. I go and watch the people, the dogs. I name the dogs. I go and read there. There is this amazing guitar player. Well he’s not that amazing. He can’t sing that well, or play that well, but he’s still amazing. He always has the same outfit on. And I love him. I actually request songs. I like the village, and I’m just now starting to love my neighborhood, Bushwick.
CC: Why didn’t you love it before?
BB: I didn’t appreciate it. I mean, there are crack heads, and I got mugged a couple of weeks ago, and it’s dirty and gross.
CC: What’s your favorite part of New York?
BB: My inspiration for New York City has always been about musicals. I love them. I haven’t been to one since “Hair.” I saw “Hair” in Central Park. They’re just so inspiring. Of course now I’m not amazed by the choices that are out there. But it’s always been my love. I would cry as soon as the overture starts. That’s my favorite part of New York, to be a part of that.
CC: Where haven’t you been in New York?
BB: I’ve never been to the Bronx. I’ve driven through it to get to Connecticut, but I’ve never been there. I’d love to go to the zoo. Maybe I will.
CC: How do you feel about the Coney Island issue.
BB: Well I think Coney Island is apart of our American History. I support Angie Pontani – Miss Cyclone – in her quest to save it.
CC: What do you want to do in the future?
BB: Hopefully I’ll get to travel more. I would love to perform in Europe. I have performed in England, this was in college and I was at the Globe Theater. That was Shakespeare, which is not this.
CC: Tell the story!
BB: No, the story is old and tired. I know you like Shakespeare! I don’t know. OK, so I studied Shakespeare. The Globe Theater was fantastic. There was a crowd of people, and they just wanted … we were doing monologues, and there was a break in the time and the audience was getting antsy, so I went on to the stage and started singing. And it was great! Everyone cheered.
CC: What did you sing?
BB: Well, at first I sang the US national anthem, ‘cause I didn’t know what else to sing.
CC: That’s awesome.
BB: So, the future. I don’t know. I could be dead in ten years. But I’ve been jobless since January, meaning no day job, meaning just singing. And it’s been delicious. And it’s been kicking my ass to get more singing jobs! So next month after returning from Maryland, I think I’ll be refreshed and ready to get back into it.
CC: I think a lot of people would be jealous!
BB: I know. It feels great. I wish I could realize how great it is. I have a hard time realizing how great things are in the moment. I’m really happy. I have so much freedom. I’m living alone for the first time in my life, and I’m loving it. I’ve always lived with parents or room mates – whatever. And now I have my own place, and it’s really great. I’m experiencing New York more intensely now than I ever have.
CC: What is your typical night out?
BB: If I’m not performing a night out is going to see a show, supporting fellow performers, and then drinking a lot – with the fellow performers! And then coming home at 4 a.m. and saying good night to all my friends on Facebook, and waking up at noon. When I do perform it’s the same exact thing, but I’m in the show. Then there’s drinks with friends every night. Quiet nights consist of reading or listening to music, I’m always going through old LP’s looking for inspiration.
CC: Which friends?
BB: Ruby Valentine and Clams Casino and Weirdie Girl are on my speed dial. Weirdie Girl lives in Bushwick as well.
CC: Do you guys hang out in the neighborhood a lot?
BB: Yes, we do. We hang out at Gotham City Lounge, which I highly recommend. Three dollars for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of whiskey. And it’s all superheroes all over the walls. And the Beauty Bar, which just opened.
CC: OK, one last question: If you could design your own solo show, what would it be like?
BB: It would be a huge musical production, with flygirls and an orchestra. Projections on the wall, perhaps telling the life story of a young Baltimore girl who moves to New York to persue her dreams of world singing domination. Through the hypnotic music stylings of Rock, Funk, Jazz, Blues and a whole lotta Soul!
CC: That’s great! Thank you so much for your time.