Katharine McPhee rose into the spotlight on the iconic (and now ending) show American Idol in 2006 where she was runner-up for the crown. Since then, her career has only gained and gained momentum. Her self-titled debut album and her second album Unbroken were commercial successes, as was her third album, a Christmas record. She has also had a successful acting career, taking roles in movies like Shark Night 3D and The House Bunny (one of my personal favorite chick flicks). She also starred in Smash and, more recently, she has received a lead role on the show Scorpion. And now, after five years since her last album, she is back with Hysteria, off of which the summer-sweet song "Lick My Lips" has already been released. I had the chance to talk to Katharine last week about her new work, how she's changed, and where she's going.
So I have listened to your single "Lick My Lips", which was so fun and energetic. And even though it's definitely a true pop song, it's got a lot of funk and rock elements in there. Should we expect sounds like that from Hysteria, or was this song a standalone?
Katharine McPhee: No, I think this is probably - I mean, I have a lot of retro-vibes on the record. I think that they all work together but they're not necessarily - it's not how the entire album is going to sound like, is probably my best explanation.
Was the process of creating this album different from the process of creating your older albums?
Yeah, I had the luxury . . . Last year, a lot of the record was done, but I'm on the show called Scorpion, so it kinda slowed...kinda changed my schedule up a little bit. But you know, I think it was the first album that I kinda felt inspired to be a part of the process. Because I was naturally just a singer from a very young age, I have definitely in some ways - well, lazy is a bad word, but it made me not inspired to get into the songwriting process because I was like, "Well, I just wanna sing!" I just wanna sing songs that people write that are great like so many artists have done before. But, for whatever reason, that never really worked for me, or it's really difficult to get those great songs because all the big artists get the great songs.
So the goal was always to try and get me in the room with other great writers in the hopes that something else would come out of it. So I guess that the difference is that I didn't really want to be in these writing rooms before in the past, and this time I felt like, through having experience, I felt confident and I also felt like, "Wow, I could write about this this time, or I could write about this, I have this story to tell!" And so I think that always helps when you feel like you have experience and you feel like you have something to say; it makes it a little bit easier to not only inspire yourself but to inspire the writers who are supposed to be there for you.
So you felt a lot more involved in the process of making this album?
Yeah, sure, absolutely. And we took our time.
Do you feel like over the years since you released your last album, has the experience you got over those years gone toward this album?
Yeah, I would say that that album - I wasn't quite as inspired. I just wasn't sure about being a songwriter, I guess is my best explanation. I wasn't sold that I would be someone that enjoyed that process. But I'm glad that I made that album because it definitely made me fall in
love with singing again. It allowed me to get out on the road and perform live and things like that, so that's what it did do for me. But I think, making the album, I was in between being inspired, being frustrated with whether or not I was actually meant to be making records and things like that. I think the difference with this album is that I'm fortunate enough to have another career that's been really great for me, so the difference is that you cannot control whether or not people will buy your record - I mean, I know the core fans will appreciate it and be really excited about it. But the difference is that all of those things will remain the same, but I actually felt like I wanted to make it. I wasn't making it for anyone else.
If you don't mind me asking, what does Hysteria mean in context for this album.
Well, I think that - that song, which obviously nobody's heard, has a lot of different - well, it speaks for itself. I don't think I have to go into it lyrically too much. But I've gone through a lot of
different phases in the last few years, and the album kinda shows that. So at times it was kind of hysterical. At times my life was all over the place, and when I mean hysterical, I mean, yeah, it was crazy; it felt out of control, but it also was incredibly rewarding. So it means a lot of different things. But I think life in general can be kind of crazy, so that's what I wanted to say. Because I think this album is a result of things that I've gone through in my life.
I'm really curious about what to expect from the album. Were there any artists you felt influenced the creation of this album, in terms of what you listen to personally?
Now it's hard to answer that question. I don't know that there were. Most of those songs were written with no one who's kind of current today. I don't think that there was.
I think I kinda just wanted to not be influenced by anybody. But I think, sure, I was influenced by other songwriters who work on lots of different artists. So to say there weren't any influences isn't accurate. But for me personally, I wasn't stuck on one artist at that time.
That's definitely a fair answer. Is there anyone exciting - well, everyone's exciting - that you worked with for this album? I know you worked with Isabella Summers of Florence and the Machine for "Lick My Lips."
Well, no, I wrote with her on lots of different tracks. You're asking me if there was anyone inspiring or exciting to work with? Yeah, I mean, Sia, everyone wants to know what it's like to work with Sia. She's obviously a force to be reckoned with. Her ability to write lyrics so quickly, from my experience, is just mesmerizing. But also just, I thought she's a cool chick! A really cool person. I was excited because I was a fan of her - I worked with her before her big hits come out with all these other artists, so I was a fan of what she does on her own. I heard she was starting to write songs for all different kinds of pop artists and stuff, but I was more mesmerized by her - she truly is a talent, separate from all her pop hits.
I watched the video for "Lick My Lips" - it's so funny and also really well-done, and it also feels like - I mean this in a good way - that it's kind of a parody of itself. What were the ideas or inspiration that propelled that?
Diane Martel, who directed it, is a genius, so I let her take the lead. I loved all her ideas. We sat down together. She just wanted to make sure that - we both kind of agreed that, because there are so many sexual innuendos in that song, it's better to - even in my performance - to look slightly bored or to look slightly disinterested. And that worked for that kind of a song, because if you play it so bubblegummy, it becomes even more bubblegummy. So you get to really experience the song for what it is, instead of playing it up. So that was kind of my idea behind it.
It was kinda like creating a contrast between the bubblegummy lyrics and the rest of the video?
Yeah, and using, like, oversized props as kind of a suggestion.
Yes, the comb!
Yeah, things like that.
Of course we haven't heard your album yet, but do you have a favorite song off of it? Is that a fair thing to ask or is that like asking someone to choose a favorite child? I'm not sure.
No - sometimes it's a hard question, but I think I do have a couple favorites. For a ballad, I really love this song called "Break" that I wrote. Mostly because of it's nostalgic quality that it gives me when I listen to it; there's something so specific to it. When I wrote it it was literally something I was going through at that time. For more uptempo, I wrote it in London, and coincidentally enough there's a song that I feel like I had the most influence on, lyrically and melodically, the only one is probably "Another One", which I really loved, which is more aggressive.