Emmy Rossum: The Sentimental Side

by Bill Biss
Thursday Feb 28, 2013

Casting a beguiling spell over a phantom as Christine in the 2004 film adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera" or portraying "Fiona" as an integral part of a dysfunctional family who spiritedly survives dealing with an alcoholic father in the Showtime series "Shameless," Emmy Rossum has no problem successfully displaying her diversity as an actress. With yet another twist of characterization as the mean-spirited and manipulative Ridley in the upcoming and bewitching love story "Beautiful Creatures" out this month, it is an exciting and thoroughly busy time for one of Hollywood's young talents.

Yet perhaps one of the projects closest to Emmy Rossum's heart is her newly released "Sentimental Journey." This dream concept of an album is inspired by Rossum's pure connection and admiration for older songs that still stand the test of time and evoke a much more personal and musically rich meaning. Singing is her first love and this talent has created a whole other facet to discover in the beautiful and emotive qualities found in her voice.

How did you manage your schedule to create "Sentimental Journey" between all your other projects?

I'm still asking myself the same question (laughter). I've wanted to make this record for a while, I was on Geffen Records and I made a first record about six years ago. It took me a long time to get legally and contractually off the record label, so I could make the real record that I wanted to make. So, I made this record between the second and third seasons of "Shameless."

How long was the process to do this?

It took me a couple of months to pull together the exact material that I wanted to put on the record and come up with the concept. It only took about three or four days to record the whole album. I used all my own money; I really wanted it to be exactly what I quintessentially wanted the record to be.

Wow, there you go. You have said, "Whenever I have an artistic compulsion, I follow it." This album has been in your back pocket for some time now.

Yeah, this is the music that I grew up with listening and hearing. One of the songs on the record is an Andrew Sister's song "Apple Blossom Time." That's a song that my mother used to sing to me as a bedtime lullaby. It's all the music that I would hear around the house.

This was your inspiration and yet your mom is too young to have experienced it firsthand. Was this music handed down to her or did your mom have a fascination with this music of her own?

The music was handed down to her, my mom was 40 when she had me, so my mom is almost 67 now. Her mother died when she was 13 and her mother used to sing all these songs to her. It's a tribute to my grandmother who I never got to meet.

That's beautiful.

That's how it was passed down to me. There are butterflies on the cover of the record because my grandmother passed away in the spring and she loved butterflies. She was only in her early 30s when she passed.

It's interesting that the music you are exposed to as a child can have such a lasting effect.

I think it's a very powerful thing, the things that you share as a child and the kind of influences that you get there. I grew up singing in the children's chorus and discovered classical music when I was there. Then, I heard you know, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters or Sam Cooke when I came home.

Yeah, I'm completely in that register. Just my Judy Garland records alone, I must have over 40 albums...

She can do no wrong for me, that woman.

Well, I caught a bit of the timbre of Shirley Jones' voice in your voice on the songs "Sentimental Journey" and also on "I'm Looking Over (A Four-Leaf Clover)." There's a range in some of your songs that brought her to mind.

That's interesting. I've never heard that comparison. Oh, I'll take that... any day.

When you hit that last note on "Clover" with the word "before" was that a breeze for you? I read you are still discovering your vocal range.

Oh yeah, yeah, that wasn't a reach. Obviously, we pulled in a bunch of fun people to sing the harmonies on that. I still have a High C and High D that I did for the show in Phantom so it's not a reach for me and just seems a comfortable and happy place for me to sing.

It was nice to hear you go there. It was an initial surprise.

Oh good.

Definitely. For a song that some would consider "old-fashioned" or "hokey," I thought you really nailed the spirit of "Clover." Even with the banjos... aren't there banjos on that?

Yes, there are! (Laughter) The banjo is the lead instrument on that. You know... I don't mind "hokey." There's a sense of nostalgia that's missing from contemporary music in society that I really gravitate toward. It makes me happy. It makes me feel cozy and warm, so I'll embrace nostalgia and "hokey" 'til I'm blue in the face.

Doing this album in the break between seasons of "Shameless" is putting you in a completely different world from your workload or character on the show.

Yeah, to me this feels like a character. It feels like a character that I've had inside me for a long time, but never really expressed. I love putting on characters and discovering deliveries and ways to wrap your head around things. Approaching a song is no different than approaching a scene.

I agree. You said the songs are based on a romance and the progression of the months of a year. Yet, you also show a progression of several completely different vocal deliveries. Within these songs, you are kind of presenting different characters.

Yeah, they're also from different genres. Some of them are jazz songs, some are crooner songs and some of them are almost like country songs. There's a Connie Francis song "Many Tears Ago" on there. It's kind of all the standards of that 40-year era from which I'm picking my favorites.

In the recording process, you chose to perform the songs live with all the musicians and having that feeling in the studio. Is there one song that came together in a breeze and one song that was difficult to get just the way you wanted?

"Sentimental Journey" was probably the hardest to get because the band wanted to play it faster. I kept slowing everybody down; it might feel too slow but it's right. You've got to ease people into this record. You have to draw them in because you're doing a whole different thing. You can't just hit them over the head with "I'm looking over"... or whatever, so I slowed everyone down on that.

The one that was probably the easiest was "Four Leaf Clover" because there is such a sense of joy and fun and it's like a song you would sing drunkenly in an Irish bar.

Going back to your rendition of "Sentimental Journey," it reminded me of someone performing in a roadhouse tavern in a small town in Arkansas... there's an intimate feeling to it.

I wanted it to feel like a girl sitting on the side of the road with her suitcase in Arkansas getting ready to go on a journey to Paris or to Hollywood or something like that. So definitely, I'm glad it translated.

How the heck did you discover the song "Keep Young and Beautiful?" That goes back to a Sam Goldwyn musical called "Roman Scandals" released in 1933.

That's how I found it, I was looking at old Doris Day movie clips to find her songs and there was a clip under YouTube of "things you might also like," I saw this man in blackface and I clicked on it.

At first I was horrified and then I started to listen to the song and I thought, "Oh this is genius." This is so funny. It's so ludicrous and so wrong; It's so strangely applicable to the problems in our society, even still today with beauty and how much focus we put on "nipping and tucking" and botox and all these horrible things we're doing, so we think we're going to be loved. It's a funny aside to the album, I was just saying, "let's do this in hyper-seriousness and hopefully people will understand that I'm kidding and I think exactly the opposite. That's why I'm doing the song.

I wanted to touch on the fact that you are also an ambassador for YouthAIDS . Where has this position taken you so far and how has it been spreading this important message to young adults?

I really enjoyed going into classrooms and talking to kids about safe sex. That is basically my function, to raise awareness, to get tested and to use condoms in high schools and colleges. I go around with people like Ludacris and talk to kids. We're obviously a very strange pair to go into a school together, it's really fun and it's a message that needs to be spread.

Now that the album is in the can and just came out on January 29... what is some feedback from your mom on this?

Oh, she loves it, every time I get in her car, it's like blasting. You know, she's a proud mom and she's so happy to have influenced me in a positive way. It's like, "Enough of this Justin Bieber on the radio, turn on you!" It's so cute.

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