Double Emmy winning New York based Composer, lyricist and performer Lance Horne has enjoyed quite an illustrious career, having collaborated with crème de la crème of the performing arts industry and worked on projects across a wide range of genres, including Michael Feinstein, Dwight Yoakam, Kristin Chenoweth and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
He also has formed a very strong bond with Australia over the years, collaborating with the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Mardi Gras, Hats Off!, not to mention his decade-long partnership with Meow Meow as her musical director. During his stay in Sydney, Lance joined forces with Virginia Hyam and James Rongen-Hall to put together a fundraising cabaret event, LOVE ME, featuring a bevy of local and overseas artists. He spoke to Cabaret Confessional about the show, his thoughts on cabaret and how his life has come full circle.
Welcome back to Australia! You’re currently in Sydney and served as musical director for the sold-out season of Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl at the Sydney Festival. How has your time in the city been this time so far?
It has been wonderful. I think this is my eighth season in Sydney and I’ve come to connect with Australia as my adoptive home.
Tell us about LOVE ME, a special cabaret show for your last night in Sydney on Valentine’s Day?
Virginia Hyam, James Rongen-Hall and I have joined forces and set out to create what we would want to see in a night out on Valentine’s Day - something inclusive, exciting, sexy and original. Everything from cabaret, spoken word, wandering minstrels, visual art, indie bands, musical theater, burlesque, and opera will be present, all examining the different sides of love.
What inspired you all to put together this show?
The three of us worked so closely for years that The Studio at the Opera House grew into a creative family and safe-haven for artists and audiences seeking innovative, quality programming. The Late Night Lounge was born from that collective and had quite a successful run, which often included me on keys and nights that juxtaposed Paul Capsis with Tex Perkins, Amanda Palmer with Dallas Delaforce. I think in the case of LOVE ME, we are all inspiring each other to new heights. We will also be donating part of the proceeds to ACON.
How did you all come up with a great line-up for LOVE ME?
We sounded the call to artists we loved and it all came together elegantly. We consider all the acts as friends as well as consummate artists, and want to create a forum for the New York-Australia connection we have been cultivating less officially for years. Paul Capsis, Le Gateau Chocolat, Emma Dean, the Wau Wau Sisters, Jan van de Stool (Queenie) and Tyran Parke all in one evening? And that’s not even half of the artists. The night will exist like a sand castle to be seen only once before the tide takes everyone back to their respective homes. I’ll be premiering two of my own works that night as well, including a setting of a poem Neil Gaiman gave me, with three of the artists. Come see which ones!
How do you feel about Australian Cabaret scene/performers from what you’ve seen?
I adore it and them. Courtney Act and Mark Trevorrow/Bob Downe were remarking on the rising amount of cabaret venues at hand in Sydney. I’ve talked with David Campbell, Trevor Ashley, Shaun Rennie (we are performing together at Hats Off), DJ Sveta, and producers Richard Carroll and Sarah Neal from the Powerhouse about the growing interest from audiences in Oz wanting to experience live music in an intimate setting. I think that Australian cabaret talent and places to foster them are approaching a golden intersection, and it is a very exciting time to be a writer and performer in the form.
What other collaborations have you got in the pipeline with Australian cabaret artists?
I’m curating a cabaret festival at the Coterie in Los Angeles. I’m hoping to put together a program with Australian cabaret artists and bring them over to America, because there’s such wealth of talent in this country.
You’ve worked on many cabaret shows as musical director for many artists, including Meow Meow, Alan Cumming and Justin Bond to name a few. When you are playing for cabaret shows, what are the things are you most mindful of?
Breath. I breathe with the singer and find all the emotions and connective material spin from that synergy. There are certain jokes or turns that simply won’t land when not finessed with space, and I get to be the open gears of the wrist-watch maintaining the momentum behind the face of the event. Music directors act as both a receiver and transmitter, so I minimize the turn-around as much as possible, trying to think as the artist, especially in the case of my three main collaborators you mention above.
How do you approach work?
Alan (Cumming) taught me how to have fun. I was teaching at Julliard and the substitute teacher didn’t turn up. Alan was there with me and he saw me panic. He asked if there’s anything I can do, and I said, “No.” He said, “Just cancel and continue.” That changed everything. It’s something so simple, yet I couldn’t see it. I sleep a lot better now and what I do is more an artistic collaboration rather than work.
What is cabaret to you?
Cabaret is a playground, a history book, and a yoga mat all in one. Years back, Meow and I were touring with The Dresden Dolls, and Brian Viglione, the drummer, turned to me as we were heading onto the stage and said, “This is the one place where life makes sense to me.” Cabaret sits in the middle of all the different genres that I cover – it’s a nexus to everything I do.
What appeals to you the most about the art form?
I love cabaret when it can be theatre in sheep’s clothing. As Meow says in some of her shows, don’t worry, it’s just theatre, it doesn’t mean anything. Sondheim talks about Hammerstein teaching him that the difference between art forms is the venue in which they’re experienced. Cabaret exists in hybrid venues and because of that, I think its creative flexibility is unmatched in the arts.
How did you discover cabaret?
I was eight years old, heading into my piano lesson, when I spotted a recording of the musical Cabaret on my teacher’s stereo. I asked her if I could listen to it, and my mother said, “Sorry, you can’t, that’s too risqué.” I didn’t know what risqué was, but I knew whatever it was, I wanted it.
Who discovered your musical talent when you were a child and how was it nurtured?
My grandmother, who was a backup singer, recognized my potential and bought me a little player piano. My parents were supportive. They kept me grounded and balanced. I was in the Scouts and was encouraged to go outside and play when I wanted to keep on practicing.
When I was about five or six years old, I played a Steinway piano and asked my parents if I could have one. They said to me that if I went to Julliard, they’ll buy one for me. When I graduated Julliard, my parents blindfolded me and drove me to the Steinway factory. I’d forgotten all about it, but they had been saving money to buy me a Steinway piano, which was signed by Steinway’s grandson – it was such an incredible thing they did for me.
What are some of the most memorable cabaret performances to date?
I have a few:
I went with the great Australia-New York writer Kate Rigg (who first introduced me to Meow and Justin) to see Ute Lemper at Joe’s Pub. During “I am a Vamp”, she leaned over, scooped her finger through my dessert, fed it to me, then bit my neck.
Last year, Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and I took Justin for V’s birthday to see Judy Collins at the Carlysle. We wept for hours.
Going with Sondheim to see Barbara Cook in “Mostly Sondheim” at Lincoln Center, and discussing the show with them both afterwards.
And working behind the scenes these past years on Liza Minnelli’s re-creation of her Godmother Kay Thompson’s revolutionary cabaret at Ciro’s with the Williams brothers (including Andy) has been an absolute highlight, not to mention a full circle back to my eight-year-old self reaching for that tattered recording of Cabaret. At the opening night on Broadway, Alan introduced me to John Kander and time stopped.
You’ve received an Emmy each for your original song and arrangement. What is your approach to songwriting and song arrangements?
I studied composition with Milton Babbitt at Juilliard, and he kept asking me, “What does this piece want to BE?” I treat original songs and arrangements equally, just honing the raw materials into their most inevitable state. I studied sculpture in high school at Interlochen, and I think music creation follows the same process.
What was working on your debut album First Thing Last like?
It was, to quote John Adams, a short ride in a fast machine. The album features 15 original songs sung by myself and 14 guest artists, recorded in NYC, Boston, LA, and Abbey Road in London. We raised the funds and awareness via Kickstarter, and had a record four weeks to produce the entire album so that it could be released on 1/1/11 with concerts at Lincoln Center American Songbook and at the Garrick on the West End. We flew London stars over to New York and vice versa, with Graham Norton filling Ricki Lake’s shoes in the UK. Again, the singers on the album are some of my closest friends, and many of them took the photos that make up the artwork. Lea DeLaria, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Alan, and West End powerhouses Hannah Waddingham, Julie Atherton, and the brilliant Amanda Palmer, (who starred as the Emcee in a production of Cabaret I co-music directed at ART in Boston!). It was all love, no labour.
As I write this, I am actually sitting below the garret on Pitt Street, overlooking the MacDonalds, where I wrote “January” for Meow, which she sings on the album. Another full circle. Speaking of full circle, there’s a hidden track on the CD – it is the first song I’ve ever written when I was about six years old titled “Horses in the Meadow” – the first song I wrote is the last song on the album - first thing last.
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