Santa Monica’s Rebecca Pidgeon segues from actress to singer-songwriter with ease
By Michael Aushenker
Rebecca Pidgeon is reluctant to discuss her upcoming TV series.
“At the moment, I have my head in the music space,” she said. “I’m certainly feeling much more serious about music than I have in the past.”
“Bad Poetry,” Pidgeon’s ninth solo album, drops Oct. 7. She is supporting it with a Sept. 18 return to Witzend, an intimate Venice listening room where she has often performed.
While a majority of people may recognize Pidgeon for her acting, her music career has a long history that dates back to the 1980s with the folk rock group Ruby Blue. Pidgeon made her solo debut in 1994 with “The Raven” and quickly followed up with “The New York Girls’ Club,” “The Four Marys” and three more albums in the 2000s.
She recorded 2012’s “Slingshot” and last year’s “Blue Dress On” as her husband of 23 years, writer David Mamet, worked on and finalized his controversial HBO biopic “Phil Spector,” which starred Al Pacino.
Pidgeon’s new album, created with longtime co-writer David Batteau and guitarist Tim Young, represents a departure for the singer-songwriter: “It’s more electric, more of a rock record. I want it to be more of a let-my-hair-down kind of album,” she said.
The album’s first video, for the song “Love is Cocaine,” may be a visually sparse affair, but it sounds more sonically layered than her previous outings. Pidgeon’s voice soars over a track varnished with a Brian Jonestown Massacre-style, post-Beatles trippy-ness.
“Love is cocaine,” she warbles, “And I’m forgettin /
It’s in the shame/a pact for living
But something’s wrong in here/
You feel it all too strong/
Warm me over, baby, now we’re cruisin’/
Tell me I’m the only one you’re usin’”
Given that Mamet and Pidgeon have been together since she starred in a late-1980s National Theatre production of Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” (co-starring Alfred Molina) in London, one can’t help but project the lyrical implications of her “damaged love” songs.
“Some of the songs on this album are very personal and have to do with my life. My husband is a big part of my life” is all Pidgeon allows regarding her lyrical content. “Some are autobiographical, some are third person.”
Contemporary acts such as Tindersticks, P.J. Harvey, The Fall and Nick Cave continue to capture her imagination, but the direct inspiration for “Love is Cocaine” harkens back to Fritz Lang’s 1933 chiller, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.”
“‘Love is Cocaine’ is trying to step into the shoes of this character who is an addict,” she said. “It’s about being addicted to a bad kind of love. It’s not really about drug use, more about addiction.”
Pidgeon, a Santa Monica resident, said she finds songwriting inspiration in the people around her.
However, “Santa Monica has a suburban feeling. I’m used to city life. I feel quite insulated. But that’s good for writing,” she said.
Writing that, this time around, is “lighter, uplifting [but also] exploring darker areas of life,” Pidgeon said. “I’m always interested in that stuff — longing and being dark, the night of the soul kind of place.”
As an actress, Pidgeon has long served as Mamet’s muse in numerous plays and screenplays written by the “Glengarry Glen Ross” author. In addition to “Speed-the-Plow,” Pidgeon had key roles in the plays “Homicide” and “Oleanna” (she also wrote the music for the screen adaptation of “Oleanna”) as well as in Mamet’s 1997 feature film directorial debut, “The Spanish Prisoner.” Her credits also include “Heist,” “State and Main,” and small parts in Mamet’s 2008 film “Red Belt” and his Spector biopic.
So to what degree does her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband involve himself in her art?
“I haven’t collaborated with him at all. He came to the show like anyone else,” she said. “Strangely, he really liked it.”
For Pidgeon, songwriting and performing is personal. In many ways, she enjoys it more than acting.
“Recording is more like making a movie, there’s more [creative] freedom. It’s a bit more lonely, but that’s why I love collaborating with other writers,” she said. “When you’re acting, you’re usually acting in something you haven’t written. With music, you’re not being edited by someone else. You get to perform the whole character, the whole arc, in one evening.”
While admitting that many Hollywood gigs can be less than inspiring, Pidgeon said she found a sense of “pure joy” playing a quirky character in her daughter Clara’s filmmaking debut, “Two-Bit Waltz,” which premieres in October. Pidgeon laughed recalling the commute between her daughter’s set and a downtown L.A. recording studio while still in hair and makeup for the part.
So far, Pidgeon and her band have only performed “Bad Poetry” material at two Hotel Café and a handful of East Coast appearances, so Pidgeon looks forward to workshopping her new material live.
On Oct. 8, a day after the album’s release, she’ll perform at The Mint before returning to her neighborhood to share the Nov. 16 bill at McCabe’s Guitar Shop with singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman.
But first comes Thursday’s show at Witzend. Pidgeon remembers fondly the hospitality of Witzend’s late owner, Jeb Milne, who died a year ago as the venue prepared to celebrate its second anniversary.
“Now it seems to be just thriving away,” she said. “It’s a nice room.”
Pidgeon looks forward to supporting “Bad Poetry” with gusto, breathing concert life into the new songs and seeing them evolve during performances.
“At this point, I’m really in love with my music,” she said.
Rebecca Pidgeon performs at 8 p.m. on Sept. 18 at Witzend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. $10. (310) 305-4790; witzendlive.com