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‘Sons of Anarchy’s' Katey Sagal talks about her other life, as a singer

September 29, 2010 |  2:53 pm

KateysagalWhile Gemma was falling to the pavement from a heart attack, the actress who portrays her  was soulfilly singing over the melodrama. We caught up with "Sons of Anarchy" star Katey Sagal to talk about her double life as a singer.

LAT: You’ve recorded two solo albums, and you wrote most of the tracks on those records. But the songs you record for "Sons of Anarchy" are covers, like [Wednesday] night’s Leonard Cohen classic, "Bird on a Wire." Do you have a preference for covers versus your own music?

KS: My last record, "Room," I recorded three covers. I love interpreting other people’s music. For "Sons," Bob Thiele, the show’s music supervisor, arranges the songs in a way that’s very different and I sing them differently than the original artist, so it’s really fun. There’s so many great songs already written, it’s kind of really wonderful you don’t have to write your own.

LAT: Who’s your backup band, and where do you record the tracks for the show?

KS: Bob has a great list of musicians that cut a lot of our source music for the show. He has a studio at his house and we record the band and I do the vocals. Bob is somebody I’ve been working with long before "Sons of Anarchy." He produced my last record, and he’s been my friend for the last 25 years so we’ve played a lot of music together.

LAT: Do you have plans to record another album?

KS: I would like to. I’m always thinking about doing that, but my schedule is really busy. I’m about to start a musical down at the Music Center. It’s a matter of finding the right time, the right situation. Eventually. I love to make records. I love to play gigs. I have a band and I play live. I just really love playing music.

LAT: How often are you performing live?

KS: Last year, I was performing a lot and then this year, I played a couple gigs during the season while we were shooting. Now is when I would normally start playing with my band, but I’ve got this gig with the Music Center which takes me through the end of December. I’ll get it going again after the first of the year.

LAT: You play at the M Bar in Hollywood?

KS:  I don’t like to travel too much because of my family, so I have this really great club in L.A. and I just play there. The M bar is 10 minutes from my house. I just roll down the hill. I’d like to broaden that out, but I don’t have time to do that since I have this other career.

LAT: How is "Sons of Anarchy" affecting the turnout at your gigs?

KS: I don’t know that it’s changed that much, really. We fill this little club. I have a whole new biker contingent, but I haven’t quite put myself out in front of them. I’ve gotten a lot of requests to play at some rallys and stuff like that, but I’m not a great self-promoter.

LAT: Does that mean you’re open to playing poker runs?

KS: I’m totally open to it. I would absolutely do that. If it all makes sense time wise. I foresee a time in my career where I’m not doing a TV show and I can play more music. It’s coordinating schedules. I also have three kids.

LAT: Do your kids influence your musical taste at all?

KS: I have teenagers, so I listen to a lot of music. They turn me on to great music. I’ve been listening to Dirty Projectors lately. Edwin Starr. My kids are really musical, too, my older kids. I love music. I just bought myself a great guitar and I’m taking lessons.

LAT: Why did you pick up the guitar?

KS: I play the piano and I used to play guitar. It was the first thing I played when I was a kid. My mom taught me to play, so I can play folk music. My 14-year-old started using one of my guitars and wouldn’t give it back, so I thought, "I’ll get a new guitar." It really inspired me to play again.

LAT: Tell me about the Randy Newman musical you’re starring in starting in November, "Harps and Angels."

KS: I don’t really know. I’ll show up at work next week and find out, but I’m really excited. Some of the music is Randy Newman’s hits. I don’t know that I’m singing any of his hits. I’m singing some really beautiful ballads.

LAT: How did you get cast?

KS: They asked me to come down and sing, so I went and sang for Jerry Zaks, who’s the director, and for Randy. I learned a couple of Randy Newman songs and sang them for him, and he hired me.

LAT: These days you’re the star of a TV show, an upcoming musical and the leader of a band performing under your own name, but in the ‘70s, you were a backup singer for Bette Midler, Bob Dylan and Tanya Tucker.  Did you like singing backup or did you secretly yearn to be the front woman?

KS: I always wanted to not be in the backup. I was grateful for the work and to make a living as a singer, but I would go on the road and sing with other people and come home and work on my own projects because that’s what I really wanted to do. 

LAT: When did you decide to be an actor instead of a singer?

KS: It found me, in that I did a musical, "The Beautiful Lady," at the Taper 30 years ago. It was a musical not unlike the one I’m about to do in that it was all song. It was like a rock opera. And that was the reason I did it -– because of the music. I was still on that track of a musician and I was spotted by casting people at CBS to audition for a sitcom. I remember thinking, "Really?" That’s just so weird because it was a really dramatic piece and I thought that’s so odd they would want me to do that, but I went and I got the job, and then before you knew it, I was in a sitcom on television, and it was with Mary Tyler Moore and Danny DeVito was director. It was really big people. In my brain, I’m thinking this is nice, but my real gig is at night. I’m a singer, so I never really believed that I was there. Very shortly after that I did "Married With Children," so it kind of found me. It took me five years into "Married With Children" to find out I really was an actor and then I really took very seriously what I was doing. Now I feel like an actor.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw / FX