Inside the Music with Between the Lines songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson

Interview with Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson

Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson are the songwriting duo behind Apple TV's Central Park, Disney Animation's Olaf's Frozen Adventure, and the off-Broadway Musical, Between the Lines. We caught up with the dynamic songwriting duo to talk about their backgrounds in music, their songwriting process, their dream projects, and all things Between the Lines!

Download Between the Lines sheet music

Interview with songwriting team Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): Can you tell us a little about your musical backgrounds?

Elyssa Samsel ("E"): I started violin and piano when I was six years old, and I was classically trained and loved music and loved just the idea of letting all my emotions out into music. I feel like that was my safe place. It was where I could feel the most. It was almost like music was a jar for me, an empty jar for me to fill with my emotions. And that led me to a love of musical theater in high school. And then that led to a love for songwriting. And by the time I was 22, I got into the BMI Lehman Engel workshop in New York City, and that's where I met Kate Anderson.

Kate Anderson ("K"): I grew up singing in choirs and doing tons and tons of theater all throughout middle school and high school and ended up going to college as a vocal major and creative writing minor and studying music at Gettysburg College. I didn't really know exactly what to do with that. I moved to New York feeling like I was a little too timid to try to pursue singing opera or singing professionally or even acting professionally. I felt out of my league a little bit, but I knew that I'd always been obsessed with writing songs and writing a lot of parody songs throughout my whole upbringing. And so I also found the BMI Lehman Engel musical theater workshop when I was 23-24, and and that's where I met Elyssa. And it was love at first write.

S: That's wonderful. Well, you guys have already kind of spoken a little bit to this, but are there any big musical inspirations you guys had growing up that you would like to point out?

K: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I was a Rent-head all throughout middle school and high school. I was also really obsessed with Les Miserables in my freshman year of high school. I remember going and seeing Thoroughly Modern Millie, and it was like a life-changing experience for me. And we got to have a TalkBack after and meet Sutton Foster. And that show, I think, was really pivotal for me in terms of supercharging my love of musical theater. And then my older sister (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) was the first person to come home and say "I am a lyricist now, I'm a songwriter." And she had been an actress for many years. And immediately I became so fascinated with what she did and obsessed with everything she did. And like, I'd play her demos in the car and listen to her music on repeat and eventually she became this incredible songwriter and now is very much at the top of the field. But she was probably my biggest influence of all.

E: I was also heavily influenced by musical theater shows. I've never heard the term "Rent-head" before, Kate - I love that! My influences have always been a mixture of classical and pop music. I feel like I spent a lot of time as a child trading off between a Rachmaninoff CD of piano concertos and then Celine Dion. It was just back and forth between those two. I feel like that then translated into listening to musical theater and then listening to Taylor Swift. And I think the reason that I felt so influenced by the juxtaposition between classical and pop and sort of merging them together is that when they meet, it's just my favorite sound. I love trying to blend genres. And I would say that classical and pop are are my favorite blend.

S: That's interesting! Thank you both for that. So, Elyssa, you've been quoted as saying you two "generally stick to projects that scream optimism." Why is that?

E: Sorry. We have one friend who saw that quote. And then he just anytime he sees us, he literally screams the word "optimism"! So yeah, it just makes me laugh because all I can see is our friend Martin screaming the word at us. But I think it's because Kate and I bonded over our love of movies like The Secret Garden and A Little Princess and The Muppets movies. And I think that in those films there was always a lead character who was holding on to something hopeful. And by doing that, it created a ripple effect for everybody else in the story. And good things came from it. And I think that we're still so drawn to stories like that. We've got so many projects now with a female heroine who is just clinging on to hope, and there's always good that comes from that. So I think it's our personal way of hoping the best for people and their lives and what they can accomplish. And we try to stay optimistic and positive in our own lives. And so I think it's just a passion of ours to look for the good, look for the silver lining, and look for the positive outcome.

   I think we're just naturally drawn to things that are whimsical and childlike...we do our best work when we're not trying to take ourselves too seriously."

K: I think Elyssa put that so beautifully. I think we're just naturally drawn to things that are whimsical and childlike. I think our partnership has really thrived on just the daily amount that we laugh when we're working together and we do our best work when we're not trying to take ourselves too seriously. And I think that just feeds into everything that we write.

S: Absolutely. Thank you for that. That leads me into our next question pretty well. So the Between the Lines world finds itself walking the line between the real world and the fairytale. When creating the music, were there any creative liberties taken bringing audiences between those two worlds? Think back to when you were creating it - is there anything that you'd create that would indicate that we're now stepping into the fairytale realm or back into the real world or anything like that?

E: Yeah, when we were first brought onto the project by Jodi Picoult, who is the author of the original novel, alongside her daughter Samantha van Leer, the two of them were really interested in having different musical world sounds for the fairytale and for the real world, because the main character, Delilah, is in high school and it's feasibly a contemporary high school in the present day. And then in the fairytale, the classic Disney fairytale sound is what they wanted. So they really wanted something that was an homage to Menken and Ashman, who are our favorites as well. So it was a pleasant task to be told, "Oh, it's kind of like Menken and Ashman." Great, we would love to try to write like our favorites! And then we would keep the real world very pop. So whoever's the pop queen of the time when we write. We started writing it in 2014 and at that time we were both obsessed with Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande. We've been writing it for eight years, so little things slip in where we are nodding our heads to our favorite contemporary artists (we're both obsessed with Remi Wolf right now) in the high school real world. And then keeping that classic, whimsical Disney sound in the fairytale. So that was such a fun task to be able to write within those two worlds.

K: And then to continue that, as she gets deeper and deeper into the fairytale, the stories become more and more intertwined. It was fun to find the meeting of those two sounds. And what does it sound like when it's pop and it's this fairytale sound. "Castle contemporary" – that's how we've heard it described before!

S: Awesome. That leads to our next question. Can you give us a little peek into your songwriting process?

K: Sure. You know, we've now been working together for 12 going on 13 years at this point. And it's morphed quite a bit over the years. I think as we just got to know each other's brains more and more, we've really just become one shared brain. Some of the earlier Between the Lines songs were back when we were both nannying and pretending like in all the rest of our free time that we were paid writers because we just wanted it so badly! So we spent so much time in Elyssa's apartment in Brooklyn, just sitting together and laughing and writing these songs for hours and hours and hours. As time has gone by we have a much, I think, shorter-hand process now. We get together, we talk about the song a lot, like basically we'll go for a walk and we'll talk it through. And we're always trying to find that hook that is really rich with layers that we can have it mean one thing at the beginning of the song, and another thing in the middle of the song, and then another thing by the end of the song. And once we land on that, usually Elyssa goes in and plays with the music, comes up with, you know, the sound and the song and the beat and everything, and then we'll just sort of trade it back and forth for a while. And it's a really fun process. But we have always lived by like, we don't doubt each other's ideas ever. We really trust each other's brains and so we don't spend time second-guessing one another. And I think that has served us very well.

E: Yeah, the reason we like to say music and lyrics by the two of us and share that credit is that one can't exist without the other. We're not a songwriting team where it's like I throw a melody at Kate and then she tacks on lyrics. They couldn't happen without each other. And so once we've got our hook, our title, and whatever structural foundation of music that I give to her, it's like then she's building upon that and taking the skeleton and adding flesh to it. And it's all teamwork until it becomes a real entity.

   The reason we like to say music and lyrics by the two of us and share that credit is that one can't exist without the other."

S: Great answers, thank you for that! And do you have a favorite musical moment in Between the Lines? Hard one I know.

K: I have a few, but one of them is in the opening number. There's a bridge where Delilah sings "Sometimes I feel like I'm falling, I'm falling, I'm falling and falling like you. Everything's moving way too fast." And then she says, "I don't have anything to hold on to like you." And I love that because it really plants so many seeds. Not only does Oliver literally have something to hold on to as he's holding onto the side of a cliff, but that led to so many aha moments where then we cracked the song "Something to Hold On To" in Act 2 where Delilah has to leave Oliver, spoiler alert! And that song broke wide open because of that first musical moment. And then that's the beauty of writing a musical. When you start mining these things and then you discover like, "oh man, that gem is actually so much bigger than the little peek we first thought it was." And that's just an example of that for me in the show.

E: I think my favorite musical moment is the entire song "Talkin' to Oliver." And the reason why is it's one of the first songs that we wrote for the show, and I think I love that musical moment so much because it's the type of song where now that people have heard it again and again, they always say that that's the song that they bounce along to. And it always puts a smile on their face is what people have told us about the song. And the reason why that's my favorite is that I remember exactly the day and where I was sitting at the piano writing the music for it, and it was probably one of the saddest, darkest times of my life - and I had to write this song for a character who had just fallen madly in love and is giddy with bliss, and that's the power of music. I sat down to write a song for this character and then got in her body of what it would feel like to be so just on a high vibration. And it totally cheered me up when I was writing it. And now I know that that's the power of music, because when people hear it now, they have no idea that it was written from a really, really depressed place. They hear it and they're so uplifted. And that is like all we wish to do when we write songs is just share the emotion and convey something to someone else in order to uplift them wherever they are in their lives.

S: Thank you, Elyssa. Now, when it came to the authors Jodi and Samantha finding you two - Kate, you were quoted as saying, "Thank God we had all of these calling cards, all the songs that you write that are in shows that never happened or never see the light of day - they still help you get places." Do you two have any additional words for up-and-coming musicians still getting their footing in the industry?

K: Absolutely. I mean, the biggest thing is that nothing actually is a failure. That quote right there I think is proof. And we were told so many times like, "you didn't get this job. But you know what? That's a great calling card." And at the time, I was like, "I hate hearing that," you know what I mean? And it was a tough pill to swallow, but it was true. And, you know, every time I think we were at our lowest, where we didn't get this thing that we had built all of our hopes up, thinking this is the break and it wouldn't happen. We would just get together and we would try to write something. We would try to write something that like made us laugh, made us smile again, not knowing what was ever going to happen with it or who was ever going to hear it - we just kept going. We just kept writing. We didn't stop because of the failure or because of an opportunity that didn't go our way. And it served us in the end to do that.

E: Yeah, Kate said it so well - just keep writing, you know, if you continue to write and pick yourself back up every time something knocks you down, all you're going to do is have a cannon of songs to show at a later date. And I think that persistence will always bring something even better than the opportunity that you feel like you missed out on. Because so many times we've looked back and been like, "Wow, it worked out even better than we could have planned," even though at the time it felt like the world was ending. So there's always something better. Any "no" that you get is just because there's a better opportunity around the corner.

K: I also want to throw in advice that we got from the head of Disney Music, and that's that you have to play nice in the sandbox. And that's another piece of advice that I think we just find ourselves quoting all the time and trying to strive to do. I think humility is a really, really important thing to keep in mind. And I think that's a cornerstone of being a good collaborator - being open to other people's ideas, treating the people you work with like they're geniuses. Because that will never serve you wrong. And being kind, just being kind.

S: Words to live by! All right, so you two were recently behind the music for a new stage play of The Book Thief. Can you tell us anything about that? Give us a little scoop?

E: Oh, yes. We had our UK debut and we're about to announce another exciting opportunity for that show. That announcement is coming up very soon. And we had the honor of adapting Markus Zusak's gorgeous novel into a stage musical. It's completely different from Between The Lines, it's completely different from anything else we've written. So it was such a privilege to be able to take his material and turn it into songs.

K: Yeah, it's a really exciting show. It's an example of like just another team of people that we've gotten to work with who've just blown our minds in how they elevate what was on the page and now brought to the stage. It's like this incredible choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves which blew people away in northern England. And I think it's going to continue to blow people away as we take it on its next steps and eventually hopefully go to the West End. That's the goal. So more on that soon.

S: Thank you for the scoop, exciting stuff! Lastly, if you guys could jump into any dream project, what would it be?

E: Oooh, such a good question.

K: Yeah, there's a lot of answers to that. I think for me, a dream project would be like a female forward musical. Either a stage show or a live action movie with some of my comedy heroes in the lead roles, like Kristen Wiig or Amy Poehler or Tina Fey. That kind of that league of ladies. That would be my absolute dream - to work with my heroes in that capacity.

   We talk a lot about our dream to one day write a full length feature animated movie for Disney. That's our dream. That's a big one."

E: Yeah, we also talk a lot about our dream to one day write a full length feature animated movie for Disney. That's our dream. That's a big one.

S: I look forward to you guys achieving those dreams. Those are all the questions we have for you guys. Is there anything you'd like to add?

E: Our our cast album for Between the Lines is coming out in January as well. So the great thing about Hal Leonard and Sheet Music Direct doing the vocal selections is that they're going to match up with the cast album that comes out so you can listen, you can play through, you can sing through.

K: And then additionally there was a live capture done that will hopefully be available on some kind of streaming platform very soon as well. So you can see the whole show.

E: And then listen to it, and then read the sheet music.

K: And then play it!

S: We love that! Thank you so much. Thank you for all the amazing insight. This has been a great conversation!

From the newest releases to award-winning bestsellers and everything in between, Sheet Music Direct is your home for premium sheet music. Instantly download and print sheet music and more from any device.

Enjoy unlimited online sheet music from any device with PASS. Get started with 30 days free!

No comments Powered by Blogger.