This singer-songwriter thrives straddling the worlds of theater and music
Few artists have the talent to sustain two successful careers at once. So credit Rebecca Pidgeon for doing just that, gaining fame as a well-respected singer-songwriter and as an acclaimed actress.
“It really was quite accidental,” says Pidgeon, who was born in Cambridge, Mass., but raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. Soon after graduating London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art she began her dual career acting and singing. “The music thing began happening between acting jobs, and both careers took off at the same time,” says Pidgeon, 48. “Because the two worlds are so distinct, it’s not until a wider notoriety is achieved that people join the dots. I had two separate lives—and I came to lead both of them.”
Pidegon was the lead singer in the British folk-pop band Ruby Blue until leaving in 1990. “My then-musical partner sent some demos to various record companies, and by the time we made a record, got a band together and wrote more material, we ended up on a major label,” she recalls. With seven solo albums, including a soundtrack, under her belt, Pidgeon is now releasing her eighth effort, Blue Dress On, which she produced with guitarist and keyboardist Tim Young.
Although Pidgeon’s signature sound typically veers toward adult pop, the new record marks a creative shift. “I wanted to have a rougher edge,” she says. “I wanted it to reflect more of the music I grew up with—bands that had a dramatic edge and a raw guitar sound, like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division. There’s something about the chord progression in British music that appeals to me. I grew up with it, and it still resonates with me.”
Pidgeon’s musical career has led her to work with veteran producers Larry Klein and Joel Diamond and songwriters David Batteau and Mark Goldenberg. Her acting resume reflects the many film, television and stage productions she’s taken on—some written and directed by her husband, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, author, screenwriter and film director David Mamet. The two were married in 1991 after they met during the London run of his play Speed-the-Plow, which featured Pidgeon in a major role.
The couple’s collaboration isn’t limited to the set or stage, and they frequently make music together, their latest effort being the title track of her new album. “We’re most successful when I go to him with a song and ask him to fix the lyrics,” says the mother of two teens. “But he’ll often present me with a finished lyric and I’ll try to come up with the right setting for it. On my first album, The Raven, he gave me a love poem, which I set to music. He’s a wonderful musician himself, but he comes from different traditions than I do. He’s brilliant with Tin Pan Alley songs and the Great American Songbook. He plays piano very well, and he’s much better with music theory than I am.”
Pidgeon’s new record also reflects a shift on the business side. Her previous album was released on a major label, but Pidgeon has decided to go the indie route, issuing Blue Dress On through her own Toy Canteen label. “Fortunately, I’m an ignoramus,” she jokes. “I’m blindly going around doing what I do and trying to give birth to this thing in whatever way I can.
“Sometimes you do say to yourself, ‘Oh God, what’s the point? I might as well just give up.’ But then I think, what’s the point of giving up? I might as well just do this despite the challenges. It’s a choice I’ve made, but I’ve been lucky, and in the end, I’ll keep doing it until
I can’t anymore.”