Arts & Culture

21st April 2021

In Conversation with Joey Contreras

LGSM writer Jacob Bush (JB) sat down with Joey Contreras (JC) to find out all about the In Pieces album and the upcoming streamed film version. So grab a cup of tea and settle in to read the highlights of their conversation about the arts industry, Bored Belting and In Pieces.

Image Credit: Jacob Bush (screenshot from Zoom recording)

JB: Who are you and how have you got to be where you are?

JC: I am Joey Contreras. I am a musical theatre and pop songwriter from California originally but I live in New York City now. And I’ve just grown-up doing music my whole life to be honest. I was a theatre kid growing up, I was writing music, pop music at home when I was younger because my parents are musicians. And it just sort of led me down this path of where I am now. It was pretty new 13 years ago, but I still think of it as sort of new, this contemporary musical theatre world. There’s always been sort of this underground scene of contemporary musical theatre and I have been in that scene, where I’m making albums and I’m working on shows and working with incredible artists. It’s sort of an interesting group to be in.

JB: This last year has been crazy for all of us. So how have you found this whole COVID situation as a creative? How have you kept going?

JC: To be honest I’m a pretty self-contained operation, in the sense that I have my mic, I have my studio, I’m able to do a lot of stuff without leaving the house. So in like the best way possible, it’s been actually fine on the best end of the spectrum. I’ve created this album during this time which is crazy. I have a lot of great collaborators who have remote studio set ups so I was able to stay very productive during this time, creatively, musically.

But then of course there’s the emotional side of it, the emotional side of it is like a train wreck. It definitely was and is a very crazy, emotional time too. For example, I haven’t done a concert proper in a while and that’s gonna be interesting going back into that environment and doing that again. I’m looking forward to it. So there’s been parts of it where I’ve been totally fine and I’ve been able to stay very optimistic and productive. But then there’s other parts of it that I’ve definitely missed.

JB: Going forwards, what do you hope the arts industry as a whole has learnt from the events of the last year and how do you think we should be progressing as we, hopefully, are moving towards being back in theatres?

JC: Well, I don’t know how much you’re following what’s happening on Broadway but I think it is very clear to see that there are a lot of things that are broken that need to be talked about, and then need to be fixed. There needs to be some honest conversations, there needs to be a lot of listening and there needs to be a lot of putting things into action – that’s about all sorts of things. I’m hopeful and I’m looking forward to every person in every part of the industry being heard because it goes beyond actors but writers, directors, producers, choreographs, everybody. It’s such a huge operation and there’s so many places where people have been not heard. I’m hoping that we don’t just fall back into old habits just because it’s familiar or because… it’s very easy to make excuses. It’ll be interesting. And I mean I have no idea what’s gonna happen, and with the reopening plans – what we plan to programme on Broadway and what’s gonna reopen, whose voices are being heard.

JB: Obviously it’s been challenging for the arts, we’ve been so hard hit on both sides of the pond and right round the world. But I think, at least in the UK, so many have risen to the challenge to keep theatre alive in the online space. So many innovative things have been going on, theatre wise, which has just been amazing to see and I just hope we don’t sort of, obviously nothing is gonna replace live entertainment, but I just hope that we can continue to make use of the online space.

JC: Yeah, I think this has been an incredible time for innovation. I think a lot of people, the gatekeepers, the people that have the money, I think they have been closed minded to what can be made and what can be done, what can give a huge audience access to the arts. It doesn’t mean if you are streaming something that suddenly there’s no money in that, if you’re thinking business wise. There are models that have been made that are working financially and are doing a great service to the community. I hope we take the innovation and I hope we start promoting new work a lot more than revivals.

In Pieces film trailer

JB: Moving onto In Pieces – what is it about?

JC: In Pieces has been a long time coming actually. I have been writing music, like I said, for a while. My first sort of introduction to the scene and to New York was, I think, a lot of it was from my first album, Love Me Love Me Not. They were a collection of songs that I wrote about my life and also were now starting to be theatricalised and put in this sort of contemporary musical theatre world. And that’s sort of where I started finding my lane as a writer. I would write from personal experiences, but then because I have a theatre background and because I was working with Broadway performers, it really kind of elevated these songs into real storytelling pieces.

So finally, in 2017, I was given the opportunity to do give a presentation of a song cycle, it being In Pieces, and it was the first time that I was able to see, ‘OK, this is something that definitely can work’. I’d written a couple more songs for it to help tie it together and really help give it a cohesive musical narrative. Because I’m tying together a bunch of stand alone songs I want it to still feel musically cohesive. So there’s a couple of songs that were added to give it some thematic material and some motifs. But I realised, stepping back, it definitely can tell a whole story about reflecting on our journeys, more specifically romantic journeys, growing up in the coming of age years, and trying to look back and be OK with all the decisions that were made. And reminiscing in kind of a beautiful way, a nostalgic way. It’s sort of, almost like a memory play.

And then it went back on the backburner. I worked on other projects, and then in 2020 people started enquiring about it and it really kick started the show back up. It’s been In Pieces ever since for the last year.

THE STORY: “In Pieces: A New Musical”

JB: Some of the songs on this album, I would go so far to say, they’re almost musical theatre standards, like Love Me Love Me Not – it’s a classic! And yet, there’s other songs on there that aren’t quite so well known, or songs that I’ve definitely never heard before. So where did the idea come from to bring all these particular songs together into one piece? Especially because, in some ways, it’s quite an eclectic mix of songs. You’ve got George Salazar’s gorgeous musical theatre ballad in there, followed by Like You Don’t Miss Me which wouldn’t be completely out of place in a nightclub.

JC: I mean that is quintessential me. That is who I am. If anybody needed to know who Joey Contreras is, it’s this album right here. I think that both can exist. It’s emotional, it’s energizing, it’s bop, it’s sad – and that’s our life. So I think, for me, I did sometimes, those little tiny voices in the back of my head, I’m like, ‘oh does this make sense?’. But I’m also like if I dig it, that’s my main criteria and it’s very authentic to who I am. But thank you for the compliment and thank you for listening. And thank you also for saying that Love Me Love Me Not is a musical theatre standard – that is like dreams, I love that comment.

Love Me Love Me Not, performed by Ben Fankhauser – one of the first songs Joey wrote that is included in In Pieces

JC: In putting together the show order… because this album is only 10 songs out of a show which is actually 21 songs… so there’s Great, Cool and With Him and Young Kind of Love, Love Wildly, Ohio, and these other songs that kind of fill in everything. I just was trying to build the best flow and then, kind of, see, alright, how do I spread out these songs through the characters. It was honestly kind of beautiful to see how, because in the show there’s 8 characters, and some of them pair off a little bit but because it’s a song cycle, there is a loose thread but there’s also so much room for you to create your own backstory which I think makes it very interactive. But I was like let me just put in all my favourite songs and see how they come together.

Me and Mr Popularity, performed by Andrew Barth Feldman

JB: From my perspective as an onlooker, it seems like In Pieces has almost blown up overnight. How does this all feel with the release of the album just happening and we’ve got the UK filmed version streaming from next week?

JC: I’m so so so excited about the response so far from In Pieces. I believe in the show and I’ve been so touched by the way people are connecting with the songs and with the stories. I think that it has a lot of potential to do big things.

I am so excited about the film as well. This has been such a delight and a treat for me. Working with Louis and Rachel and Future Spotlight Productions and them just really taking a chance and putting their passion and everything into a new piece. I admire the amount of beautifully produced streamed theatre that has been happening in the UK and the West End but I think what’s exciting about this is the fact that it is a brand new piece. It doesn’t have necessarily name recognition, or it hasn’t had name recognition but I hope that it’s starting to build name recognition. I’m telling you, I’ve seen the film and it is so beautiful and fun and refreshing and exciting and the choreography is just lit, the way it was filmed is so cool. I feel like it really gives you a good sense of what the show is, which is really affective, simple, small storytelling but then also confetti canons and full out choreography and that excitement too. It really just delivers a lot of entertainment value but also a lot of emotional value.

Another New York Love Story, performed by Leslie Hiatt

JB: Which of the In Pieces songs is your favourite and/or the most special to you?

JC: That’s a really difficult question. Right now, You Never Know is really exciting to me – just the production on it, the harmonies, it just really hits on the album, for me, really well. Another New York Love Story is also really special to me. With Him which is not on this album but it’s in the show, Great, Cool which is in the show. Those are some songs that are some favourites of mine. But which one do you like the best?

First Sign of Forever, performed by Mia Gerachis

JB: Oh my goodness, they’re all so good. I love First Sign of Forever, which isn’t on the album. Because I mean, I think the entire musical theatre community has just become obsessed with Mia Gerachis. ‘Bored Belting’ is my favourite thing in the world.

JC: I cannot wait to tell her that she is international now, I’m obsessed with that. I mean, yes, Mia Gerachis is a star and I am so excited that the world is discovering her because I have been working with her for years now. First Sign of Forever is so difficult to sing and her voice is unmatched. One of the best, so versatile, cannot say enough amazing things about Mia Gerachis. And so sweet and so talented. Here I am gonna be full stan about Mia, I guess it takes great acting to appear so bored but she’s an incredible actress period.

I love Singing the Same Line too. That’s actually one of my favourites now.

Singin’ the Same Line, performed by Solea Pfeiffer

JB: That is a tune! And Amy Di Bartolomeo sounds so good in the trailer.

JC: Yeah, she’s incredible. I remember when Louis, the director, sent me a little voice memo of her in rehearsal and I was like ‘oh wow’. She’s also a great dancer.

JB: Where do you hope In Pieces will go from here?

JC: I am hoping that we can give it a proper stage production very soon. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll find myself in London later this year. There are some conversations about that which would be amazing. I’m hoping that people continue to check out the album, learn more about the show, want to see and perform the show. I just kind of want it to take over the world in the most humble way possible. I’m really excited to see do this splashy, professional production when we have it.

JB: More broadly, what’s next for you creatively?

JC: I am always working. I am currently finishing up rewrites for a show called Heartbreakers in Hell which is a modern day adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. It’s a bit like Company meets a Lady Gaga concert. We’re doing some productions and some work on it later this year. And I also have another really stunning show called Forget Me Not. It’s about a small coastal town that gets a burst of attention when a whale washes ashore and they don’t know what to do with it. At the same time, it brings up all these memories of when there was a serial killer on the beach. It’s really a poignant show which is the complete opposite of Heartbreakers in Hell. I’m also just constantly writing songs. I’m always recording music and releasing stuff.

JB: What can people expect from In Pieces and why should people tune into the filmed production from next week?

JC: I think people should check out this film because the songs are incredible. I believe in the songs, I know that they’re great songs. The performances that they will see are stunning and presented in a beautiful way, in a fun way. I think it’s just a really enjoyable 80 minutes and it lets you reconnect with moments of your own life as well. Especially in a time that has been so crazy and weird, it lets you reminisce and also not feel alone at the same time. I’m very excited about it.

And Danielle Steers is amazing. I will also say that. She is unbelievable in this, everyone’s unbelievable. Danielle Steers is amazing in this.

And what’s also really exciting about this, because my taste is so like, I love music video vibes, there’s a lot of music video vibes to this which are just cool. The camera work, the transitions, they’re very fun, and cinematic and cool.

Love Wildly, performed by Jordan Luke Gage and the cast of the In Pieces film

To keep up to date with everything Joey Contreras is doing and creating, be sure to follow him on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. In Pieces also has its own accounts on each of those platforms.