You probably know Jill Hennessy from her roles as A.D.A. Claire Kincaid on Law & Order and Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh on Crossing Jordan, but before she got the acting bug, she started in music. Now, she's come full circle.
Hennessy is in Philly promoting her new, critically acclaimed album Ghost In My Head with a performance at World Café Live Friday night. Former Rolling Stone critic and current Sirius XM DJ Dave Marsh calls the debut album "startling" saying it would have been impressive even from an experienced musician, let alone a novice. "These songs feel whole to me like the work of an artist who sees life whole," said Marsh.
So we sat down the sweet singer-songwriter to hear about her music, creating an album on her own, who inspires her and Miley Cyrus.
NBC: What inspired you to go into music?
JH: "I actually started in music before I was an actor. In fact, that's what got me into the country too. I always loved music as a kid. I always sang with my sister since the time we were four years old. But I was always told I have a boy's voice. So it was something that I did because I loved it, though I never thought I'd do it professionally. I played guitar on the streets of Toronto and New York City for money."
How the music comes full circle :
JH: "So I have to give music credit for getting me here right now. And it ' s always something that I love doing and I was fortunate enough to get great acting jobs and I love acting but the music's sort of been the most authentic part of what I do and I love finishing that album, playing it live…I'm so honored to be at World Café tonight. Even being here in Philly -- one of the best music towns in the country. It's true man, just watch Spinal Tap."
NBC: With this being your first album, how does it feel to get your music out there?
JH: "It’s a terrifyingly, brilliant, joyous feeling. We had no label so my husband and I basically created the album -- we were the label and we had a brilliant music producer named Patrick McCarthy. Who actually engineered and mixed on Joshua Tree for U2 and since he's produced for REM and the Indigo Girls and Madonna. He was, God bless him, really invested in the content of the songs and wanted to become involved."
The long road to record-dom :
JH: "It was sort of like a yellow brick road process. We recorded the album in Austin, Texas where we worked with some great musicians who were our core group. Then they told other musicians who heard the music and wanted to be involved -- Marty Maguire from the Dixie Chicks plays fiddle, Lloyd Maines plays peddle steel and actually plays five different instruments on the album, Mike Mills from REM…sings backup vocals on a track and plays keyboard on a couple of songs."
Spreading her musical love across the nation :
JH: "We're basically doing our own sort of mini tour -- whatever we can accomplish with two kids, one in school and the other almost two years old, but we're just literally on the road right now. Going from city to city we've got Mountain Stage in West Virginia lined up this week with the Indigo Girls and Gary Jewels, we've got World Café tonight, Night Cat tomorrow in Eastern Maryland and then we're going to be in CMJ next month. Literally it’s a mom, pop organization."
NBC: How did it feel to have a song written about you?
JH: " They were a Minneapolis-based band, unfortunately I think they're no longer together, but what a great band, man. When I had first heard that a band had written a song about me, it was called "The Ballad of Jill Hennessy," I was really nervous. I thought oh my gosh, its probably gonna be ' She's a lousy actress…I don’t like her on that show' and then I hear this song and it was such beautiful imagery -- very metaphorical and also very detailed. It seemed they knew me pretty well and a lot of that song is about the last episode of Law & Order I was on. I was so flattered, so blown away and they're actually brilliant musicians they sort of have a real sort of strong Smashing Pumpkins vibe with a little bit of Sonic Youth mixed in. And it was one of the best things that happened to me. I was so bowled over by it. "
NBC: Ever think about taking a musically influenced acting gig?
JH: "I'm shooting a film in mid-October where I play a singer-songwriter. It's shooting out in Queens and it's called Roadie. Michael Quest is directing. He did a film called L.I.E. with Phil Danno and Michael Cox a few years ago…so that'll be fun. I also got another offer for a project I'd love to do, but it may conflict with this [music] project. So the acting's still happening…but the main focus is on the album."
NBC: What is your musical inspiration? What would you want to cover, if you had the opportunity?
JH: "Springsteen's so huge. Patty Griffin is a huge inspiration of mine -- I love covering her stuff. With her it's kinda like 'How do you do justice to a Patty Griffin song?' but why not try! If I could do a killer Radiohead cover, I'd be so happy. I used to sing U2 in the subways all the time -- people would give more money with a U2 song. God, there's just so many. I might even do a Taylor Swift/U2 medley tonight at the World Café, but we'll see if I'm gutsy enough to whip it out."
NBC: No Miley Cyrus -- "Party in the USA?"
JH: "You know what, I was considering. Dude, she's -- God bless -- she's struck a cord, man and I like the way she performs. I'd be very happy to be where she's at."
NBC: How would you describe your music?
JH: "It's very story driven. It's kind of alternative rock with country influences and folk influences. But it's about the stories, man. It's really about the words. I love rhythmic stuff, but this all seems to come from the ideas in my head. I recommend you listen to the words, they'll tell ya everything. Dave Marsh put it better than I can: ''It's kinda hard to describe your own work.' I'd rather leave it to the listener in some ways."
NBC: Do you get any butterflies when you walk out on stage?
JH: "It's funny, whether you're acting or singing, I still get butterflies, but I'm so used to singing with subway trains whizzing past me before I ever got an acting job. I'm used to singing with traffic in front of me or people who maybe had a little too much to drink, shouting things at me. I'm very used to performing in all kinds of situations since I was 18. You get used to singing when no one is even listening and there's a comfort in that sometimes too – you find ways to just enjoy yourself in the moment. It's so nice to get back to that. It's a lot more satisfying then working on a soundstage as an actor in front of a camera. You definitely connect with people on an intimate level."
NBC: The album's out now and where you can find it?
JH: "It's available on iTunes, Amazon, Borders stores, my Web site -- Jill Hennessy.com. There's also tons of stuff on YouTube. We've been putting most of the live stuff up…you can see all of the live shows -- some Springsteen covers and my live stuff."