Joey Contreras is an artist of many talents. That’s the gist behind his upcoming concert, Joey Contreras: In the Works, which showcases songs from three musicals he’s working on—all of which are very different from each other. The broad range of stories and sounds shows how much Joey has to offer. Before the concert (which you can get tickets for here), I spoke to him about choosing a set list and the things that inspire him.
Brittany Frederick: This concert is showcasing songs from three different projects. How did you narrow down the field to decide what songs to perform?
Joey Contreras: This concert had a very strong concept at the beginning of its planning stage. It was starting with this idea of wanting to showcase three different musicals in kind of a nice trailer of each show, and then figuring out how those sounds and the worlds of those shows will work on the 54 Below stage. All three of them are bigger shows, but they sound different, they feel different. And just production-wise, orchestration-wise, how to still get across their differences but on a uniform stage.
It’s really almost like a pitch. It’s almost like, okay, here’s 20 minutes of the show and this is a taste. I think it’s kind of fun, too, because it allows me to tell the audience this is sort of what happens, and they can use their imagination to fill in moments and things like that.
BF: Since it’s a more intimate stage and it is kind of a pitch, does that allow you to experiment a little? Might we hear things that are more suited for 54 Below that you couldn’t do on that bigger stage?
JC: Something that I’ve always wanted to do that I have never had the opportunity of doing is playing to a click track in my ear—like a pop star, basically—and having a lot of additional production elements being fed into the house. So we’re doing a lot of some additional production elements that’ll be tracked in addition to the live players, which will be a really fun opportunity for me.
BF: The three productions (In Pieces, Forget Me Not and Heartbreakers in Hell) are very different, but have you noticed common themes or other things that run through them? Anything that makes them unique to you?
JC: I find myself in every show that I do. In Pieces is probably the most me and the most familiar-sounding show. A lot of these songs that are in that show are songs that were in previous albums of mine; they were kind of baked into this piece and the story was created from there. And so that’s definitely songs that were written from my journal.
Heartbreakers in Hell is a modern day adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. You’re taking the structure and the bones of that piece, but then applying them in this modernized way, that it’s reimagining hell as a New York dating hellscape and each circle of hell is a new relationship. And there’s definitely very relatable things about love that I can connect to.
And then you have Forget Me Not, which is a more of a meditation on grief and identity. There are pieces of that show that explore things that I’ve never explored as a writer in those other two shows. It was a great opportunity to examine some things within myself that I don’t tend to go to. I had a co-writer on that one that brought out some new colors of what a lot of my catalog tends to be, which is love and relationships and kind of pop-leaning music.
BF: This concert features some incredible singers, many of whom you have lengthy relationships with. Can you talk about what they bring to the table and what that collaborative process is like for you?
JC: The people that I am bringing with me on this concert are dear friends, collaborators, artists that I’ve worked with for many years on this show. They have been on the demos, they’ve been in the readings, and so there’s already a wonderful working relationship established there in addition to the friendship. On top of that, they are unbelievable performers, singers, actors. So when you have that shorthand and you have that relationship, it just makes the whole experience a better and more fruitful experience.
I can be very picky about who I want to bring into my world—who’s going to be the vessel of these songs that I wrote and these stories that I wrote. So when I find people that I work and collaborate well with, I hold on to them. And the collaborative nature of it…Just the other day I was in rehearsal and I was like, well, that’s the Stevi Riff and that’s the Solea Riff and that’s the Kaleigh Riff. In this one specific moment, there’d be three or four girls who have worked on this song and you kind of choose, like okay, do we want to do the Stevi Riff or do you want to do the Kaleigh Riff? Do you want to do the Solea Riff or do you want to do that? And then how can we evolve it to make it your riff? It’s those little tiny things that make the rehearsal process a lot of fun too.
BF: For people who come to this show and really love what they hear, are there ways that they can help get these projects to the Broadway stage, or just further support you as an artist?
JC: If you’re a fan of the show, there are lots of ways that you can support. If you are someone who is on the producing side, the investing side, money is always needed to get these shows to the next place. If you’re just a fan of the music and you want everyone to know, share it on social media. Word of mouth is the best way to do any sort of marketing, and so I rely on word of mouth. I rely on those shares.
And then if you’re a singer, if you’re an actor, if you’re someone who wants to sing the music and wants to perform it in cabarets or in your colleges, your programs, any of that, buy the sheet music. The sheet music purchases are really truly the way that musical theater writers like myself can stay afloat and continue to create. It’s sort of like our merch.
BF: Is there one thing about the songwriting world, the musical theater world, that you want fans to know?
JC: I think to be lifting up new musical theater writers. It’s easy to put a lot of attention and money towards a jukebox show from a pre-existing pop catalog. There’s name recognition behind that. There’s name recognition behind getting certain pop writers to write the scores of other shows. But I think that there’s been a lot of proof that musical theater writers can write stories that bring a really satisfying and successful experience to the theater-going audience and to the industry when given the opportunity.
Joey Contreras: In the Works takes place Monday, April 18 at Feinstein’s/54 Below; tickets are available here. You can also use the Spotify playlist above to listen to some of Joey’s music now and visit his website for more information about everything he’s working on!
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.