Is an Americano always your drink of choice?
Delicious! I love them. Americanos with a little bit of steamed almond milk is my jam.
In your music you often write about love. So, what qualities are you looking for in a man?
Oh man. I have this thing where I love the work that I do. It takes me away, and not just physically away when I’m on tour. I usually write by myself, so it requires me to have some alone time. I really have to be with someone who is okay doing their own thing and knowing that just because I want to be by myself doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hang out with them, it’s just that they’re both important to me. I suppose I can find that in any kind of person, but I sort of imagine that I’d want to be with someone who’s also an artist or musician – someone who also requires a bit of [the same].
I have to ask, did the guy you wrote about in your song “Julie” ever stop seeing Julie?
No! I think they got married, I heard through the grapevine. It didn’t work; my campaign is failing. Writing a song doesn’t get a guy to like you, it turns out. But I keep doing it. [Laughs]
Since we are at Richard Branson’s hotel, one of my favorite quotes of his is, “A touch of the jitters sharpens the mind, gets the adrenaline flowing and helps you to focus.” Do you agree with that? Do you get nervous performing?
I do like a little bit of nervousness. I think there’s a certain focus when you’re excited about the task at hand, so it helps you to shut out other things. I used to get really bad stage fright, so I would say in that case maybe it didn’t help me. I’d forget all of the things I practiced because I just didn’t have control over my body and if you’re a performer on stage there’s a certain amount of control you need. The really bad nervousness started to disappear when I realized that it’s all just no big deal. I’m just on stage singing and the worst that happens is I mess up. The only thing that really gets hurt is my ego, you know? This isn’t rocket science, you’re not performing surgery. It can be scary to be on stage, but the best thing that could happen is you change someone and you connect with someone on this amazing, emotional level. The worst that happens is you mess up a bit. Maybe the only thing that’s hurt is your ego a bit, and who really cares!
Best part of your “This is War” tour so far?
I’m loving seeing that there are so many fans of my music out there. I’m used to just interacting through Twitter and Instagram. It’s fun to go to a city and be in a room full of people who know all the words. You’re physically with them interacting.
Have you developed any pre-show rituals or are you still trying to figure that out?
It’s early enough on so we’re still kind of figuring that out. We quickly realized that it was nice to have a moment with just the band before we go on stage. It was only our second show and we realized for the first show we did a nice little powwow. We held hands and said, “Okay, let’s focus on the music and let go of the day and really be in the moment on stage.” We didn’t do that for our second show of the tour and the third show we all thought something didn’t feel right. We all felt scattered. So now that’s become a ritual. We do that no matter what. Our tour manager knows, he’s like, “Where are you going to have your powwow?”
When you have downtime on the road, what will we find you doing?
Usually when I travel—being in hotel rooms and having big blocks of space to myself—I do tend to write, but with a tour we’re all together in a van so it’s more of a group situation. We listen to a lot of comedy podcasts so that’s really fun in the van.
What comedy podcasts have you been listening to?
We’ve been listening to a lot of Louis C. K.
On Instagram you posted a picture of the book “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” – is that a book you read?
[“The Walking Dead” Spoiler alert] It’s almost like a workbook and I started doing it when I found out I was going to be killed on “The Walking Dead” – I just needed a little focus. I had actually lived in Atlanta [because of the show], so not only was I sad to be leaving a job but there were also the logistics of moving and wondering what I should do next. I was feeling pulled in a lot of directions, the book gave me these exercises to do. One thing that I kept with me is writing three pages in the morning. I do find writing to be very satisfying. When I was working through things it gave me the focus to be like, “Every morning I’m going to write three pages.” It’s something that I still do. I found that whatever it is you’re trying to do make it the first thing you do. For me, writing is really important.
Have you looked up to anyone along the way who has managed to have a successful career as an actress and singer on the road?
It is something I have been thinking about because people have said, “At some point are you going to have to choose one or the other?” I’ve always felt like they’re both such important parts of my life. I love acting; I loved working on “The Walking Dead”, but writing songs is something that’s just, I have to do it. It comes to me and I think of songs and I have to write them down. Tom Waits did a lot of acting and movies. Zooey Deschanel is another one. She has her cool band and she’s also on a cool TV show. She’s someone who has found the perfect way to have a balance of all the things that she loves. I think when you’re an artist you just want to work on projects that inspire you. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s a TV show or a song or a movie. You have stories you want to tell and express.
Perhaps you can get a drink with Zooey and pick her brain!
Yeah! I also think we’re all so different. Whatever it is that you do – if you’re a creative person – how it fits into your life is very different. So how it’s worked into [Zooey’s] life and what works for her might not necessarily work for me. I’ve been acting for over 10 years professionally and one thing that I learned is to really listen to that inner voice and know what’s good for me at different times. Whether I want to be in New York doing a play and be able to see my friends during the day and do a show or if I just want to be on the road and be kind of isolated and go sing my music every night. Just listening to whatever my path is.
You moved from Nebraska to New York in your early twenties. Take us back to that moment, were you scared?
Well, I was lucky. The very first time I moved to New York I was picked to do this little program at NYU. The first time I moved I had a little semester at NYU, so there was some structure and I was studying at Playwrights Horizons Theater School. Towards the end of that time, when the semester was about to be over, I started going to open calls and I actually got in a play, like my first professional play and I stayed. Once that play closed I had no idea what to do. I didn’t have an agent, I had no money. I was just kind of wandering around New York City living with friends so I went back to Nebraska and I worked at a coffee shop and I really saved some money. I kept working on some classes and then once I felt like I had saved enough–which wasn’t very much money, just a few months worth– then I really moved back and I haven’t left since then, except for work. But that was a really scary and exciting time.
At just 25 you got the role as Beth Greene on “The Walking Dead”. It sounds like there weren’t too many days working in the coffee shop.
Yeah, you know, right away when I got to New York I didn’t waste a lot of time in terms of waiting to audition. I can remember the first night that I got to New York that second time and I didn’t have an apartment or my job at a coffee shop yet, but I was already planning on going to an open call the next morning. At first I didn’t love New York City either. Now I love it. Now it’s my home. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, but I was there for a very specific purpose and that was that I wanted to work in theater and I wanted to work in the biggest way possible – theater and music. To me, the best place for that was New York City.
What is something no one tells you about open casting calls?
You quickly start to learn what kind of roles you should be going in for. You talk to other actors and you figure out what agencies they are with. You get to know certain casting directors. Maybe the biggest thing is that it’s not about that one audition. For me at the beginning, I just needed experience and I just needed to be going to auditions, so there is something about not taking each one so personally … Even now, still, I’ll go to a bunch of auditions in a week if I happen to be in New York and I don’t get most of them. You know? Most jobs I don’t get. It’s a strange thing to be an actor. You have to be totally open and emotional, but you also have to have a thick skin.
Is it true that you didn’t watch yourself on the show?
I’ll watch. I try not to do that thing where you watch over and over and you’re like, “Why did I put my head that way, why didn’t they pick that take?”
Are there any habits you’re trying to break while singing on stage?
It’s funny. Early on in theater you’re told to get rid of certain habits so you can portray a different character. With music I’m trying so hard to just be honest and be myself, so mostly I’m looking for things that might distract or hurt my voice rather than trying to get rid of habits that are my habits. I’m just being myself. I’m not being a character. It’s okay if I tend to do this or do that or dance weird. I’m just being myself. I more so look for things like taking a bigger breath before certain notes. Most people are coming to see and hear live music so I want to give them a quality show.
If you could go on tour with anyone, who would it be?
Ellie Goulding, that would be awesome. Or Regina Spektor and Colbie Caillat. It’d be cool to be with another girl and just be empowered on tour. Something like that could be fun. I’m a huge Paramore fan and I’ve actually never seen them in concert, but I’ve watched so many YouTube videos that I feel like I’ve seen them live. I love them.
What’s another role on TV that you’d like to play?
I loved playing Beth, she was so sweet and I like how in the end she got a little tougher. I’d like to imagine it’d be fun to play someone with a little more edge. Maybe someone who’s had a rougher history. I also really want to do something funny. I’ve played a lot of dramatic roles, like when I did “Spring Awakening” that’s a more dramatic sort of play, “August: Osage County” and obviously “The Walking Dead” is a very serious drama. I think it’d be really fun to do something funny, too.
Go-to binge food?
I love gummy candy: gummy bears, chocolate covered gummy bears, watermelon Sour Patch Kids.
Last song you downloaded?
I just downloaded that Bat for Lashes album. There’s a song “Laura.” Do you know them? That album is so good!
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Is it boring to say I just want to hang out with my family? Like my little sister or something? With music and acting it takes you away a lot. It would be great to say I want to hang out with someone famous, but really I just want to hang out with my little sister.
Who is your rock in your family?
It changes depending on what I’m doing. Both of my sisters, though. I have a younger sister who’s in law school and then my older sister lives in Colorado Springs. Whenever I have any issues or if I’m stressing about something I can call them and they sort of bring me back down to reality. My sisters are great.
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