I’M BLUE, SKIES — Cheyenne Jackson’s debut solo album is solid gold. The man and his music is so hot, so out, and so easy to love.
Cheyenne Jackson is the consummate pop artist, the nuts-and-bolts romantic dude who is gay, gorgeous, happily married, and a bunch of other stuff on everybody’s wish list. I’m Blue, Skies is a compilation of original songs and lyrics that reveal—maybe, at last!—the heart and soul of the young and out gay man who has always been right there, always in front of you, always with the love and desire that dares to shout its name. Released this past Tuesday, June 25, the week when the country held its breath about marriage equality and the self-evident right to the pursuit of happiness, Cheyenne Jackson emerges as the artist who is in absolutely the right place at absolutely the right time.
I interviewed Cheyenne prior to his appearance as “Tony” in San Francisco Symphony’s presentations of West Side Story. It is the first time the Leonard Bernstein musical has been presented in a concert setting. Teamed with dazzling soprano Alexandra Silber as “Maria”, the project has been recorded and stands to be the most sought-after version since the 1957 Original Cast LP. Cheyenne’s on-Broadway appearances include Aida, Thoroughly Modern Millie, All Shook Up, Xanadu and Finian’s Rainbow. He said he’s been working on his music since he was a child.
“I have recordings of me at five and six writing songs. My mom taught me harmony and how to harmonize with myself using two tape recorders. Music is the foundation of all my art and always has been. Once I started doing theatre—and the high of that, the wonderful give and take with the audience—it took over everything for about a decade. I’ve been in New York for eleven years and have done what I wanted to do. The grind of eight shows a week got to me and I got a little burnt-out. Then television came. Tina Fey saw me and wrote a part for me in 30 Rock. Then the movies came – and I’ve really gotten into that. I did five films last year and have a few big ones coming up. But music was always in the back of my mind and I know it’s time to start sharing my own.”
The title song, “I’m Blue, Skies” shows the range and versatility of his vocal chops and adept handling of song construction. Australian singer and songwriter Sia Furler saw Cheyenne in Xanadu and after learning of his writing enthusiasm took him to a recording studio.
“She said I had the knack for melodies and lyrics and hooks. I’ve always written poetry. It’s just a personal thing for me. After a few months of writing I had this collection of music. Then I got hooked up with someone from Sony/ATV Music Publishing. She signed me up to a developmental writing deal. I write at home. Sometimes songs come to me – the lyrics and music at the same time or a hook will pop into my head. I always have my recorder ready and am constantly observing and listening. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write an album!’ The hard thing was that the people at Sony kept asking, ‘What is your sound?’ I don’t know! They said to just write and my sound would happen. I realize that I write a lot in minor and get pretty dramatic. That’s just who I am. I have pain just like everybody else. You can’t help but be influenced by the people you grow up listening to. I listened to George Michael—I know you can hear it in my music. Also, Elton John and Sting. I love big, lush harmonies. I made sure everything was layered and I did seven or eight harmonies in the background. I just really like to stack it, unless it’s something really pared down with just a guitar or piano.”
Watch the great camera work on the video of Track 7, Don’t Wanna Know. Fantasy chance encounters are around everywhere for this guy who’s still stuck on his ex. Cheyenne brought in a very hot group of performance friends for all the encountering. Like, the stack of anxious and ready construction workers who only have eyes for him. The mailman in short-shorts, a randy cop singing along to this now hit tune on the radio—all of them turn into his ex. “Straight to my guts there you go again, You’re killing me don’t even know it when… “
“Looking really close at the beginning, I say, ‘You can’t be alone, Lord, I know that’s true.’ At the end, when I repeat that phrase, it’s ‘I can’t be alone, Lord, I know that’s true.’ As far as all the men, what I wanted to show was that anybody who is still so hung-up on their ex will do anything to try to forget them. I love the idea of doing something that’s just really out there and unabashedly gay. And I did! I wanted it to be the Village People meets Bjork’s ‘It’s oh so quiet’ meets an M.G.M. musical. I meet this handsome mailman and I think, ‘Great! This is going to be a distraction.’ When I dip him, he turns into my ex. Everywhere I look, it’s a quick little thing. The construction men are all in a line and turn their faces toward me one by one. The last guy turns into my ex. ‘God, I can’t get him outta my head!’ Then we see the cop in the car. He’s listening to my music, then we’re dancing on top of the car. In a flip second he turns his head and he has become my ex. Again! Finally, I see him at the café. I think, ‘Wow. OK. All this was for naught, because there he is—with somebody else. It’s reality. He’s over me. But I’m not over him. And I’m going to have to deal with it.”
But love is just around the corner on Track 1. Before You is one of the most compelling examples of Jackson’s skills as a writer and composer. It’s a romantic first: “I never want to go back to—before you.”
As for the future, Cheyenne has stacks of poetry ready to share and is in the middle of a book project. “I’ve finally come into my own as an artist,” he says. “Life is short. There’s no reason for me to not pursue every avenue I want to. Some of it may not be successful, but it doesn’t matter. I worked really hard for a long time to make this album cohesive. Yes, it has different styles—but at the end of the day, it all sounds like me. You get where I’m coming from.”
Click here to get better acquainted.