Now that Once alum Steve Kazee has been a Tony winner for one whole year, he’s trying songwriting on for size. Kazee is bringing his band the Shiny Liars back for a return engagement at 54 Below from July 8 through 13, featuring new musicians (including a former Once co-star!), new songs, and—if his gym routine goes according to plan—a buff new look. Kazee chatted with Broadway.com about getting busted on Tony night 2013, hitting the gym after a Cinnamon Toast Crunch binge and his theories on alternate universes.
Welcome back to the New York stage! How would you describe the music you're playing with your band, the Shiny Liars?
I grew up in eastern Kentucky, which is lots of banjos, acoustic guitars, mandolins—we call it hill music. That music gets into you; it’s just part of your DNA. I’ve always played acoustic guitar, and the rhythms I play are very much of my hometown and Appalachia. My music isn’t specifically country or bluegrass, but there are definitely those undertones.
Are your songs based on your life experiences?
I’m a guy who was lucky enough to be in a great show like Once, but I also have had failed relationships and weak moments and darker moments. I love sharing these songs with people, but there’s a certain amount of vulnerability that comes with it. It’s uncomfortable at times, but ultimately very necessary in order to convey the emotion of my songs.
Who are the Shiny Liars, and how did you meet these guys?
They’re different people than last time [at 54 Below]—it's two guys, two girls and myself. My drummer Anthony Taddeo and bass player Jordan Richard are the same, but some things fell through, and I was left with about two weeks to put together a whole new band. Jordan is married to Elizabeth A. Davis from Once, so we’ve added her into the mix, playing violin—we’re going to have a little Once reunion. We’ve got a new girl playing guitar, Lora Faye Whelan, an incredible singer-songwriter. I've got 11 original songs that I've written since February, including two new songs and a new cover. So it’s going to be a whole new look!
How did you come up with the name of the band?
For me, it’s a commentary on the duality of human nature: a good thing and a bad thing. Or actually, being really good at being bad. It was an interesting idea to me, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of personalities. It came about when I was coming up with crazy band names as a joke. My friends and I like to play this game where we make up the most ridiculous sounding name we could ever think of and mix them in with real band names and try to guess which ones are real.
Are you feeling 100% health-wise these days? We were worried after reading about your vocal issues.
Vocally, I’m great. With Once, it wasn’t a question of whether I could sing those songs again, it was a question of whether doing that show eight times a week would ultimately be more hurtful to my voice moving forward. I loved my time at Once and I loved the fans of that show, so [leaving] was a very difficult decision to make. But I think it was ultimately the best decision, because I’d rather have a long career than to be known as the guy who only did Once and had to leave the business because he blew his voice out forever.
We hear that this year, your Tony night was a little different than last year. What happened?
Well, there’s this thing called a speed limit…and it was one of those scenarios where it went from a 65 to a 55 and I didn’t notice it. I think I was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 on a highway. I was on vacation in Virginia all week and I felt like I was driving with the flow of traffic, but I got singled out. It was no big deal, a $250 fine. The officer could have charged me with reckless driving, which means court appearances and all that, but he was really nice.
Did you play the Tony card?
[Laughs.] Oh please, do you think a cop in Virginia is going to care that I won a Tony Award? He probably wouldn’t even know what it was.
You went to law enforcement school—have you ever imagined what your life would be like if you became an officer instead of an actor?
There’s a theory that there are all these multiple universes, and within each of these universes there’s a different type of you. So there’s a Steve Kazee with blonde hair, one who’s four feet tall, and one who’s a cop. I definitely feel like a person who would have been successful in law enforcement; it’s something I really respect. I would have made a great detective, but ultimately it wasn’t the path that this Steve Kazee chose. Maybe in some universe far, far away there’s an Officer Steve Kazee who’s winning a Medal of Freedom.
Speaking of awards, it’s been a year since you won the Tony—how has that year been for you?
When it happened it was wonderful, but then you go back to work. I have the award and I see it every day—it’s right in front of me as we’re talking now, and it has a powerful meaning for me. But at the end of the day, I don’t know what its effect has been. I don’t ever feel like, “Oh, Tony Award winner Steve Kazee.” That’s not how I think of myself. It’s not about awards and the shows you do. It’s about being a part of this family and this community. In some ways, it’s solidified the fact that I can be in this family, I’m never going to get kicked out. That’s what it means for me: I’m allowed to play with everybody for as long as I’d like!
Was it strange to see Arthur Darvill playing Guy in Once on the Tonys this year?
I didn’t see it—I still haven’t had the chance to watch the whole ceremony, but I saw the highlights. To see Neil [Patrick Harris] open the show wearing my costume from Once was pretty awesome. It made me feel like I was there in spirit, at least. But I haven’t had a chance to see Arthur yet. I’ve heard he and Joanna [Christie] are incredible, so I can’t wait to see them perform.
You recently posted an Instagram photo of you getting ripped at the gym! Are you getting buff for anything in particular?
I told Jerry Mitchell recently that I want to do Broadway Bares next year, so I should probably get started on that now! I’m 37, and it’s harder to get in shape these days than it used to be. When I do a show I’m super strict about what I eat, because it’s like being an athlete. But when the show ends, there’s a tendency to go crazy. You’re able to go out and have dinner and drinks with everybody, and I love bad food. After Once I went wild for a month or so.
What’s your favorite terrible thing to eat?
Oh, there’s so much. One of my real guilty pleasures is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. A giant bowl of that with ice cold milk is one of my favorite things. I’m also a huge fan of peanut butter. I’m a sweets guy—I mean, I guess I’m a salt guy, too [laughs]. But more than anything, I love cake, cookies, fudge, you name it. And for the last few months, I went a little wacky!
Catch Steve Kazee and the Shiny Liars at 54 Below from July 8 through 13.