"I'm an overachiever," Leisha Hailey says matter-of-factly. It's a remark that could sound arrogant, but not coming from a woman who cofronts the electro-pop band Uh Huh Her and stars as bisexual magazine writer Alice Pieszecki on the Showtime series The L Word. Hailey clearly has the acting/singing resume to support this mild boast.
The 36-year-old was romantically linked to k.d. lang in the '90s, but her love life and the meanings behind her lyrics remain off limits during our phone interview. "On TV, you play a reporter," I say to Hailey. "If your character Alice was interviewing you, what might be a couple pressing questions she'd ask?"
"That's hard," she responds, after an awkward pause. "I'll pass."
Hailey, named the world's sexiest woman last year by the lesbian-focused AfterEllen.com, stars in a popular series that has been honored by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The actor's music career blossomed last decade with the folk-pop duo the Murmurs, who inked a deal with MCA, did a Lilith Fair tour and scored a hit single in 1994 with the teen drama kiss-off "You Suck." In 2001, the band self-released an indie-rock disc under the moniker Gush and then called it quits a few years later. Hailey revived her music career with Uh Huh Her in January 2007. The Cure-meets-latter-era-Madonna outfit features Hailey and Camila Grey sharing vocals, songwriting, synthesizer and even bass duties (they "swap the bass" on stage). A guitarist and drummer ("two guys") round out the roster. "Night and day," is how Hailey describes the difference between her former and current bands.
"The Murmurs, for me, was really based on being young and naïve and walking my way through the music industry with my best friend [Heather Grody]," Hailey says. "I learned a lot through 10 years and grew up with the band. But it was a very young sound. I'm proud of it, but with this band, I don't know, it's like I know who I am today. This band represents where I'm at."
The lyrics on Uh Huh Her's upcoming first album, Common Reaction, largely deal with failed relationships. Hailey shies away from identifying whether the songs are about personal experiences or imagined scenarios.
"It's different for every song," Hailey says. "[Camila Grey] and I both enjoy writing and knowing that what the person listening probably thinks a line means has a totally different meaning behind it."
Me: "For example?"
Hailey: "When we say 'love' it's not always in the sense you think."
Me: "Please explain."
Hailey: "No, I don't want to give it away. It's more fun that way."
The Canadian independent label Nettwerk Music Group had planned to release Common Reaction this week but recently pushed the street date back to August 19. Last July, the band issued a digital EP, I See Red, which debuted in the Top 10 on the iTunes pop chart. Its most popular track, "Say So," appears on the CD.
"We made a record that was more commercial than the label planned, and they wanted more time to promote it," Hailey explains from her home in Los Angeles.
She's doing press in advance of Uh Huh Her's first proper tour, which comes to Orpheum in Ybor City May 11 and then proceeds up the East Coast, ending in Toronto May 23. It's only an 18-city jaunt, but that's all Hailey can cram in before returning to The L Word set.
"I think the thing I'm most excited about is getting to play consistently," Hailey says. "So far, in the last year, we've done 20 or 25 shows, but they've all been one-offs, where we'd fly in on the weekend."
Although best known for her work on The L Word and as the face of Yoplait Yogurt in various TV commercials), she insists she's equally devoted to acting and singing.
"[Uh Huh Her] is definitely something I'm ready to see take off and commit to full-time," Hailey says. "But I'm not putting pressure on myself to decide on what I have to be in life. Everyone wants me categorized. People should be allowed to do it all."
Raised in Bellevue, Neb., Hailey relocated to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in '91. Her first major acting role came via the critically acclaimed 1997 indie All Over Me, in which she played a teenage guitarist in a riot grrrl band. "It was definitely my goal to study and get good at acting," Hailey says. "Music has been a part of my whole life but nothing I intended on making a career. It was shocking to miss it during the five-year break [between Gush and Uh Huh Her]. I never planned on going back -- or anticipated the emptiness I would feel when it wasn't around."
The first person Hailey thanks in Common Reaction's liner notes is Nina Garduno, her rumored girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, depending on the gossip site. Considering Garduno's name appeared there, I figure it's fair game to inquire, but Hailey hesitates, finally saying: "I don't wanna talk about it."
Moving on, I ask, "Do you feel being openly gay has hurt your career in film or music?"
"I don't wanna get on that whole line of questioning," Hailey says. "But it's been nothing but a positive effect on my life. I've never hidden and have been rewarded for that, both personally and professionally. Nothing bad has come my way, only positive opportunities and friends and the good things that go along with that."
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.