Melora Hardin is an unstoppable combination of both determination and talent. From a young age it was clear that she was meant to be in the spotlight. Through hard work and perseverance she has not only made her way there but she has proven to outshine the spotlight altogether, not needing it at all to make herself known. Whether she is acting, writing, or singing she steals the show every time.
Hardin is well known for her roles as Jan Levinson (The Office), Trudy Monk (Monk), and Tammy Cashman on Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed series Transparent, for which she recently received an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.” Her acting talents have also taken her to the stage where she starred as Roxie Hart in Broadway’s revival of Chicago: The Musical. If you only know Melora for her acting, though, then you are missing out on half of the fun. When she isn’t on the stage or in front of the camera she is honing her talents in the studio singing and writing her own music.
Melora’s love of music goes way back. While she pulls inspiration from some of Hollywood’s elite (think Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand), her music is truly something special and all her own. She has a gift for taking both the tragedy and comedy of life and expressing it with style, grace, and flare in a way that is both heartfelt and fun. And that voice – come on. With each new album she proves time and again that she is just as much a force to be reckoned with behind the mic as she is on the stage.
I was recently able to get in touch with Melora Hardin to find out more about her life, music, and how she manages to balance her love for both acting and singing.
Melora Hardin Interview
TAMMY: You are so appreciated as both an actress and a singer. You have such an amazing voice and your talents on both film and stage can’t be denied. I was reading that your mom said that you wrote your first song when you were two years old. Is it safe to say that you have always been a performer? When did you first become passionate about music and in what ways did you pursue it initially? (lessons, etc.)
MELORA HARDIN: Yes I’ve always said I’m the bumper sticker “Born To Perform!” My parents are both actors and the story goes that I was a very observant baby. I’d go to anyone, but wouldn’t smile…I’d just examine them all over. I believe this was my natural fascination with human nature showing up right at the beginning. I’ve always loved ‘people-watching’ and collecting observations that I file away in my brain for a character someday. Then, when I was six, I accompanied my father to his commercial agent’s office and they said, “Oh you’re cute, don’t you want to do what daddy does?” That was it for me! I tugged on my parents’ sleeves for weeks and when they finally let me go on auditions they’d secretly planned to let me try ten times and then if I didn’t get anything they’d redirect my attention.
I got the first part I auditioned for, loved every minute of it and have been working ever since! I was obsessed with ballet from the first time I saw a live ballet at age five when I danced in the lobby at intermission, and then begged for ballet lessons and got them. I still take dance classes (Jazz and Contemporary now) all the time and I’m very grateful to have dance in my life! According to my mom I’ve been singing since day one and I did write my first song when I was two. I remember it! I strummed my brother’s guitar for so long that I got a huge blood blister on my thumb, but I just kept on going. I kept writing songs and I have been ever since.
I remember being very inspired by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand as a young girl. I sang all those big, “belty” songs at 8-years-old and loved it. I did take singing lessons with Elizabeth Howard starting at 13 and she really taught me how to use my voice correctly, so I completely credit her for helping me find and strengthen my belt. I studied on and off with other great singing teachers over the years, but Elizabeth’s technique was the most formative for me.
TAMMY: In many ways your style reminds me of Barbra Streisand as well as Bette Midler. You have this fun, flirty, sassy side to your music but then you also have songs where the lyrics and sound reach out to connect with your fans on an emotional level. Would you say that either of these ladies have had an influence on your music? And also what artists come to your mind specifically when thinking of those who have inspired you along the way?
MELORA HARDIN: Haha, that’s funny because I just read this question after I’d written about Barbra Streisand in the last question. Barbra and Judy were my main inspirations as a child. Then when I was about nine, I discovered pop music — The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac! I loved Barbra’s pop records too and my parents listened to Joan Baez so I think I learned about lyric writing a lot from her. Listening to Billy Joel’s music taught me everything about songwriting that’s for sure! He’s just an INCREDIBLE songwriter and I listened to and loved everything he ever did! Bette Midler is amazing and I’ll never forget her in The Rose! Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and Easter Parade, Bette Midler in The Rose and Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born were revelations for me. I felt pulled and driven to do THAT!!!! Over time I became more influenced by gorgeous singer/songwriters like Paula Cole (one of my BFFs in real life now), Shawn Colvin and Annie Lennox.
TAMMY: Speaking of some of the greats, tell me a bit about your experience in filming Golden Vanity – which I read was loosely based off of Judy Garland’s tapes that she recorded in the last decade of her life. She was such an amazing talent as both a singer and actress. Would you say that she is an inspiration for you as an artist as well?
MELORA HARDIN: Well you can refer back to my last few answers for this one! Judy was IT for me as a child and then to get to channel some of her through Mabel Montgomery Mayflower in Golden Vanity was just dreamy! Golden Vanity (the first one woman movie ever as far as we know) was such a joy to make! I loved collaborating with the talented young film makers Max Abrams and Taylor Minas. We were all mutually passionate about exposing the sad life beneath the magical exterior and Judy was a huge inspiration for the film and my performance as Mabel.
TAMMY: How do you feel you have grown as an artist since your first album?
MELORA HARDIN: I think I’ve grown clearer about who I am as a songwriter and what works for me as a singer. I wanted to try everything and wrote songs all across the spectrum from Country to Pop to Folk to Broadway and I’m really glad I did because it helped me grow and appreciate the wealth of music out there. At first it was difficult having such a capable voice because I really didn’t know where I fit in. I could sing everything and was attracted to a lot of different genres of music and being that I was the only person in my family who could carry a tune and was musical I didn’t have any guidance musically.
It’s crazy looking back on it, but I didn’t want to do musical theatre when I was younger because I was far more serious than I am now. Now there’s nothing I’d rather do, but at the time I wanted to be considered a serious singer/songwriter and actress and I think that helped me grow, but also possibly clouded my vision because I was not being totally honest to who I was. My dad has always called me a fine wine, saying that I needed to breathe and I think he’s right there in that I’ve been slow to come into myself as a musician in some ways and I think that journey is nicely displayed on all my records.
TAMMY: One word keeps coming to mind for me when I think of you as an artist and that is “powerhouse.” The actual definition of powerhouse states:
One having great drive, energy, or ability.
It absolutely fits you. Where does your drive come from? Between acting, singing, and keeping up with day to day life, what keeps you motivated?
MELORA HARDIN: Well, thank you very much! I’m truly turned on by life! Everything feeds me and I just have unlimited creative energy. I don’t know why, I just do and always have. I think most things in life feel creative to me and I’m certainly always looking for opportunities to be creative, so I think that’s what really floats my boat and keeps me going!
Check Out Melora Hardin’s Albums and Pick One Up
TAMMY: Both of your parents have been involved in the entertainment industry for quite some time. What is the best advice that they’ve given you or what is something you’ve learned from them that you feel has contributed to your success today?
MELORA HARDIN: My parents taught me my craft and they valued craft over everything else, so that was a very grounding, rooted place to grow from.
TAMMY: You’ve accomplished so much in your career as both a singer and an actress: Three albums, performing on Broadway, in television, movies, etc. What really stands out for you personally as a favorite highlight through your journey so far?
MELORA HARDIN: Playing Roxie on Broadway was definitely a highlight! Getting to act, dance and sing eight times a week for 3 ½ months was just heaven on a stick! Also playing Fantine in Les Miserables at the Hollywood Bowl because it was when I saw Les Mis on Broadway in the 80’s that I cried and said to myself, “I want to do that!” And then to get to do that was awesome! Golden Vanity was pretty amazing also, singing and carrying that whole movie alone was a thrill! The Office was just wonderful and with Transparent it is incredible to be a part of a show that’s doing good in the world by opening peoples’ minds and hearts to a faction of society that has been “other-ized” for so long.
TAMMY: One of the things that I loved about The Office was that several of the cast members were able to showcase their musical talents through their characters on the show including you, Creed Bratton, and Ed Helms. What is that like for you as an actress and a singer to be able to have your character in a show also be someone who is a singer? I would think that it would be fun for you to be able to combine the two into one project.
MELORA HARDIN: Yes that’s great fun! Mindy Kaling wrote in Jan singing “Son Of A Preacher Man” after I did Les Mis at The Hollywood Bowl. And I thought it was so sweet of her to want to exploit that part of my skill set!
TAMMY: I love your style. You have such a varied collection of work. I love the double entendres in songs like “A Boy And His Cat” and “Ride Your Rocket.” Those are always good for lifting a bad mood. I also love that your collection includes songs like “Fading Away”, which speaks to me personally. I believe it deals with something that all of us can relate to. What inspires you when you are sitting down to work on a new song? And do you write both the lyrics as well as the music for most of your songs?
MELORA HARDIN: I’m inspired by so many things. I wrote ‘A Boy And His Cat’ because my English Mother-In-Law used to always call the house and say, “…and how are the pussies?” Asking about our cats and my husband had to hand raise about six kittens our cat had without me while I was on location. So between those two things I found a song! “Fading Away” is about two friends, one who was going through a tough divorce and one who was going through a hard breakup. I just connected into their pain and the song came out. Really the songs write themselves, I just listen and try to hear when it’s really right. When I write on my own I write the lyrics and the melody and get someone else to put chords to it because my instrument is really my voice, but when I write with other people I tend to write the lyrics and we collaborate on the music and melody.
TAMMY: I love the variety of songs that you chose to include on your All The Way To Mars album. How did you go about choosing what songs to include on this album in particular?
MELORA HARDIN: All The Way To Mars was put together as a showcase for my voice. I had just come off Broadway and wanted to have something that I could give to the Broadway community and so we really tried to show off the versatility of my voice through our song choices.
TAMMY: Do you ever find it difficult to coordinate your acting scheduling with your singing schedule? Do you get to tour or perform your music as much as you would like?
MELORA HARDIN: My acting schedule does take up most of my time professionally and there is a world where I would’ve loved to have toured a ton and become a pop star, but as my great friend Paula Cole said, “I probably could’ve had that if I’d really wanted it.” In truth I think my acting feeds into my music and makes me a better performer and songwriter because I do a lot of self-examination all the time around my work and relationships which unearths truths that I put into my songs and my live performances. It would be great to really have some time to take my music around and get to know my music fans because I don’t really know who they are whereas I get to meet my acting fans all the time. I think that’s the part I would like the most about touring, getting more connected to my music fans.
TAMMY: What advice do you have for actors and singers who are just getting started in the business?
MELORA HARDIN: Persistence, persistence, persistence!!!
To find out more about Melora Hardin and to hear her music you can visit her website at melora.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with her latest news and projects. Pick up one of her amazing albums now!