“I didn’t record one word I didn’t feel – whether or not I wrote it,” Lea Michele says during a recent listening session for her debut album. "These are words that are parts of me."
"Louder," released on Tuesday, shows the Broadway veteran and star of Fox’s hit musical, “Glee,” making a solid bid for pop stardom.
While “Louder” is packed with club-ready dance anthems and sweeping ballads, some beautifully crafted by pop expert Sia Furler, the album doesn’t sidestep the personal tragedy that changed the singer’s life.
In July, her longtime boyfriend and “Glee” co-star Cory Monteith died from a toxic mix of heroin and alcohol, sending shock waves across the legion of the cheery show's loyal "gleeks" who watched the pair fall in love both on and off screen.
With the highly anticipated album finished in June, Michele opted to head back into the studio after she postponed the project in the wake of Monteith’s death.
“Now that I had this experience happen to me … we decided to write about it,” she told a room of reporters at Pulse Recording where she cut the album. “We decided that’s what felt organic.”
Michele teamed with Furler to pen the album's stunning closer, "If You Say So,” which was inspired by the last conversation she had with Monteith.
That collaboration quickly altered the direction of the album.
“After we had this very, very emotional writing session we were about to end the day and she says, 'Listen to this song,'” Michele said. Furler then left Michele alone with “Cannonball,” a track produced by Stargate and Benny Blanco that became the singer’s debut single.
"I just literally keeled over because grief is a very scary thing, and there comes a point where it can really take you down,” she said of her reaction to hearing the inspirational ballad. “[The song] lifted me up. It was what I needed to get through my difficult situation.”
“And now I will start living today, today, today / I close the door / I got this new beginning and I will fly / I’ll fly like a cannonball,” she sings.
“As awkward as it might be, we needed to put something out there to explain to people how I am,” Michele added. “A lot of people don’t know how to touch this situation. It's like walking on eggshells. I felt ‘Cannonball’ … kinda puts it all out there. It's like this is really hard, we're not denying that it's hard, we're gonna get through it and so it made sense for it to be the first single.”
Since “Glee” premiered in 2009, all eyes have been on Michele and her cast mates to capitalize on the show’s early success for solo careers. Michele admits she always wanted to record an album, even if she “never really knew what kind,” but the breakneck shooting schedule of the series made it difficult.
“I was really settled at ‘Glee’ and settled in my personal life and I thought, ‘OK I get [the show] well enough now I know how to juggle that,” she said. “It’s like I felt like I had one kid and now I’m ready to have another and so I decided to make this album.”
Despite its often reflective lyrics, Michele's rafter-reaching voice remains the core of the album.
She’s at her best when she sings with resiliency on "Cannonball" and "Battlefield"; when she’s reliving true love on "You're Mine"; or dealing with the crushing pain of loss on “If You Say So.” But dance numbers like “On My Way” and the album’s title track will likely appeal more to her younger fan base that keep Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson on constant repeat.
“My goal in all of this was to make an album that was honest, and true to me,” she said. “It’s something beautiful that came at a very difficult time.”
“If I’ve learned anything from this past year is that you have one life. I didn’t really understand what they really meant until recently,” Michele continued. “You have to live your life to the fullest. You have to love as hard as you can love and live as hard as you can live because we just have one life. I feel like ‘Louder’ really expresses that.”