Kansas Native Angela Parrish Is The First Singer You Hear In Musical Film 'La La Land'

Dec 15, 2016

Singer-songwriter Angela Parrish grew up in Newton, Kansas, and she's now based in Los Angeles, California.
Credit courtesy of the artist

The film La La Land opens nationwide on Friday, and it's already racking up award nominations including seven Golden Globes. The musical stars Emma Stone as an actress and Ryan Gosling as a jazz musician. Both are struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, California. 

"I feel that anybody who is a musician, anybody who's an actress, any artist will watch this film and see themselves in the lead characters," says singer-songwriter Angela Parrish, who grew up in Newton, Kansas, and moved to Los Angeles in 2012.

It's Parrish's voice you hear in the film's opening song-and-dance number, "Another Day of Sun."

Kansas Public Radio's classical music director Michael Keelan spoke to the Kansas native by Skype about her role in La La Land and the music: 

The score to this movie has a strong jazz feel, a swing feel sometimes. But the composer, Justin Hurwitz, says his favorite movie is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is a classical musical. He scored this film and orchestrated it himself for a full symphonic ensemble as a musical. Can you talk about that?  

"Sure, it has a jazz influence, but a modern songwriting touch to it. So really in the spirit of what a lot of music does nowadays, which is mix genres, I would say that this is right in that ballpark. So it has a little bit of something for everybody: some tradition, and a lot of flavor and color, and something that modern musical audiences will fall in love with, for sure." 

What do you sing on the soundtrack? 

"I'm the first singer that you hear, and the track is called 'Another Day of Sun.'" 

Is someone lip-synching to your voice on screen when that's playing in the film, and did they tell you what the scene would be about? Or, is this song exclusively on the album? 

"This song is also in the movie. It's the first thing that you see and hear in the movie, as well. And it's actually part of something really, really exciting. It's one of the most complex and thrilling opening sequences to a movie that's been done in a long time. 

Kansas native Angela Parrish sings in the opening song-and-dance number of the musical 'La La Land.' The setting: a traffic jam in Los Angeles.
Credit Dale Robinette / Lionsgate

"I went in [to the recording studio] and it was already filmed. And basically, it takes place in a traffic jam in L.A., which is one of the signature elements of living in Los Angeles.

"I got to watch the scene, and I actually sing to the dancer who is singing and dancing on screen. Her name is Reshma [Gajjar], and she is beautiful and kind and so my voice comes out of her. But we kind of worked together to create the first image that you see and hear in the film."

How did that process of recording work? Did you have a click track in your headphones, or did you have other musicians recording with you?

"When I did my solo part, I sang to the already produced score. So I was adding my vocal into the orchestral part, which had already been created. When we did the choir portion — I also sing on some of the other numbers where you hear a choir voice — there were 40 of us and we were all singing to a screen and the movie went by. But also we were singing to the produced score." 

Is it fair to say the subject of the film has some biographical resonance for you personally? 

"Absolutely. First of all, I feel that anybody who is a musician, anybody who's an actress, any artist will watch this film and see themselves in the lead characters. Both the actress and the musician. There are elements of the artist's life that you see in both of the leads. 

"And for me personally, the particular part that I sing, the opening verse, is about a girl who leaves her hometown with no money and comes to Los Angeles, and just goes on a whim and feels kind of brave and kind of crazy at the same time.

"After I finished grad school in Colorado, I was home [in Newton, Kansas] for the summer in 2012. And I always just wanted to go for it, and try to do it in Los Angeles. I had $700 and all my things in my car, and I just went. No place to live, no job, just went to L.A. So my own verse that I sing really rings true to my life."

Listen to the extended KPR interview here

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.