Megan Mullally illustrates the simpatico relationship that originally drew her and actress-writer Stephanie Hunt together by pointing to the way they chose their unusual moniker, Nancy and Beth.
"I typed up a long email with different band name ideas and sent it to Stephanie and they all started with 'the,'" explains Mullally. "I secretly had this name Nancy and Beth come into my mind and I thought, 'Oh my God, that's such a funny, interesting, weird name for a band.' And so I stuck it in there in the middle of this long list, and I just sent her the list and I said, 'Do you like any of these?' She just instantly shot back, 'Nancy and Beth.' I thought that was so funny because that was my favorite too."
The pair first met on set in 2011 and, despite their 30-year age difference, found a shared love of many kinds of music, performance and sly humor. All three are significant presences on their new album Nancy and Beth, which officially arrives April 7th. The album's first single, premiering below, is a pleading cover of Wynonna Carr's stormy blues number "Please Mr. Jailer" that leads off the project.
"'Please Mr. Jailer' ended up being a song that we would do a lot as an opener in our live shows," explains Mullally, who will soon return to her Emmy-winning role as perpetually intoxicated socialite Karen Walker in NBC's revival of Will & Grace. Their live shows, which Mullally describes as "punk showbiz," capitalize on the pair's performing skills by adding classic Broadway touches. "I think we're getting ready to do a number with a hat and cane, that kind of thing," explains Mullally. "We already do a couple numbers with chairs – chairs being a classic, Bob Fosse-ish, showbizzy prop, but the punk element is that it's just me and Stephanie and this funky band from Austin." The group will be on tour in select cities through April.
Like Mullally's 2007 album with Supreme Music Program – which featured her versions of songs by Ray Price, Ryan Adams and PJ Harvey – there is a broad swath of musical tastes represented on Nancy and Beth. Contemporary numbers like Rufus Wainwright's "Vibrate" and Gucci Mane's raunchy, complicated "I Don't Love Her" appear alongside the Mills Brothers' "Cab Driver" and Louis Jordan's "Jack, You're Dead." In a risky move, the pair takes the classic George Jones weeper "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman) and, over the course of the song, shifts the tone from reverent and stoic to something unexpectedly funny.
"Is there anything crazier or sadder than that song? No. So of course we want to do it," says Mullally. "The songs all have to be great songs, that's the jumping-off point. We're not going to take a mediocre song and try to make it great. We're going to take a great song and try to put our spin on it. There's a little piece in the song that is a spoken part, and that's where everything sort of turns."
It wouldn't be fair to call it a purely comedy album – it's too seriously musical and carefully curated for it to be that – but Nancy and Beth wisely doesn't try to disguise the comedic gifts of its creators. Instead, it shows the way Mullally and Hunt can be totally in sync to whip up a unique, coherent vision.
"We are taking that idea of that old-fashioned entertainment that was so popular back in the day with musicals [like] Singin' in the Rain, and we're bringing it to this band with just a little bit more modern sensibility, and there's kind of a wink involved," says Mullally. "We're not taking ourselves completely seriously."
Here are Nancy and Beth's tour dates:
Jan 28 – San Francisco, CA @ Swedish American Hall (SF Sketchfest)
Feb. 15 – Kansas City, MO @ Folk Alliance
April 8 – Los Angeles, CA @ Largo
April 9 – Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall
April 10 – New York, NY @ Joe’s Pub
April 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ World Café Live
April 12 – Boston, MA @ The Wilbur Theater
April 20 – London, UK @ Royal Festival Hall
April 22 – Manchester, UK @ Palace Theatre
May 6 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theater
May 7 – Charleston, WV @ NPR Mountain Stage
May 9 – New York, NY @ Joe's Pub
June 16 – Chicago, IL @ City Winery
June 23 – North Adams, MA @ Solid Sound Fest