All Aubrie Sellers wants for Christmas is to beat her family in a game of “Nertz.”
Work commitments mean the singer-songwriter is hosting Christmas in L.A. this year instead of going to see the family in Texas, but despite the location change, some traditions will stay the same.
“Everyone cooks and we play a lot of music and have guitars all over the house,” she says, over the phone in Los Angeles on a recent afternoon, “but what we really love is playing games.”
Whether it’s a classic card game, the grab ’em game “Spoons,” or yes “Nertz” (Sellers searches her phone to confirm the proper spelling of the Solitaire-style game), the Sellers clan never shows their hands when it comes to game night.
Though there isn’t a particular prize to be won, the stakes are still high. “Gloating,” Sellers says, when asked what’s up for grabs. “There’s no prize; just your own pride.”
The outcome of this year’s “Nertz” competition is to be determined, but it’s safe to say Sellers is on a bit of a winning streak these days, with a new album due out in February, and a newly-announced tour with Tanya Tucker that kicks off with a date at New York’s Town Hall on February 7th before hitting the road for a string of shows in June. Sellers is also wrapping up a run in a live stage adaptation of the Christmas movie Love Actually, which sees the aspiring actress taking on the role of Sarah, played by Laura Linney in the original film.
Produced by theatrical group For the Record Live, and playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center, Love Actually Live mixes scenes from the 2003 film with live performances of songs from the film’s soundtrack (notably, Mariah Carey didn’t give producers permission to use her newly-minted Number One hit “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which was featured in the film).
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Sellers, who trades her brunette locks for a blond wig in the production, performs a show-stopping version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” in one of the musical’s pivotal scenes (the cast also includes Broadway vets Rex Smith and Carrie Manolakos, Glee singer Jon Robert Hall, and Chris Mann, who was a finalist on The Voice).
The chance to combine her musical pedigree with her love for acting was enough to make the 28-year-old forgo her Christmas break this year to perform in Love Actually Live. Though the singer has been based in Nashville for many years, she moved to L.A. 18 months ago to pursue acting more seriously. Love Actually Live marks one of her biggest roles to date.
“It’s been scary,” she admits, about jumping stages. “Even though I’m a musician and I’ve been taking acting lessons, ironically I’ve never done music and acting together.”
With only a couple weeks of rehearsal time, and a complicated production that involves fast moving sets, live interpolations of the film, and the cast also playing ensemble characters in addition to their main roles, Love Actually Live is one of those, “Did that just happen?” productions that keeps everyone — audience included — on their toes.
“When we first started, I was freaking out, panicking, and putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Sellers says, about her first few performances (the show opened November 27th). “Most people in the cast had musical theater experience and I was concerned about not living up to expectations.”
The pressure subsided — at least for a moment — when Sellers’ family came to see the show. “It’s an R-rated film and my family is pretty conservative and religious, so I was afraid of how they would react,” she says. “But they were cracking up and they loved it. And I know that if they loved the show, everyone would love it too.”
The show runs until December 29th. After that, Sellers has a few weeks to put the finishing touches on her sophomore album, due February 7th.
Titled Far From Home, the album was recorded at Sonic Ranch studio, just outside of El Paso, and Sellers says many of the tracks fit the city’s “rock-oriented” and “more electric” vibe. Though she grew up surrounded by country music (her mom is the singer Lee Ann Womack), Sellers’ personal tastes run more diverse (a peek at her #SpotifyWrapped playlist reveals everyone from Tame Impala and Coldplay, to Franz Ferdinand and Lana Del Rey. Her top artists of the decade: Buddy and Julie Miller. “They’re one of my biggest influences,” Sellers says).
While she worked with producer (and her stepfather) Frank Liddell on her debut album New City Blues, Sellers fought to co-produce Far From Home, a deliberate decision that spurned from her wanting to “take the reins a little more.”
“The album is about finding my place in the world but also about finding myself,” she explains. “I was figuring how to say, ‘This is 100% what I’m doing despite what anyone else thinks.’”
Sellers says she’s eager for people to hear the album, especially new fans who may have discovered her through Love Actually Live. Even though the musical has slightly altered her holiday plans, Sellers says she’s grateful for the chance to explore a different side to herself, a resolution she’s hoping to take into the new year.
“I’ve given up my Christmas [to do the show], I have a record coming out in less than two months, and I’m trying to figure out how to see my family before I go on tour,” she says. “It’s really weird timing but I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.”
Sellers may be talking about her increasingly busy career, but it also sounds like a winning strategy for a game of “Nertz.”
“Even though it’s scary,” she says, “sometimes you’ve got to put yourself out there and try something new.”