Two years ago, when Katharine McPhee landed a starring role on the now-defunct NBC series Smash, the plan was for her to put out an album to coincide with the show. Then her work on the series made that impossible. “Our intention was probably to get a record out last year,” she tells Rolling Stone. “But I think it became pretty evident that my mind was so consumed with the show [that] to try and fly in songwriters on the weekend, get sessions going and feel like there was something to write about, something that hits me in the middle of a show. . . That was all-consuming and a really intense schedule was challenging.”
Even before Smash was cancelled at the end of last season, McPhee was making strides on her new as-yet-untitled album, out this fall on Columbia. She’s written with Sia and Ryan Tedder, as well as discussed collaborating with EDM star Calvin Harris.
“Not every song has to be something I’ve written, but I do know it has to be something I connect to and it has to be a melody that suits me and that doesn’t feel like it’s a stretch,” says the American Idol alumnus, who cites Rihanna, Katy Perry and La Roux as current favorites. “There are so many pop songs I love where I could’ve been, ‘Oh, I wish I had that pop song.’ But if I actually got in the studio at the end of the day and recorded it, it just wouldn’t feel authentic. And that’s what it’s been about for me, maintaining the authenticity as an artist. Columbia’s been amazing about that, setting up sessions with Salaam Remi, who worked with Amy Winehouse. He’s all about who the artist is. He’s like, ‘Let’s write five shitty songs because through that process, [in] the sixth song you’ll finally find what it is that works for you.'”
McPhee’s next album aims to represent an array of styles, but don’t expect big theatrical numbers as a result of her time on Smash. “I love the ability to be a chameleon singer, sing different kind of styles and sound more Broadway here, more twangy here, more edgy here and that’s fun,” she says. “But I wouldn’t say there’s any influence from the show as far as the Broadway pop stuff that will go into my own personal record.”