You're known as "Sinatra in Heels". How else would you describe yourself as a performer?
People started calling me "Sinatra in Heels" early on, after I had performed at an outdoor Jimmy Kimmel event in Los Angeles some years ago. Some radio stations still do, and others not so much. It’s cute and flattering, but I never think of myself that way. I think I am multifaceted as a person and truly enjoy people and I believe that comes through onstage. I demand the highest work from myself, no matter how I am feeling that particular day. I always try to shine at the top of my best even if I am having a blah day. Recently, I traveled home from India, which is a crazy long flight that crosses time zones in half hour differences at one point; Look it up, too brainy for me to explain…Anyhow, I had a concert the following day after I arrived home and I was so exhausted but so happy to be home that I had my best show of the year. As a performer, in general, I am a huge fan of The Strasberg method, which is based on the great Stanislavski who first questioned "What is inspiration and how can we evoke the creative mood or spirit?" The basics of those methods and coming from a place of truth is what I try to bring into the foundation of all of my work as a storyteller, whether it be in singing, acting, writing, directing, etc. I live for stories.
photo Barry Druxman
on stage at the Catalina Jazz Club, photo Bob D'Amico
photo Bryce Prevatte
What do you love about the American standard classics you sing?
The melodies. They are timeless.
I've been fortunate to see you sing live in both LA and NYC! Some of my favorites that you perform are "When October Goes", "He's a Tramp" and "Down With Love". What are your personal favorites?
Oh there are too many to list. I recently started working with Director/Musician Raymond De Felitta after recording a song for his film Rob the Mob. He has such a gorgeous spirit and brought me a tune that I had never sung before called "Lullabye of the Leaves". I love feeling refreshed in an old tune. Sometimes it pops into my head in the early morning and I can’t get it to stop.
After putting out your namesake album, how did it evolve into your major debut album Got a Little Story?
It was crazy. I knew I was going to release a debut album independently after the major labels would not finance the cost of what I wanted to achieve. There are a lot of musicians on my debut album which made it a hefty expense. We shopped the idea everywhere and were dragged along for a bit at several labels. I ended up getting it privately financed and then when that financing fell through, I financed it myself through my own newly started production company La Strega Entertainment with the help of actor Peter Krause, who came onboard as Executive Producer literally on the day of my birthday right before I was set to record. We finished it and pressed a few copies to only be shopped as a demo to majors but somehow it leaked so it was sort of released and then picked up and officially released by the label LML Music/Allegro and repackaged as Got a Little Story. Everyone was really happy with the final product. It was a journey none of us could have planned or guessed the eventual outcome of how it came to be.
You've worked with some of the world's best musicians! Do you all record live? If so, how does that benefit your performance?
Indeed we do. When you are the front person for a big band it is a lot like driving a freight train. The energy is unstoppable and it carries me away and uplifts me.
Speaking of recording, you've been able to record in Sinatra's studio at the famed Capitol Records building. I would think there would be his energy there!
I definitely felt it. You feel like you are the top of your game when you enter that building, even as a visitor, so actually being spoiled enough to have recorded there several times is such a sweet gift.
photo Johnny Buzzerio, cd artwork by Tommy Phillips
photo Bryce Prevatte
photo Johnny BuzzerioWhat is your special connection to Peggy Lee?
I used to dream of Peggy Lee a lot after she passed away for about three years. She would enter my dreams as a Sage of sorts in different scenarios and tell me things that wouldn’t make sense to me until days, weeks or months, later. When I went to record at Capitol Studios, I had to pass a picture of her dressed all in white looking like she was a glamorous angel saying hello to me. I kissed that thing before I entered studio A every day. She is a hero of mine. I relate to her multifaceted personality as a performer and business woman. Later I was fortunate enough to become friends with her granddaughter Holly Foster Wells who runs The Peggy Lee Estate.
We met years ago when you were doing a photo shoot and you needed a makeup artist for some vintage related looks. Is that a classic style that you go to often?
I think I have an old school look that crosses a lot of decades, but I do enjoy the 20's-60's time period beauty most often. I have very fair skin so I feel those time periods suit me most. It seems that the 70’s forward are more sun-kissed styles of beauty and my skin just doesn’t match up with those looks.
Any Old Hollywood favorite films and singers?
There are so, so, so many in all different directions, but here is a smattering: A Star is Born, Gilda, The Rose Tattoo, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Imitation of Life, All About Eve, Funny Girl, Mildred Pierce, Singin' in the Rain, Wizard of Oz, Some Like it Hot, Psycho, Casablanca, City Lights, Gaslight, His Girl Friday, It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Johnny Mercer.
You are also an award winning filmmaker, producer and actress. Tell me about your film VOLARE.
VOLARE seems like ages ago to me now, funny how that goes, but it launched a lot of future opportunities for me. "Set in 1946, VOLARE is the story of Vincenzo BonGiovanni, who has moved to Brooklyn, New York from Italy along with his parents and his grandmother. He struggles to meet his father's expectations and tries to adjust to American school life. He finds a friend in America thanks to his skills of model airplane building and a radio show called 'SKY KING'.” That is the logline of the film which is loosely based off of my father’s experiences of coming to this country as an immigrant child.
We shot on 35mm film and I could go into the back story about how I won an Italian film festival grant that never provided me with the funds or goods and I had to scramble to raise a heap of money in two weeks time by calling literally every person I know to meet my already planned filming schedule...But I would rather say that from something truly terrible a lot of other amazing things came together for me to be able to get my film made with wonderful people, and I am indebted to those who helped uplift my talents at that time. Spielberg’s people saw it and a lot of other amazing things followed suit.
As the producer of the film, was it difficult to capture the essence of 1946 New York?
It’s my favorite era, so I knew a lot of about it already and I had an amazing team who also was well versed on the period assembled around me. Sherry Lansing, former Paramount studio head, helped make a few phone calls and pulled a few strings for me to shoot on the Paramount lot. If it were not for those exteriors I would not have had the right look. I have not spoken to or seen her in years and this is a great reminder for me to drop her a line again to let her know how grateful I am to her for that time. I am a former student of the Strasberg Actors Studio in Hollywood and we were the first film to build and shoot on their small soundstage. The police department, members of the Sons of Italy, the city of San Bernardino with all of it's old schools pulled through to help make this happen. Costume designer Alycia Belle scoured vintage items all over town. A lot of magical things happened after making tons of phone calls and finding the right people.
producer Eric Presley with Tamela, photo Alex Abercrombie
actors Hristo Ivanov and Federico Castellucio, photo Alex Abercrombie
Do you have a favorite vintage era?
The 40’s. Everyone looked amazing to me and seemed as if they were having a great social time despite what was wreaking havoc in their lives.
I feel like you are an old soul, with special powers. Is that why you named your production company La Strega?
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. A sorceress never reveals her secrets of bewitching.
Do you run into challenges being a woman in the entertainment industry?
Sigh. The discussion is too large for this questionnaire. It used to be looked down upon if you had many things you were good at doing, especially as a woman. I was told it was threatening to people. Now, things are changing ever so slowly because we are demanding the change. It is a pre-requisite to be a triple threat now, or so it seems, to be taken seriously. I have often been the only female energy in a room of high powered males in a business meeting. I am genderless when it comes to business discussion. Maybe it is because that is how my father raised me or that I have three brothers and absorbed some male energy. I am the wrong person to wax on about all the wrongs done to me as a woman in this business because I don’t stay in that mindset for very long. I would rather focus on moving forward and not let it have any of my energy, time, or space.
Any advice for those trying to make it in show business?
My advice for aspiring artists is always the same. Do not become an artist unless you are willing to give all of yourself, come hell or high water. I got my hands on everything that interested me growing up and my parents nourished that. I have a “need to know” attitude and love learning. I’ve worked in almost every aspect of this business from being out front as a performer to being deep behind the scenes getting coffee. This is a business, at the end of the day, and if you want longevity, you have to understand how it works. Lil’ bit o’ life Advice from me: Question everything presented to you. Don't simply accept the answers. Go on your own journeys. Listen to your gut first, then your heart. Step into worlds that you are frightened of and that you know little about, so you can broaden your horizon. I have been fortunate to have many a great mentor and I hold all of them in high regard. I am a genuine networker in a real sense. Everyone I have ever met since I have come to Los Angeles is in my contact book and I keep up with them, even if it is once a year. People are important to me. Every opportunity should be looked into. My wise grandmother who passed away at 92, would say “If you're bashful, you lose. Don't ever be afraid to go and get what you want in this life.”
What kind of people do you surround yourself with?
Genuine people who absolutely are in love with what they are doing whether it makes them money or not. Ballsy and passionate people with a zest for life and a compassionate heart toward humanity. And, most importantly I try to make sure that I can find a handful of people who know absolutely about things that I know nothing about so I can learn new things.
Being bicoastal, What do you like about LA and NYC?
What upcoming projects are you working on?
Currently I am starring in a film entitled One Little Finger directed by Rupam Sarmah which is a US/India co-production. I just recently returned from India and we will be filming the US portion soon. I recur on Disney’s hit show Best Friends Whenever and the show just got picked up for Season 2, I believe. We shot a second season of the web series Englishman in L.A. but it hasn’t been released yet. My comedy partner Emmett Lee Stang and I have become pretty popular on the Vine app and we just launched our new endeavor, Em & Tam Comedy (ETC). You can follow us on all social media here. Beyond that, I am working on some projects my production has in pre-production and waiting on some music arrangements to be finished so I can record another album.
I recently watched your latest film, Walt Before Mickey. This shows us the history of Disney starting his company from nothing and fostering a passion. The Disney name is so iconic and here you are starring in a film about his life! Most people just think of Disney as a "brand" and not a person.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it? Babies know what Disney World and Mickey Mouse are long before setting foot in any theme park. Few people know that before Walt Disney achieved the great success that grew into a multi-billion dollar company that it is today, he went through some pretty tough times growing up. This film explores that. I play his very mean teacher during his school years. It’s a part that I heard was cut down in the final product of the film after there was a change of directors midway through production. I watched some Little House on the Prairie before filming as my inspiration. :)
photo Bryce Prevatte
You are literally one of the funniest people I have ever met! Your stories are legendary. What makes you laugh?!
Physical comedy. Typos. People who are clever with their words.
Care to share any fun anecdotes?
I was in NY working on a show. I had a dream that I ran into Bette Midler on Fifth Avenue. It was a pleasant exchange. I woke up happy. Then a week later I had gotten out of an event and met with my writing partner Ken and we were walking late night up Fifth Ave. Low and behold, here comes tiny Bette, sans makeup and hair, power walking after her Sue Mengers performance and nomination from theater critics something something. I am a 5'8 1/2 gazelle and in heels, making me roughly about 6'1. She was passing us in a brisk walk on my left side. I was in mid conversation with Ken when I noticed her. I hit Ken in the stomach and then sotto voce "that's Bette Midler, I dreamt this, we have to say hi!" As we turned around, Bette was so quick that she had already made it to the corner behind us. The doorman next to us whispered "Yup that's Ms. M". He could feel our little hearts beating in our chests. I made two long legged steps to the corner and shouted "Ms. Midler!!" just as she was crossing the street. She turned around and did a North-South glance up and down my appearance like 5 times. I was towering her height. She said “Yes?” in a very demure way. I said "Congrats on the theater critics blah blah and I just want you to know… YOU are my biggest fan!" We paused and looked at each other confused. I looked back towards Ken not knowing what to do next. He said matter of factly “ Yup, that's what you just said." I laughed so hard my voice lit up the heavens. She didn't find the mistake funny. She politely stepped away and excused herself and power walked away. I laughed like crazy for about 7 blocks. I tweeted her the next day saying sorry for the blunder. No reply.
What is the last book you've read?
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Any favorite hair or makeup products you're using these days?
Tarte BB cream, the lightest shade. I highly recommend it. If I am not going to an event or performing, I don’t like to wear makeup. It’s the only thing I wear on my skin daily with some light mascara and shea butter lip gloss.
What makes you feel beautiful?
Pampering myself and eating a good healthy meal.
What makes you feel powerful?
Hiking Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It’s cathartic. It re-energizes my spirit and I remember why I do the things I do and want the things I want.
I love that you are self-assured and genuine. What do you love about yourself?
Something that I had to learn to love is people saying that I was “unique". I thought it was offensive, meaning I am standing out in a way that doesn’t fit in; not normal. I feel like I don’t know what I look like half the time. I mainly feel like a tall, fair, lurpy and quirky gal. When people tell me that I resemble Julia Roberts or most recently Connie Sellecca??? or someone else, I get very confused. Why do I have to look like anyone but me? Why do you have to try to figure me out? I feel like I don’t see what other people see most times, but then again maybe that is how everyone feels. As far as what I love about myself...I may falter sometimes but I guess I love my ability to forgive people and move on. I may have removed some people from my life who have done some unreasonably pretty shitty things to me, but I forgive them.
Tamela at the Rob the Mob premiere, photo Raymond Liu
How do you relax when you get some rare down time?
I try to do nothing but binge watch some shows that have been lingering in the DVR, with my boyfriend on the couch, while eating his homemade popcorn. He makes the best!
And lastly, what does Glamour mean to you?
It’s all perception and presentation. You look as good as you feel. And when you don’t feel good, believe that you do and let that spark fly out of your eyes. I look to ladies who came before all of us for inspiration. There are two Sophia Loren quotes, which I live by, “Sex appeal is 50 percent what you've got and 50 percent what people think you've got,” and “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Both are 100 percent true for me and in this business that we call “Show”. I adore every bit of it, even the bullshit. You have to be as soft as silk to enter it and as tough as nails to stay in it.
To learn more about Tamela and her work, and find her on all social media @tameladamico, and please check out her website here!
Thank you! xo