Rapp returns to NU as the leader of his own band

Anthony Rapp, an actor whose résumé includes roles in “Adventures in Babysitting” and a Tony-winning performance in “Rent,” came to Northwestern Thursday night to debut his new band and promote his new album. The album, “Look Around,” will be available in a few weeks at www.disgraceland.com.

Before his concert at The Gathering Place in Norris University Center, he sat down for a chat with The Daily.

Daily: What brought you to Northwestern?

Rapp: I spoke here in a question-and-answer session about a year and a half ago, and Keith Speers (assistant director of the Campus Activities Office) gave me his phone number in case I needed recommendations to speak at other colleges. So when I started with this music thing, I called him, and to my surprise and delight, he said, “C’mon over.”

D: Were you a theater major in college?

R: I was a film major at NYU. I actually only went to school for one semester. I’ve been acting professionally since I was 9 years old, so when I went to college I wanted to do something different.

D: What do you consider your breakout role?

R: “Adventures in Babysitting” was pretty big, but everything has seemed to come together after “Rent.”

D: How did you get the part in “Adventures in Babysitting”?

R: I was 15, and I had a part in a play in New York the year before, so I had just gotten a New York agent. I grew up in the Joliet area, so I came home, and I had gotten the part.

D: So, you’ve been doing both theater and film your entire career. Do you find it difficult to do both?

R: Not really, it’s the same thing. You audition for a part, and they either want to cast you or they don’t. There are different technical demands in film because you tell the story out of order. The stage takes more discipline. On stage I feel more like an athlete. I only have this one shot at performing, and I have to do it right. Even when I sprain an ankle, the show must go on.

D: Is it fair to ask which one you like more?

R: Theater. But I’ve had some great film experiences, too.

D: How did you get the lead in “Rent”?

R: I started out doing musicals, but I hadn’t done one for many years before I auditioned for “Rent.” At the time, I was working at Starbucks. It was a low point in my career.

D: When did you know “Rent” was going to be a great play?

R: Since it was a musical, I didn’t have the script or anything when I went in to audition. I heard some of the material before we started rehearsals, but it was like listening to a song in the process of being written. It was like you could hear a great hook, but you didn’t know how the song was going to turn out. Then, the first day of rehearsal, the cast sang “Seasons of Love,” and I knew I was part of something special.

D: How has winning a Tony for “Rent” changed your career?

R: I’ve gotten more calls, mostly for parts in cool indie films. But at the same time, sometimes people will think I’m too big for roles. Ever since I started with “Rent,” I’ve been working pretty consistently. It’s opened up a lot of new avenues to me, like this music business.

D: Were you interested in music and being the front man for a band for a long time?

R: Yeah, it’s always been sort of a pipe dream for me, but I never thought anything would actually happen with it. I used to scour Billboard magazine and all the charts, and I’d buy tons of CDs. I’m a completist, so if I started listening to a band, I’d buy all that band’s CDs. I can’t even tell you how many thousand CDs I have. Being in “Rent” got the music bug out of me for a while, because it was like fronting my own rock band every night. But after I stopped doing that for awhile, the bug crawled back.

D: Who are your musical influences?

R: REM, Peter Gabriel, the B-52’s, New Order, Cyndi Lauper, the Wedding Players, Radiohead. They all have a pop sensibility about them. Even Radiohead, who are kind of out there, have great melodies at the center of their music.

D: What do you think about Dogstar (Keanu Reeves’ band)?

R: I always want to be careful when I’m talking about stuff like this because I think it’s great for people to express themselves musically. I also think it’s unfair that a stigma is attached to someone going into music just because he’s an actor. Musicians go into acting all the time. I think great music will rise above the rest of the stuff no matter who sings it.

D: Do you play an instrument?

R: Not yet. I’m learning to play the guitar. One song I wrote only has 7 chords, and I can play that song on guitar.

D: How long have you been playing with your band?

R: This is actually our first gig. I have a friend in the music business, and she introduced me to my guitarist, just as someone to collaborate my songwriting with. We just clicked; he and I co-wrote five of the songs on the album.

D: Where are you playing after this?

R: We have two gigs: The Fez, which is a cool club in New York City, then we’re going to the University of Vermont and then the University of Massachusetts.

D: So you’re trying for an REM-like grassroots buildup before your album is released?

R: Yeah, that’s right. I thought about going straight to a major label, but I didn’t pursue it too much. First of all, I wasn’t sure if they would like it. I’ve listened to my album about five times now, and one time I’ll hate it, one time I’ll love it.

D: Do you have any expectations for the CD?

R: My only hope is that it will land in the hands of one of my heroes, someone like Michael Stipe, Annie Lennox, or Tori Amos, and that they’ll like it.