Composer and lyricist Joe Iconis isn’t known for his love songs, but he says almost every aspect of his relationship with his wife, actor and songwriter Lauren Marcus, has made it into his quirky and vast body of work. Take the song “Party Hat” for instance. Not everyone would see the romance in a song about a lonely girl who decides to spruce up her Saturday by putting a party hat on her reluctant cat, but Iconis wrote it the summer he realized he and Marcus would be together forever. “It’s about sacrificing something for somebody else,” says Iconis, who has written pop-rock musicals like Be More Chill, songs for Hit List on NBC’s Smash, and is the squad leader of the popular Iconis and Family concerts.
Marcus’ art has been inspired by their story, too. As reflected in Marcus’ aptly named doo-wop-tinged single “(I Got) The One that Got Away (Back),” off her recently released EP Never Really Done With You, Marcus and Iconis ended up married after years of struggling through a tempestuous, on-again-off-again relationship. Marcus and Iconis show you can have a happy ending, even with a messier beginning.
Lauren, I was just watching the video for your new song “(I Got) The One that Got Away (Back).” Does the song have anything to do with your relationship with Joe?
Lauren Marcus: The only thing in that song that came from our relationship is the hook, “I got the one that got away back.” I thought of it one day, happily, when I was walking down the street, and the rest of the song has absolutely nothing to do with our relationship. It was written on a bus from Vermont. I was pissed off about being stuck in traffic. I write more about my relationship with other things, like my relationship with the theatre, than my actual romantic relationship, but Joe is one of the biggest influences on me as a writer. He’s introduced me to so many different kinds of things. I can’t tell you the amount of movies or songs or things [he’s told me about] that I never would have found myself. I get a lot of inspiration from Joe.
Wait. Was Joe the one who got away, but then you got him back?
LM: We dated for nine months, and then we broke up for about three-and-a-half years. That was Round One. We’re on Round Two now—there’s only two rounds—and it’s going great. It’s weird we don’t talk about it a lot because we were really young. We met my last year of college. I was 21, and he was 25. He had called me and left a message saying, “Lauren, this is Joe Iconis. Your name got recommended for a reading that I’m doing later today, but if you can’t call me back in ten minutes I’m going to have to ask somebody else.” I called him back immediately, and I did the reading. We started dating that summer. We knew we really liked each other, but I just don’t think we were…
Joe Iconis: I certainly didn’t have the tools to be a human being in a working relationship, but we always just liked each other so much. Even when we were broken up, we saw each other constantly.
LM: We did a show right after we broke up. We worked together in every single phase of being together and not.
JI: The prologue of this story is that I saw her play Mary in Merrily We Roll Along at NYU, and I loved her, so I knew of her before calling her to be in that reading. I came to our relationship as a fan. I’m a great poster child for obsessive fandom. If you just persist, you can marry an actor who you like a lot.
When you worked together after the break up, did you just pretend that Round One never happened?
JI: We never really pretended. Obviously, we’re theatre people, so we’re automatically more emotional than your average person. When we were doing those shows [during the breakup] there were some really, really awful nights.
LM: We have some nice friends, because they saw a lot of ridiculousness. We’d be making out in the corner when we weren’t together. It was bad.
JI: There was a lot of crying, screaming, making out, drinking…
LM: Lots of drinking.
JI: And showtunes.
How did you get back together?
JI: The thing that ended the cycle of crying, screaming, making out and showtunes was that Lauren went to grad school in Scotland for a year. That was the first time we didn’t see each other on a semi-regular basis. Then she got back, and we just started dating. We didn’t put any pressure on the whole thing, and honestly it was great. It turned into the relationship we had wanted the first time around. It was only three years, but I was a different man.
LM: We were both so different when we grew up a little bit.
That is such a cool, rare story. Usually you do not get the one who got away, back! Do you ever think about writing a musical about that experience, Joe?
JI: I’m kind of different than Lauren as far as writing goes in that I feel like my writing is super personal. Even if it doesn’t seem that way. All the stuff we’ve talked about has definitely found its way into writing of mine, but maybe not in a way that anyone would know from looking at it. I tend to use the stuff that comes up in real life as inspiration for moments in songs with characters that are clearly not me.
Can you give us an example?
LM: I don’t think this is about our relationship, but sometimes words that I’ve used make their way into his songs. He wrote [the lyric] “I’m a creeper in the bathroom” for this song, “Michael in the Bathroom.” I was hysterically excited because creeper is a phrase of mine.
JI: Actually this isn’t something I’ve really thought [about yet], but I’m working on this musical about Hunter S. Thompson for La Jolla Playhouse, and there’s a really harsh song that Hunter’s wife sings called “Adore.” It’s kind of a breakup song. That song is definitely not about our relationship, but there are elements that—as I was writing it—felt like the bad version of what could have happened with Lauren and I. It was like the nightmare version if things hadn’t changed.
Do you share the same long-term career goals? Would the dream be for Joe to write a musical that Lauren can star in on Broadway?
JI: I think we both have goals that are separate, but intersect a little bit. I would love to have a show on Broadway. I’m from New York, and the idea of having a show that I believe in on Broadway would be my dream of dreams.
LM: Well I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a huge goal of mine right now is to have a Broadway contract, and just be working professionally to the point where we’re not freaking out about money all the time. Also, I really want to have a song in an Old Navy commercial. I’m going to keep putting that out there.
JI: That’s a specific goal.
LM: We’re at a similar place in our careers right now where we’re just hitting this wall. It feels so close for both of us. Sometimes we stop to look around, and we realize that what we’re doing right now makes us really, really happy. We’re making work all the time; we get to work with all of our friends, and we want all of that, but…
JI: We just want the New York theatre scene to make an honest woman out of us.
Joe Iconis and Family will host their seventh annual Rock and Roll Haunted Halloween Special at the Laurie Beechman Theater October 31 at 7 PM. Marcus will perform songs from her new EP Never Really Done With You at Rockwood Music Hall November 5 at 3 PM.