Ernest Kohl is the go-to man for feel-good dance remakes, and original uplifting anthems.
He injects an eternally '80s Hi-NRG beat to pop gems such as The Grass Roots' Sooner Or Later, The Partridge Family's I Think I Love You, ABC's Be Near Me, and Yazoo's Only You. He dares to cover dance classics such as Debbie Jacobs' Don't You Want My Love, and Stomp by the Brothers Johnson. And even has the balls to take Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying and add a disco beat.
He's created memorable originals such as Bad To Be Good, To Save The Love, Say Adieu, and many more. And takes the best of the bunch and creates a new mix every few years to keep them fresh. And in 2013, he's still riding high from the recent success of the hit single Anyone Who's Ever Been In Love (and its record-breaking number of remixes.)
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But did you know that Kohl got his start in musical theater as a singing/dancing/acting triple threat?
"I was like Liza Minnelli with a dick," says Kohl.
He did his first show at age seven, auditioning at the Imperial Theater. "And the next thing you know, I'm in South Pacific playing little Jerome with Howard Keel and Jane Powell, singing 'Dites-moi, pourquoi...' Then Annie Get Your Gun. Then Camelot. Then Mame playing young Patrick. A national tour of Godspell. Music Man. Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"I played one of Joseph's evil brothers. My best friend Christian," says Kohl, "would call that typecasting."
Kohl's theatrical breakthrough came when he starred in the new musical Avantgarde in 1982 at the age of sixteen.
"We were so successful we moved from Off to On Broadway. But we didn't survive the transition. Equity re-did their contract. And the show was too big, and the producers couldn't keep the show open. Even though we were sold out for five months ahead. The expenses were out of control.
"One of my costumes cost over $10,000, which is ridiculous. And it kept falling apart, so they kept having to replace it. And I kept having to fall to my knees in it. And the rhinestones cracked, and would cut into my flesh.
"But so many people saw me in that. And I give thanks to the late great producer Jeffrey Robbins for believing in me and giving me that job. And that's how I met the publicist John Carmen. He came to my dressing room and said, 'I want to sign you to management.' He had a management company with Cy and Eileen Berlin called Berlin-Carmen Management. They handled Grace Jones, First Choice, Double Exposure. He handled Stephanie Mills' publicity. Loleatta Holloway. They were also working with Melba Moore, Wardell Piper, Dan Hartman, Claudja Barry, Village People, The Richie Family, D.C. LaRue, the Bobby Orlando stable...so I was in good company.
"And when the show closed, I had offers from major record labels. And I signed with Blue Sky/CBS. But one thing that really upset me about Avantgarde is that every single male in that cast died, except me. I'm very fortunate to be HIV negative. And all the woman are still alive. But the men died so quickly. Including Jeffrey. We all became very close friends.
"One person in particular, Daryl Carpenter, become one of my very best friends, as well as a writing partners, co-producer, and back-up singer. He also sang back-up for Irene Cara, did the whole Flashdance tour. Did work with Moroder. And they all got sick and died so quickly. It's not like today with the drug cocktail. These people died really fast. But I remember back then, running into one of my very best friends Christopher, who co-wrote and co-starred in Avantgarde. I saw him on 72nd and Columbus and didn't even recognize him. One of my best friends in the whole world, and didn't recognize him. People died so fast back then.
"And when Avantgarde closed, I thought I was a failure. I didn't even go to the closing night cast party. I left in tears from the theater. I didn't even take my makeup off. One of the cast members, Lisa Navarre, we went up to Fulton's Cafe on 71st and Broadway and had a turkey club. And I thought the closing was my fault. For thirty years I thought that. I don't anymore."
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At the time, a cast album was never released. But while Avantgarde was still running, Jim Burgess--hot off the success of mixing Change's A Lover's Holiday--was hired to remix the show's title song.
"After the show closed, I actually auditioned for Jim Burgess. Back then, they expected you to audition with a piano player. And to see you perform live in a club. To show you could really sing in front of a live audience. And they would have the whole A&R and publicity department come see you. And my experience in Avantgarde helped me tremendously. And Burgess wanted to work with me. The material he was sending us was brilliant. But, unfortunately, he became ill. And we never got to work on the projects he'd lined up for us."
Bobby O, Divine, and Flirting with Madonna
In spite of his theater background, Kohl 's handlers still pushed him toward pop stardom. Which soon led him to a promising young producer named Bobby Orlando.
"When I first met Bobby, his offices weren't on 57th Street. His office was in the Vanguard Records offices. I must have come in around the time he was working with Roni Griffith. I laid down some vocal tracks. I didn't even know what songs I was singing because I was singing them all in pieces. I was singing three lines here, four lines there, and I didn't even know what it was.
"And some time after that I went to Studio 54, and I was on the dance floor with my friends. And all of a sudden I heard this record and thought: This sounds familiar. Then all of a sudden I heard, 'She knows what you're looking for, she knows how to make a score, she knows all the things you adore.' And I said to my friends: That's me! That's me singing! That's me! And my friends said, 'Ernest, what is wrong with you? Are you drunk?'
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"And by the time I got all the way up to the DJ booth, they were mixing into another song. And I asked the DJ to bring the record over to me. And there's this round record label that said "O" Records on it. And it was pink and baby blue. And the title was She Has A Way. And it had Bobby "O" as the name of the artist. Not Ernest Kohl. And I was stunned.
"And I didn't draw attention to it at the time, maybe out of naïveté? Or maybe out of fear. I mean, in the music business, you never know where the money's coming from. And I don't want to say it was like The Sopranos. But there were rumors. I mean, when I worked with Bobby, I would see big men in suits going into his office for private meetings. We never knew what went on. We'd waste hours of studio time. Waiting and waiting and waiting. So I didn't make waves. Hell, I just wanted to finish high school. "
"But now that I talk about it, some people say I'm an evil bitch. But I was really young back then. I trusted people. But I don't take shit anymore. And I'm going to get credit for my work. And I'll give Wendell Morrison credit. He sang those great high notes on the backing vocals on She Has A Way. And there was also a girl singing in the chorus. I can't remember her name. Was it Leslie something? But she was a really good studio singer. And Bobby used her a lot. And I don't mind sharing the spotlight. It's not an ego boost. It's simply setting the record straight. Like Martha Wash. When they were using her lead vocals on Black Box and C+C Music Factory. And not giving her credit. She actually helped get laws changed to give vocalists the credit they deserve. I wish that had been in place in the early '80s when I worked with Bobby."
It would take an entire decade before Kohl actually sang the song to a live audience. And even that happened without warning.
"It was the president of one of the labels I was on in England, Loading Bay Records. I was in the middle of a gig in Manchester. And all of a sudden he puts on the instrumental of She Has A Way. The 12 inch, okay? And I was like, Oh my god, I haven't sung this in years because by now, we're in the middle of the '90s, and I'm on a UK tour. And there I'm having to do the full version. And normally I would edit a song for a show. But the crowd went wild. They absolutely went wild. And that's the very first time I felt justice."
With that reaction, you'd think Kohl would be tempted to re-record a version under his own name. But not so.
"Because a drag queen covered it. And I don't want Bobby to make anymore money off me. And that's the truth. Because he wrote it. One thing I can say, he is a brilliant musician. I actually saw him pick up a cowbell, not run it through a computer, but pick up a real cowbell and a drumstick, and play it from the top of the 12 inch to the end of the 12 inch, and hit it every single beat exactly and perfectly. He's a brilliant musician, and he can play classical piano like nobody's business. He's a brilliant writer, he's a brilliant musician.
"Bobby also used my vocals on his studio group One-Two-Three. He put people who kind of looked like us on the record cover. And one of the models on that cover was actually Joanne, one of the owners of Unique Recording Studios in New York. I also sang on I'm So Hot For You, The Letter, and who knows what else.
"And during that time with Bobby, we were all performing at The Funhouse. Everyone on "O" Records. Jellybean was the DJ that night. Madonna was there. A young Madonna. Everybody was there, including Divine. I was lucky enough that Divine let me share a dressing room. We'd worked together in the studio. I sang back up vocals on Native Love, Shoot Your Shot, Jungle Jezebel. And I just adored him.
"So that night, Oh Romeo were also there. And they were two models actually. Waterfront Home. They were models too. Miki and Paul Zone were there. They sang a song that Bobby produced for them, At The Gym. Jacques Morali also produced it for them when they later became Man 2 Man. And that night, Bobby sang She Has A Way." Kohl didn't see much of Bobby Orlando after that. But he did see Madonna again.
Madge & Jellybean, 1980-something
"I was at the party on top of Danceteria, on the roof, standing next to Seymour Stein. He'd just signed Madonna to Sire Records. She may have released Everybody by this point. But that night she debuted Burning Up and Physical Attraction. And I turned to Stein and said, 'Burning Up is a hit. You need to remix that and put that out as a single.' And Stein said, 'You think so kid?' And I said, 'Yeah.'
"And awhile after that I ended up auditioning for Stein at his apartment. I think it was in The Dakota. You know, where John Lennon lived. And if my manager hadn't been there with me, I think the audition would have ended up in the bedroom."
On The Road w/ Dead or Alive
Kohl released his first solo tracks in 1985, the same year Dead or Alive dominated radio and clubs with You Spin Me Round (Like A Record.) And when you listen to Kohl's early songs, produced and arranged with Steve Skinner, you can hear the Stock Aiken Waterman zeitgeist. So it was a natural fit for Kohl to join DOA on US tour dates.
"Pete Burns had a thing for one of his male dancers. But got upset because his male dancer had a thing for one of my female dancers. So things got pretty lively at our hotels," says Kohl. "The night Pete trashed a hotel lobby, I stayed in my room and put a deep conditioning mask on my hair."
By 1986, Kohl was enjoying his own breakout hit, an energetic cover of Sooner Or Later. "That's the one that still gets the most radio play. It put me on the map."
Kohl still performs his hits from the 80s and 90s. But moving into 2013, Kohl still wants to create new classics. "For one of my most recent release, I went back to my stage roots. And picked a song from musical theater. Anyone Who's Ever Been In Love." The song recently spent nine weeks at #1 on the EuroDance Chart. And at last count, spawned at least three dozen remixes. And Kohl rang in the new year with a new mix of Happy New Year, which is still rising up the EuroDance Chart. "Radio really jumped on it. And it's great to have a song that will be played every holiday season. Maybe I'm creating a new kind of nostalgia now."
Kohl is aiming for another #1 in 2013. The long-awaited release of the title cut of his current album, Eternally. "I spent a year remixing it," says Kohl. "And it could be my final record. So many changes in my life right now. I'm so proud of my career. And love my fans. They've been so faithful. And I've been able to be a part of Dance Music since the tail end of the Disco Era in the late 70s. Through the exciting Hi-NRG music of the 80s. The retro wave of the 90s. And seeing so much come full circle in the 21st century. I'm glad I started so young in this business. To be able to meet so many influential people. To work with so many fine artists. I've lived several lives. And maybe--just maybe--I have a few more surprises in my future. That's half the fun. You never know what successes are waiting for you around each corner."
© 2013 Kelly Hughes
The Ernest Kohl Saturday Night Dance Party
In no particular order, a collection of Kohl favorites to get your party started...
Lindsay Lohan could learn a lesson in damage control from Gunnar Deatherage. With his two-tone hair and catty barbs, Deatherage was the Cruella de Ville of Season 10 of Project Runway. And then something strange happened. Gunnar got nice. So by the time Heidi Klum auf Wiedersehen’d him, some of us actually felt sorry he was out.
"I feel like the whole experience was a mind fuck," Deatherage confided. "The whole competition is about endurance under pressure. It's testing every facet of you as a designer.
"And I feel like a lot of times the judges' comments are extremely contradictory. There was one challenge where they hated my sequin dress that I did for Lord & Taylor. They ripped it apart. And I found it very hard to sit and take a critique from Heidi Klum while she was wearing a sequin dress that was very similar in cut."
Heidi Klum rocks a similar frock
But Deatherage isn't out to burn bridges with the retailer that dominates the workroom wall.
"I love Lord & Taylor. You see their accessories wall in almost every Project Runway shot. And Bonnie Brooks [president of Lord Taylor] was inspiring. But on the judging panel, the tone changes with every guest judge."
Despite his frustrations, Deatherage respects the process.
"We only see judges during judging. No off-camera relationships. No contact. Project Runway is one of the few reality shows with integrity."
Much ado about little black dress?
Grabbing fashion by the balls at age 12
Deatherage received his first sewing machine when he was barely a teen.
"I’d already been sewing since I was five or six. By first grade I could put together a pattern and sew it together. And my grandmother sewed. It bonded us. I liked the reaction I got from her. And from my family when I would do something they would enjoy."
How did your brothers react?
"I have one younger brother. He’s in the military. And my father is in the military. I think they’re fine with it. I’m very blessed with an extremely supportive family. I have a family that supports my every endeavor."
Good clean southern fun
Deatherage grew up in the South, but defies stereotypes.
"Louisville isn't rural. But the town is. Where I lived, I graduated with eighty-four people. We have a Wal-Mart, but it's still pretty country."
For fun, do you jump in the mud like Honey Boo Boo?
"No. I'm too prissy for all of that."
What's your ethnic heritage?
"My family is Finnish and Romanian. And that's awesome. I think those are very cool heritages."
With a name like Gunnar, I thought you'd be German. I thought that's why Heidi Klum liked you at first.
"We had German exchange students in high school. Maybe that was it."
Gunnar's gift to Jeffersonville, IN
Today, Detherage is across the river from Louisville in Jeffersonville, IN.
"I started on my cosmetology license in high school, then got my master's license. I saved money. Then I opened a store. Then a clothing boutique. I knocked down walls and combined two buildings. Lots of clothing in it. Not my own, though. I don't have time to make it right now. Also home interior items on the clothing side. Knickknacks."
Did you bring a metrosexual feel to the neighborhood?
"Definitely. Something the city hasn't seen before."
You're used to being bold. Have you always wanted glamour in your life?
"It's always been very apparent I wouldn't stay in my hometown."
Gunnar and prom date
You were just a teenager when Project Runway began. Did you watch the early episodes when you were younger?
"Yes. I definitely think it helped mold me. It's something I grew up watching. And I never thought I would get accepted on it. There was always a part of me that thought it wasn't feasible."
Have any younger versions of yourself contacted you? Glamour-starved boys in small towns who watched you on the show?
"I have received hundreds, and I mean hundreds of emails and notes in response to the bullying thing in the print challenge. I didn't know how people would respond to me opening up about my childhood like that. But I get feedback on everything from Tumblr to email to Facebook. From kids who are being pushed around in school. And from adults too.
"These people are sending me their stories, and opening up to me. But I'm not a counselor. And I don't know if there is a right or wrong thing to tell these kids. It's just me acknowledging them."
Gunnar's print on the runway
Deatherage created a symbol for his childhood bullying: a bird surrounded by two hands. It can be read as either a spirit crushed, or a soul released. Used as the basis for his design in the print challenge, it defied the direction to incorporate one's cultural heritage. Was Deatherage showing that trauma is more deeply ingrained than traditions from the old country? If so, it was lost on the judges who voted him off.
In the print challenge, your theme was bullying. It almost seemed like the judges were bullying you. Did you feel that?
"Yes and no. No in the fact that they at least appreciated I put a lot of thought into the print. But I feel like they were looking for things to pick at me about my outfit. Whether they liked it or not, I thought they were nitpicking on things. But if that was my time to go, that was my time to go.
"At least that was something different, that they hadn't seen from me before. Then you have Ven, on the other hand, who has done the same detailing. That was his fourth or fifth challenge he had done that in. So I felt more picked at than bullied."
There was that judge. I don't know why, but I always block his name out. The guy that had first won the print challenge, and won Project Runway All-Stars...
Judge not, lest Mondo be judged!
Mondo. That's right. I remember they showed him encouraging you in the workroom. Telling you to make this challenge personal. To dig deep. And out of everyone, you dug the deepest. And when Mondo won the print challenge on his season, he got very personal and talked about being HIV positive. And so I thought he kind of turned on you. You got more personal, and out of everyone, you took his instructions to heart. And it almost seemed like he attacked you for it.
"I feel that. I think so. I think there was definitely...I feel like, and I don't think this is the first time it's happened. We're given instructions, and I'm a very good listener, and I think that's the cosmetologist in me. Because it's my job to listen. And to execute what I'm hearing. I feel like I did a very appropriate job of executing the task at hand. And I felt multiple times before that I thought the instructions given at hand were overlooked."
Did you feel that the print challenge, that Mondo feels it belongs to him? That he finally stood out in that episode when he told his story. And that he resented you because you stole his thunder because you also had a very personal and painful story?
"Maybe he did. But I didn't catch that from him. He's a very blunt person. And I'm blunt as well. Was it my absolute favorite thing I made on the show? Absolutely not. But as for Mondo, that was kind of his challenge. He really nailed it. It put him on the map."
Gunnar and Mom
One stress factor they added during Deatherage's print challenge (in addition to the constant sleep deprivation) was bringing in friends and family--especially mothers.
It seemed like a brainwashing tactic to break you down. The highs, the lows. You love a familiar face being there. But then you can't get your mind back on sewing.
"Right. That's exactly what happened. It's amazing that your family came. And a really awesome experience to share with my mom. But I thought it took away from the concentration that had been put on the competition."
And once you have a family or friend around, they're going to rave. Anything you do they're going to say, "That's great!" Because they want to be supportive. But at that moment, all objectivity flies out the window. Because they're going to love whatever you make regardless of whether or not the judges do.
"I definitely feel the same way about that. I feel that. Of course, it's my mother's job to love what I'm making."
Right. She's not going to suddenly be Nina Garcia and say, "Well, I think the print should be...the scale is too big. Let's bring it down a third. Or, let's try it with this color." Your family is not going to start talking like that.
"My mom and I have a very fine relationship. And I know if she didn't like it, she would tell me she didn't like it. And she enjoyed my print. I was making it very personal."
Last week when you were voted off, did your mom watch that with you?
"She lives in Florida now. And when she saw it, she wasn't happy. I'll tell you that."
Sassy & sexy makeover ala Gunnar
The challenge where people really warmed up to you was Fix My Friend. Where you suddenly set the tone of being really nice to these people, and really engaging with them. And that's when people finally saw you as a good guy.
"That's the challenge where I was the most true to myself too."
And the show gave you good editing on that because on the runway, you set the tone as the contestant who really got along with his client.
In sharp contrast to Ven. People seemed horrified by what he said. He didn't flat out say it, but the gist was: "How come everyone else got Twiggy, and I got stuck with the fat girl?"
He didn't say 'fat.' Nobody said fat. I guess the politically correct term was 'real' woman. Were Ven's comments shown out of context? Or was Ven really that insensitive?
"Fix my designer's attitude!"
"Um...Ven can be very insensitive. I think he's very disconnected at times. I don't think that he understood what he was doing when he made the comments that he did, and reacted the way that he did. But there's an absolutely right and wrong way to go about that situation. Terri [Herlihy], his woman, was no larger than my woman. And you can't be upset about having to make something for a normal woman. Because where I'm from that's all I do. I'd love to make something for a Size 2. Absolutely. But how practical and probable is that?"
When I first saw Ven interact with Terri, I was outraged. But when you look at this from the point of view of a competition, Ven does have a point. Is it fair in a challenge to give one person a Size 4 model, and another one a Size 14, 16, 18, or whatever? Because the judges aren't impartial. I mean, two of the top three designs featured slender models.
You can't deny there's a connection. And as much as these judges get on their high horse, they would never dream of letting this 'real' woman concept infiltrate their industry. Come on. How many plus size models does Nina Garcia put on the cover of Marie Claire magazine? How many plus sizes does Michael Kors add to the mix at his fashion shows? They talk big, but end up giving better scores to designs modeled by thinner woman.
"I agree. "
So, as socially awkward as he was, maybe Ven had a legitimate point.
"Maybe. The thing I wonder is if his model Terri would have acted the same if I would have worked with her."
Right. And I thought that if your model had worked with Ven, maybe she would have laughed it all off. So I wonder how much of the tension was due to Ven, and how much was the model's reaction. I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt, though.
"She has a Facebook page now called Terri's Redemption. And they contacted me a couple times, and I offered to make her a dress because she was so upset. But it's just...it's definitely still playing the victim role. I think the anti-bullying Terri's Redemption Facebook page has turned into the let's-bully-Ven Facebook page. Because they're blasting him on there. And I don't agree with that."
Angela's mom & Jeffrey Sebelia
It all reminds me of an earlier season. When they did the Mom challenge.
"With Jeffrey and uh..."
Jeffrey Sebelia and Angela Keslar's mom. When they all swapped moms and designed outfits for them. And some people thought Jeffrey was being a total asshole to Angela's mom. But some people also thought the mother was being a bit manipulative and playing the victim role.
Jeffrey did apologize to her off-camera. And Ven posted an apology to Terri. But it seems like once you're identified as a Size Bully, you'll never be forgiven. And in some cases, you'll be relentlessly bullied for it in return. Look at how vicious Terri's supporters have been about ripping Ven's work apart, and calling him fat.
"You know, trying to design a Size 16 dress on a Size 4 mannequin is not easy to do. I don't think there is any way for them to classify what a real woman is because everyone is shaped so differently. And to have the same exact expectations out of every one of them was very unreal of them to do."
Have you ever had to take one of your Size 2 or Size 4 dresses and have it re-created for a Size 16?
"I've done that. Absolutely."
And does it translate? Does it look as good?
"It does not have the same effect. But I don't think it's because the dress was graded up. It's just the design of one dress, the lines cannot be the same on a larger size. The body does not form the same. And you have to design a dress around a body. And I think that's what that challenge should have been about."
Gunnar's muse & model
Well, a big part of fashion is the fantasy element. Obviously, most women who look through fashion magazines aren't going to look like the models. And that's an ideal you can aspire to while knowing you won't necessarily look like that. But it's still fun.
And despite all the Dove campaigns, and Jessica Simpson traveling the globe and celebrating her curves, the marketplace shows that women don't want to see Size 12 models for the most part. They still want that fantasy to look at. And Project Runway supports this by casting very thin models for you to work with.
And don't you think fashion really messes with women's minds?
"I think in some ways it does. Absolutely. You know, I look at fashion as art, so I look at it differently than a lot of people. You know, my main goal in fashion is not to make money with it. I just want people to appreciate it. But I think from a viewer's perspective, and having friends who are definitely not a Size 2, I think it can sometimes be discouraging. Because you're supposed to take these beautiful outfits--and a lot of them are not made even near their size--and these larger women can use them for inspiration. But they can't go out to the store and buy that. It's just not in their size. And I think that's kind of sad."
Mr. Fix It!
This is why I think you did so well in the Fix My Friend challenge. It's because you cut hair. It's because you sit down and get to know a person intimately. And if it's a regular customer, you really get to know them. But it sounds like you take for granted the fact that you're going to get to know a woman when you meet her. You're going to compliment her, you're going to find something attractive about her, and put her at ease. Do you think that's true?
"I do. I've got clients that I've done their hair for the past four years. And I know some very intimate things about them. I think it's about being able to listen. It's a very large thing. Even with stylists. The client sits in the chair and she's ready to talk about herself. I don't talk about myself until the client brings it up. I like to listen. And you can't always do exactly what you want because they are the ones that have to wear it around, or they are the ones that are paying for it. So I feel like the beauty industry helped me immensely in that challenge."
For a lot of women the ritual of getting their hair done is so much more than just getting their hair done.
"It's therapy. "
Exactly. And if you have a good stylist it's because they're good at cutting hair, but it's also because they care about their client.
And do you think that's one of the reasons you were successful in that challenge, because you brought that empathy with you to Project Runway?
"I think that's every bit why I'm successful. You know, I don't love to do hair all the time. But I value the things I learn from it. I learn every single day I do hair. I really do. And it's not even about doing hair. It's what I pull in and learn from it. It's from the people you meet. I can cut hair with the best of them. And I really love what I do. But at a certain point, you can't chase the money. The money will come to you. And the bond you create with people. And how they talk to you. To open up to you. And I listen to them. That's what I really care about."
Irina, Kooan, and Gunnar. It started on a happy note...
Let's talk about the Lexus challenge.
You and Kooan--before he dropped out--you guys had to create a dress for a former Project Runway contestant.
And you guys almost won. Heidi even said she liked your design best. But what I want to know, was it mostly the way the show was edited, or was Irina really that bitchy?
"She came off exactly as she was."
I was surprised because I liked her the season she was on. She came across as quiet, and she seemed like the type that didn't engage in all the politics. She just did her thing. But then she seemed so catty to you and Kooan.
"I just didn't feel like she was on my team. She expressed that from the get go."
She seemed to treat you like servants. "Well aren't you gonna fix that? Are you just gonna stand there? Aren't you gonna do something?" It seemed passive aggressive.
"Oh, I know. She was definitely on a pedestal. I don't have very nice things to say about her."
And when she was onstage, and the judges were raving about the gown you created for her, she seemed almost resentful.
"Yeah. She threw me under the bus for it. "
You would think a fellow designer, because they've been up there too, that they would bend over backwards to be respectful while they're up there on the judging stage.
"Yes, and to assist you. But that wasn't the case with Irina."
It's like this was the challenge that put Kooan over the edge, where he seemed like he was in over his head, and the quirkiness couldn't follow through on the more difficult sewing challenges.
"As much as it is about personality, it's even more about what you can sew. Kooan is a very colorful designer, and he has a market. But his market is not the one Project Runway is catering to.
Could Kooan sew?
"Yes. Kooan can definitely sew. He's fantastic. There's no question in that. But sewing and designing are two very definite things. And Kooan would try to put fifteen or twenty different textiles on one outfit. And I think this particular challenge showed him that's not the market to go after."
Why did Kooan shut down?
"I'm not sure."
Was part of it Irina? Did she blast his confidence?
"I don't think it was Irina because in any kind of design field you're going to deal with clients that are very difficult. I think it was just the wear and tear of the competition. And even the language barrier."
Andrea & Christopher
Well it shocked people because it came right after Andrea left.
"In the same day. "
What was the real reason Andrea left? Was it because she felt she maybe misrepresented what she said to Christopher?
"You know, I don't know anything towards Andrea because I never connected with Andrea. She wasn't someone I really rubbed shoulders with. And it was all a mystery to us. I know that the producers didn't want us to concentrate on the fact they were going home. They wanted us to concentrate on the competition at hand. I think a lot of us didn't know she was gone until we arrived at the Michael Kors store."
Gunnar's Times Square debut
Let's talk about a happier challenge that you almost won. The very first one where you had the outdoor runway show in Times Square. You came across as super confident then. Cocky even.
"Kind of cocky, or really cocky? I think I came across as really cocky."
I was trying to soften the blow. But yes. From day one you positioned yourself as Season 10's smarmy asshole. Was that the editing, or did you plan it? Or, as some people wondered, did the producers ask you to be that season's villain?
"Um, I'll say this first. The producers have no input on how you act. There's nothing pre-planned or scripted. Nothing. It's all on you and what you want to do. And I would not classify myself as a villain in normal life at all."
When you finally arrived for the show, and the camera's were on you, did you just go a little crazy?
"I didn't go crazy. I played the game."
Were you conscious that you were going to come across as this real cocky guy?
"I knew I would come across as a bitch."
Did you manufacture that rivalry with Christopher? Or did something provoke that?
"I definitely pushed it. I saw his sketches. I knew what he was capable of."
Is there a dark side to Christopher? Did he push your buttons off-camera?
"I don't think there's a dark side to Christopher. Maybe irritating. I mean, there's a roomful of us trying to design, and obviously some people are not going to get along. You know, I kind of took the opportunity to prod him a little bit."
But then people started to ostracize you.
"I know there were people who were not Gunnar fans."
But then it changed. You went from villain to...not quite sweetheart. But by the end people were sad to see you go.
Christopher & Gunnar: Separated at birth?
And it seemed like one of the turning points was the group challenge, which was basically all the guys against all the girls, plus that other guy. But basically men vs. women. And in the editing, it really seemed like the other guys were ostracizing you at that point. You were commenting that you felt like the sew-er, not the designer. But it gave the audience empathy for you because suddenly you were the underdog.
"Right. And I think that challenge was portrayed really well, to how it all actually happened. I was thrown under the bus on the runway, and even before the runway. I felt almost pushed around by the others. They kept questioning what I was doing. And always wondering what I was doing, and I kept getting thrown in five or ten different directions, you know. And it's hard to stay true to your vision. I think it was portrayed well."
Do you think they were bullying you?
But do you think because of your experience, you naturally shift into that role? It's a weird dynamic because you would think, if you're this teenage kid in a rural town who feels like he's being bullied, and you watch Project Runway, you'd think, '"Finally, I'm in a safe environment where people understand me. No more high school jocks to push me around." That's supposed to be your safe area. But then the new bullies emerge.
"I think that's to be expected. I understand exactly where you're coming from. But you know, you don't go to New York to mix and mingle with these people to become really good friends. I mean, I went in there with actually no intent on coming out with any friends. It happened to happen, but...I went in there with the attitude that I wanted to win. And I wanted to prove a point."
And even if it's not about friendship, how about at least constructive criticism from colleagues? Because it seemed like at a certain point, everyone let their guard down, and truly wanted to look at other people's designs and help them. And not sabotage them. Is that a true statement?
"I think so. There was definitely a point in time when that happened. It happened more so with others, especially with alliances among the group. "
Elena (with Dmitri in background)
At a certain point you and Elena became close and were very objective in helping each other.
Was it in part because, by that point, you were the male villain, and she was the female villain, and you each had no one else to turn to?
"I'm actually still really good friends with Elena. In fact, I was on the phone with her this morning."
Did you tell her some crazy guy was going to interview you today?
"No. [laughing] We were just talking about that she was moving, and so am I. Just kind of catching up a little. We definitely realized at one point in time that the two villains walked out of there as friends."
Was she conscious of doing that, or was she naturally that volatile?
"I think it's kind of natural. She knows how she wants things as an artist, and I think the main challenges where you see Elena get angry are the ones where she's in a group."
She came so close to getting voted off last night [I interviewed Gunnar while the original episodes were still airing], and they portrayed her as coming close to an epiphany--she even apologized to Dmitri. Do you think, at a certain point, she realized how counter-productive her big episodes were, all these big meltdowns?
"I think maybe she realized she had put too much energy into this. Allowing herself to get worked up. It wasn't helping her at all."
Were people being extra mean to her? Do you think Dmitri was being unreasonable? Was he trying to push Elena's buttons?
"I don't think he was trying, but I definitely don't think he was avoiding it. There were a lot of witch comments while we were there. A lot of people referred to Elena as The Wicked Witch. People knew the role she was going to come off as."
You think she's happy living with that now?
"I think she's fine with it now. You have to understand, on this show, you really can't care what people think about you. You really can't because that's when you start to second guess yourself, and doubt yourself. And it doesn't do anything for you. It's like the internet blogs where people are volatile toward you. You can't give into that and read them because they won't do anything but upset you."
Let's talk makeup now.
As a hair and makeup pro, what was it like to get access to the L'Oréal makeup professionals? Did you get to talk to them about their techniques and what they were doing?
"I did, but I didn't. There really wasn't a lot of time for that. If you notice, they didn't show a lot of me in the L'Oréal Paris makeup room. And I think a lot of that was because I knew exactly what I wanted. And sometimes it was a little bit of a battle. But they always took the time to listen to me. And we could always work something out."
A lot of designers seem vague and general when they give direction to the makeup people. It sounds like you were very specific in how you wanted your model styled.
"I would even go in there with pictures, sketches I would draw for them. So they wouldn't get misconstrued."
I've noticed some designers on the show don't really know a lot about hair and makeup.
"They know how to make clothing, but I don't think they know how to style it. That's one of my many fortes. I work with that too. They go hand in hand, you know, when I got into this beauty industry."
Gunnar with model Lauren Way
What was your relationship like with your model? Who did you have?
"I had Lauren."
What was it like to work with Lauren?
"Lauren is awesome. She doesn't know to wear a bra to her fitting, but she's awesome. [laughs] I still talk to Lauren. We have the same birthday. We're very similar people. She understood when I wanted her to walk a certain way. It was a very healthy, very good relationship."
The first seasons of Project Runway focused on the models more. And the designers' relationships with the models. And then they just cut that off. Which I'm kind of glad they did. Because I think it should be more about the designers. But, behind the scenes, is there a lot more to the relationship? Was your model ever your muse? Did your model inspire you?
"She was my 100% inspiration on the show. You know, she was pretty much the only inspiration I had while I was there, so I took advantage of that. I designed my whole Fashion Week collection around her."
The models seemed very supportive, and nice to the designers.
"They became your friends. They're the only people you get to see, and you see them on a somewhat routine basis. They want to support you. And there's money at stake. They want to win too. It's like they're on your team."
"Thank you, Mood."
I want to get to your post-Runway stuff. And wrap up soon. But I want a couple more particulars about the show. We gotta talk at least a little bit about Mood. Before your first episode, did they take you through Mood to introduce you to where everything was?
"No. Not at all."
So in the first challenge, was that your first time in Mood?
"That was my absolute first time in Mood. I didn't even know that Mood had four floors to it. It was a brand new experience for me."
When people watch it, I'm always amazed--and Elena did this a lot--where the designers seem paralyzed, and they can't decide on anything. And they end up choosing ugly fabric. How does that happen?
"You've got thirty minutes. Which is the blink of an eye when you're picking out fabrics. It really is. And to have to do that in such a little amount of time is just unreal. And I think that you would rather have some fabric than no fabric. And sometimes you just grab whatever is closest to you. I think at one point we all grabbed fabric that we shouldn't have."
Well, you know you're going to be on Project Runway. You have time before the show starts. Why don't all contestants go to Mood and spend the whole day there and learn it inside out, and learn exactly where everything is?
"Well, the New York designers have that advantage, the ones who have been in Mood before. They have the upper hand. And there were an abnormal amount of New York designers on the show this season."
Were you in New York a day or two before the taping started?
"Nope. They brought me there the day of."
Well, I checked the Mood reviews on Yelp. And a lot of people really love it, but it also gets a lot of negative reviews. A lot of people say the staff can be really smarmy. But it seems like they're really nice to you on the show. Is that just because they're a sponsor? Or are they genuinely helpful?
"They are helpful. Um, but you know, they're New Yorkers at the same time. Some of them can be snarky, some of them can be really sweet. It just depends on when you go, and who's there."
Do they exaggerate the time crunch, or is it really that pandemonium when Tim Gunn is saying "One minute!"
"Oh, he really does that. It's very true to what you see. There's lots of scrambling. Running up and down stairs. To try to get stuff in time. To try to figure out where stuff is."
And if you don't spend it all, do you get to keep the change?
"We don't. "
You have to give it back?
"Yeah, they took it all. Everything was on receipts. You have to turn all of it back in at the end of the show."
But you could give your change to another contestant at Mood if they needed it.
"We could do that."
Gunner & Gunn
What's your favorite memory of Tim Gunn on the show?
He seems so nice, but this season he seems like he's gotten a bit snarkier.
On the print challenge, I was shocked when he said Ven's design looked like used tampons.
"Well, did you see it?'
Ven & Gunn
Yeah, but still...to think it, and then to actually say it...I mean, in Ven's design, that was the sacred flower of his religion. That seemed to really devastate him. That really threw him off.
"It definitely got to him."
But Tim is Mr. Propriety. But now he's loosening up a bit. I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but he seems more impatient. He's done it for so long now. He's seen it all. Maybe he needs to keep it exciting for himself now by using more colorful language.
"Maybe. But also that he's trying to prepare you for the harshness that the judges are going to throw on you."
What was the best advice Tim gave to you when he came into the workroom?
"A lot of the time he would tell me to always second guess myself, but to not always listen. And I think that's really good advice when you're designing, to always second guess what you're doing."
So when you got voted off, and Tim sent you to the workroom and gave you a hug, was it a sincere hug? Did you feel something?
"I did. And we all had different relationships with Tim. He sees what we all go through. How we have to deal with the things we have to do. And I felt like it was extremely sincere."
Did Tim feel like the den mother of the group?
"He was absolutely the den mother of the group."
And the other thing about him is he makes it look easy, but he really does have a vast amount of experience, and he does know everything, doesn't he?
"He is so knowledgeable it's ridiculous. He uses words, and I don't even know what they mean. "
A-list couple: Seal & Heidi
The other thing I was especially interested in was, when you were on the show, it was around the time Heidi was separating from Seal. Did she do a good job of keeping her personal life separate? Did the press hound you guys? That was an intense time for her.
"It was never brought up. Never even talked about. We all knew it was going on. But it's not our job to get into her personal life. It was a good separation of her personal and business lives."
Heidi seems so nice.
"She's a doll. I adore her. I think she is so fantastic. I really respect Heidi Klum."
And she seems like she wants you all to succeed. It's not that she's just being catty.
"No, not at all."
Tell me if you agree with this. The judges...they want to be harsh with you on the show because, in the real world, it'll be ten times harsher.
"I think it's so much harsher in the real world. Especially with the internet. And how anonymous you can be. There's no limit to what you can say. I don't think they were really out of hand with anything the judges said this season. I think they were giving honest opinions."
The Atlas Apartments. They promote it as some luxurious high rise. But the rooms look sort of cheap. What's the Atlas really like?
"I liked the Atlas. We never had issues with it. For me, living in Louisville, I would never pay for a flat in the city like that. I could never imagine paying that much. And I'm sure that the Atlas is not inexpensive."
Was it an apartment, or a hotel?
"They were apartments. It was kind of set up like a hotel, but it was actually apartments. People lived there."
Did you have lots of food, and access to whatever you needed?
"Yeah. There's a whole crew that kind of waits on you hand and foot to get you the things that you need. There's breakfast in the morning, and lunch is catered in, as well as dinner. They have snacks that are provided throughout the day in the designer lounge."
So despite what was going on, did you feel a little bit like a star? Did you feel pampered?
"I don't think I felt pampered. I mean it was nice to not have to run errands, but I felt like it was more like a vacation than feeling like a star."
Even though there are so many past contestants, on so many different reality shows, you managed to make a lasting impression. And now that your episodes have aired, do you feel like you have some celebrity status?
"I feel like I do to a certain extent. Especially in Louisville. I got stopped five or six times on the way to the airport to go back for Fashion Week. And that was really cool. You know, it's all very supportive stuff to hear from people. It's really cool. I take a lot of photos, and if somebody comes up to talk to me, I don't even care if I'm eating dinner with my boyfriend, or something, I'll stop and take the time out to talk to a fan, or pose for a photo. Little girls want me to sign a napkin. It's very sweet. I'm enjoying it for the time being."
How do you parlay this current celebrity into your career?
"That should be the question of the day. But I don't know. I've definitely gotten job offers. Some of them I've taken. Some of them I've turned down."
Tell me some of the job offers.
"Actually, I just took a job as a Creative Director for doing photo shoots for a magazine that just got picked up for national distribution. It's from the mid-west. I think that's more so in the realm of what I want to do."
So you want to be a stylist for fashion shoots?
"Yeah. I really enjoy that. You know, like I said earlier, fashion is my art. And I don't think it was ever something I planned on making money on. It's a lot of work to do that. I don't know if that's really what I want to bite off of right now. I'm only 22 years old."
So maybe like editorial work for a magazine, or like a fashion magazine editor eventually?
"Absolutely. I would love that. I think that would be right up my alley. I'm a very creative-minded person."
I always hear about American celebrities getting paid big bucks to do TV commercials in Japan. Were you approached to do commercials in Japan?
"I wasn't approached to do commercials in Japan. However, I would take that offer. I was approached to be a spokesperson for StumbleUpon.com, which is one of my favorite websites."
Are you still considering that?
"Yeah. We're in talks about it right now."
My pet peeve. Every season, in nearly every exit interview, so there must be about 100 of these by this point. Everyone also says in their exit interview, "You'll be seeing more of me! Watch out! You haven't seen the last of me!" And for the most part, that was the last we saw of all those people.
And that's okay if they're finding meaning in their life. But if they're implying, "I'm gonna be a famous designer someday", well, most of them aren't. So how do you reconcile that? And how do you keep going beyond the disappointment after you leave the show? At that point, isn't that when you realize, wow, Michael Kors got to where he is because he overcame these obstacles time and time again. You know what I mean? And everyone gets their exit interview, and they can make grand proclamations, but how do you move beyond that, and follow through on the promises of that exit interview?
Reaching for the stars with his feet on the ground
"Well, one thing I did not do in my exit interview was promise the world they would see more of me."
"And that's because I don't know if I want the world to see more of me. I'm a very private person. I don't know if I necessarily want me to be famous. I'd rather have my clothing be famous. And it's hard to say how to follow through with this. I think there are millions of different routes you can take to get to that point. And this was my second go around, of having an exit interview on the show. And I don't even remember what i said the first time. But I knew that the first time I left I was devastated. I was distraught over it. I didn't know what I was going to do. Coming home was really humbling."
Was that the previous season when they had that huge cattle call, and even before the first challenge they eliminated, what, four contestants?
Okay. That was a real mind game. To bring you that close, then...
"To bring me all the way from Louisville just to do that."
So that says a lot that you actually went back and auditioned again.
"Right. And I wouldn't have done so if they hadn't called me and asked me to. Would not have done it. They called me at the right time when I was financially able to do so, and when I was ready to do so, I think. And the thing I kept in mind this time is, I'm not gonna take this too seriously. Because I knew that, regardless of how I do on the show, it's not gonna be the last thing I'm ever gonna do. I mean, I'm twenty-two years old. Of course it's not the last thing I'm gonna do. And you know, I own a business. I'm very passionate about everything I do. In my last exit interview, I told the world I was happy with what I did, and that I was happy to be going home. And those are two things that I sincerely meant."
Now that you've gone home, and you have this certain degree of celebrity, what's it like to return to taking appointments and cutting hair in your salon?
"You know, it's kind of odd. I'm running into that people are kind of intimidated to come in. They're a little nervous that either I've raised my prices, or that they're going to be starstruck. Even people who I've done their hair for years are nervous to see me after the show. I kind of expected it, I kind of didn't. I really didn't know what to expect. But I was going to come back and do hair regardless of how I did on the show."
Gunnar Deatherage...country boy!
But Gunnar. You drew a line in the sand. You declared yourself to the world on TV that you're ambitious.
"Yes. I'm extremely ambitious. There's no doubt about that at all."
But to people in your town, New York is a huge step up. So they're thinking, "Oh. He's come back here? After having tasted New York? What the hell is he doing! Why isn't he embracing New York?"
"Well I fucking hate New York, I'll be very honest with you. And you're in Seattle, right. And if I ever move away from here, it'll be up in your vicinity. Not New York. I spent a week on Whidbey Island, in Oak Harbor."
"And it blew my mind. I loved it so much. My best friend lives out there. We went to Port Angeles, Port Townsend. I hate New York. It is not my thing. I'm a West Coast person, 100%. And do I want to be a small fish in the ocean, or do I want to be the big fish in a small pond. I like being in a small place. I know everyone. And I like knowing that I've got the connections that I need. And if I ever want to go out and start over, I can absolutely do so."
Is that because you are who you are, or is that a safety mechanism? 'Cause don't you think you could enter an arena like New York, and after a few years, make the friendships, gain the confidence, and conquer it just as well as your hometown?
"Oh, hell yeah I could. I know I could. I think it's just that I know who I am. I have a lot of values instilled in me. I think a lot of it is being Southern. Coming from a small town. And I know I'll being going back to the big city for work in the near future. But I don't want to live there. It's not comforting to me. I can't sit on my front porch in New York and have my coffee in the morning and watch the deer. I just can't do that."
Do you think that there is a Project Runway curse? That the people who go on the show, that there will be a handful who benefit, the show will jump start their careers. But for the most part, it will either extend what they are already working on, or even cause them to do a 180, and realize that the fashion industry really isn't for them, and they pursue something totally different.
"It was just a TV show."
"I don't think that's a curse, though. At all. I think it's actually a blessing. I think everyone pulls something different from the show. And if you're at all doubting what you're doing, and not liking what you're doing, maybe Project Runway isn't for you. I mean, I don't want to do Fashion for a career right now. I want to pursue something in the Creative Industries, and I will always do it for Art. So I don't necessarily think there's a curse on the show. I think some people go on the show riding everything they have on it. And then they fall off the wagon. And they don't know what to do from that point. And it was a bit like that for me the first time around. But this time it was just for fun. It was an experience."
I think that came across because when you were sent to the workroom, you definitely had a confidence. You did it from a position of strength. And I think that really came across.
"I'm glad that it did."
It's like you weren't devastated, like you told the world this one show doesn't make or break your whole future.
"Right. And after all, it's just a TV show. That's all that it is."
Okay, your episodes air, the public suddenly knows who you are, and you're out there in a big way. And then we go to your website, and there's nothing there. I went to your website, and you had a cool front page. But no content. And right now, you're at the peak of your popularity. People knowing who you are. How come you didn't just jump on something to promote on your website?
"'Cause I don't know how to work a computer. [laughs] I have no idea how to do anything in the technical field. And it's like, I don't know what I want to promote right now. I'm not trying to mass produce my clothing right now. I mean, I have the website. It is what it is. I have thousands of emails in my database that I send out to. But the only thing I think I would put up in the website is my portfolio. I'm not trying to gain a clientele from it as much as I'm trying to gain an appreciation from it."
It sounds like you're figuring out where you want to go. Do you, from this point, most want to do hair, makeup, clothing design, fashion directing...or do you want to be a full-service designer who designs home furnishings, clothing, fragrance...a Ralph Lauren or a Calvin Klein.
"I want to do it all. I want to do everything. Life is so short. I don't feel like I should have to stick to one thing when I'm talented in so many of them. There's nothing I don't think I wouldn't give a shot at."
But what are you going to breakthrough on? What's going to be your big breakthrough product?
"I don't know."
Are you going to make a signature pair of pants? Are you going to design shoes? Is it going to be home furnishings?
"I would love to design shoes. Maybe that would be it. I could make some killer shoes."
But I could talk to you 40 years from now and you'd still be at the hair salon. And you could be happy there. But what I'm saying is, do you have that hunger that you want to make a mark somewhere beyond your hair salon.
"Um...I don't know. Maybe. But I wonder, am I chasing the fame? Or am I chasing the experience? I'm not a fame whore. And I don't pitch it, that that's what I'm after. And I do do things that bring a certain amount of that. But I'm not sure what I want to do at this point. For a little bit, I just want to be 22. Because I've worked my ass off since I was 16. And I've not taken any time to stop. And yes, it's got me places. But I think the life experience is also what you need. And you know, maybe in a couple years I'll break through with something huge. And it'll be something ridiculous. And maybe I won't. Maybe I'll be extremely happy with where my life is at. I don't take any day for granted."
Yes. But you are a personality now. And even though you didn't win this season, you definitely are one of the more memorable people to have been on this season.
So, even outside of design, have you been approached to do commentary? I saw on your Facebook page that you were asked to be part of some event for the musical Wicked.
"Yeah. The cast of Wicked is actually putting on a cabaret night for the AIDS Walk in Louisville. So I'm going there on Sunday night and I'll be making an appearance for a Meet-n-Greet."
So you'll be there as a personality.
"Right. that's exactly what they want. They want my name there. They want people to show up for it."
Can you see doing more of that? Even apart from the design, you do have a personality and opinion, and you're not afraid to show it on camera. I'm surprised you haven't been approached to do more TV work.
"You know, it's not something I've been approached about, but I would do it if I were."
Did you think that after the show you' get a manager, an agent--an entourage--and get more media work?
"I don't really know why. I'm a very low-key person. And [doing Project Runway] I decided to do something outside my bounds. It's something that tested me and pushed me. And that's one of the reasons that I did the show. But I didn't do it for the fame. I did it for the experience."
Project Runway alums make it big!
What if they asked you to be on Celebrity Apprentice, or one of those shows?
"I would probably do it as long as they paid me."
Have you stayed in touch with the Project Runway producers? This is a pretty big deal. This is the Lifetime Network. Have you ever thought of pitching them a show? It's seems like since you're so multi-faceted that you would be out there as a personality.
"Right. I've thought of pitching a show to the Lifetime producers. I'm still not sure how to go about it. But it's possibly something that I would be interested in."
If Austin Scarlett can do it, don't you think you can?
"Absolutely I think I can. And I don't want to do it so that people will flock to me. I think a lot of the projects that I work on are really cool and interesting and for good causes. I hear all the time that I'm a very entertaining person to be around. Very quirky and witty."
You did that big shock of blond hair. You did that just for the show, right?
"I did that just for the show, yeah."
Well, then you've got some savvy. You know the hair made you stand out from the first moment people saw you.
"Well that's the only reason I did it."
You've got media savvy.
"I was nicknamed Evil Skunk for a couple weeks on one of my favorite blogs. It was hilarious."
I was shocked when I saw all these other photos where you didn't have a shock of blond.
At this point, it's a trademark look for you. Lesser gimmicks have turned into TV series for people. So I'm really surprised that you haven't been asked to commentate on stuff like on VH1, or any of these shows where people comment on popular culture. Or like Joan Rivers on the Red Carpet. You haven't been approached to do any of that kind of work?
Christian Siriano rocking a fierce microphone
"To be honest, I haven't been approached that much."
I think you'd be great as a red carpet commentator. That would be a good entry into all this for you.
"I think that would be really fun. I'm really good with talking. I don't get nervous. It's something that I think I can absolutely do. But it's just something that I haven't been approached about."
Well here's something that I think is also the big secret about PR...there's the talent, and these people wanting to be the next Calvin Klein, but they never talk about how the next Calvin Klein really needs a lot of money behind them, and it's just as much about your financial backing and business savvy, and that most famous designers have an equally strong business partner.
"Oh, absolutely. It's all about money."
How come they never talk about that on the show? It's almost as if they build your hope up, then say, "Oh, by the way, you're talented, but you need $50 million dollars to start this line."
"That's a vital role in it. "
Well how about Elena, and the other contestants you were with. Do you see them parlaying this experience into a career? Were they ambitious enough? Did they talk about wanting to use Project Runway to get their own talk show. Or "I want to use this to get X." Or were they just going along for the ride?
In a league of her own...Buffi Jashanmal!
"Some of them went along with the competition. But someone like Buffi. I could totally see her being a commentator, or a guest host on something because she's a character. She is a walking talking character."
I'm glad you brought her up because I liked her personality, and I looked forward to seeing her, although I didn't quite understand her designs. And I thought they really nailed it on the head when the judges basically told her, "We get that you want to be quirky, but you still have to make good clothes. Then you can infuse them with your quirkiness." Like Betsey Johnson. And I think she had the right personality to be on TV.
"I'm surprised she's not in a lead role for Project Runway fan favorite. I totally thought she'd be a shoo-in for that category."
Are you in the running for fan favorite?
"I am really low on the list for fan favorite, actually."
But are you pursuing that? Do you send emails out to your list and ask them to vote for you?
"I post about it here and there, but it's not something I pursue. It would take an act of God now to get Elena out of her space. Out of sixteen people she's holding 41% of it."
Whatever Elena wants...Elena gets!
Where does she live? Is she in New York?
Some people mobilize family, friends, fans. They're relentless in getting people to vote for them.
Did you guys plan to have a reunion? Everyone promises, but did you guys agree, at some point, to meet up away from the show, say six months from now?
"I think the only person I would meet up with would be Elena. And I'm planning a trip out there this next summer. To spend some time with her."
Do you think she's going to be a successful designer?
"I think Elena's already a successful designer. A lot of people don't understand what she does, but from an artist's perspective I completely understand what she does. Her clothing outside form the show is beautiful. The seaming...she's got a very strong vision."
Holding on tight to Dmitry Sholokhov
Dmitri...do you think he'll go far?
"Dmitri already has jumped through a lot of hoops to get where he is today. I feel a lot of really good things coming out of him."
I thought he was definitely one of the better designers on the show. But he was laid back. You, Elena, Buffy...do you think they would want to pull you guys in, the really colorful outspoken people, to appear again, to be a guest judge on an episode?
"They might. But if it was something where they wanted me to be on All-Stars, I do not think I would do that."
"Because I don't feel the need to prove that I'm better than anyone. I felt that the only person I needed to prove that to when I went there was myself. And it took me being there to understand that. I like what I do. I think my clothing is really good. And thousands of people won't think the same. And thousands of people won't like that. But I don't feel like I have to get people to jump through hoops to enjoy it. If you don't like what I'm doing, don't look at it."
Dresses by Gunnar; coats by Christopher & Sonjia
Let's wrap up with five final questions.
The end is in sight. Okay. #1. What is your favorite outfit that you made on Project Runway?
"I really really liked the dresses that I made for the team challenge."
The one where Sonjia had the green jacket?
And you made one outfit for each jacket. One for Christopher's, and one for Sonjia's?
Why are you most proud of those? Is it because you did so much in so little time?
"I think it's a little bit of that, plus I also love the design of them. I think it's simplistic, and it's got an edge to it. But I think also because I worked with the group so well."
Do you think you didn't get the attention you deserved because your dresses were covered up by the coats?
"Probably so. But if those girls didn't have those dresses on, you would've seen way more than you bargained for."
OK. #2. What stuff happens at Atlas when the cameras are off that would just shock us?
"I don't think much goes on at Atlas that would shock you. I mean, in the three or four hours that we get to ourselves to go to sleep, I mean it's sleep. There's not really much that goes on at Atlas. It's kind of boring."
There's no sexual tension?
"No. Not in my room anyway. "
Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia
Then question #3. Whose opinion, of judges, or Tim, or Heidi do you respect the most?
"I think that I respect Michael Kors the most because he has been through what every struggling designer goes through. And made it out the other side. So if you've got something to say about it, if you're questioning the design of it, at least he's been there, and designs lines every season. So I can respect that."
And what was the best advice he gave you on the judging stage?
"I don't think a lot of it was even advice, I think it was constructive criticism. And I just enjoyed listening to his remarks. I mean, how can you not think he is funny. I think he's hilarious sometimes."
An early Gunnar Halloween costume
OK. #4. What kind of document do you sign. I mean, do you sign your life away? They don't let you look at design books while you're there, which became a big issue one season. How much of your life do you sign away, and how complicated is this when you sign on to do the show?
"I mean, it's a pretty intense contract. I think it's similar to any contract you'd sign to get on a reality TV show. One thing they don't want you to do is go behind their backs to moonlight or reproduce things from the show and sell them. It's a very cut and dried contract telling you what you can and cannot do."
The big thing, obviously, is not revealing the winner ahead of time.
"Right. That's the huge thing. Or who goes home. Neither one of those."
And since you went home when you did, you didn't know, but the people who make it through to the finals, they know. Are there certain checkpoints that, oh, once this ends, you can share more about the show?
"I don't know if there are checkpoints, but you're kind of briefed on what you can and cannot say. It's a security thing. And the producers want to protect you from getting into trouble as well."
OK. Now the final question. If you were voted off before the finale, how did you get to show at Fashion Week? Because I always assumed it was only for the finalists.
Gunnar Deatherage does NY Fashion Week
"Well, Fashion Week is the week before the episode where I went home. So, if I would have not shown up at Fashion Week, and then the general public is there, they would have known that I was sent home before the finals. And it wouldn't have been as much fun for the general public. And it would have cost them a lot of money because future episodes are almost pointless and no one would want to tune in if they already knew who had been eliminated."
How many contestants got to be in Fashion Week?
"The top eight."
When did you design your collection?
"I did that in the months after I got home, right after I was voted off, which was right around when that season first started airing."
So you had a couple months to make that collection?
And Project Runway gave you money to make the collection?
"Yeah. We all had the same amount of money."
So you basically got what the finalists got. The same amount of money and time as they did?
I went online, and saw your final collection. And I liked it. But it was so unexpected. And I guess my thought was, I didn't see any hint of that in the competition. It was bold. What inspired it?
"I started a relationship before I left for the show. And didn't really know if he was going to be waiting for me when I got home. And he was. He waited around.
"And he studies aboriginal culture, and their religions. And it was hard not to be inspired by the colors, the culture, and the music, and their art. It was just easy for me to envelope myself in that, and you know, Spring & Summer lines are always different. You can really be innovative with something you wear in summer and spring because you can mix in so many fabrics. You don't have to wear a jacket with something. You can just actually show skin with things. And if I were to do things similar to what I did on the show, I don't think it would show range. And you're supposed to shock the public. You're to do different and crazy things. And this collection had so many different elements of me. It was showy. It was very costume-y, yet it was so very wearable."
How was your collection received at Fashion Week?
Did you get any negative comments? That it turned your black models into caricatures?
"No. I didn't get anything like that.
"I think it was my play on what I think that tribe would look like. It was a vision right out of my head. You know, I think if anyone were to bring up any racial objection, I would brush that off entirely because they can't look past the fact that this is my vision. And that this is something that was not meant to be a slur. I think I had the most beautiful women in the room, and they just happened to be portraying my vision."
How about the makeup? That was really eye catching. What kind of feedback did you get on that?
"A lot of people did not like the makeup. I thought it was cool, though. "
I thought it was one of the more creative elements of any of the finalists.
"If you look down the strip in the middle of the nose, that was completely my idea to paint down the middle of their faces. To use tape and peel it off to reveal the natural skin around the makeup. I'd never seen it done before. And I thought it was something that hinted at tribal, without screaming tribal."
It looked more like a cohesive collection than anything else up there.
"Thank you. I really appreciate that."
What are your parting words? Anything extra for the people who have read this far? Anything else you'd like then to know about Gunnar Deatherage?
"I'm always appreciative of all the support I get. But I still think it's really cool, the people who take time out of their day to message me, the really kind words. Inspirational stuff. I think that's awesome that people are intrigued by me. I don't know. I think it's awesome.
© 2013 Kelly Hughes
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Although this interview was all about Gunnar, it also touched upon others involved with Project Runway, including Terri Herlihy. In response to her feedback to the article, I offered to interview her so she can share more of her thoughts, feelings, and insights into the show and her experiences during and after. She at first accepted, then declined the offer. (You have an open invitation, Terri. Let me know if you ever change your mind.) I would also like to extend the invitation to anyone else mentioned here...Ven, Elena, Irina, Kooan, Andrea, Heidi, etc. Would love to interview you all and talk about your unique perspectives on Project Runway. Remember, this is old-school journalism. Everyone deserves a rebuttal. Rebuttals rule. Rebuttals kick butt.]
[Editor's note: Llana Lloyd's life could fill a movie. Oh wait a minute. It already has. After nearly 20 years as a vhs cult video favorite, her movie Glitter Goddess: Queen of the Sunset Strip has just been released on DVD. So to honor the occasion, I sat down with Lloyd and got her to dish a little dirt. To get
all the dirt, you'll need to see her movie. But until then, here's a few tidbits.]
Decades before The Real Housewives of L.A. and the current crop of Reality TV stars, an enterprising California girl could earn her fifteen minutes of fame on the Sunset Strip. Her options?
A. billboard celebrity
C. rock & roll groupie
Llana Lloyd chose groupie. And in 1974, that meant Glam Rock groupie. And partying with people like David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, and members of The New York Dolls.
"I had a fame addiction," says Lloyd.
Was Goldie just a poser in Banger Sisters?
"And to be attractive enough, to have them choose you over all these other women…it’s a crown on your head. And all these people who were just fans…they’ll never know what it feels like."
Lloyd shared her groupie experiences in the docu-drama Glitter Goddess: Queen of the Sunset Strip
. And not only played herself and her mother, but incorporated home movie footage, and clips from talk shows (including an interview by a young Oprah Winfrey.) And despite it's low budget, this cult classic might come closer to portraying this era than anything Hollywood has yet to offer.
"I saw The Banger Sisters
a few years back. Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon were supposed to be ex-groupies. But I thought it was a poor portrayal of groupie-ism. I didn’t see any true escapades. No competitiveness. It was like two groupies who talked like groupies, but never were groupies."
One part of the movie that Lloyd can relate to, though, is how they depicted the gentrification of the Sunset Strip. In the movie, Hawn's character works at the Whisky A Go-Go, and gets fired for drinking on the job. Which wouldn't have been a deal breaker forty years ago.
Sleaze & Disease on the Sunset Strip
"All these places, Whiskey A Go-Go, The Roxy, The Rainbow Room... they're totally corporate now. Like the Hard Rock Cafe. But back then, the owners of the clubs allowed us to take drugs inside. I mean, the parking lots...a bunch of druggies waiting to get laid after closing time, or looking for the next party. We called it Sleaze & Disease on the Sunset Strip."
And back then, the music meant something too.
"Whiskey A Go-Go...a lot of the great bands got their start there. It was Iggy Pop slicing himself with broken glass. Everyone trying to create a new gimmick. That's also where I met the keyboardist from The Doors, Ray Manzarek."
According to Lloyd, one person who did get it right is Pamela Des Barres, author of I'm With The Band
"Of course, I'm several years younger, but yeah, I have a lot of respect for her. She was a groupie addict. She was hardcore. And she puts the dirt in her books. She kept her diaries."
Lloyd kept diaries too. And still has all but one of them.
"I was making a call. In a phone booth. And got robbed. Some guys came in and took my purse. It contained the diary covering my time with John Lennon. Fortunately, it's all still in my mind. I remember everything."
One night in the '70s, Lloyd went home with John Lennon, expecting a night of bliss. And while she did end up sleeping with his friend, Lennon himself watched from the sidelines.
"He took my goddamn picture. Actually, he orchestrated the entire event. Told us what positions to get into. Posed us. But never laid a hand on me. The man turned out to be a real voyeur. Not that I was complaining. After all, I was still in a room with a Beatles superstar. But you'd think that the man who wrote and performed Jealous Guy would have wanted a bigger part of the bedroom action."
That's not to say Lloyd never got to enjoy some hands-on action with the stars.
"Killer Kane of the New York Dolls. In my opinion, they are the best glam rock band of all-time. But Killer Kane was a quiet man. An Aquarius. A passionate lover. One of my best memories of that time."
After years of drug abuse, Killer Kane eventually became a Mormon.
"Shit like that happens," says Lloyd.
And a few years before his death, he ran into Lloyd.
"I showed him my movie. There's a scene where I'm really excited because I just met 'Killer Kane of the New York Dolls!' He got a kick out of that."
Kane was eventually the subject of his own documentary, and even participated in a New York Dolls reunion.
"He never wrote a song about me. But his music was my coming-of-age soundtrack."
Getting On Down on The Real Don Steele Show
Lloyd, a barely legal beauty back then, met many of her conquests as a regular on The Real Don Steele Show.
"It was a local L.A. TV show. Like American Bandstand. I was one of the dancers. And most of the major bands of the time performed on the show.
"That's where I met the love of my life, Alice Cooper. It was June of 1974. That's when Alice Cooper took me into his lion’s den."
Lloyd's mother was concerned that her daughter was with a maniac.
"My whole family still doesn’t like to talk about it. Jealousy maybe? My mother was a bull dyke, and hated just about all men. And maybe she didn't want to compete with a rock star. You know, my mom had her own band. And they played in Los Angeles lesbian bars in the '50s and '60s. And they could bust your balls as well as any men. So maybe Alice, despite all the makeup...I don't know. Maybe it was his codpiece. Maybe my mom had penis envy."
Lloyd especially remembers how Cooper helped her out of her victim mode.
"My mother trained me that men weren’t worthy. I wanted to be feminine. But not a Stepford Wife. I liked mental men. And Alice Cooper was intensely mental. I love head-heavy people. That’s very attractive to me. Alice and I would talk for hours. And he really listened. I mean, I grew up in the '50s and '60s with a lesbian mother and a schizophrenic father. We didn't have Facebook. People didn't talk about these things. So I grew up with a lot of shame. But that changed when I met Alice. He cast a spell over me. He understood me. You know, the actual physical sex is worthless to me. I’d rather have the mental. To have someone get into my head and understand me. And Alice did."
Angie...Angie...where will it lead us from here? David & Angela Bowie
"I truly had a girl crush on Angela Bowie. She was known as The Bisexual Butterfly and The Queen of Glam Rock. She was David Bowie's first wife. And in the '70s, I idolized her from afar."
By the late '70s, Lloyd took advantage of her access to the glam set, and became a celebrity journalist. She interviewed everyone from Robert DeNiro to James Woods. But in 1983, a certain interview turned one of Lloyd's icons into a friend.
"Angela Bowie worked hard to help catapult her husband to success. They were Glam Rock royalty. So I was excited to finally interview her. I wanted to find out how she was holding up after her divorce from David in 1980. We hit it off and became friends. She remarried an Englishman. Andrew Lipka. A punk rocker. And they had a beautiful daughter named Stasha.
"I was also doing the talk show circuit as a child of a lesbian mother shortly after I organized a group called Children of Gays. I appeared on The Phil Donahue Show and was scared shitless. This new awareness was a mind blower at the time. And I received a call from a television researcher in Yorkshire. Michael Mitchell. He saw an article on me in the L.A. Times. And he invited me to England for New Year's. We fell in love. And when I returned to L.A., I gave birth to his child. But I didn't marry Michael because he was too young, too poor, too full of ambition. So I married my best friend from Germany. Andreas. And he was a wonderful daddy to my daughter Alana up until his early death.
Angela Bowie, the bisexual butterfly
"Angie and I were like a surrogate family. And Stasha and Alana often spent the night together, and enjoyed making cupcakes with live ladybugs on top of the icing.
"After her book came out in 1993, Backstage Passes
, Alana and I stayed with Angie in her condo in Atlanta. She's a terrific chef, and a perfect hostess. She also appeared in my movie Glitter Goddess: Queen of the Sunset Strip
playing herself. And although she's very flamboyant, she's also like a mother to me, and we always scratched each other's backs."
Lloyd especially remembers the time she had Bowie's back at a club in L.A.
"Angie would fuck anything. She is like a male rapist. Her sexuality is fierce. She will go for conquests with men and women.
"So we were having drinks on the patio at the Coconut Teaser. And this rough looking guy came in. And Angie said, 'Oh my god, I fucked that thing. It wasn’t good. Keep that thing away from me.' So we bodyguarded her."
Today, Lloyd recognizes a similarity between her mother and Bowie.
"My mom was a female prick. And Angela was a female prick. Angie is a beautiful woman. But she has a lot of testosterone in her. And she has a mothering part in her.
| || |
"She could come up with all kinds of beautiful ideas to make you a star. Like Andy Warhol.
"And she was definitely a drug consumer. She would stay up for days at a time. But she is ultimately a survivor. And I treasure the times I've shared with her."
The Other Mrs. Bowie The incomparable Iman
"My best buddy Lanier called me on Halloween in 1994, and invited me to a gay bar in Santa Monica called The Pink Elephant. There were a lot of drag queens. And they were all saying that David Bowie's second wife, Iman, was going to be there. She was working with Rosie O'Donnell on that big budget S&M movie based on the Anne Rice novel Exit To Eden. And they said she was coming directly from the set. So who knew what she would be wearing? And I'm not one to be upstaged, even by someone as gorgeous as Iman. So I decided to go dressed as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Did disco keep the glam spirit alive?
"But when Iman arrived, the dance floor parted like the Red Sea. And amid all the towering drag queens in rhinestones and glitter, here stands Iman in a flaming red leather corset. She was breathtaking. And the drag queens just worshiped her. I complimented her on her flawless beauty--she even threw a compliment back! But I never dared to bring up Mrs. Bowie #1. Instead, we talked about our daughters, PTA meetings, and our careers. Although by the end of the night, she did say, 'I am so jealous of these classy drag queens. They look so much prettier than we are.' And we both cracked up and toasted all the beautiful men."
Not that Lloyd wasn't used to seeing men in makeup. That was, after all, a defining part of a Glam Rocker's image. But by the late '70s, male rockers were keeping the longer hair, but not as much rouge and lipstick. And many Glam elements were absorbed by Disco. Llana in her Hollywood Memorabilia Museum
"Disco put you into dance floor action. And unlike Glam Rock, you had to go to classes to dance like Saturday Night Fever. And it was so competitive. That was serious dancing. But I loved Donna Summer. And Alicia Bridges--who reminded me so much of Angie Bowie. But in the disco era, you had to have your dance moves down."
By then, something besides the dancing changed.
"In the early '70s we did Quaaludes and booze. It wasn't until the later '70s that we snorted cocaine. That was more of a disco drug. And it sure did help us to boogie oogie oogie till we just couldn't boogie no more. And I did love dancing. Remember, I was a dancer on The Real Don Steele Show. But I remember more pretty boys during the Glam Rock Era. We all loved the pretty boys."
These days, Lloyd is content to hang out in her home in Idaho.
"I don’t like small talk, or background noise. I would rather be myself, share my outlook on life. I’m in a small town now. I have sweet normal people here in town. I can be a nice neighbor. But my best friends are from L.A."
To keep the Glam spirit alive, Lloyd has turned a room in her rural Idaho home into her Hollywood Memorabilia Museum.
"It's not open to the public. Only special friends. It contains about forty years of press clippings, autographs, band posters, personal correspondence, photos, platform heels...it's like that show Hoarders. But much prettier. And without the dead cats."
Lloyd occasionally samples the local nightlife.
"I go to a little club in Pocatello sometimes. But now I dance like a black girl. And I don’t want to be a play toy anymore. It’s all confetti now. I’ve done everything I wanted to do in life. I’ve been able to stay healthy with exercise and nutrition.
"And I have a lot of friends from the Rainbow era. A lot of them have become art directors, designers, that sort of thing. There was something special that the era gave us. A spark. I only know about three people who were fucked up. Who couldn’t get over their self-destruction. Luckily, I grew out of my fame addiction. I realized Rock and Roll is a game. But back then, I knew just how to play it. And I was damn good."
Glitter Goddess: Queen of the Sunset Strip is finally available on DVD!
Watch Llana Lloyd's shocking story. Click the pic to order...
Still a goddess in 2012!
Glam style ala Lambert!
Click the pic to buy Llana's dvd today!
© 2012 Kelly Hughes
I'm saddened that one of the people on my bucket list just passed away, and I will never get to interview her
But I do have several interviews in the can (Sarah Dash, Ish Ledesma, Ernest Kohl, Llana Lloyd.) I just have to transcribe the digital tapes, and write up the articles.
I had hired a prison inmate who typed them up for a fee--from the prison library, I'm assuming. But he seems to have disappeared. So I hope he wasn't on Death Row. If so, and if there is a heaven, perhaps he's having a chat with Helen. And maybe that plump lady at the Psychic Fair will channel the conversation for me.
This isn't really an interview. But since Beautiful Barb is no longer with us (she passed away a decade ago) I wanted to give her one last chance to express herself.
I thought this video was long lost until Cathy Roubal--star of many of my projects--sent this to me on VHS. It's a live performance by Barb, featuring Jon Sewell and Bill Graham on guitar and bass. And it's from the cult Seattle TV show Queen's Kitchen in 1994.
Barb is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on in this classic Grunge-Lounge happening.
An interview with fitness model and former college athlete Justin Lawrence on the set of the Please Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful music video.
Phelps didn't have the balls to go naked
BTW, since posting this video,
I noticed Louis Vuitton doing something similar in their new ad
campaign featuring Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Coincidence?
You be the judge...
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
books have spawned movies, sequels, and Hollywood remakes. But author Stieg Larsson (and his estate) isn’t the only one to benefit. Swedish crime novels are hot. And the people who make them accessible to English speaking fans are skilled translators liked Laura Wideburg.
Since winning ForeWord Magazine’s Best Translation of the Year Award in 2007 for Inger Frimansson’s Goodnight, My Darling
, Wideburg is in high demand.
But as I learned in a recent conversation, translating Swedish crime, culture and literature goes far deeper than a quick cut & paste.
Laura Wideburg: The one I just translated dealt with exporting illegal weapons. So I had to learn about all sorts of weapons. And about the background issues as well.
Kelly Hughes: How much work goes into your research?
LW: When I translated a novel dealing with a nursing school, I had to know all about the Swede’s traditional nursing authorities. Even to the level of finding pictures of uniforms to translate what they looked like. It is very difficult to translate without the pictures in your head.
KW: How specific does the research get?
LW: Well, like the Lars Kepler novel I just translated, there’s an image of a certain score by Bartok. I had to get that measure. The measure they were talking about.
KH: You mean you actually had to see the sheet music?
LW: Yes. I’m a musician, so I can read it.
KH: When people hire you do they have any idea of how deep you go in your research?
LW: No. I don't think so.
KH: You're in high demand with three translations scheduled for publication in 2012:
Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, Lars Kepler’s The Nightmare, and Inger Frimansson’s The Cat Wouldn’t Die. But is it enough to divert people’s attention from all the Dragon Tattoo hype? To get to the Stieg Larsson level does an author have to go all post-mortem on us?
LW: It's amazing what death does for your career.
KH: Especially a gruesome death.
LW: Every society has a dark underside. And everybody wants to put their best face forward.
KH: What is Sweden’s dark side? How can the country that gave us ABBA produce such violent and depraved crime novels?
LW: Humans have a dark side. And humans need to explore that dark side. And humans need to explore what makes them afraid.
KH: Do you think there is something about Swedish and Scandinavian culture in general that is repressive? That people are friendly on the surface, but don't fully express themselves?
LW: Well, they are not necessarily friendly on the surface. Especially Sweden, which, compared to Denmark, is very emotionally repressed. And the Swedes think that's a good thing.
KH: You mean it’s a way of not sharing the burden with other people?
LW: Exactly. You are supposed to take care of yourself. And if you are not able to take care of yourself, then the state is supposed to take care of you, and there is nothing to complain about. So if you have any problem you better suck it up.
KH: The Swedes are afraid to ask for help?
LW: Yes, absolutely. I would say that if you needed help then you would only ask family, or very good friends.
KH: Well how about their crime? Do you think people are more willing to take justice in their own hands and solve things within the family?
LW: Not now. Maybe in Viking days
KH: So they are not afraid to go to the police for help when it’s a crime?
LW: They’ll go to the police, but they get irritated with the police. And right now there is a perception in Sweden that the police are ineffective. They are not capable of dealing with the new wave of crime that arrived after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
KH: Because of immigration and culture clash?
LW: A lot of culture clash. And Eastern Europe was very poor compared to Scandinavia when the Iron Curtain fell. And there has been an increase in crime. That's just the fact. They are connected by the ferry, between Poland and southern Sweden. The people of southern Sweden were finding out that their summer houses were being broken into, and everything was robbed, and the criminals had left the country.
KH: Do you find that this modern culture clash is being incorporated into modern crime novels coming out of Sweden?
LW: There is a sense of being politically correct. Nobody wants to say it’s the immigrants who are causing crimes. And that's not true either. But the immigrants have a different perspective on the position of women, for instance. Especially if they’ve come from the Middle East. And there have been honor murders in Sweden which the Swedes find absolutely horrifying.
KH: So part of their frustration with the police is the political correctness, that they can't directly address those differences?
LW: Yes. Addressing the differences is very difficult in Sweden. Even more so than here because, unfortunately, we even have a lot of hate speech in the U.S. But in Sweden you basically have a consensus that immigration is good. That message is coming down from the government, and you are not supposed to question it. And that has given rise to extreme right wing movements.
Anders Behring Breivik, Norwegian mass murderer
KH: I see.
LW: And if you can't discuss the issue openly, and deal with both the pros and cons of the issue, you really have difficulty.
KH: Does that give Swedish culture a pressure cooker quality?
LW: Basically. Because there is a feeling of conformity. You conform to a great deal of societal norms in Sweden. You can disagree within those norms to a certain degree. But you can't be outside of it. Or else some people will say you are not really a Swede. Or that you are not looking at it the way you should.
KH: Perhaps one way to work outside of those norms is to write a crime novel. Some view the Dragon Tattoo series as Stieg Larsson’s attempt at justice after personally witnessing a fifteen year old girl getting gang raped (when Larsson himself was also fifteen.)
LW: And her name, like the protagonist in his novels, was also Lisbeth.
KH: A lot of people don't know Larsson’s actual title for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
LW: Män Som Hatar Kvinnor.
KH: Men Who Hate Women.
The American movie remake
LW: I think Stieg Larsson was stating the obvious. There are men who hate women. And women are much more different than men because we are potential victims in a way that men are not. We live in a different world from men, even though we are on the same planet.
KH: If you read the book, you knew any film adaptation was going to have a certain level of violence. But do you think the original Swedish movie lingered too much on the violence against women?
LW: I did not see the movie. I can read about graphic violence, but watching graphic violence would be a nightmare. Men like that violence.
KH: Do you think if they had toned down the violence that they would have compromised Stieg’s book?
LW: Probably. It was very much part of the book because the violence against women is graphic. Real life violence is graphic and horrible and bloody. And it’s not a fantasy. I think in the movie they wanted to bring out exactly how graphic it is. They wanted to be realistic in how violent rape is.
KH: Is rape more violent in a repressed society?
LW: If a woman enters a relationship with a man that's very risky in general. Because the man has more physical power over the woman in general. And that is a tension between relationships between men and women. That is international. Wherever there is a man and a woman.
KH: Lisbeth has become an iconic character.
LW: I think so. People fall in love with her.
KH: Do you think it’s because she's a young woman who reclaims her power?
LW: Exactly. She doesn't stay a victim.
KH: Is it mostly female readers?
LW: A lot of American woman can say, wow, I love Lisbeth. But it’s interesting to me that men really like her too.
KH: What’s the quality they like in Lisbeth?
LW: I think they feel protective of her. I think they understand she is independent, and not just, you know, turning into a ball of victim misery. But they want to protect her from those other evil men. And I think that speaks to many decent men out there who are very protective toward women.
KH: That sounds good, but in reality, there’s a flipside to that. That when a man wants to protect a woman, it implies that she needs his power.
LW: There you go. Because she is not fully independent.
KH: His attraction is still based on her need to be protected. The balance of power is in his favor from the start, whether or not his intentions are noble.
LW: I think we want justice. We want that other person to feel the pain.
KH: Is there a thirst for justice in Sweden right now? Is that why so-called Nordic Noir literature is so popular?
LW: What’s so fascinating is that actual crime in Scandinavian countries is relatively low. Especially murders [aside from Norway's mass murder last July.]
KH: Right. It’s big news if a country like Iceland even has one murder a year.
LW: Sweden isn't that much higher. But if you read Scandinavian crime novels you would think that their crime rate is really high.
KH: What is motivating these writers then?
LW: I'll tell you a little secret. If anything, writers want to be read. And right now in Scandinavia the population is reading crime. So authors are writing crime novels. And very few serious novels will hit the best seller list. And very good writers who otherwise might be writing serious novels have chosen to write in the crime genre in order to reach the Swedes or Scandinavian public. And people will talk about them.
KH: Do you have fans?
LW: Not really. Translators are pretty invisible. Most people don't even think of who translated the book they're reading.
KH: Are you being recognized by the publishing industry? Especially since your award?
LW: Yes. Awards help a lot. And I am coming into my own right now.
KH: When you translate a novel do you feel that you wrote the novel?
LW: Yes. Every word there is mine. My words, my creativity that remains in that. But my job is to make sure the author's voice comes through. It's kind of like channeling.
KH: So how did the popularity of Dragon Tattoo
help your translating business?
LW: I can charge more now.
KH: Very good.Learn more about Laura and her work on her website.
Laura Wideburg’s Bibli-Translation-ography
The Cat Wouldn’t Die (2012)
The Island of Naked Women (2009)
The Shadow in the Water (2008)
Goodnight, My Darling (2007)
The Nightmare (2012)
Night Rounds (2012)
© 2012 Kelly Hughes
I recently had the privilege of talking to Seattle vocalist Carol Nielsson about her upcoming Jazz cd Here's To Love
. Nielsson has performed in the musicals Hair
in Iceland, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber classics Jesus Christ Superstar
, Song & Dance
, and Evita
If you'll be in Seattle on April 26, reserve your seat
for the Here's To Love cd release party at Tula's. Carol and her band will be performing a selection of classic torch songs and Jazz standards from the cd. You can hear samples now at cdbaby
George Duke is a multi-Grammy Award winning legend. So when I called him to get a few quick quotes for my France Joli interview--he produced her album Witch Of Love--I quickly realized I needed to milk this conversation for all it was worth. Duke is a musician’s musician with a career spanning over forty years. And even though he’s not primarily known as a Disco artist, he’s produced some great Dance tracks, such as Stephanie Mills’ Edge Of The Razor, Deniece Williams’ breakout Dance-Pop hit from Footloose, Let’s Hear It For The Boy, and his own feel-good hit from 1982, Shine On. He also created Adult Contemporary staples for A Taste Of Honey and Jeffrey Osborne. And in the Jazz world, he’s worked with everyone from Nancy Wilson to Dianne Reeves to Al Jarreau. So I decided to break the ice by talking about a time when Jazz merged with Disco.
Kelly Hughes: Back in the Disco Era, Jazz artists like Marlena Shaw and Herbie Mann put out Disco songs. What did you think of those?
George Duke: Herbie Mann did disco?
KH: Yeah. The Super Mann album?
GD: I didn’t even know.
KH: The one with the cover where he looked like Superman coming out of a phone booth. He had a special Superman logo with a flute going through it.
KH: He worked with Patrick Adams who did Musique’s Keep On Jumpin’.
GD: My favorite Dance records from that era would have been material by Earth Wind & Fire, and material by Shalamar. Because I thought they were the most musical. And also Cameo. But they were a little more in the Funk thing. But in terms of the Dance stuff, I really liked what Shalamar was doing. The vocals were intricate. The chord structure was interesting. The music was interesting. And of course with Earth, Wind & Fire there was a lot of Jazz in it. I used to go to discos and dance to all those Earth, Wind & Fire songs. The ones where The Emotions were singing.
KH: Boogie Wonderland?
GD: Those were the grooves that I liked. Almost anything they put out.
KH: Sure. Well tell me what you think about this. Even though Chic was known as a Disco group, Nile Rodgers has said that he primarily thought of himself as a Jazz artist.
GD: He hit a nerve. Actually, when you start thinking of the whole Dance thing, and the whole Jazz thing, that’s part of the problem that happened with Jazz per se. A lot of the Jazz musicians, in their quest to be taken seriously, and have their music played in Carnegie Hall and other venues, to be considered Good Music, the problem is, they took Dance out of it. They took the Dance element out of it, and that affected the popularity of it. When Jazz was at its most popular you could dance to it.
KH: A respected Jazz artist, Donald Byrd, found a way to stay true to both Jazz and Dance when he recorded Love Has Come Around. That was a big club hit in 1981.
GD: Well I can see that. He always had his fingers on both sides of the fence.
KH: He retained the Jazz element.
GD: That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the element I try to keep in, to keep it so musical.
KH: The one who did it so successfully, with such crossover success, was George Benson. Did your record label ever try to get you to mimic his success back then?
GD: Not really. You mean like what Quincy did with him? Give Me The Night and all that?
KH: Right. Weren’t they saying, “George Benson’s crossing over and selling millions of records. Why can’t you do that?”
GD: George was a real singer, for one thing. And I’m not. I was a little more of a crazy funkster than George. You know, George was always more Pop. Danceable. Even though he could play his butt off, he still leaned more toward the Pop song area. And I leaned more toward the Jazz Fusion stuff.
KH: Speaking of other Jazz, during that transitional time in 1980, the cutting edge of Dance music was Tom Browne and his song Funkin’ For Jamaica.
KH: That was fun to dance to, but it still had musical integrity.
GD: That’s what I’m saying. There’s a way to do that where you can keep the Dance element in the music. That’ll keep Jazz viable in the future as long as people can dance to it. And I’m not saying don’t do music that’s strictly for the mind and the soul, and not for the feet, you know, but somewhere along the line, you gotta get ‘em movin’ [laughs].
KH: What do you think of music today? Pop music? Dance? Jazz?
GD: I never thought I would see the music business change as much as it has. But I think, on the Jazz side, there are a lot of great young artists out there. I met a lot of teenagers, and college age kids, while I was in Europe who may not have even known who I was, and they just showed up because they saw me on YouTube. And they said I inspired them to pursue this in a different way. And it’s very heartening. I think the glass is half full, and not half empty. It just doesn’t get the exposure. I would love to see some young musicians who will dig a little deeper. That like, some of the guys from the neighborhood, for example, who learn how to rap, and use other people’s material in terms of sampling. And I’m okay with that. But samples are gonna run out. They need to learn to make this music from scratch. They need to learn to dig deeper and find out what works from scratch.
KH: Have you heard any of your songs being sampled?
GD: Absolutely. And I’m happy with it. The rapper Common used my stuff. And a bunch of those guys. I’m okay with it. I get paid. And Ice Cube from back in the day. They used my stuff. More power to ‘em. I’m happy.
KH: Back in the day did you ever cross paths with Herbie Hancock?
GD: Oh, absolutely. We’re friends.
KH: He had a Dance breakout in the 80s with that robot video. Rock It.
GD: Herbie’s very open musically.
KH: Let’s talk more about Quincy Jones. You worked with him on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. Which songs did you play on?
GD: Oh Lord! Who would know?
KH: Did Quincy Jones have a unique way of recording that?
GD: The way Quincy records is that you would go in, it would be nothing but me, his engineer Bruce Swedien, and him. This little studio in Westlake. And I would take my equipment down there. And he’d say, “Okay, we’re gonna start recording.” And he’d play the song, and he’d say, “Are you ready Dukie? What do you wanna play?” So I’d play a Fender Rhodes. And he’d say, “Wanna do it again? Anything else you wanna play?” And that’s the way it went for each and every song. And not just me, but Greg Phillinganes, four or five other keyboard players. None of us ever knew who was playing on what. By the time it was over, there was maybe two bars of me, two bars of Greg. It was just all over the place.
KH: Is that different than the way you were used to working?
GD: Absolutely. I don’t think I ever had a record where I had that kind of budget. Where I could go in and record a whole tape of just keyboard players. Quincy would do a reel with just drums, one with just bass, one with synth overdubs. And then he would compile them down to something that he thought would work. Basically he got the best out of his vision without telling people what to do. He let people do what they do naturally and it worked. So he was really an organizer, and a good one.
KH: You and Quincy share a background in Jazz. How did it all start for you?
GD: Back in 1965, 1966, I played at a little place called The Half Note Club. And on Sunday afternoons, Al Jarreau used to sit in with us. And he was so amazing, and so far above any other singer. And he started singing with us on the weekends. It was a wonderful exploratory time, musically. We were trying to figure out who we were as musicians. We sent out tapes to everybody, every record label.
KH: And then you met Frank Zappa.
GD: Through Jean-Luc Ponty.
KH: The violin player?
GD: Yeah. Jean-Luc brought me to Europe on tour, back in the late 60s. And the kind of Jazz that we played was very eclectic, very progressive. And I played on Jean-Luc’s album King Kong, which featured the music of Frank Zappa. And it became an underground hit. And eventually Frank called me to tour with The Mothers of Invention.
KH: How did you survive that?
GD: It was like these guys were…out of their minds.
KH: But even though they had an outrageous reputation, there was good musicianship there.
GD: Absolutely. In order to play Frank’s music you had to be an incredible musician. I mean these guys, besides being nuts, they were incredible musicians. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I was in that band. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And Frank told me to keep playing, to keep sacrificing, that I needed to allow my humor to come out.
KH: We can’t talk about Frank Zappa without at least one wild story.
GD: Frank was a control freak. And his guitar was like his baby. So after we played a gig one night, we went to an after party. This was around 1970. And apparently someone spiked the punch. I didn’t drink it. But Frank did. So he was on an acid trip for two or three days. But that next day, he went onstage, and while he was tripping, he dropped his guitar. He picked it up and continued to play. But that guitar was like an extension of himself. And he was very depressed for the next few days.
KH: So you survived that tour, then you re-joined them in 1973?
GD: Yeah. I had joined Cannonball Adderley’s band. That was a jazz group I had a lot of respect for. He was like a second father, actually. And I rejoined Frank in 1973, when Jean-Luc came back. There were more Jazz influences in the band at that time.
KH: Was Frank influenced by Santana then?
GD: I don’t think so. Frank was his own kind of man.
KH: What were your influences back then?
GD: I began to meet a lot of Brazilian folks. Artists like Airto Moreira, Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim. We’d talk about music, listening and talking about it. Like where the music would go. It was really like an extended family. And I love that. I love that kind of extended family. Really discussing what music can be. What Jazz can be. To try things musically. Cannonball Adderley, in 1971, took me to Brazil, and I said, “One day I will go back there and create an album.” And eventually I did, in 1979, to make Brazilian Love Affair.
KH: You were expanding musically.
GD: During the 70s everybody was combining everything with everything else. Especially in San Francisco. Latin. Rock. Country Rock. You had The Steve Miller Blues Band. That kind of stuff. I remember after playing one night, Steve Miller said, “Hey man, could you come to my house. I want you to play on my album.”
KH: You mean the Steve Miller? The rock star?
GD: Yup. They were a big local band back then.
KH: So, which songs did you record on with Miller?
GD: I have no idea. I was a teenager.
KH: You eventually produced an album for Raoul De Souza from Brazil.
GD: Yes, I did.
KH: Was that your first time as producer?
GD: Yeah, that was the first.
KH: And then you produced A Taste of Honey. Sukiyaki.
GD: It launched my production career. I never thought Sukiyaki would be a big hit. But that sold a couple million records. And then the phone started ringing.
KH: And then you worked with Jeffrey Osborne.
GD: Yeah, it was really nice to work with Jeffrey. Amazing experience, and I learned a lot. I learned as much as I gave.
KH: When Al Jarreau finally broke big in the late 70s and early 80s, did you produce any albums for him?
GD: Well that’s a long story. You know, the first album that he put out, I actually wrote and produced tracks on it. But Tommy LiPuma took the project away from me because they thought I was too young to do it.
KH: Oh my.
GD: They thought he should have the more experienced producer, and they were probably right. Though at that time I was totally pissed off
KH: Eventually you were very much in demand as a producer.
GD: Sure. I’ve worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Barry Manilow to Natalie Cole, and eventually Al Jarreau. My production career really superseded my…umm… my artist career.
KH: But you’ve had hit records of your own.
GD: Sure. Shine On. Sweet Baby with Stanley Clarke.
KH: Sweet Baby still gets a lot of airplay.
GD: Yes, it’s kind of amazing. As a matter of fact, Stanley Clarke and I will be touring next year. We had a lot of requests to get back together.
KH: Will you be working with Deniece Williams again? You’ve had some pretty major success with her.
GD: Let’s Hear It For The Boy? Yeah, that song was huge. But I didn’t like it.
GD: I mean, great writers. Excellent people there. But I just did not like that song.
KH: They remade Footloose recently. Did they call you up to produce some music for it?
GD: No. They called me to get my opinion about it.
KH: You will always be associated with the success of the original. And with Deniece.
GD: I love Niecy.
KH: She’s had a great career. Free. Then her duet with Johnny Mathis. And so much more. But you’ve got to especially love her big disco hit I’ve Got The Next Dance from 1979.
KH: In the late 70s, any woman who had done R&B was expected to attempt at least one Disco track. And Deniece succeeded. But even with Next Dance, and Let’s Hear It For The Boy, she was never labeled a Dance artist. She’s just as much remembered for songs like It’s Gonna Take A Miracle.
GD: She did that with Thom Bell. That was just great.
KH: You know, one thing I remember about the Let’s Hear It For The Boy 12” single is that it was the first time I saw a remixer receive credit for additional production. Not just re-editing, but for adding new instrumentation to the record. The Jellybean remix.
GD: Yeah. He was like the remixer flavor of the day.
KH: Didn’t he remix Madonna’s Like A Virgin around the same time?
GD: I really don’t know. I never actually met him.
KH: You let him tamper with your song without meeting him face to face?
GD: Well, when a producer turns in a project to a record company they can do anything they want with it.
KH: Were you happy with Jellybean’s remix?
GD: You know what, I don’t even remember it.
KH: A year later Shep Pettibone did a remix of Does He Dance, from the album you produced for France Joli. Did you work directly with him on that?
GD: No. Never met him. I wasn’t really into that. But you know, when I was hired to do a record with her, they wanted a Dance record. More R&B. But they definitely wanted to keep her in the Dance area.
KH: The first song you recorded with France, Party Lights, was more up-tempo Dance Pop.
GD: I had written the song Party Lights, and France performed it in Japan and won the Grand Prix with it at the Yamaha Music Festival.
KH: Didn’t someone else record it before France?
GD: Yes. Another girl. A French Disco singer named Katia.
KH: So how were you approached to work with France?
GD: I really didn’t know who she was. They sent me some material, and asked me if I wanted to work with her. She had a big voice. I said, “Wow.” I wanted to produce something new. A younger singer. But more international. To try something different. I met her and her mom. They came into the studio. I liked them right off the bat, and I said, “Let’s do it!”
KH: And then you had the success at the Yamaha Music Festival with her. And did you know that just a couple years before that, Celine Dion had won a prize at that same festival.
GD: Oh really. I didn’t know that. I did some work with Celine, for Disney, in the 80s. It would have to be in the mid 80s, after I worked with France. And I didn’t know her at all. When Disney said they wanted her to sing a song, I said, “Well who is she? A Canadian singer?” And then I heard her voice, and said, “Oh my god.”
KH: Was that something from Beauty and the Beast?
GD: No, before that. A Christmas kid’s show? For a television special.
KH: Before you recorded Witch of Love with France, did you listen to her other Epic album, Attitude?
GD: Absolutely. Because I needed to figure out who she was.
KH: It reminded me of an album you did with Stanley Clarke that same year. Heroes. When everything sounded like it’s from Flashdance.
GD: Well Mike Sembello and I are friends.
KH: And your song Heroes sounds like Maniac.
GD: You’re right. Exactly. As a matter a fact, I produced a track for Sembello for a movie. He lives in Philadelphia.
KH: Did he play on the Heroes song?
GD: I don’t think so. I don’t know. That’s a good question.
KH: There’s a lot of aerobic dance beats on it.
GD: [laughs] That’s funny. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time. I had this idea for a song called Heroes. Of course, we made this little video with Howard Hewitt in it, and with me and Stanley Clarke as a private detectives.
KH: Howard Hewitt was in that video?
GD: He did a cameo where he popped up with the hat and the trench coat.
KH: You’re right. I forgot about that. And didn’t you record something with Howard Hewitt? Didn’t you produce I Commit To Love for him?
GD: Right. I produced a couple projects for Howard back then. Stanley Clarke also produced several tracks for him. We influenced Howard for a long time.
KH: How about Jody Watley? Were you interested in working with her back then?
GD: Jody and I actually did a track that was never released. I may eventually release that one day.
KH: What’s it called?
GD: I don’t remember…oh god…I don’t remember the name.
KH: Tell me you saved the tape.
GD: Oh yeah. I got it. It’s the master.
KH: Some of those tapes, you better start digitizing them…
GD: Oh yeah, those will be digitized.
KH: But you don’t remember the title?
KH: It’ll come to you tonight when you’re in bed.
GD: You know, Jody Watley’s daughter used to go to my son’s school. So I used to see her there picking up her daughter.
KH: Small world. But let’s go back to just before Heroes. In 1982 you combined the best of Quincy Jones, Nile Rodgers, and Narada Michael Walden, and had a solo hit called Shine On.
GD: Yeah. From the Dream On lp.
KH: That was a big hit in Japan.
GD: And in Europe. That song, and Reach Out, became my two biggest records in Europe, outside of Brazilian Love Affair. Which for some reason became an underground Dance hit.
KH: Reach Out was also a big hit in France.
GD: Yeah, and Shine On as well.
KH: You know, you said that in ’79, you wanted to go in a more Earth, Wind & Fire direction. But by ’82, with Shine On, you really seemed to achieve that.
GD: You know, I was interested in doing a cross between Earth, Wind & Fire and Shalamar. But Shine On was actually written as a ballad. I sat there and sang the melody, and wrote it as a ballad, and added the beats later. Because I wanted some interesting changes. I wanted to make it a little jazzier, make it interesting.
KH: I think you succeeded. But nothing could be more interesting than the story of your album Guardian of the Light. You said it was the soundtrack to a script you wrote?
GD: Yeah. But it never happened.
KH: Like a Star Wars science fiction thing?
GD: Yeah, but the only difference is, I started looking around, and I was a Star Wars fan, a Star Trek fan, a science fiction fan in general. And I figured there was no R&B opera. I knew there were Rock operas. And Jazz operas. But I had never heard of an R&B opera. Like a soundtrack to a movie, where the songs were integral. Like a musical. So I decided I was going to do that. It might have been a mistake. But Reach Out from that album became popular in certain areas. And Born To Love You became a hit in Indonesia. That was unexpected. But basically, it was a Good-Against-Evil thing, but with a Jazz/R&B danceable soundtrack.
KH: Did you have any directors interested in doing the movie?
GD: No. They weren’t going to make an R&B Star Wars.
KH: Michael Sembello played guitar on that album.
GD: Oh, Michael played on a lot of my records.
KH: And you also had Louis Johnson from The Brothers Johnson.
GD: Yeah, Louis. That’s my buddy. He played on Reach Out. He played on Shine On. He was incredible.
KH: He was also on your Live in Tokyo album.
GD: Yeah, back in the early 80s I took the band with Louis, and Steve Ferrone…
KH: From Average White Band.
GD: Yeah. It was a great time musically. Musicians could be musicians, and not play down to people. I think that’s the main thing. If you hire good musicians, they’re going to bring something to the party. So even if you’re playing simple music, it should have an attitude, and a point of view musically.
KH: When you worked with France Joli, what did she bring to the party?
GD: I have done a few Dance acts. Sister Sledge. A Taste of Honey. But I had never worked with someone whose voice was as strong as hers. Her voice was big.
KH: Stronger than Kathy Sledge?
GD: I think so. It was different.
KH: Your album with Sister Sledge, that was Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls.
GD: All I remember was the song Bring Your Own Baby.
GD: B.Y.O.B. [laughing]
KH: That was a fun song.
GD: You remember that?
KH: I do.
GD: Jesus. You did your homework man.
KH: I used to have it on cd. That was a swingin’ little tune.
KH: And you were working with some other big names at that time. You had some big success with Jeffrey Osborne. On The Wings Of Love. And then Stay With Me Tonight.
KH: So I asked France why you didn’t arrange a duet with Jeffrey. They would have sounded great together.
GD: Or someone else even. It seems to me that the idea would have come up. I know we talked about it.
KH: He did sing back-up on one song on France’s album, Love Always Finds A Way. At least you got a little piece of him there.
GD: I think I should listen to this album again before I talk to you. [laughs]
KH: And for the title track, Witch of Love, you returned to France’s trademark style, the ballad intro going into the up-tempo Dance beat. And I really liked that song. But I thought the sound at the time was very mechanical. And that song was begging for a full orchestra, strings and horns and percussion.
GD: You know, that’s symptomatic of not just France’s record, that’s symptomatic of a lot of albums from that period. The albums, for example, of Jeffrey Osborne, the ones we did with a live band, with Steve Ferrone, and Louis Johnson, whoever, far outlived the ones we did that were electronic. Maybe short of Stay With Me Tonight
, that was kind of the vibe of it, but the other stuff with the straight LinnDrum machine, even the Clarke/Duke stuff, when we went to our second record, and that was in the age of the drum machine, and I’m like, “Jesus, what were we thinking?” I hate that stuff now. And fortunately it’s grown from that. But a lot of records suffered from that during that period.
KH: Did you have talks with Epic Records to tell them that France needed an orchestra behind her?
GD: No, not with that kind of budget.
KH: At least they released Witch of Love
KH: Did they come back to you to add liner notes, or to add an unreleased track? Anything special?
GD: I spoke to several different people about what we’re talking about now. And I couldn’t add anymore than I’m telling you. It was so long ago. I have a hard enough time remembering last week.
KH: Were there any other songs you recorded that didn’t make the album?
GD: Not that I’m aware of.
KH: So what are you doing nowadays?
GD: I’ve been touring. And tonight I leave for New York. I’m on the board of directors for ASCAP now.
KH: Are there any major things going on with ASCAP? People are concerned about the policing of online music, and royalties, and copyrights.
GD: They just reached an agreement, in principle. And I can’t talk about a lot of it. But there’s a lot going on. There’s, I think, the songwriters, composers, publishers, in many ways, on Capitol Hill, are under attack. I’ll just leave it at that.
KH: And you’re also wrapping up an album for an Indonesian artist?
GD: Jay Alatas. We’re mixing, starting today. Chante Moore is singing on it. Hubert Laws is playing on it. Stanley Clarke. Jeffrey Osborne.
KH: You’ll be seeing Jeffrey?
KH: Will you ask him what his memories are of working with France?
GD: [laughing] That’s a long time ago.
KH: If he can’t remember, at least get me some stories about his days with L.T.D.
GD: Why don’t you ask him?
KH: I just might. [laughing]For more information on George Duke, I highly recommend visiting his website www.GeorgeDuke.com. It has an extensive discography of his solo work, plus the work he has produced for others, with lots of notes and personal thoughts on many of these projects.
© Kelly Hughes
Iceland is a place of frost
and smoky plumes of fire.
Brilliant colors light the sky
while hot springs warm the mire.
It's there that Vikings, trolls and beasts
seek shelter from the nights.
It's also where my tale begins
beneath the northern lights.
These are the opening lines of The Secret Saga of Uvies. "It's a children's story," says its creator, Ögn Magnusson, "of how the elves in Iceland came to have their special powers."
Ögn has expressed her artistic powers with a professional saga of her own: Art Director, Catalog Designer & Photographer, Creative Director, Industrial Designer, and, her favorite post, Graphic Arts Manager for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But this artist, like Iceland herself, has an independent streak. Expressing herself outside the corporate arena, Ögn is making a name for herself creating a digital dream world inspired by the Viking gods themselves. And so, like all proper Icelandic tales, Ögn's story must start on a piece of land surrounded by water...
Family home: Elskan House
She grew up in Point Roberts, that small peninsula originally settled by Icelanders, just before the turn of the last century.
"The family home was built from discarded fish traps that washed up on the beach. It was built by my Afi [grandfather], Magnús Magnússon. We still own it today."
Back then, Point Roberts-based Alaska Packers was known as the second largest cannery on the West Coast. "It took only one Icelander to tell his friends back home about the place, and then eventually a whole Icelandic community developed."
Point Roberts was designated as a naval reserve. So the Icelanders--who were basically squatters--sent a letter to President Roosevelt, and requested to have Point Roberts opened up for homesteading.
In those days, everyone took the mail boat to Bellingham for supplies. So, all the men of the community gathered together and rode the mail boat to Bellingham to receive the president's determination: The shoreline was too shallow for large ships. Homesteading would be allowed.
When they returned, the women were all on the shore waiting for the mail boat to come in. The men disembarked and ran towards the women, shouting the good news. Today this whole scene is re-enacted every year at the Lighthouse.
"My sister Kristin claims that the only reason it is still going on is so all the old men get to chase after the women and hug them."
Agnar (father) & Ögn (amma)
Ögn's grandparents were able to get 80 acres of homestead land. Amma Ögn raised many sheep--there is a photo of her with them as you walk into the Icelandic Room in the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. Afi fished, and was the head pipe fitter for the Alaska Packers Cannery at Lily Point. There is also a photo of him in one of the road crew photos from Point Roberts at the Nordic Museum. They had three sons, Sigurdur, Mundi and Ögn's father Agnar, the youngest and only member of the family to be born there.
"We all grew up in that same little house built out of fish traps. My mother says she kept me outside for part of every day for my first year, wrapped warmly in a buggy below the kitchen window.
"As a child, I thought everyone was Icelandic. I heard the language all the time, but when I tried to get my father to teach it to me, he would say, 'Oh no. Icelandic isn't international enough to be of any use to you. You should learn French or other languages.' My older sister Kristin took this advice, and decided to room at the International House at the University of Washington, in order to improve her Spanish. The next thing we knew, she was getting married to a Colombian who sat across from her in the dining hall. After that my father didn't seem to mind my wanting to learn Icelandic."
Trygve, Agnar & Ögn
When Ögn was four, her brother Trygve was born. They went everywhere together, even later to Iceland.
"We spent our childhood floating around on logs in the water at the fabulous beach, Boundary Bay, in Point Roberts. We grew up looking for elves in the woods, building homes for them in case they were shivering with cold in the winter. Our sister, Kristin, who was older, showed us where they lived. Apparently some of them resided in some our of father's broken down old trucks and machinery on the property. Trygve was gifted mechanically, and later became engineer on a commercial fishing vessel, following in our father and grandfather's footsteps."
Ögn's parents also encouraged her artistic side. They sent her to art school, acting school, and to music lessons.
"When I was sixteen, I was accepted to the Banff School of Fine Arts in the Rocky Mountains, where I spent the summer. My mother always said that when I was peeved with her and my father, I would just go into my room and stay there for hours. When I reappeared, I'd have a painting to show for the time I had spent. I have been lucky. Art has always been my outlet."
When she was seventeen, Ögn went to live in Iceland. It forever changed the way she sees the world.
"Iceland is untamed in many ways--it's landscape, it's people, it's horses, it's beliefs, and the way things are looked at. All are kind of wild in their way. It's also a kind of honest place to live. I didn't find that people were trying to be what they actually are not. I love the language, and although I don't find it easy, nor have I mastered it, I love the way it sounds. It's like home to me. My friend, Leif Karlsen, who wrote Secrets of the Viking Navigators, found a saga where my name, and my Amma's name, originated. The character is Ögn, a Viking Queen. I have read and re-read many of the sagas, and am fascinated with the era of history that they depict."
In 2002, Ögn became Iceland incarnate: Fjallkonan
Fjallkonan: The Lady of the Mountain
THE BIG TIMEAs an adult, Ögn's enchanted design sense became a good match to the magic of Las Vegas. She designed advertising for big name acts such as Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet, Cher, Britney Spears, Sting, NSync, Roger Waters, Pearl Jam, Sarah Brightman, and many more.
"My office at MGM Grand, the largest hotel in the world, was backstage to the EFX theatre. When they were rehearsing, my office would literally shake from the sound and vibrations. If you went out a door in the back of my office, there was a hidden catwalk that protruded right out over the stage, but could not be seen from the audience. I loved that catwalk. It allowed me to watch bits of rehearsals, exotic people from around the world. Although the most beloved entertainer that I hung out with in Las Vegas was Merle Haggard. And it's a small world--his fiddle player had played many times at one of the taverns in Point Roberts years before."
[Ögn has a website dedicated to her artwork from Las Vegas at www.art-world.net]
PURPLE HAZEAlthough Ögn is still working as a Creative Director, she has returned to her real passion, creating original art.
"Portraits, mermaids, wild abstracts, seascapes, illustrations for children’s books, and many other images. Only now I create them digitally. It's a combination of creating vector drawings in the software Illustrator, and then exporting them. Then I utilize many digital airbrushes and other techniques in PhotoShop, and other programs. It is all done on the computer, although originally I created all my art in traditional mediums. The commercial art in Vegas, the rock star portraits, and the art for my children's book have all been created digitally this way. Some of my digital paintings have over 600 layers."
And many of them have been influenced by Ögn's Icelandic heritage, and are named in Icelandic.
[The paintings are for sale at www.etsy.com. Just type Ogn in the search window, and that will take you to her page.]
Sestu a andlit mitt
THE OLD ARTS
Despite mastering art in the digital age, Ögn can't resist the traditional nordic arts.
"Recently, I have begun to bring back to life beautiful old chairs by recycling them, repainting them, and adding tile and glass stones to them."
The one pictured here is called Sestu a andlit mitt. In English that's Sit on my face.
"It's a recycled, re-utilized, green antique art chair." Hand painted with Ögn's original mermaid art tile.
Q&A with Ögn
What inspired your children's book?
I think it may have originated during my childhood with elves. But the book also includes Vikings, Trolls, Icelandic horses, and the unbelievable Icelandic landscape, including the Northern Lights. These are all things that I love and wanted to share with the world.
What Icelandic creative types currently inspire you?
Well, I like to listen to SigurRos. And I love two authors. The first one is Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, and the second is Arnaldur Indridason. I met Yrsa in Seattle. She's cool. She read the opening passage to her next book, which was so chilling, I almost didn't read it. But in the end I couldn't resist.
Your name is from a Viking queen. So what parts of Viking culture are still relevant?
So many things. Starting with the democratic way of dealing with crimes, such as the Althing. I love reading Njal's Saga, where Njal acts as a lawyer, trying to bring justice to his cases. This was a radical concept 1,000 years ago. I couldn't help but include this idea of attempting to settle quarrels without violence in my book Secret Saga of Uvies, in a very simplistic way. And respect for women. I think the seed of this concept may have started with the Vikings. What other culture at that time allowed their women to have a say in who they married and how things were run? And fashion! The Vikings liked to be fashionable and trendy, Just look at their jewelry. And where else would there be a highly respected man nicknamed "Olaf Peacock?" When they traded for silver with the Arabs, they melted the silver coins down, and made them into jewelry.
How did Leif manage to include you in Secrets of the Viking Navigators?
Right before it was going to press, Leif told me that he had "written" me into his book. I didn't see how that could be when it was a non fiction subject. But the first part of the book is a fictional story about a young Norwegian Viking who commissions the building of a knarr to sail to Iceland with. He told me, 'In my story, I married you off to Thor, and your father gives you both some sheep as a wedding present'. Then, because my father Agnar and my brother Trygve were both dead, I asked him if he could change the names in the story. And he did. My father in the story is Agnar, just like in real life, and I marry Trygve instead of Thor. A bit kinky, but I figured--what the heck? He's dead, and probably won't mind.
"It's my hope to move back to our family home next spring, the Elskan House in Point Roberts. That will finally bring me to working independently. I would like to try a few UNtraditional seascapes. The ocean views in Point Roberts looking toward the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands are incredible. And I just know that some mermaids (who might like to have their portraits painted) must reside somewhere in the vicinity."