By Steven M. Housman
Kristine W Performs To Her Own Beat
Kristine W has gone where no woman has gone before. Her latest single, Save My Soul, recently became the artists eighth consecutive Number One hit on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart. If it were Madonna, Cher or Janet, you probably wouldnt have blinked an eye. But the fact that the well-respected Kristine W, not yet a household name, has broken the records of the aforementioned divas is an astonishing accomplishment.
In this extensive Q&A session, Kristine W opened up about her success, her joy in performing, her gay fans and their struggle to conform to society, her three-year hiatus while battling Leukemia, and her contribution to a new single that supports politics. If thats not enough, dont fret. Theres much, much more.
Youre the first artist to achieve eight consecutive Number One singles on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart with Save My Soul, besting Madonna and Janet Jackson. Did that accomplishment surprise you?
Yeah, Im pretty proud of that! I was shocked. I always read Billboard and I just stared at the headline in amazement, and said, Wait a minute, thats my name! I mean, you go and perform, and perform, and perform, and then ten years later, I have that many consecutive hits.
Youre in pretty good company with Madonna and Janet.
Yeah, hello??? I dont have their money, but I probably have just as much fun as they have. And you know what? Its not all about money anyway, it IS about having fun while were here and you definitely have fun at my shows. My fans and myself are like a musical family, I love to talk to my different fans and I get ideas from them. They give me a lot of creative ideas and lots of energy. The most fun part is the communication I have with them. I know a lot of artists who dont care about that at all. For me its a blast!
The CD Fly Again also took off (no pun intended). Did you ever expect it to be the phenomenal success it turned out to be?
It was a lot of work and almost three years of a lot of writing. There were tons of songs, and working with so many different people. There were really good times and really bad times. The album came out at a time where everything is downloaded now and artists dont really get the sales. I think the message is getting out there. I try to do songs with messages of hope and survival. I just keep trying to do music like that. Life is a real tough road.
Speaking of tough roads - many people didnt know that you were battling Leukemia. Is it fair to call this latest CD a musical autobiography?
I never thought something like this would happen to me and to be on deaths door. A lot of different things happen and I think that this type of music can help people and get them through the tough times. And yes, Fly Again really is a musical biography. When I looked at the title of the songs, it was really interesting to see what I have written. Save My Soul, The Wonder of It All, theyre all connected. I always write or co-write all of my songs, but I always include a couple of songs on my CDs by other artists, because when I hear a good song, thats it, I gotta have it! Ill Be Your Light was one of those songs. It was written by John DeNicola, who had written (Ive Had) The Time of My Life from the movie Dirty Dancing. (Singing) Ive had the time of my life, and I never felt like this before. I was just blown away, and hes famous too! But I had just loved the song Ill Be Your Light, and I had no idea who had written it. When I found out it was John DeNicola, it was pretty cool.
I understand you were a Miss America contestant, placing first in the talent competition. What did you perform to win the category?
I performed jazz! I performed the jazz version of Summertime. I started it out slow and then I got real jazzy , a little be-bop, and I scatted, and I won the talent portion and then loaded up my car, I was done with high school, and headed off to attend UNLV (University of Nevada - Las Vegas). At the same time, I was performing with different bands and doing all different shows.
And youve been in Vegas ever since?
Yeah, but I dont get caught up in the whole Vegas thing. I dont gamble. Dont get me wrong, I performed there every night but I always kept my distance from the strip. Id perform and then Id go home. I never hung out because I never wanted to get involved in the whole gambling and drinking world and party lifestyle. It destroys a lot of people. I watch people from the stage and I learned what I DIDNT want to do. I was fortunate that I was grounded when I got here. My family background is very solid. Were from Washington state. If I hadnt had such a solid upbringing, I probably would have been some tragic story.
Its not an easy business.
Yeah, a lot of people I have performed with in the last ten years are out of the business altogether. Its just too hard, theres not enough money in it. A lot of people I know have bailed and gone on to something more lucrative.
Hey, youre just getting better.
Im just hanging in there man! I may not be making a lot of money, but Im having a lot of fun! When I see the fans singing the songs, thats IT for me. I know Im doing the right thing. Im in heaven.
What was it like to perform at the White Party and Dinah Shore last spring in Palm Springs?
That was SO great. What a couple of awesome events! It was interesting because at the girl event I had my girl dancers. We did a particular show that was geared towards the girls and then we turned it around and did a completely different show, because it was just me and my saxophone. It was outdoors and sunshiny and bright and I did a completely different show because the vibes between the girls and boys was so different. I find the longer I do this, its very interesting to talk to the promoters, find out what the vibe is, and say, Okay, its daytime, what clothes do I wear? What make-up do I wear? This is the way I should probably wear my hair. Its interesting to custom make shows for the different events, and Im really enjoying that.
What was the response like?
This was the first time Id ever played a big lesbian party. I was a virgin to the event. I was amazed at how much fun that show was. The energy was incredible. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I didnt know if the girls were that familiar with my music, because Ive always had such a big gay male following. Im so glad to have a girl following as well. That makes me incredibly happy! A goal of mine had always been to gear my music for both genders.
Why do you think you resonate so deeply with a gay audience?
I think probably because Im pretty genuine in my empathy to people living a struggle. Ive seen both sides of the coin, being a straight woman doing the straight tourist, casino, macho vibe, with entertainment directors telling you this and that. I know what it feels like to have to conform somewhat, you know, having to always conform to the rules. So I understand how it can get a bit exhausting trying to be one thing in this environment and something else in another environment. I know that its difficult for my gay male friends. They have to tone it down when they go to their corporate jobs with the straight guys, and then when they go to their parties, they can let their hair down. Theyre a completely different animal when you see them partying at the White Party as opposed to seeing them go to work at the Wells Fargo Bank. You know what I mean? (Laughs). I can empathize. Im trying to do the mom thing, hanging out with soccer moms who are probably wondering, Why do you look like that? Im trying to do the straight-laced mom thing by day while Im the crazy diva by night. (Laughing) You know, Im blowing my horn, wearing wigs and fake eyelashes and hanging out with all my gay boyfriends, and the next minute youll see me at ballet class with my daughter. Its enough to drive anybody crazy, so I understand gay people. Sometimes trying to conform is enough to drive you crazy!
Some Lovin was a huge hit and a highly entertaining video with the Queer As Folk cast. How did that come to be?
The folks at QAF approached my record company and Victor Lee said to me, Youve got to hear this song. I heard it and I loved it. I had so many ideas for it. I was in the studio quite a bit trying to get the right vibe on that song. My sister, who was going through a divorce at the same time, and I were talking every night. I was trying to channel her vibe. I think I got it down, pretty close. It had me a little angry, but the attitude of the song is, Im gonna make it anyway. Its a fun song, but theres a delicate balance because it carries a very heavy message. It was difficult, but I was happy with the results. We put a lot of hours in the studio getting the shoot just right. Murk, did a wonderful job producing it.
Who are some of your musical heroes?
I love Al Jarreau. I just saw him on Saturday night at his concert. I always try to make it a point to see my favorites perform live, if theyre still alive (laughing). I love Sting, I think hes great. Hes hung in there and I love his tenacity. He never quits. Ive seen Cher and I can totally relate to her. Shes done the Vegas thing and Ive done the Vegas thing. I loved her whole show. I also love Diana Ross old stuff. As far as new people, I love a lot of my friends records. I like Peppers [MaShay] stuff, and I love Vernessa Mitchell. I think a lot of the best singers are in dance music, to be quite honest. I have always loved Thelma Houston, and we got to do L.A. Pride together. We were on the same bill. It was so much fun to watch her sing. Afterwards I told her what an amazing voice she has, and how she inspired me and a lot of other singers. Shes so talented and shes probably in her sixties still going strong and sounding fantastic! Tina Turner just blows me away. Ill always be a fan of what she did in the music scene, and her survival story. Truly amazing!
I understand you worked on the Harold Melvin classic Wake Up, Everybody* to promote political awareness in this important election year. Tell me a little about it.
We did that in L.A. and it was just released. It was a great project that Babyface put together. There was a lot of incredible talent that contributed, including Nate Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Nas, Nelly. A lot of big people. We did a big choir, like a We Are The World type of choir. There were the West Coast Rap guys. I represented the dance singers of the West Coast. There was a gal there representing rock, but I cant remember what her name was. It was really mostly R&B and Rap people. I was one of the few white girls in there so I felt honored to be part of it. They really didnt let anybody in there that couldnt sing because they didnt have a lot of time to record the choir.
Are you generally a political woman?
Not really, Im really not. I guess I get to the point where Im concerned about the future of our country and the direction that were going in. I do vote every year. I usually wait until the last minute and decide who to vote for. But I do think its time that this country needs a change. I think George Bush is doing the best that he can do considering the situation were all in now. But I always think that change is a good thing. Four years of anything is probably too long. Its definitely enough for a relationship. (Laughing).
What are your upcoming touring plans?
We have so much stuff going on. I go to Israel in October. Save My Soul is doing very well over there. I just got back from Australia - that was awesome. Were doing Michigan next week. Then Palm Springs, then Wisconsin. Im doing something in the West Indies as well.
Any more Gay Pride events lined up?
You know where Im going this year? Savannah, Georgia,with that famous drag queen, Lady Chablis. Shes in that book Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil. I get to do Pride for them and thats going to be so much fun. Ive always wanted to go there - Ive never been to Georgia. Im really looking forward to it. Im excited!
What can we (the fans) expect next from you?
Im working on my next CD and Im also gearing up for a big party in Vegas for New Years - a big high rollers party at the Paris Hotel. There will be more on my website when it gets closer. It should be a lot of fun. Everyone will get to party with the high rollers. Thatd be groovy. My band, and dancers and singers will all be there.
This is a question I always ask at the end of my interviews. If you could only take one of your songs and put it in a time capsule for future generations to hear, which song would you choose and why?
Land of the Living. When anybody gets bummed out or think they cant make it, thats a good song. That could get anybody pumped up, right? I made it and they can too.
*All proceeds from Wake Up Everybody will benefit America Coming Together (ACT). ACT is America Coming Together (ACT) which is working to register and mobilize voters to support progressive candidates at all levels of government. ACT is building the largest voter mobilization effort in history.
Here is the complete CD listing:
WAKE UP EVERYBODY ALBUM VERSION / 5:35
ONO Give Peace a Chance 2004 / 4:00
THE ROOTS Why (Whats Going On?) / 4:20
ELLIE LAWSON Top the Fighting / 3:22
BEN JELEN Revolution / 3:18
BONNIE RAITT Hell to Pay / 4:03
JURASSIC 5 Freedom / 3:19
LENNY KRAVITZ Fear / 5:20
SEAL Get It Together / 3:53
EMMYLOU HARRIS Time in Babylon / 4:37
EVERCLEAR This Land is your Land / 3:11
MATT NATHANSON The Wind / 2:08
ERIC CLAPTON/BABYFACE Change the World / 3:55
© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.