CONCERT : Humbly back in the queen's seat - Former 'disco queen' Donna
Summer makes a dramatic re-entry into the music scene with new album
Josef Woodard, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
19, 2009 6:40 AM
8 p.m. Thursday
Chumash Casino Resort, 3400 E. Highway 246, in Santa Ynez
$55 to $105
(800) 585-3737, www.chumashcasino.com
Summer, once anointed a "disco queen" in her 1970s heyday but
always less than fully appreciated as a singer, has been back on the scene
in recent years. She has wended her way through Santa Barbara in the '00s,
including a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl four years ago chock-full of
hot stuff in various styles, disco included.
the difference at this moment — as when she plays at the Chumash Casino
on Thursday — is that Summer now has a new album in the mix,
"Crayons," her first since 1991's "Mistaken Identity."
Debuting on the charts at No. 17, the package has yielded a few singles,
including the winkingly self-referential "The Queen is Back."
the midst of her current tour, the affable and open Summer, now 60, spoke
from her hotel room about her musical life in motion . . . again.
another step taken in this new phase of your career, you're headed to
Europe for the first time in awhile, aren't you?
I haven't played Europe in a long time. I'm just waking up. When you're a
performer, you get out there and do it, and succeed, and then you wade
into the lull land. You still do your career to some extent, but it's not
on the level you did it before. You raise your family, you have a life.
You still perform somewhat, but it's not the focal point of your
kids leave and you think 'alright, what's next? Well, what do I like? To
sing, that's what.' If you can't find something that you like better, you
go back to what you love. And that's kind of what I did.
does seem that you're fully back in action, both with live performance and
now also on record. Does it feel like a new phase, a rebirth for you?
definitely. I started writing again. I always write. I also paint. I'll
have periods of doing one thing or the other. I have a theory that I don't
paint when I'm not happy. That I don't have to worry about when I'm not
happy. When I'm not happy, I'll tend to write a song. I think you go to
your first talent.
you're often pegged to disco, your musical tastes and abilities really run
a wide gamut, from musicals to soul and pure pop.
Back when I was growing up, in the course of a day, every kind of music
was around — country music, pop music, black pop, white pop, a black
artist, white artist, folk music. It was all on the same radio. I was
exposed to everything. I didn't have to turn it on. It was just
it's way more separated. One week, I'd be at a Four Tops or a Supremes
concert and then the next week, be at a folk concert, and it didn't seem
to be a strange thing. Growing up, it never dawned on me that I had to
separate music, or align myself with specific things. To me, music has so
many different kinds of feelings that we all have.
is my biggest complaint with music now, and this is why my album came out
the way it did. I felt like I had to take a stand against that kind of
marketing, that kind of stereotyping — whatever people do to us when
you're a musician. You've got to have a theme, and point-of-view, a sound.
how did that go over with the powers-that-be?
that well. I think they would have preferred it to be one kind of an
album, but I don't care. Sometimes, it's really more important to make the
statement, because I think maybe fewer people hear that statement, but
it's still being heard. I've had musicians come up to me and say 'man, the
concept of that album has made me free. It has helped me to be free.' I
think that's the point. It's OK. If you happen to like hip-hop, that's OK,
but if you happen to like rock 'n' roll, too, that's also OK.
reggae, such as your collaboration with Ziggy Marley on the tune
reggae. Or classical music. Why can't we like it all. That was my theory.
If I'm a horn, I'll play whatever the horn could play. The horn can play
anything. I'm just the horn.
Queen is Back" is a great tune, and at last half tongue-in-cheek,
was pretty tongue-in-cheek (laughs). The whole time I was thinking 'are
they gonna get that this is somewhat humorous?'
you are back.
I'm trying to be (laughs), if I can stay awake long enough. They run you
around. It's not like it used to be in the old days, when you could stay
up all night for four or five days and keep on trucking. Nowadays, you
keep me up for a night, and I'm like 'ughhh.' The years have taken their
toll (laughs). Now, I need more sleep than I used to.
you find that you thrive on being onstage again?
For me, there's no comparison to being onstage. I started off onstage and
I went from that to musicals, which is also onstage. Stage life is very
much part of my vernacular. It's really about the music and about the
connection that has to all those people out there. Whether you sit in a
room alone with 20 people or you sit in an auditorium with 17,000 or
20,000 people, the general connection is still the same.
would say it's empowering. It really gives you a sense of usefulness. I
really feel like that's what I was born for. In my heart, I would sing for
free — and I have. It's just something that is part of me. People are
part of me. Making them happy is part of what I enjoy.
you really do put on a show — and you're a real singer, a rare commodity
on the current scene.
requirements are different. The way people sing now is different. I think
they could sing differently, but they've latched onto this idea of singing
multiple licks and a certain amount of phrases. What it does,
unfortunately, is that it diminishes the melodic structure, because it's
more staccato or choppy in the way the phrasing sounds.
in our days, we had a lot of long, drawn-out melodies. People would hold
notes out. You don't hear that very often anymore. Now it's more like
(sings a tune with staccato notes), almost like rapping patterns, but
then you get somebody like Susan Boyle, who comes on and opens her mouth
and sings a pure, beautiful song with this great voice that she has . . .
(sighs). Somebody said to me the other day, 'it's the difference between
anointed to sing, and singing.'
she — like you — is guided by the influence of music theater. That
might give you a depth you can't get from straight pop music.
would say that's probably true. The thing I think that gives you is a
sense of drama. When I hear somebody sing who has a lot of drama in them,
they don't have to bend the words. They can actually sing it lyrically,
the way it's written, and musically, the way it's written, and
phonetically, the way it's written. There is something about the way they
approach it that brings drama — or the sound of their voice, or the
voice within the voice that you can't hear with your ear, but you hear it
with the heart.
people have it more than others, but it's definitely a gift from God. It's
not something you can manufacture very well.
one of those people who does like the element of surprise, aren't you?
I like to consider myself as being out of the box a little bit. I don't
like it when people think they know my next move. I hate that. It's not
because I'm trying to be so different. I just don't like being told what
to do. I really don't. It's not that somebody can't instruct me, that I'm
not instruct-able. Certainly, I don't mind being guided when the moment is
there for that.
I think that, for an artist, you have got to be looking into the future,
seeing where the wave of things are going. Even if it's not momentary
consensus in the industry that you're in, if you're feeling the impulse,
you've got to go for it. It might not prove you right in this moment, but
down the line, it might prove you extremely right. You've got to be
willing to take that extreme measure to be creative. You can't just walk
around singing the same old empty songs, over and over again. At some
point, you've got to sing something that means something to you.
I get to the place where I think 'there's nothing for me to say here' or
'I'm not impressed by what I'm singing' or 'I don't have a connection to
what I'm singing,' I don't' think I need to be singing. I need to be out
of this and doing something that means something to me.
it seems that you're very much in a forward momentum kind of groove at the
singing) "I'm in a forward momentum kind of groove . . . "
can have that line if you want it.
Let's see if I can turn it into a song.