By Mykella Van Cooten
PRIDE Contributing Writer
As her new solo effort was being released, Simone Denny stopped for a few minutes to chat with Pride News Magazine.
The Canadian singer of Guyanese parentage, who played Mama in the Toronto production of Mama, I Want to Sing!, is best known for belting out Canadian dance music hits like, “All Things Just (Keep Getting Better)” (theme song for TV show “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy”), fronting Chris Sheppard’s dance group, BKS, and for hits “Broken Bones” and “You’re a Superstar”, as lead singer for another Chris Sheppard dance outfit, Love Inc.
As Denny says, dance music took her to the mainstream with five Junos, four MuchMusic Video Awards and two Canadian Music Awards.
Now, Denny is hosting her own coming out party, a delayed Sweet Sixteen if you will, with her first solo album, Simone Denny: The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 (Stereo Dynamite Recordings/Universal Music Canada). Pride talks to her about this leg of her adventure.
Pride: Thank you for sending me your Tedx Talk (“The Power of No! Be the Superstar!”). I like how you talked in it about your journey. It seems like you found your voice a little unexpectedly (at an elementary school talent show). Then you wanted to go into R&B and that really wasn’t happening. So it seems like you just kinda went with the flow and things (other opportunities) came as you kept working…
Denny: I think it was a situation where I was following the crowd (wanting to do R&B) and then I had to realize these (other) opportunities were coming into my life for a reason. And I decided to say, “Ok, you know what, let me try it. There’s nothing to lose.”
The opportunities kept coming at me, but there’s that constant pressure to fit into the mold as a young black girl in Toronto – what you’re supposed to sing, to be part of the crew. I can sing that (R&B). I was singing with R&B bands and funk bands. But as far as hitting mainstream, that wasn’t happening. And so, when these (dance music opportunities) kicked in, that is what took me there.
Pride: I don’t know if this is what you were saying (in the Tedx Talk), or if it is what I heard: Now that you have achieved your success, it’s like you get the opportunity to choose more of that you want to do and have the respect and the clout to be able to do more of what you want to do.
Pride: Not that you didn’t want to do dance music. I notice you did some solo dance tracks in Europe but nothing here solo-wise.
Denny: Yeah, I did a lot of features; I fronted a lot of different dance projects. But this solo project is everything, so I’m enjoying it.
Pride: I like it! It’s so funny…it just reminded me of…Really it was my parents’ music but I grew up listening to it. Like Nancy Sinatra. Your track, “Shelter in My Arms” reminded me of that dark sound from her song, “Bang Bang” (released in 1966; of Kill Bill fame). The moment I heard it, I was like: “What is that? What is that I am I hearing?” I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is so cool.”
Denny: The songs have a lot of different layers. You hear a lot of different influences going on in them. That was a conscious effort on my and the producers’ part. It is somewhat eclectic but people can relate to it. It’s not a black or a white thing; it’s just a good music thing.
Pride: Yeah, I really enjoyed that. And when I listened to your track, “Love Fades Away”, I listened to it four times. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was just thinking about that song, “You Don’t Own Me”, by Lesley Gore (released in 1963) every time I heard the intro to your song. It was like, “Oh my gosh!”
Denny: It hits a chord. It’s been interesting to get the reactions from people when they hear that song. It’s a situation where people will go: “Yep, been there. You hit it on the head.” Any adult person has been in that moment and you realize you have to let go. It’s like an anthem. But for me, in the end, there’s a lot of strength, like, “This is not good for me; I’ve gotta move on.”
This one I like because, again, the music is different. It sets a different mood. All of my fans have grown up. Everybody’s married or in relationships. They’ve gone through things. And so it’s my responsibility as an artist to expose that side of you and bring you in on that and go: “I hear you. I’ve been there with you.” You know what, we’re adults now; we can embrace some of these issues. We’ve been there. We’ll feel the pain then we’re gonna release it.
Pride: I love the cover of ABC’s “The Look of Love” (released 1982).
Denny: I enjoyed doing that…really enjoyed doing it. When I’ve performed it, people will start to mouth the words and they haven’t figured out what the song is and then I hit the chorus and they’re like, “Ahhhhh!” and you see this smile on their face. And they’re like: “How did you come up with that?”
And I have to give the credit to Adam from Stereo Dynamite. It is one of his favourite songs and he always wanted to do a remake of it. And when he approached me with the idea, I was like, “That’s brilliant.”
Pride: That is awesome.
Denny: He completely stripped the song down and made it new. So it has a completely different emotional effect on the audience. (The original version) was dancing and disco, and whoop it up. But wait a minute, this song has lyrics. There’s a deeper meaning here. And it’s kinda haunting in the way I sing it. It’s supposed to have that effect; it’s supposed to go deeper.
Pride: That is very cool. I feel like we may have met when we were both a lot younger (as our parents are friends), but I don’t know you know you, and yet this (album) sounds like you!
Denny: That is the comment I’ve heard from everyone: “This is so you,” which has been very cool personally. I’m like: “Really? What do you mean by that?” They say, “I don’t know, this is just you.”
Pride: It’s hard to say how I know this.
Denny: The only way I can put it is that I think it’s an amalgamation of all the things I’ve done musically – all the genres I’ve enjoyed, all the genres I’ve sung. It’s like my whole life is coming together in this one album. I think that would be it.
Pride: So why retro rock? Is that just how you’re feeling right now?
Denny: I’ve always sung it (pop/rock songs) though. Even at a lot of the Guyanese events, I would sing “Stand by Me”.
That is my dad and mom’s (music). You know what I mean? They played that. “Stand by Me”, Etta James…There’s just so much of that in my head. The Temptations…It’s all there. This is a part of me people don’t realize. I was always singing this music long before Love Inc. Like, a long time before. Even before my funk and soul days, I was singing this and this is what I listened to. This is actually the music that taught me to sing. These are my vocal references. So this is very normal.
Actually when I met with my manager, Adam from Stereo Dynamite, he had said, “I want to do this project; I think your voice would be perfect for it; let’s get together.” And I just sang “Stand by Me” in studio for him, and I looked around, and he just had this big smile on his face. I’ve known him forever, and he was like, “You really do know this music.” And I’m like, “Absolutely!”
And it was like, “Ok, let’s do this.” So it wasn’t hard. It was an easy fit for me and I like the fact that Stereo Dynamite let me be me. That was a very cool recording experience. Everything I did they enjoyed. So it was a lot of freedom as a vocalist. There was no pressure to do many licks and runs. It was just, “You know what, let’s just let the sound of my voice tell the story.” And that was refreshing.
Depending on where you do it, and in what city, and what genre within dance or house music, there’s a lot of booming vocals, power vocals. And it’s fun to do and I love doing it, but this is a whole other side where it’s like, “You know what, I’m telling a story here. Just sit back and listen. Tap in.” This is pulling on your heart strings in another way.
Pride: So I feel like, when you do tour, it will be like your coming out party, like your quinceanera!
Pride: So what are the next plans?
Denny: Just getting the album up and running. I believe there are tour dates in the spring. I don’t want to confirm that but I know Stereo Dynamite has things in the works. I definitely know they are working on taking it worldwide. I know a lot of internet radio stations are really loving it. It’s really cool who’s reacting to it. The options are open. We’ll see how it goes.
Pride: It seems like you are very in tune and things (opportunities) come as they’re supposed to come and you’re cool with that. I think that’s inspiring.
I have been going to a lot of events because I haven’t been writing for a while and I want to get back into it and I, myself, want to get inspired (by watching local artists perform). So I’m going to these events and you see all these young kids who really can sing and, I just feel like…I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I feel sad in a way in the sense that not everyone is going to get to that level that they’re trying to get to. You know what I mean?
And I just think…I think there’s something there when you’re willing to be humble and take opportunities that come that may not look exactly the way you thought they should and not feeling a sense of entitlement.
Denny: I don’t think it’s a sense of entitlement. I think, culturally, we are expected to do certain things, be a certain way. And for me, I’ve always been about pushing the envelope. So for me, it’s like, yes, I’m a black girl. You can’t miss that. That doesn’t mean I only do one style of music. I do a lot of different styles of music. It’s like there are no limits.
When everybody’s going one way, I’m going the other way ‘cause I like to be in a genre where I stand alone. I can make my own rules. And that’s what I did with dance music. When I started out doing house music nobody else was doing it in Canada. Very few (black women) were doing it and taking it to where I was taking it. And the reaction then was: “Well, why are you leaving R&B? Why are you doing dance music? Why? Why?” Because it’s different and it’s fun and I love it!
And it’s the same thing here. Dance artists are like: “Why are you leaving dance music?” I’m not leaving dance music. All I’m doing is showing you another side of who I am. Come on the journey and enjoy it. And once I’ve said that to people, they sit back and they listen, and the reaction has been, “This album is awesome.”
There should be no limits. There should be no glass ceiling. It’s music. It’s creative. Go and do whatever moves you. When an opportunity comes to you, go with it.
Pride: It’s inspiring because I think it’s the attitude you have to have.
Denny: Well, I could go deeper and say I think that our forefathers have afforded this opportunity for us – to go the schools we want to, to live the lives we want to, to be the things we want to be. To not take advantage of that, you know, is kind of spitting in the face all those who sacrificed for you and went before you. I think it’s important that Caribbean people, the younger generation, forge forward and do anything and everything, take new paths and do new things. It’s important. It’s very very important. We’re living in an age where we see Barak Obama becoming the President of the United States. That was a glass ceiling that was shattered. So there are no limits.
Pride: Very well said.
Look out for Simone Denny’s solo tour next year. Simone Denny: The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 is in stores and on ITunes now.