After Atlanta-based journalist, poet and novelist Collin Kelley did a reading for an event I'd assembled, along with the Storybook Burlesque troupe, at The Tank performing art space in Manhattan which was later blogged about by Vanessa Daou, a name I've known from Danny Tenaglia DJ sets, Collin approached me about doing an interview with her for soldout. I welcome the opportunity to find out more about the name, more distinctly the voice, that has floated in my conscience for a while. So, with much thanks to Collin and Vanessa, here it is: Collin Kelley's interview with Vanessa Daou, "Welcome To The Daouhaus".
Welcome to the Daouhaus: A Conversation with Vanessa Daou
Jazz. Pop. Trip-hop. House. Spoken word. Vanessa Daou has put her unmistakable voice to all these genres, but many clubbers also know her as a dance icon thanks to floor-fillers like “Surrender Yourself,” “Near the Black Forest,” “Two to Tango” and “A Little Bit of Pain.” From the beginning of her career with former husband/producer Peter Daou as part of The Daou to her solo success in the ‘90s, Daou has been a favorite with DJs and remixers, especially Danny Tenaglia.
Coming off the success of her latest album, Joe Sent Me, Twisted Records has just released a compilation called Daouhaus: The Classic Remixes. Seven of Tenaglia’s reinventions are here, alongside deep grooves by David Morales, Olive and Mood II Swing. The album opens with the 1992, fourteen-minute opus that is “Surrender Yourself,” which rocketed to the top of the Billboard Dance chart and heralded a new direction for club music, bringing it from the underground to the mainstream. Olive (you remember them from the massive hit “You’re Not Alone”) turns the slinky “Near the Black Forest” (from Zipless, Daou’s solo debut based on the poetry of Erica Jong) and turns it into a heavy house groove with hints of drum-and-bass. Tenaglia’s Twilo Mix of “Two to Tango” is midnight rave-tastic.
In this exclusive interview, Daou offers up a history of her early foray into the club scene and how handing over her songs to DJs for reinterpretation is an intoxicating kind of freedom.
How did the Daouhaus remix album come about? Was it your idea or were you approached to compile all these fantastic reinterpretations?
In the mid '90s Rob DiStefano was the moving force behind Tribal Records, which was then part of I.R.S. He released many of Danny Tenaglia's earliest works, as well as two of my singles “Give Myself to You” (which Danny remixed) and “Are You Satisfied” (remixed by David Morales). They both reached Top 10 on the Billboard Club chart. Rob also included Danny's mix of “Surrender Yourself,” which had gone to number one, on the flip side of “Give Myself to You.”
The idea of a remix collection is something my manager Craig Roseberry and I have been planning for a while; the pieces all fell into place when Rob DiStefano of Twisted Records (US) came into the picture. The idea of calling the collection Daouhaus came to me while reading an article in Art Forum about the enduring influence of the Bauhaus artists. I had been considering various titles for a remix collection at the time, and the word Daouhaus sort of jumped up from the page. It seemed to capture everything I wanted the title to convey; a sense of irony, history, depth, levity, poetry. These are all the most enduring and profound aspects of Club/House music, which have always driven me creatively and which I wanted to communicate in the title.
Danny Tenaglia's remixes make up seven of the twelve remixes on Daouhaus and he seems to know exactly how to further your sound and vision. Can you talk about working with Danny and what the remix process was like with him?
My first experience working with Danny was on “Surrender Yourself.” In the early '90s, the use of spoken word was limited to poets. At Columbia University I had gained experience performing my poems at the legendary on-campus Postcrypt. Soon after while at NuGroove, I was playing around with the idea of reciting my poetry to music, creating vocal textures and layered harmonies. I took this seed of an idea with me to the session for “Surrender Yourself.”
From the beginning, Danny encouraged, and beyond that, understood the thrust my poetic experiments. The spoken part of “Surrender Yourself” was completely improvised and is quite dynamic; it oscillates between gentle, quiet whispers and deep guttural vocalizations. Danny and Peter [Daou] had created the bassline and a few parts by the time I approached the microphone and let the words flow.
“Surrender Yourself” came from my first on Columbia Records called Head Music under the group name The Daou. The album was inspired by the Tao Te Ching, a study of contrasts, those that occur in life as well as in the mind and body. The creative focus for me at the time was the contrast between hard and soft.
Danny is an artist as well as DJ/producer, an absolute master of sound, of rhythm, of texture and nuance, so he was able to grasp and communicate musically the full essence of what I was going for creatively. He and Peter worked throughout the night on the 13-plus minute Ballroom mix, conceiving it as a sort of odyssey, which would take the listener/dancer through a deep and transformative experience.
It's Danny's pitched-down distorted voice, by the way, which recites the “Work it, Learn it, Serve it, Know it, Be it, Release it ...” line in the remix.
Bjork is known for handing over her songs and telling the DJs and remixers to do whatever they like with them, giving them free reign to reinterpret. Is that your style as well or do you like to offer up direction or ideas?
I also prefer not to be involved with the DJ/producers in a direct way, entrusting them from the outset. I might have a few thoughts after the mix is finished, in terms of arrangement or general issues, but in my experience, all the DJ/remixers who've worked on my songs bring their full love and knowledge of their artistry as well as my music to their mixes. It's once instance where I actually enjoy the process of relinquishing creative control.
Some of the Daouhaus remixes are radically reworked from the original songs. What's it like to hear how another musician interprets your work?
I find it fascinating, like being able to read someone else's mind and listen to their thoughts. Every remixer brings a unique perspective to a song, often coming at it from a different angle than was intended. Sometimes it's the contrast that catches me off-guard, other times it's how precisely they are able to match the inner essence of a song's meaning with their music, often bringing out an aspect of emotion that was somehow dormant or hidden. I find this to be the most exciting aspect of handing my music over. The only pre-requisite is that each remixer has the freedom to have fun.
You released the critically acclaimed new album Joe Sent Me, which features slinky and sexy jazz and spoken word pieces. Can we expect a remix album of these songs soon?
Absolutely. The plan is to release a full-length remix Joe Sent Me album in the Spring of 2010, preceded by two singles. Whereas Joe Sent Me, in its original form, explores the contrast of Prohibition-era Jazz meets 21st century technology, the remix album will be its underbelly or flipside: an exploration of cutting-edge current technological textures and terrain. It will be a combination of genres, House, Ambient, Slow Groove. I'm very excited about the project, and I think that having a whole album remixed, as opposed to just a couple of songs, opens up an entirely new creative door for me to walk through.