Multiple Billboard charting musician Debby Holiday has been a vocal (pun intended) ally to the LGBT community with years of continued Pride appearances at every type of venue you can imagine, rain or shine she let’s her spirit fly.
She first warmed our hearts with her hit, Half A Mile Away, played for the final episode of Queer as Folk. She’s been rocking the industry since, sharing the stage with some greats and writing for herself as well as other powerhouses on the scene. Her music has appeared on The Office, Sordid Lives, The L Word, MTV, E!, and FX and she has performed on The View and The David Letterman Show.
Music has been a part of her life since childhood, her father was the family’s original chart topper, and wrote hits for Ray Charles, Sonny and Cher, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West.
Her latest album, Free2B, is a representation of her eclectic history in and love for music – a marriage of rock and dance.
I had the fabulous pleasure of chatting with Debby about the LGBT community, the industry and remembering the first time she topped the Billboard charts.
Alexander Rodriguez: Music has been in your family, your father was a power figure in the industry working with some of the best. Tell me about growing up in this music environment. What were the most important things you learned, musically, during your youth?
Debby Holiday: Well, with my father one thing came first – work ethic. Stay and finish the song no matter how long it takes. Learn your harmonies. Study your craft. Know that your work (though it is art) … is your life’s work. So, treat it with respect. He was an incredibly strict man. So, as a daughter, it was very difficult; as an artist… it was inspiring.
You have been a Billboard charting artist a number of times. Tell me when you learned that you were a Billboard artist for the first time.
DH: Well that is a very, very fond memory. I was getting off the plane in San Francisco with my friend (may he rest in peace), Andrew Briskin. We were headed to a club that is now closed. Chris Cox was spinning and my sister, who was at Berkeley at the time, would be meeting us there. As we stepped off the plane my friend Del Shores messaged me to say… “Hey girl you are officially on Billboard.” I cried. It was also my birthday weekend. That was “Dive”, a song I wrote when angry about someone saying I couldn’t achieve something I wanted. It went to #5. I’ve had a 15 top 20s since then. Five, number 5’s. I am the Susan Lucci of the Billboard charts. Ha! And damn grateful!
What is your creative process when creating a new song?
DH: Well, that’s an interesting question. It’s never the same. It depends on where the inspiration comes from and who I’m writing with. Sometimes it starts organically on an acoustic guitar. Other times it’ll start with a drum beat from one of my loops. It often starts with a title or something I want to write about.
What current artists inspire you?
DH: Hmmm, current — I’m kinda old school. Bowie (my number one ever, ever, forever)! Tina, Aretha, Queen. Current … Pink, the band Live, The Heavy, Vintage Trouble. Gary Clarke, Jr.
You have shared the stage with the big names, including Rod Stewart, Joe Walsh, John Waite and Kiss, to name a few – what are the biggest tips you can share with a singer about performing with other artists onstage?
DH: Oh, that’s an easy one! Have fun! Play off of each other. Listen. And let go. Thinking is absolutely not allowed.
You have a long running relationship with the LGBT community, from your hit “Half a Mile Away” appearing in the series finale of Queer As Folk, to your numerous appearances at Pride events through the nation – how did this relationship with the community start?
DH: Well, to be honest, since childhood I’ve always felt a sort of kindred spirit or understanding with the gay community. And, I have always had a lot of gay friends. Both male, female, and trans. Years ago my very good friend Levi Kreis introduced me to a man named Andrew Briskin. I had recently been dropped after five years of being on Warner Bros. and Andrew had an idea: to take one of my rock ‘n’ roll songs and have it re-mixed. Chris Cox was contacted and away I went. I write songs about believing in yourself. Not letting anyone… or any law or any opinion tell you who you are. So, between the content of my songs and having a gay manager, who graciously introduced me to so many pride events and gay clubs around the country, well – it was just a good fit. And still is.
What does representing the LGBT community through song mean to you?
DH: I consider it an honor. My last hit, in December 2018, was written for a couple of friends who’ve been waiting for what seems like a lifetime for marriage equality to pass. So, my song, Waiting For a Lifetime is for them. Love is love. Love deserves to be respected. Especially in our current political climate. So, representing the LGBTQ community to me is representing all of us. Diversity is the only way a society can thrive.
What do your LGBT fans tell you the most?
DH: Honestly, I am grateful that I get thanked a lot. I spend a decent portion of my day responding to inbox messages or emails from fans that appreciate my subject matter & my absolute unmovable ally status.
On an Editor’s Note: Debby Holiday’s Dive was one of my anthems over the past 15 years of my adult gay life. In 2004, she broke onto the dance scene with her summer anthem “Dive” (Billboard #5). It always brings me energy and happiness and for that, I thank her, especially when dancing alone, diving right in and enjoying life.
What is your opinion on reality shows like American Idol and The Voice and their place in the music industry and impact on emerging artists?
DH: I think it’s absolutely wonderful that it has opened up new avenues for people who might not otherwise have been recognized or had a place to be seen internationally. However, I cannot deny that I am bothered by the idea of music or any art, for that matter, being a contest or a boxing match. Much like people, we are all supposed to be different. That’s where the beauty lies. We like different things. Different aspects of a piece of music or someone’s voice will move us each in our own unique way. So, the idea of judging someone’s worth – by a panel, well, yes… I occasionally have to push past my dislike. I mean can ya imagine if Bowie were on one those shows? Ha! They’d say where are the big long, high notes.
Your music has been featured on a number of films and TV shows, what is your creative process when writing for a project versus writing for yourself?
DH: Actually, I find writing for a project much easier. When I know the parameters of a show or the characters, etc. it’s easy to formulate the music that might suit them. Writing for myself, however, is a whole other box of chocolates. I have such eclectic tastes but sometimes it is difficult to hone in on where I’m going. LOL
Debby hit the Billboard Charts twice in 2012 with “Never Give Up” (Billboard #9) produced by San Francisco based DJ Phil B and “Key to Your Soul” (Billboard #21) co-written with DJ John LePage & Jeff Fedak. The latter continued her ongoing relationship with Del Shores who directed an accompanying anti-bullying music video.
With advancement in technology, everyone can put music out in the atmosphere. Do you think the music industry is over saturated, and how does an artist keep their voice heard with so much material out there?
DH: Well I would hate to say oversaturated because everyone deserves to create and share their art. I do wish sometimes that the quality would adhere to higher standards. You shouldn’t need auto tune – period. Ha! As far as keeping your voice and music heard, it’s a consistent and continual nonstop process. That might’ve been a redundant statement. LOL. In today’s market, you have to keep finding new ways to stick yourself in someone’s ear. Take chances. Try new markets. And get OUT there !
How is Debby Holiday the person the most different from Debby Holiday the musician?
DH: Hmmmm well … I’m very comfortable being the center of attention ON stage — off stage — not so much! I love STAGE clothing & lashes & heels — OFF stage — I’m a jeans & flip flops, wine with friends kinda gal.
Your latest album, Free2B, is a mix of rock and dance. Besides the mixing of genres, how is this album different from the rest of your library?
DH: I think that is what makes it different from the rest of my library. Rather than separating my rock music from my dance side…it’s all there in one place. Four years of my life and such an amazing, though exhausting experience. There was nothing I wanted to say more than… we are all Free2B exactly who we are. We are allowed to be as diverse and eclectic and colorful as we want to be.
You have traveled literally everywhere with your music. Do you have a funny on the road story?
DH: Well, this one is sweet & cute. I was in Georgia. Not to be confused with Russia, the Republic of Georgia. I’d been followed by a group of younger boys for quite some time while walking through the streets sight-seeing. I was really, really starting to get worried wondering if I was in danger. Finally, one of them was bold enough to sheepishly ask, “May we all touch your hair? Please?”. They’d never seen braids before. Which was when I realized that I hadn’t seen one other black person during my week-long stay there. Moral of the story … travel is goooood ! Meet new people. It feeds the soul & quells curiosity.
Find out more about everything Debby at www.debbyholiday.com (all photos from debbyholiday.com)
Author: Alexander J Rodriguez
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