KNOWN BEST FOR her days as the front-woman for Deee-Lite – one of the most eclectic, colorful, and pioneering bands of the ’90s – Lady Kier (born Kieren Kirby) emerges a decade later as a solo vocalist still bringing her trademark flair for uniqueness to the stage.
A runaway at the age of 17, Lady Kier found a family in DJ Dimitry and DJ Towa Towa when the former two created the dynamic group, Deee-Lite. The trio’s music blended House, techno, breakbeats and funk and turned them from a club circuit New York band into a commercialized sensation with their smash dance hit “Groove is in the Heart,” off of their debut album World Clique in 1990. Following up with their second album Infinity Within in 1992, Deee-Lite continued to pull the masses in with their House Music and electronica sounds as well as the distinctive styles of Lady Kier’s ’70s inspired fashions, bringing back vibrant colors, patterns, and platform shoes. The band’s third release Dewdrops in the Garden came in 1994, but switched out Towa Towa (who later changed his name to Towa Tei) for DJ Ani. The band’s final effort, Sampladelic Relics and Dancefloor Oddities came out in 1996 shortly before the trio broke up.
Lady Kier then moved from New York to London, England and began dabbling in the art of DJing while studying music. “For a long time, I just didn’t want to (perform),” she says. “I wanted to just study music.” She began successfully spinning and producing her own sounds internationally while in London for over 10 years until moving back to NYC a year ago. While perfecting her DJing skills, Lady Kier also collaborated on several projects with Bootsy Collins (whose bass playing was earlier featured on “Groove is in the Heart”) including co-writing 2003’s “I’m Tired of Good, I’m Trying Bad” for the film A Man Apart (also found on Collins’ 2002 album Play With Bootsy – A Tribute to the Funk). She also showed her writing skills on tracks such as 2003’s “Up on Life,” “Back to Da Boogie,” “All Star Funk” and 1995’s Wigstock: The Movie which she wrote under her real name. She has also collaborated with George Clinton and the P Funk, Lady Bunny, and countless DJs fueling her turn-table endeavors.
Already knowing musical success, she now breaks her silence while readying herself in the studio for her yet-to-be-titled album this fall. Touring Australia, the United States, and Amsterdam, she admits, “I’m just touring around and trying out some stuff . . . Just getting back into the swing of being on stage again after taking such a long time off.”
How do you preferred to be addressed? Lady Kier? Lady “Miss” Kier?
Yeah, Lady Kier. Lady Miss Kier. “That bitch from Deee-Lite.” That’s fine too.
You were in town to perform at the Gay Games VII this past weekend. How did that go?
It was fun. I mean, it was 102 degrees, so it was hot, but I really enjoyed it. I always prefer to perform outdoors for a free street party than any club. So, that was great.
What songs did you perform?
I performed eight songs from my new album and then I performed four or five of the Deee-Lite songs – just like shorter versions (“Good Beat”, “Sure Lookin'”, “Apple Juice Kissing”, “What is Love?” and “Groove is in the Heart”). I did all of those from the Deee-lite days and then the rest was all music written and produced by me.
Why do you like performing outdoors better than in the clubs?
Well, just for different reasons, but I’m always for a free street party. I like to bring it into the street. It also fun to do shows during the daytime.
Your fashion style in the past has been described as outrageous and influenced by the drag queen community. How did your style come to be? Why do you think you’re such an icon in the gay community?
Well, probably because I can relate to outcasts, misfits, prostitutes, virgins and drag queens. You know I just like the freaks. I think there’s a lot of a kind of double-life, mystery, in the life they lead. There’s just a lot that attracts me to it . . . being an outcast. I’m always inspired by a freak.
Now, is your style still the same? Are you still in that type of mode?
No, my style is always changing. It’s always like anti-fashion, but pro-style. Very much like, you don’t need a lot of money . . . You can kind of just make things yourself. I make my own costumes. Do my own designs. I just try to do something different.
I remember being fascinated with “Groove is in the Heart.” Do you ever get tired of performing it?
I never get tired of performing it because I haven’t performed it or any of the Deee-Lite songs in ten years. I just started doing that. So, I think I waited long enough so I could concentrate on studying music and learning production . . . I didn’t really want to go back and play the old stuff, but now that I’m playing new stuff I realize that (the audience) wants to hear some of the old songs too. So, I play just enough keep the crowd happy.
What type of vocal training do you have? Do you have formal training?
LSD if you call that vocal training!
Do you have any dance training?
Well, I’ve always been a club dancer. I used to go out dancing in the clubs like four or five days a week. I didn’t come from the most stable home, so going out to the clubs was my escape. I was doing that for years and then some drag queens said, “Why don’t you come dance in our club?” So I used to dance in the drag bars. I started vogue dancing in a bunch of different clubs. I’m kind of an enthusiastic dancer.
What other dance tracks do you think come close to the greatness of “Groove is in the Heart”?
Well, I’m a DJ too, so, I’ve got millions of songs that I just love that I play to get a dance floor going. The first one I can think of is like Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It”, “Block Party” by Lisa Lopez . . . I mean that’s why I love to DJ because I just love music. There are a lot of tracks that I know I can just put on . . . “It Takes Two”, “Nasty Girl”, “Prince Charming”, B-52s – that always works. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” – that always works. You know, I’m not a snob about pop music, but I do like to throw in obscure dance tracks. A lot of disco-y punk I’ve been playing the last 3 or so years. I can go on and on and on.
Speaking of your DJing, was that a smooth transition for you?
Well, no. Most DJs do it for years and build their way up. I was already well-known so as I was learning my technique there were a lot of people watching me. It took me a while . . . It was like learning how to do it in public. And I’m not one to rehearse at all. I don’t have the attention p to rehearse at anything. I just get up and do it.
I’m only concerned with really good tracks. I was never good at mixing because I don’t really care about mixing. I only care about the selection . . . If you’re mixing one type of music, anyone can do that. I like to switch tempo. I go from R&B to techno soul to breakbeats to broken beats, so I mix so all these styles. Most of the DJs that are that diverse, they don’t mix very well either. I mean, I don’t want to stop the dancers, but the people that come to my dance floor need to be very creative. So, that’s why I don’t play in like huge, huge clubs that just play one genre. I really don’t like clubs like that. As a dancer, I need to switch it up. You know, get down and vogue, jazz, and techno. Real diversity is what works.
What do you think about the House community and how do you think it’s changed since the early ’90s?
I think there was a lot more diversity in the production in the past – a lot more experimentation. It’s kind of the same with every new genre that starts. It starts off really sweet and good, corny and funny, and you have all kinds of people from the buster to the sophisticated to the jazz to the cartoon-y – goofy stuff. And then, people think it’s a fad . . . and then a lot of producers want to get serious and try to make it go hard. And that’s what happened to House, that’s what happened to hip-hop, that’s what happened to jungle, that’s what happened to rock. So, the beginning to me is always sweet. You know, people aren’t afraid to be corny. They’re not afraid to be goofy. The beginning is always the most exciting time. Like, I got bored with House Music around 10 years ago. I’ll still do an old school House set. I just get really bored with formula stuff. But I understand the theorists because the culture means a lot. Just the sound of it will say that a lot of people are invited. So, I mean, I respect it, but I started playing a variety of sounds like 10 years ago. Having strictly House Music just bores me, but every once in a while I’ll do an old school house set and play everything from Acid House to some contemporary stuff.
I know that you write a lot of your lyrics. What is your process of writing? Do you envision the music while you’re writing?
I write lyrics just kind of a stream of consciousness. And then I write music on its own without thinking of the lyrics. But then, once I have a melody that I like, then I’ll try to look to my lyrics and find the more meaningful ones and then I’ll try and fit those lyrics to the melody. So, they’re both happening simultaneously, but some lyrics I’m like, “This lyric is good, I’ve got to fit it in” and then I make sure I find a melody for it. So, they’re both equally important. For a long time I used to spend a lot of time on the lyrics, but when I met the band, I spent a lot of more time trying to write the music.
Interview by Laurie Canning for 5 Magazine.