The ’Dee-liteful’ Lady Miss Kier hits SF Pride
"Groove is in the hearrrrrrrt. GROOVE is in the heart!"
You could not have been a club kid of the early 90s and not have heard "Groove Is In the Heart" by Deee-Lite playing through your favorite dance club’s sound system. The groove was definitely heartfelt as much for the soulful and fun vocals of lead singer, Lady Miss Kier, as it was for the beats and rhythms that acted as the chariot under her melodies.
Lady Miss Kier with Deee-Lite brought us the feel-good, carry-over vibe from the disco era with an added funk and house beat to bring us a uniqueness and freshness that gave that generation something to call its own, a new identity not yet introduced until then. Lady Miss Kier also brought us the fashion and style that, with its colorful 60s retro inspiration and unique punk couture, was a nice accompaniment with the new groove.
Though born Kier Kirby, Lady Miss Kier embraced and adopted her bigger than life stage persona and her uniqueness, just as the misfits of the club scene world embraced her as someone they could identify with and live through. 1990 may have been the beginning, but as her sure to bet energetic performance at this year’s San Francisco Pride festivities on the House Music Dance Stage (presented by promoter Hawthorne) June 24 will prove, we are far from playing the last groove of this club diva.
BeBe: Knowing of your stylish performance costumes, it was not surprising to learn that you once pursued a career in fashion design through study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. But, it did lead me to wonder what drove you to leave fashion study and pursue music?
Lady Miss Kier: I was an idea person, but not good at technique. So, as my designs were unique and eye-catching, they always fell apart due to bad construction. I continued to pursue fashion, and began writing songs and lyrics as a way to relieve the stress. Then one day, my writing partner told me ’we have too many songs to not share these live.’ I was mortified, but thought perhaps if I got over my stage fright, it would draw attention to the clothes, and I could revive my failing fashion career. Once I heard the applause, I was really shocked and hooked at the same time. I then began hiring other, more talented and technically efficient people to construct my designs or design for me, such as, Zaldy Goco (client list includes Gwen Stefani, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez and Michael Jackson [designs for the ’This Is It Tour’]), Mr. David (San Francisco icon in both fashion and drag performance), and Mr. Pearl (The corset eminence has worked with Leigh Bowery, Thierry (Manfred) Mugler, Lacroix and Gaultier). I was eventually adopted for a few years by Mugler, just like Cinderella.
BeBe: Your first album with Deee-Lite, "World Clique," spawning the mega hit single "Groove Is In The Heart ," has been said to have personified the club culture during that time. How so?
Lady Miss Kier: I have no idea, perhaps because it stood out as being unique. But at the same time, I cast all my friends in our music video. I had met them living their notes away from home on the dance floor. The message was positive and about my love of (Super DJ) D’miti’s (Brill) five-nights a week career as a NYC deejay.
I would drive him to the clubs, dance 8 hours until he was finished, and then drive him home. So, I suppose, who better to sing and write dance music than two people who spent most every night in clubs. I eventually was hired to be a go-go dancer by Kenny Kenny (ubiquitous and fabulous queen of New York nightlife) working in Suzanne Bartsch’s clubs (Bentley’s and the Copacabana), as well as several others. Our way of life must have brought the authenticity to that song ("Groove Is In the Heart").
Creating a sound?
BeBe: How much of a part did you play in creating the sound we have come to know from Deee-Lite?
Lady Miss Kier: I wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and was one-third of the production crew. D’mitri usually was playing piano or guitar as I sang the melodies, and then we both would search for (digital) samples to embellish the final productions. I was always a big fan of music, and was making little mix tapes at the age of seven (from cassette to cassette), but I never sang out loud or wrote a lyric until the age of 24.
BeBe: What was the cause of Deee-Lite’s disbandment after releasing only three albums in four years?
Lady Miss Kier:(It was) the lack of financial support or understanding from the label (Elektra). The president of the label told us himself he would not spend a dime promoting us because our videos ’hurt his eyes,’ and the sound was ’too black and too gay." He preferred (label mate) Natalie Cole. He just didn’t get it! If the people at the top don’t get it, then there is no chance of getting the money it costs to pay radio to play it (our music). I funded the "Dewdrops in the Garden" tour out of my own pocket. I literally spent my last dime to pay to rehearse the musicians, book the tour bus, pay for the hotels, etc. That paid off financially for the record label, but we came home from the tour broke because the label takes 90%. Our fourth album (in 1996) was just re-releases of old remixes which the band had paid for from the first three albums.
BeBe: Deee-Lite and its sound made you become a bigger than life figure leading you to become known as Lady Miss Kier, with your signature voice and catsuit costumes. After the disbandment of Deee-Lite, has there been a desire for you to redefine yourself over the past 16 years?
Lady Miss Kier: With each Deee-Lite album I redesigned my style quite differently from the previous one, but certain elements remained, such as a sense of humor and an obsession with color and originality. When I stepped out of the spotlight and away from the band and fame, I learned the art of toning it down to the point of being a wallflower.
That went against every part of my being, but I had to (do it) for self-preservation. Fame can be shallow, and the vultures it attracts can eat you alive if you are not good at spotting them, which I was not good at. After a few years of learning to engineer, record and produce on my own, I decided to take it on the road again.
But, I didn’t promote the show as I was trying to test out new songs and polish up my act and musical productions. This was back in 2005, and I designed all the costumes for myself and background dancers (as with Dee-Lite). We toured the world with our disco show. Those clothes turned out to be rather influential. I started to notice several of my designs being incorporated into the mainstream whether through fashion houses or other artists. I found it very flattering, because at the time, I was unsure how it would go down. My style was so unique for 2005.
Trapped as Lady Miss Kier?
BeBe: Has the public tried to keep you trapped in your Lady Miss Kier persona?
Lady Miss Kier: Every time someone has drawn a circle around me, I can’t help but to jump out. I am aware of the misconceptions the public has of me, or what (misconceptions) corporations have promoted about me. I try and pay that stuff no mind. I like to remain a mystery, and believe very much in the sneak up and surprise attack. I’ve been a misfit since a very young kid, and misfits are always misunderstood. So, I am used to that familiar feeling.
BeBe: You have been contributing a lot to other artists’ projects, but as of yet, you haven’t released your own solo project; however, it is rumored that you are working on a solo album. How valid is that rumor, and when are we likely to hear a completed solo project?
Lady Miss Kier: It’s tough times in the ’business’ of music, but not on the ’creative’ side of music. I’m great at (generating) ideas but rotten at finishing (projects). I suppose once I create it, I get bored very easily. One of my former band mates was great at finishing things, and although I don’t miss him, I miss the ability to have someone complete things I’ve started. I’ve looked around for someone with those qualities, but I often intimidate people because of my diversity and desire to create new genres of music that are so different.
It often makes others feel pulled in too many directions. I’ve come to terms with that and realize I have to complete it myself. However, because of our economy and since no one buys music anymore, there is a financial reason my music is not able to be shared. But that (situation) is temporary. I’ve recently signed a deal with Downtown Publishing who promise to push the old Deee-Lite catalog to movie soundtracks and for commercial products that are not ridiculous.
BeBe: Will we be introduced to something unexpectedly new artistically from you with the solo project?
Lady Miss Kier: Most definitely! I’ve always said the only permanent thing about me is change. I can’t remember who originally said that. (smile).
Her video game character?
BeBe: It is common knowledge of your legal battles with Sega over pirating your likeness in the creation of a video game character (Ulala). With so much concentration on the piracy of artist’s music, do you think the image piracy you’ve experienced has been overlooked, and is more prevalent than we may think?
Lady Miss Kier: They paid me $750,000 not to speak about that.
BeBe: I know you have performed many times at various gay events and clubs in San Francisco, and across the globe, over the years. How important has the role of your gay audience been in keeping Lady Miss Kier relevant?
Lady Miss Kier: I play about 50% of the time in gay clubs and the other 50% in straight clubs. Of course, most of them are mixed with both gay and straight people because I choose to play in the clubs with what I consider to have the best music policies. Music oriented clubs draw a mix crowd as opposed to pick-up meat market clubs, which tend to be divided and play tacky music. From the beginning of my career I have attracted misfits, like myself, and many of them are gay. We can identify with each other. The support from the gay community has been phenomenally touching, supportive and like family. I must say, my fans are very creative, deep, socially conscious and kind. The love I receive from my fans gives me a tremendous amount of energy.
Lady Miss Kier will perform on the House Music Dance Stage on Sunday, June 24 at the Annual San Francisco Gay Pride Day Parade.