Kevin Stea - Going Rogue (Romeo)
You may not recognize him by name, but Kevin Stea’s work is something you’ve likely seen. The dancer, choreographer, actor, singer, director and model has worked in the entertainment industry since the 1990s. He has assisted choreographer on Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, and has choreographed and danced with such musical acts as Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Cher, the Pussycat Dolls.
It wasn’t, though, until three years ago did he come into his own (and stardom) with That Rogue Romeo.
Ironically it was working with Madonna on the 1990 Blond Ambition Tour where Stea learned how ’stick up for myself.’ That came when the film record of the tour, "Truth or Dare," was released in 1991. The following year Stea joined with fellow dancers Oliver Crumes and Gabriel Trupin to file a lawsuit against Madonna for fraud and invasion of privacy as a result of the documentary. After more than two years of litigation, in October 1994, the suit was withdrawn and an undisclosed settlement was reached.
Now Kevin is sticking up again for himself with the creation of That Rogue Romeo - a moniker he uses for his singing career. After performing original material before club audiences for a couple of years, That Rogue Romeo’s debut album "Machine & Magic" was independently released in June 2012 receiving high praise in Europe.
That Rogue Romeo is an artist with something to say; but his debut album did not produce any radio or club friendly songs. Towards that end, That Rogue Romeo deconstructed the songs from "Machine & Magic" with the help of commissioned remixers and released "REBUILT" this past July.
"I wanted to see if my songs would hold up," says Stea. "I wanted to see if my music could be danceable."
With That Rogue Romeo the Kevin Stea’s brilliance is no longer hidden behind other artists.
BeBe: You have lead a life in that business called ’show’ that many people dream of. You’ve spent the past 20 years dancing, acting, choreographing, modeling and singing. Nothing is probably new for you at this point in your career. Has the That Rogue Romeo project been about rejuvenating yourself?
Kevin Stea: That’s kind of interesting because it kind of happened in reverse. I was trying to figure out what my next step would be. I had been focusing on choreography, creative and tour directing. The last time I had written a song was pretty traumatic for me because I got caught up in a memory of my producer’s father who died in my arms. Suddenly, I was producing a concert when my friends, with whom I was working, insisted that I sing in the show. So, I did, and the experience of performing that traumatic song on stage transformed the trauma into one of celebration and rejuvenation. That inspired me so much to pursue the singing thing more wholeheartedly because I knew there would be fulfillment and satisfaction on the other side of that. So, the exploration of that experience and idea became That Rogue Romeo.
BeBe: Is it correct to say that That Rogue Romeo was thus a performance thing for you initially rather than a recording vehicle? I mean you were using this creation to perform again...
Kevin Stea: Absolutely. As you said earlier, I had done a bit of everything. I had done everything that I wanted to do in the dance world. What else could I possibly do? Where does it end? It was all sort of the same thing with different people. Insert new artist here and go! When I started doing things of my own, I started feeling as if I had a new voice. It was like I gained speech. I was actually saying something that was truly me, mine, rather than all these make believe characters I was creating in all these other (dance) jobs. I found it both fun and challenging at the same time.
BeBe: That’s part of the beauty of it all. You’ve worked with the cream of the crop... Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga in the music world as a dancer/choreographer. You’ve also done stuff with photographers Herb Ritts and David LaChapelle, and designer Tom Hilfiger. The list goes on and on. With that said, no matter how great your talents were in all of those interactions, you were really just contributing to someone else’s dream.
Kevin Stea: There is a lot of me and my unique contribution in a lot of famous work out there, but I never get any credit for it.
BeBe: Over the past three years with the That Rogue Romeo performances and songwriting, you were able to come up with a full-length album of songs, ’Machine & Magic.’ The album performed well over in Europe. For some reason the type of electronic music you do, the Europeans get it! Is it hard for you as an American artist to receive greater appreciation for your work abroad than at home?
Kevin Stea: In the beginning, I did put some thought into who my end, or target audience is. Then I let it go. If what I have to say is not received as disco club friendly, then maybe it’s not. I feel like here in America there’s a specific genre identification that you have to fit into in order to be successful. In Europe, they are more open to genre-crossing and sounds that are a little more undefinable, a little more experimental. I don’t mind having notoriety or recognition in other countries. I sort of like the balance of having notoriety in one place, and having anonymity in another. There’s some value in not being a world phenomenon.
BeBe: Over in Europe your music got so much exposure being played on so many mediums including railway systems and television. Music from ’Machine & Magic’ was everywhere. Then you decided to do something a little different with the project through remixing each and every song from that album to create your latest release, ’REBUILT.’
When commissioning the remixes was there something in particular that you were looking for from your remixers to deliver to you? I mean these songs have been totally reconstructed.
Kevin Stea: Well first I wanted to see if the songs I wrote held up. You know sometimes if you take the original arrangement away the song loses its footing. What I realized in doing ’REBUILT’ is that these songs are pretty solid. I told the various remixers (Djnb, Ap, F3tto, Cr3) to let go of structure. They did not have to stay attached to the original song structure. I enjoy creating something new from the visions of many. I wanted to give these remixers room to play; but I did want this album to have a club feel, however, and make people dance. I wanted to see if my tracks could in fact play in clubs. Are they danceable? That was the bottom line.
BeBe: In other words, this project ’REBUILT’ in essence combining all of who you are as a creative person. You are a creator of ideas and communicator thus the message through lyrics are important, and you are a dancer/choreographer so making people move is also important.
Kevin Stea: In a general sense, the goal is to see if I can create dance music that has lyrical impact.
Dancing with meaning
BeBe: Isn’t that what makes dance music radio friendly?
Kevin Stea: Yes, but I feel so much that is out there now is literally just NOTHING! I want to bring lyrical content to the club. You can dance and jump around and still something meaningful.
BeBe: You released a video to the ’REBUILT’ version of the song ’Domino’ as the album’s first video, which was directed by a long time friend of yours, Vincent Paterson. Did your friendship begin while you were working with Madonna and Michael Jackson?
Kevin Stea: I actually met Vince when I auditioned for a Diana Ross tour when I was 18-19. Though he liked what I was doing, he thought I was far too young for the job, but later he hired me for a Pepsi commercial. I was already attached to Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour with Karole Armitage as the assistant choreographer before Vince came on board (Madonna fired Armitage). When Vince came in he kept me on as the assistant. We’ve been friends ever since. We have worked together constantly throughout my career.
BeBe: You grew up during the MTV era when video became so important to the music industry. MTV capitalized on the notion that music would be ever more enjoyable if we were stimulated visually while listening to the music. Music videos created a memory to go along with the music. You have to understand the importance behind the music video because you have seen the difference they have made to making ones music memorable. Working with you on the creative process of a video must be amazing, I imagine.
Kevin Stea: I have concepts for every song I have (written). Once I’m done writing it, I instantly switch into visual mode, which is the way I conceive the song to begin with. My songs come from a space of visualization already. I imagine entire scripts and themes for everything.
BeBe: The ’Domino’ video immediately became popular winning the FameTube.com contest.
Kevin Stea: That was cool seeing an entirely new audience kind of discovering the video and my music. I really enjoy when people discover my music first and know anything about my history or past as a performer. It’s nice to see people respond to my lyrics and music on visual level and get it!
BeBe: But it is good that you do have your past experiences as a performer to call upon, I would think. You have a wealth of people you can call upon so when you get to producing the songs, you have the best hands possible to work on it with you.
Kevin Stea: Yeah, I’ve pulled so many favors! BeBe, I may be out of favors.
BeBe: The same week you released ’REBUILT,’ you released a video to the ’Machine & Magic’ single (July 30). How does this new video differ from the ’Domino’ video?
Kevin Stea: Interestingly enough, I released the ’Domino’ video first because I thought it a departure from what people would expect from me. (It’s) a little more rock and roll, a little rougher, a little darker. I waited on ’Machine & Magic’ because this particular video is a little more straight-forward pop artist video with dancers and storyline. This video is definitely different than any other video I’ve done. Also, I look a little closer to Kevin than That Rogue Romeo in the video. I’m hardly in make-up. This is a dance video. It’s not super high concept.
BeBe: You worked with Chan Andre and Brian Friedman of Identity Unknown Entertainment who have worked with Frenchie Davis, Britney Spears and the X-Factor in past couple of years. Was this a new relationship for you, and how was it working with them?
Kevin Stea: Well not so new. I’ve known Brian since he was 12. We worked together in a live performance by Michael Jackson of ’Black or White.’ And, Chan used to assist photographer/music video director Peggy Sirota who I worked with a lot on commercials and music videos.
BeBe: What’ next with this project? Are you putting together some sort of tour?
Kevin Stea: I’m trying to wait for the response to this and then see what area to take this all into next. I’m just about at that point to start looking for a record label for support. I do want to tour. I love touring. But, I want to do a tour with distribution and tour backing in place. At where I’m at right now as an independent artist, distribution is absolutely key! I’m branding myself and creating the buzz now so when I approach a record label, it will be about distribution and not about artist development.
An arrestable offense?
BeBe: I can’t let you go without asking one Madonna question. But avoiding the obvious ones, I’ve always wondered about an incident that occurred while you were on the Blond Ambition Tour stop in Toronto, Canada when the police their threatened to arrest Madonna if she went through with her simulated masturbation act while performing ’Like A Virgin’ during the concert. This was all documented in the ’Truth or Dare’ documentary which shows you standing right next to Madonna as made the announcement about the potential arrest backstage, and her decision to go forward with the performance as choreographed. Your expression showed such true shock that this arrest was about to happen to Madonna for expressing her creative freedom. What was the real feeling about the situation amongst the cast?
Kevin Stea: It was scared mischievous delight! I really was shocked that people would respond to the performance like that. (An arrest) was not even on my radar. I couldn’t believe that someone would see it and think that the performance was an arrestable offense. I was there with Vince (Paterson) creating these steps. The arrest was a real and true possibility, so it took a minute to process. Once I did, I said ’I’m willing to be arrested for that. Fucking come and arrest me. Just try it!’ We would have fucking vogued and masturbated in the fucking jail!
BeBe: I always wondered if anyone had refused to perform because of the potential of arrest?
Kevin Stea: No, at that point, we were a team. Being with Madonna, I did learn to stand up for myself. Seeing her and how strong-minded she was about her views and what was important to her, and standing behind her creative vision with such courage and strength, that always stayed with me. I learned how to stand up for artistic integrity.
For more on Kevin Stea and That Rogue Romeo, visit his website.
Watch the video to "Domino":
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.