Taylor Dayne began her career by singing in small New York venues. Come 1987, however, her single “Tell It to My Heart” made her an overnight star in Europe, and within a year she was playing football stadiums on Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour. To date, she has sold more than 75 million albums and singles worldwide.
Now she has written an autobiography, “Tell It to My Heart: How I Lost My S#*T, Conquered My Fear, and Found My Voice,” in which she recounts not only her rise to stardom but also the abuse and considerable emotional and mental health challenges she needed to overcome before getting there.
Dayne will perform at the at the Spicy Cantina in Seaside Heights, May 24 at 6 p.m., as part of a “Kickoff to Summer” broadcast by the Manahawkin-based radio station WJRZ (100.1 FM). For information, visit wjrz.com.
In this conversation, Dayne touches on her struggles, discusses her book and her early career, explains why she’s not as famous as others think she should be, and reveals which songs she really enjoys singing (and which ones she doesn’t).
Q: Let me start by congratulating you not only on your book but also on one of the more compelling titles I’ve seen in a while.
A: (laughs) I appreciate that, thank you!
Q: Celebrity biographies often work overtime to identify a dramatic hurdle — any dramatic hurdle — that the artist needed to overcome in order to get where they are today. When sitting down to write this, you didn’t need to think about what yours was.
A: No, I didn’t. I grew up in an abusive household and it brought about long struggles I would have with panic attacks and agoraphobia and bulimia. Even today, you hear a lot of talk about stress but not as much about anxiety. At the time … and this is for years we’re talking about … my anxiety became so intense that I would basically build an emotional prison around myself. It’s a very complicated and painful and dark place to live. By the time I was 15 or so, I had been served a life’s worth of lessons and curveballs, and by the time I was 17, there was already a lot of internal work that I needed to do to be healthy.
Q: Meanwhile, you dove into the ultra-competitive music business, playing clubs throughout Long Island and Manhattan, which is not exactly a cure for anxiety.
A: Definitely not. But I played everywhere, including all the big spots in the city. CBGB. The Bitter End. Hey, I was privileged to grow up in New York and it was all accessible to me and I wanted it. I would have been foolish not to take it on. That was my upbringing, you know? Right into the lion’s den, baby! (laughs)
Q: If we walked into a club in the mid-’80s and saw pre-fame Taylor Dayne onstage, what would we be seeing?
A: You would have seen me singing mostly original music, but at that time it would be some rock and then eventually new wave. I was working in a health food store while going to college to study music and playing in bands at night. I was really trying to find a group of like-minded individuals who were doing it on a big scale to get a record deal, because let me tell you, I was all about getting a record deal, honey.
Q: Yet you made it as a solo artist.
A: I realized in short time that it would be no more band for me, because if I was going to get anywhere, I needed to play with me, myself and I. (laughs) I didn’t want five opinions on every decision that needed to be made. I knew what I had to do, hence I fell right into making 12-inch (singles) and then … well you know the turn of events.
Q: “Tell It to My Heart” broke big for you in Europe.
Q: True or false, you recorded that vocal around 5 a.m. after performing at a club that night?
A: That’s true. I sang at a Russian nightclub and that’s how I paid my bills for more than two years. I mean, this was a real Russian nightclub, if you know what I mean. Ask anyone from Brooklyn and they’ll tell you about the Russian clubs. I would work late-night hours and was making people happy no matter how drunk or not drunk they may be (laughs). But I told (fellow singer) Diane Jones at that time, “I’m getting famous, and when I do, you’re coming with me!” That was my version of the Blues Brothers’ Mission From God statement! (Dayne hired Jones as a background singer upon being signed.) I would work there 10 hours a night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and it wasn’t uncommon at all for me to leave there and drive out to the studio and meet my friend Rick at 4 or 5 in the morning to work on stuff. We were like lab rats in that studio, and one of those mornings we cut “Tell It to My Heart.”
Q: That song was the public’s introduction to your unique voice, which, thanks to “Prove Your Love,” “I’ll Always Love You” and “Don’t Rush Me,” became readily identifiable within a year.
A: As you said, “Tell It to My Heart” was actually a huge hit in Europe first. They released it over there and I spent six months in Europe doing promotion and photo shoots and watching the phenomenon of this record just happen. We didn’t even have a video. I wasn’t even pictured on the sleeve of the (single)!
Q: You were running by the seat of your pants, and suddenly having to star in music videos. You’re a beautiful woman and you’ve always had stage presence, but was preening and posing for videos something that took a while to get used to?
A: Well, let me put it to you this way. The overnight stardom is what people see, right? But I always wanted to be one of those voices that came out of the transistor radio I owned as a young girl. These people were sounding like they came from a beautiful magic kingdom or queendom. When I heard Karen Carpenter or Stevie Wonder, there was bliss, you know? They and every other star looked like they had the greatest life on the planet compared to mine.
Now, fast forward to being a teenage girl of 14 or 15 who is constantly looking at Vogue and ripping out every page and hanging it on her wall and looking at every rock star who had supermodels like Jerry Hall and Patti Hansen on their arm. I was pretty much thinking, “Jeez, one day this ugly duckling is going to blossom!” (laughs) So once they gave me an opportunity to be in front of that camera and put some extensions in my hair and red lipstick on my lips, a metamorphosis happened. I was more than ready and willing to play along, honey. That’s what you see in the “Tell It to My Heart” video. It was basically just me and a camera and some white walls around me, you know? Everything I had prepared for, over the years, had come to that moment.
Q: Some of your celebrity friends — ranging from RuPaul to Wynonna Judd — recently appeared with you in their own “Tell It to My Heart” video, to celebrate your 30 years in the business. With all this time having passed, what do you see when you look back at an old video or poster and see that Taylor Dayne?
A: Oh, wow. Well looking through some of those photos while putting together this book was definitely a journey for me. I looked at a few of them where I said, “Who the hell is that?” I mean, there are pictures that I forgot existed, like me getting onstage in Tijuana right after my career started. As far as the fashion? I hung out on Eighth Street and Second Avenue. I was a St. Mark’s girl. I was downtown. All that influence — the clothing, the latex, the Playtex, if you will — that’s where it came from. I would hang out down there after the Russian club, already looking like that, ready to be seen! (laughs)
Q: I asked you for this interview, and now we’ve talked a bit, so you should know that I have love for you. Still, I have to float this out there.
A: (laughs) Okay.
Q: You are one of the least famous, famous people I can think of.
A: (laughs loudly)
Q: Do you know what I mean?
A: I do!
Q: It makes very little sense. Your songs have been played on the radio every day for over 30 years. You’ve appeared in videos and movies and television. The world has purchased tens of millions of your records. Yet …
A: I think people will understand when they read the book. I mean, look, there were moments where I actually thought it was all too much. When I was 29 I had so much accomplishment in the business, yet had never felt lonelier. And a lot of that had to do with a dialogue constantly going on, inside of me. I felt on top of the world, yet alone. And I know that you’ve probably heard a lot of that from celebrities and pop stars that you talk to — they talk about a crisis of loneliness? Well, it’s true. I can tell you that it exists. You’re not sure about what you’re giving out and what you’re getting back. And I don’t mean that in regard to the fans, because I have great fans and I love them. It’s more of an internal thing. I had moments of great stardom, if you will, but people will say to me, “You know, Taylor, you’re underrated.” If that’s true, then some of it has to do with the struggles I dealt with in regard to my record company, but also the choices I made for myself when it was crazy and too scary for me to just let go.
Q: I also think it’s because, despite your charisma and star quality, you never gave the public that “car crash moment.” You used a surrogate to become a single mom of twins, 17 years ago. That’s as “out there” as it got for you, but that’s beautiful. You didn’t assault people or have a bad celebrity marriage or keep an elephant as a pet.
A: (laughs) Well, the troubles I did have weren’t out in public, that’s for sure. And there is probably a lot of truth to what you’re saying. Looking back now, I should have bought an elephant! I would have been very good to my pet elephant.
Q: You saw what outsized fame can look like up close when you opened up for Michael Jackson at his touring height.
A: It was incredible. I had seen a bunch of arena shows previously, but these were soccer stadiums in Europe that held, like, 80,000 people. In America, I was doing these radio-type tours with Keith Sweat and Belinda Carlisle, and we were just meeting up in the lobby every day and going off to do our thing. But I remember being in Boston on a snowy day when I got the call saying that I was going to open up for Michael Jackson. It just didn’t seem real.
Q: Despite all the other reasons that it appeared daunting, it must have been a logistical challenge as well. It was your first tour and you were playing to huge stadiums without the use of the full stage, and with barely any lights or production, right?
A: Yes, but you should have seen my outfit, honey. Whoo! (both laugh) I went up there with the black leather and some serious shimmy sham. C’mon, you know that! And I had the big ass hair to go with it.
Q: You were the production.
A: That’s right!
Q: Still, you were up there looking out at these fans and you knew how bad they wanted to see the biggest pop star in the world. Did they give you a fair shake?
A: From what I remember, I feel like they gave me a very fair shake. When I was up there, all I heard was the sound (imitates a huge roar) and it just didn’t sound like a normal sound. It sounded like a coliseum. One you were being fed to the lions in. (laughs) Most of the time, I was probably just trying to repress it all and not vomit or shit my pants in my 30 minutes. (Robert laughs) But mostly, I kept my eyes and ears open and got on that stage and was fiery.
I’ll never forget when I came home after that tour and Clive Davis wanted us to play a showcase-type thing at The Bitter End. We suddenly went from like 80,000 people to 100 people! And what were the critics saying? “She tore through The Bitter End! She almost burned the place down!” I was so used to stadiums that I guess I wanted to reach that last person in the room, you know? All the way in the back! (laughs)
Q: After you finished your set, would you jump in the van and head back to the hotel, or did you stick around and watch Michael?
A: Oh no, I would often stay around and watch. He was great, of course, and I would mingle and build relationships. Ultimately, Frank DiLeo, Michael’s manager, said “I’ll manage you after we do this.” And he did.
Q: You also must have encountered Sheryl Crow.
A: Absolutely. We played volleyball on the beach. Sheryl was singing backup for Michael and had the big hair back then, as well. We only did, like, two shows a week, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other. Michael was often off in Monaco or wherever with a king or a queen or a prince, and all of us on the tour would be left to our own devices in Europe, just taking it in and having a great time.
Q: You joked about being thrown to the lions a bit ago, but you’ve been put in challenging situations before. Performing Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” on Broadway had to be one of those.
A: It was, but you know what? When you see a show on Broadway of that size, just imagine everything that goes into it: the writing and production and rehearsal. Well, this was a Disney production, you know? So they hired me and the rest of the cast several years before it actually happened, and we would continually workshop it for Elton and Tim and Disney execs. It was a long and drawn-out process, so I was very familiar with the show by the time we actually had to do it.
Q: Many singers I speak with are above a certain age, and some of them are in advanced age. Yet nearly all of them claim that they’ve never been better at what they do than right now. Generally speaking, they’re not. (laughs) Your voice, on the other hand, is in truly fantastic shape.
A: Thank you, I appreciate hearing it. I believe one of the big reasons for that is that I’m operatically trained. I don’t know if that’s something a lot of people know about me. I remember making the decision early on to train operatically, not only because I thought it was the best tool for how my voice would sound, but also because it would help maintain my voice when I was screaming over the noise in the clubs. I’m an entertainer, and first and foremost a singer, and I consider taking care of my voice and my body and my energy a big part of my job.
Q: And it is a job, so do you still love performing, or is love too strong a word at this point?
A: No, love is definitely not too strong a word. I feel the purpose of why I’m doing it stronger than ever. Earlier, when we were discussing the part of the book where I talk about the dilemma of what am I doing it for and what is it all about? Well, now the energy from my audience means everything to me. When you hear music, it changes the energy in the room. It’s a scientific fact that music elevates and integrates. It brings people together and at that moment in that room, my job is to serve that. I love doing it.
Q: Your favorite song to sing while doing it?
A: There are a few. “I’ll Be Your Shelter,” for sure. “Love Will Lead You Back,” for sure. “Tell It to My Heart,” absolutely. I mean, I don’t want to cop out and say all of them, but when you’re doing a show you try to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and I enjoy singing the whole story.
Q: You’ve written a very forthcoming and direct book, so I’m sure you’ll be equally forthcoming and direct in telling us what song you would happily not perform for awhile if your public didn’t demand it?
A: (big laugh) Wow! Okay … I could probably live without singing “Prove Your Love.”
Q: Hmm. I thought maybe …
A: Or “Don’t Rush Me”! (both laugh)
Visit Dayne’s Website: TaylorDayne.com
Follow Dayne’s Twitter: @TaylorDayne
Follow Dayne on Instagram: @TheRealTaylorDayne
Follow Dayne on Facebook: @TheRealTaylorDayne
Robert Ferraro is a former producer of radio talk shows and Major League Baseball broadcasts who interviews pop culture figures.
This article first appeared on Ferraro’s web site, ofpersonalinterest.com.
Follow Ferraro on Twitter at: @PopCultRob
Follow Ferraro on Facebook at: @ofpersonalinterest
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence, though, depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $10, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJ Arts Daily to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.