Debby Holiday :: A Voice For ALL Seasons

By BeBe Sweetbriar www.BeBeSweetbriar.com ( original interview appears in LEFT Magazine)

DEBBY Holiday
Crossover artist has primarily been used to describe a R&B musician who has been able to have success on the Pop charts. But when you call Debby Holiday a crossover artist, it refers to a Rock singer crossing over into the Dance genre of music. Debby Holiday’s success in music may be defined by her numerous Billboard Top 20 Dance hits like Dive, Half A Mile Away, Joyful Sound, Party Round the World, Never Give Up and several more, but Debby’s voice is rooted in Rock and Roll. A voice that has provided her opportunities to share the stage with Rock greats like Joe Walsh, John Waite, Rod Stewart and Kiss. Dance music and Rock music may seem like miles apart to many, but to Debby Holiday their similarities are quite evident. “I think where the similarities are, at least in my mind, are in the passion”, says Debby. “It’s all very passionate music.”

Debby has been on record to say that rock is her first love but she has been able to find a voice in Dance music quite easily. “It kind of makes sense because even the way I sing Dance music has a rock edge to it. It’s somewhere in between Gospel and Rock and Roll. They’re interchangeable to me,” comments Holiday. That Rock-edged Dance music voice has given Debby distinction that can be heard in her music placements in television shows and in gyms and other major public places. When you hear a Debby Holiday song, you know it’s Debby Holiday.

With a recent new single release as the featured artist on Tony Moran‘s remake of the 1985 Phyllis Nelson hit I Like You, Debby’s distinctive voice is what helps make the cover tune anew and her own. “….when you are remaking some amazing vocalist’s song, it can be intimidating. Not that I don’t believe in my own abilities, but you want to hear the song with out copying them,” said Debby. Holidays strong and powerful vocals with Moran’s production really takes I Like You to another level from the original. “Girl, I’m loud as hell. You can’t contain that.”

Debby belting out a song.
Debby belting out a song.

Though in high demand to perform at predominately gay clubs, venues and events across the country, Debby made time in her busy schedule to chat with me for awhile about her Rock and Roll roots, the transition into Dance music, working with Tony Moran and that highly anticipated third solo album.

BeBe: Multitalented – when I think of that word, Debby Holiday invariably comes to mind simply based on the variety of music you do. Though the public is very aware of your Dance music success over the past 10 years (since Dive in 2004), do you think people are a bit surprised to find out about your work in heavy rock and country rock?

Debby Holiday: It’s about 50/50. Some people are like “Oh, my God!” because the rock is really heavy rock with guitars, or “Oh, my Lord!” I had no idea. And then others are like it kind of makes sense because even the way I sing Dance music has a rock edge to it. It’s somewhere in between Gospel and Rock and Roll. They’re interchangeable to me.

BeBe: When I listen to the “Rock Stuff Debby”, I don’t immediately put in my mind that this is the Dive girl! It’s different to me.

Debby Holiday: I think where the similarities are, at least in my mind, are in the passion. It’s all very passionate music. That’s why I’m doing a double album. Dance music is passionate, and Rock music is passionate. I want those two worlds to co-mingle.Debby Holiday

BeBe: How did your first dance hit Dive (#5 Billboard Dance Chart) come about since you were in a rock band at the time?

Debby Holiday: Well, when I wrote it, the rock band I was in at the time never wanted to do it because they said it was too dancey. I self-recorded it at home, and it was just siting on my hard drive. Then Andrew “Drew” Briskin (a music manager who passed in 2012) and Del Shores (creator of Sordid Lives) both heard it and said Dive needed to be a dance remix. And, I said “what?” I never thought about that. Del was pretty persistent about it, and Drew, in a drunken stupor one night sent the track to Chris Cox, never thinking he would respond. And then, chris responded. I sent him my vocals and what he sent back was what became the first version of Dive you heard on the dance floor. There were no edits done to it. It’s amazing because when I write songs, that’s how I hear them. And, for someone like Chris Cox to take it and make it something different is amazing.

BeBe: Remixers make songs different, but few can capture the passion and all the stuff you, as a songwriter,are trying to convey in the original version of the song. That’s, to me, the difference between a great dance song and a good dance song. The beat can be fine and the lyrics and melody good, but sometimes the passion can be lost in the way the song is remixed. I don’t lose the passion in your dance music.

Debby Holiday: I think that’s because of two reasons: One, I have been blessed to have an amazing array of DJ/Producers remix my music. And two, girl, I am loud as hell. You can’t contain that.

BeBe: You are one of those singers that are distinctive and easy to identify. Nowadays, they play with artists vocals so much in the studio, they all begin to sound the same.

Debby Holiday: There is so much auto-tune used right now, even on people who don’t necessarily need it. With the auto-tune you do lose distinction.

BeBe: But like Martha Wash and Aretha, we know your voice!

Debby Holiday: Did you just say my name in the same sentence as Martha Wash? (said with joyful astonishment)

BeBe: Having a distinctive voice must be very marketable for you, and apart of why you have been successful in getting great placement of your music in television shows and other places.

Debby Holiday: You’re right about the TV placements and stuff. I’m always getting calls from people I know saying “girl, I was on the treadmill in the gym and heard your voice blasting out the stereo.”

BeBe: How long after Dive did you first work with Grammy-nominated DJ/Producer Tony Moran?

Debby Holiday: Surrender Me (#19 Billboard Dance Chart) with Tony was my fifth single 4 years after Dive.

BeBe: So after 6 years, you guys are back together with a new single called I Like You. Now, this song was not originally written for you, right?

"I Like You" single by Tony Moran feat. Debby Holiday
“I Like You” single by Tony Moran feat. Debby Holiday

Debby Holiday: no, it’s a remake of a song by Phyllis Nelson (mother of Boys II Men co-founder Marc Nelson) that went #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart in 1985. She’s no longer with us dying of breast cancer which makes it kind of special for me to have remade this. It’s an honor to take someone else’s music and reshare it. I had never heard it before.

BeBe: Remakes can be tricky, especially one that was originally a hit because people familiar with the song have a hard time getting the original version out of their head and then make unfair comparisons. With that in mind, how did you approach recording I Like You to make the song your own?

Debby Holiday: What I had learned from doing remakes is that I will listen to the original 3-4 times if I’m not familiar with the song, which most times than not, I’m not familiar because when it originally came out I was full throttle Rock and Roll. And that helps because when you are remaking some amazing vocalist’s song, it can be intimidating. Not that I don’t believe in my own abilities, but you want to hear the song with out copying them. And I have to say, while recording the song, Tony (Moran) was truly a collaborator. He would ask me to try different inflections in my voice here and there and really collaborated on the direction of the vocals. You don’t always get that from producers.

BeBe: Well you succeeded in making it your own because when I first heard it, I thought I Like You had been written for you. It just has you written all over it. And watching you in the music video have so much fun, and letting loose, and looking so comfortable with the song makes it even harder to believe that this is a remake.

Debby Holiday: Yeah, there’s a whole lot of my face in that video (wildly laughs).

Still frame from "I Like You" music video
Still frame from “I Like You” music video

BeBe: We don’t need nothing else. We just need to see Debby sangin’ this song.

Debby Holiday: Big love to Bella Erickson who directed and edited the video. She worked her tail off.

BeBe: Your theater background (Trials And Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife) is apparent to me in the video. Do you think your theater experience helps your performances in music videos and while performing your music on stage?

Debby Holiday: I think it’s my music that helps my theater work. My first two concerts I ever went to as a young girl were Alice Cooper and Bette Midler. Two very expressive performers. And because of my father (musician and songwriter Jimmy Holiday) there were always these big character musicians like Etta James coming around. To stand there and not emote what you’re feeling would not be acceptable. Also, I don’t do drugs and I don’t party, so I got to be wild somewhere (much laughter).

BeBe: It’s been awhile since you’ve done an album collection of songs ( Debby Holiday, 2003. Half A Mile Away, 2005). You’ve been steadily putting out singles. So this double album you are working on is coming with much anticipation.

Debby Holiday

Debby Holiday: I’ve been working on my half Rock and half Dance music double album for a year now. All new songs, no remixes. I wrote all the songs both Rock and Dance, except I’m finally remaking my father’s song Put A Little Love In Your Heart (made famous by Jackie DeShannon). That was cathartic. The double album has been a lot of writing and recording. Ooh, chil’! Hopefully we will release the work in March/April of 2015. Though I love the Dance music, it was fun recording in the studio the Rock stuff with live musicians.

I Like You by Tony Moran featurng Debby Holiday is now available on Beatport.com.

I Like You – Music Video

Follow Debby on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/debbyholiday and on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/debbyholiday. You can listen to Debby’s