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What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there. For instance, Kristine W – the chart-topping dance-music powerhouse adored by the gays – is heading to Detroit, where the Sin City-based singer will perform at 10 p.m. (doors open at 9) March 24 at Backstreet.
Kristine gave us a buzz recently to chat about her upcoming album, the closeted gay choir director who inspired her as a kid and the pressure on her – a farm girl from Washington – to go country.
What’s new, Kristine?
Working on the new album. I just got out of the studio, and got my hard drive stuffed in my purse. We do sessions and put everything on our hard drive, so I run around with hard drives stuffed in my purse. (Laughs)
The new album is so fun. Bimbo Jones is a great production team to work with. It’s been a wild ride and very labor-intensive, but the next few months we’re going to be really churning and burning to finish it up. We shot the album cover with Mike Ruiz in New York this past week. We’re just having a hard time coming up with a title. We’re all over the place.
How do you approach new music?
I don’t want to be an ambulance chaser. I always find it annoying that someone does what the last five people have done, so I try to create stuff that’s different and tap into my audience and see what they’re feeling at the moment and do songs they can relate to.
A lot of songs on the new album will be new productions of my original hits. We’re doing a mix of brand-new material and a few of the No. 1s that we tend to do a lot, because if we don’t people start freaking out. If there’s no “Land of the Living” or “One More Try,” you get hate mail.
How much new music will we hear at this gig?
I don’t think we’re going to perform any of the new stuff, because this album doesn’t come out until June. I just find that you really can’t do that anymore. In five seconds, you have someone writing a song with the same title as yours, or using the same melodic hook. You gotta be so careful now. It used to be so fun to test-drive a reaction to a song, but you really can’t do that with social media.
What do you remember about the last time you performed in Detroit – at Backstreet in 2006?
Being kind of scared! It was at night and we were trying to find the club, and then we found the door and it was so cool. The vibe is so much fun there.
Weren’t you raised on a farm?
Yeah, totally. My grandpa was an alfalfa and wheat farmer and he raised black angus beef cattle for the Black Angus restaurant chain back in the day. So I kind of brought the ranch with me, because I have a little ranch where we perform. It looks like a little farmhouse, but it’s actually a rehearsal studio. We call it “the ranch.” It’s on two-and-a-half acres, so we can be as loud as we want and nobody gets mad at us. I have my horses out there, and I have a sheep and a goat, and random animals that people drop off that they don’t want anymore. (Laughs) My mom was telling me I remind her of Eva Gabor in “Green Acres.”
So not many gay people around, I assume.
Not really. When I was a kid, the first person that I figured out was gay was my choir director – believe it or not, I figured that one out! (Laughs) Obviously he wasn’t out at all, but my mom used to pretend to be his girlfriend and I was hip to the fact that he was definitely not her boyfriend, that he was her confidante or best friend. I was like, “Wait a minute!”
What kind of influence did he have on you musically?
I remember I’d go over to his house all the time; I just adored him. He was one of my best friends and he gave me piano lessons and singing lessons. He and I were super tight. He always gave me the solos because I had this big ol’ voice, so I got to be the calling card as the church got fuller. People were talking about this kid who could sing really good. I brought an audience and helped make the church popular.
But he was my first. He was always around after my dad died when I was 3. I was about 8 years old when I realized that he was definitely not my mom’s boyfriend. In Vegas we call them a “shill,” where gamblers are hired by the casino to pretend that they’re gambling. So, she was that. He was a sixth-grade teacher, and she knew that if anyone caught wind that he was gay, he would’ve lost his job – he would’ve lost everything. So I learned early on how the party rolls. When I was embraced by the gay community, I just thought how proud he would’ve been.
What was your mom like?
My mom was a working musician, so she performed six nights a week from 5 to 11 o’clock. I don’t think she had a hardcore passion for it; it was more about survival. She’s really good at the wigs; she looked like Liz Taylor. She had the black hair and beautiful blue eyes. And perfect boobs. I call her a musical therapist, because she sang half the time, talked half the time and knew everyone. It was like a “Cheers” atmosphere. And, for me, that’s where that comes from.
How did you wind up taking the dance-pop route instead of going country?
There was a lot of pressure for me to do country because I was good at it. But I started winning these competitions in junior high as a jazz soloist, because my mom would perform on the weekends with jazz trios. I was around all these amazing musicians and people would constantly teach me old music. When I came to Vegas, there really wasn’t any style of music I couldn’t sing, because I grew up with a mom who sang country and sang jazz tunes and standards. My two best friends – one Mexican, one black – turned me onto all the killer R&B, soul and dance music.
I remember the turning point was when I was a kid and I heard Donna Summer on the radio and that just stopped me in my tracks – her combination of a gospel voice with dance music. I remember being a kid and my mom going, “What’s wrong with you?”
You have more No. 1s on the Billboard dance charts than Donna Summer and Whitney Houston, both of whom also have big voices. What are your thoughts on Whitney’s legacy?
While performing in Vegas, we did Whitney Houston medleys all the time. I remember us doing “Queen of the Night” and “I’m Every Woman.” We did a whole medley for my Vegas show. Nobody sounded like her. They’ve tried to emulate her, but she’s one of a kind.
I’m angry, because she was constantly surrounded by people. Why didn’t someone just say, “This is it, sister, we gotta clean this shit up”? It’s weird. I’ve been asking myself, “Why are you so mad about it?” But it’s sad. They just watched a train go off its tracks. It makes my heart ache. I wish I would’ve been her friend. If my gay boys get out of hand, I figure out something.
Have you intervened in the lives of your gay friends before?
Oh god, yes. One, a really talented drag performer, lived with me for four or five months, and he got on crack. Boy, did I witness some shit. His teeth were falling out, and to see how he deteriorated in a year was just shocking. But I turned his life around. He’s so successful now. I’ve never done any drugs, no pot, but I like my champagne.
Pinot noir if I’m really partying hard!
10 p.m. March 24
15606 Joy Road, Detroit