interview by Michael McCarthy
Dalea started her music career as the lead singer and founder of Quimera Music, a symphonic metal band, from 2009 to 2013. This week she just released her debut solo album, Visitor, and it’s amazing. Perhaps it’s not quite as symphonic as Quimera Music, but if you were a fan of the band then you’ll surely like Visitor as well. The heavy metal guitars remain intact and when there is orchestral music it makes you feel like you’re watching an intense scene in a movie, like when it’s at the very end and the hero has to fight hard and fast to save the day. Speaking of heroes, Dalea truly is one. On her album, she’s basically portraying a heroine from outer space who’s just arrived on earth and is making observations about what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. The heroine’s message is that you should be your true self – not who other people want you to be – and do what makes you truly happy. It just so happens that Dalea herself has had to fight to do these things in her own life. You see, Dalea was born with a genetic variation (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) and was once petrified of people finding out. Scared that if she became a musician and became famous her backstory would come out, that her secret would be revealed. That changed after a conversation with her father, who was passing from cancer and told her to truly be herself and do what makes her happy. She had a great job in the fashion industry, which she worked hard to get, but she ultimately realized that she wanted to do music. After his passing, she gave notice at work and started working on music full-time. In addition to this, she speaks about diversity and inspires others through her Girl Comet campaign. Tomorrow we’ll be running a candid second part of our interview that focuses on her genetic variation and all things related, but in today’s interview it’s all about the music. Maybe a few other things, too, but you get the idea. I think you’ll find her to be quite fascinating and you’ll surely be impressed by her videos, which are indie creations that look like they cost a million dollars to make. They’re proof that she masters everything she sets her mind to. Plus, aside from what the videos look like, the songs are stellar, too. Inspirational juggernauts of an addictive variety. Read on and get to know the female phenomenon.
MM: Is Visitor your first solo album or are there any others?
D: No, it’s the first one. It’s my first solo album. Before that everything else was released with my band, Quimera Music, in those days. I decided to go solo for a bunch of reasons. One of them was I wanted to develop my music. You know, when you have a band, if you are dedicated, and you’re the founder of it, you’re doing most of the work. It was a lot of managing others. A lot of running around to make simple decisions.
MM: A lot of compromises?
D: Yeah, yeah. Musical compromises and a lot of things. Babysitting others. I just said, you know what, I’m basically doing this alone. I will just hire musicians and be my own self. The other thing is that I decided to start Girl Comet and I decided to come forth with my story. I didn’t want to drag the guys into it. I had no idea if people were gonna like me as much as before. What they were gonna say. My drummer was a very Christian guy. Very traditional. His mind, you know, Christian people tend to be a little bit sometimes, not always, a little judgmental. My Facebook page for Quimera Music has over 55 thousand fans. Real fans. And I’m a firm believer in the universe, the forces of the human spirit, and I said, you know what, this is the right thing and good things will happen. So, there you have it.
MM: Visitor has elements of pop, rock and metal. What section of the record store would you put it in if you had to choose one?
MM: How would you describe the album to people who haven’t heard it yet?
D: I would describe it as being a story. I would describe it as a film that takes place in the future and Dalea is the main character. Arriving from another planet. That is the story.
MM: I understand that you’re a classically trained vocalist. Where did you study for that?
D: Oh, I actually studied with, Elisabeth Lohninger from Austria in New York, who is a virtuoso of jazz. And my vocal training began with her. So, I had to learn the right way, which I needed very much because before her I did not have a consistent teacher. She actually teaches at the New School of Jazz. She is an accomplished Jazz recording artist, with 11 albums under her belt.
MM: Your site states that you work exclusively with Swedish composer Patrick Rundblad. Is that right?
D: Yeah, he and I began working together with Immortal, which was a double album that I released still under Quimera Music. Before that, the previous album was several composers that I just gathered, but [Patrick and I] started working together then and we have evolved together and that’s what we do now. He actually writes music for film as well.
MM: How did you first come into contact with him?
D: I started looking for the one person that would get my style because I’m a bit of a hybrid. I enjoy tremendously film music and I really enjoy rock music. Like Linkin Park, Metallica – it surprises a lot of people but I really, really like that. But I also like the pop side of things. I enjoy Madonna. I enjoy Lady Gaga. Even Duran Duran from about the same era as Madonna. So, it’s hard to find someone who can understand what I want. Patrick is a natural. He got me right away and he’s got that European feel. He was born there, was raised there and studied music there. He started playing the piano at five years old. He’s well-trained. Yeah, I found him. I connected with him through a website I was visiting, Dead Can Dance – I’m sure you know who they are – and through that one thing lead to another and I got to his website. And I connected with him. At first it was just a test. One song. And it worked out so well that here we are. We’ve been working on Visitor for two and a half years. I can’t tell you how many songs we just discarded because they were not good enough for our eyes, for what we are planning to do for the whole image and brand Dalea is. So, it’s been a fantastic musical marriage.
MM: How do your collaborations take place? Do you send things over the internet or do you go and write with him in Sweden?
D: He is now here in California and has been and the most amazing part is that we started working together and we ended up getting married.
MM: Oh, cool.
D: We ended up getting married and it’s like the whole family working on Dalea now. I’m actually the only vocalist that he works with. Everything else he’s doing he’s doing with film with independent filmmakers, commercials, and what have you.
MM: Where was the Visitor album written? Was it all written in Los Angeles then?
D: No. We moved to Los Angeles in May of last year. So, half of the album was written in New York and then the other half was written in Los Angeles.
MM: And you recorded in both of those places as well?
D: Yeah, we recorded at his studio. He moved his studio from there. It’s called PR Music Productions and we recorded there in New York and here in Los Angeles. I work with him on arrangements. I do a lot of my vocal melodies and what have you. And he mixed it. He mixed the album in LA and then it was mastered at Fascination Street Studios, in Örebro, Sweden, where they follow the high standards of excellence in rock music as they do in Gothemburg. You probably have heard of that area. It’s very famous for having excellent rock [music]. It was mastered there by Jens Bogren and Tony Lindgren. They’re really well respected and known in Sweden.
MM: I understand that you do the vocals and lyrics and Patrick does the music. How do the songs usually start? Does it start with the music, or do you give him a vocal melody, or how does the magic happen?
D: You know, it varies from song to song. Most parts we begin with a piano melody. Most of the time we discuss what we want to say. And then we begin playing with the piano, mostly Patrick. And then we begin adding meat to the bones. My instrument is my voice, so I say I want the sends to do this and I just sing it. And then we add it. I’m very, very involved with the production. I feel like I’ve grown a lot. It’s sort of how it begins. A lot of times he just knows. This is how easy it is to work with him. He just knows what we’re looking to do and he says, hey, listen to this. He puts something together and he says yay or nay and then we develop from there. That’s how it begins.
MM: What were some of the things you wanted to write about when you started writing the songs for Visitor?
D: I wanted to make it very clear that it’s different than what I used to do. I wanted my music to be more modern. I wanted to be a little bit more pop. And I wanted it to be something people can dance to and want to play again and again and again. I wanted to talk about all the things that are in my mind. Like the earth and the crazy destruction going on everywhere between our oceans and animals going extinct and all of that. I have this song called “Earth Mother.” It’s a song basically warning human beings about their self-destructive behavior. I wanted to talk about bravery. I wanted to talk about, you know, you are OK by being who you are, don’t give up. So, I wrote a couple of songs. “Brave” is one of them that I’m very, very proud of. The other one is “Look Up To The Sky.” And I also wanted to sort of describe my arrival from my musical planet. The whole album is in the point of view of a visitor.
MM: Where did the idea for that sort of sci-fi concept come from?
D: I am a huge, huge fan of sci-fi. I love the cinema. My love affair with sci-fi began with Star Wars and then, you know, you can go on and on. Star Trek. All of them. Television shows. I really like the idea of seeing beyond what is on the planet. And a lot of times people are working on sci-fi very accurately imagining what’s coming. So, I kind of always felt like a visitor anyway. From my whole back story that you know. I have always felt like I am more of an observer on this planet. So, that appealed to me.
MM: On “Speed Racer” you mention “angels falling from the sky” and you have a song also called “Angels Fall.” Do you believe in angels or do you mean this metaphorically?
D: I believe angels may be a misconception of visitors from other places. From our ancient, ancient civilizations. I believe that we are not alone in this universe. And I don’t believe that because you are good you are not supposed to make mistakes. So, I think it touches on both sides, my thinking about angels, you know? And “Angels Fall” is one of my favorite songs on the album because most people tend to think that when they make a mistake they are sort of stained for life or damaged goods. I’m trying to speak to my fans and anyone who wishes to listen that that is not the case. You don’t have to be married to whatever happened, who you were a year ago or six months ago or even just yesterday. If you decide to change you are allowed to change.
MM: So, it’s like saying even angels make mistakes?
D: That’s right. That’s right. Even angels make mistakes. Yeah.
MM: On “Scorned” you’re singing about someone who betrayed you. Is that based on a real experience? Or more of a general thing?
D: I think it’s more that we all have been betrayed, but the song is not about a specific person. I have seen people being betrayed in a romantic way and that’s sort of my inspiration. I have been betrayed in other ways with people I trusted and people that were supposed to have my back, who didn’t have it, as a child. Or a year ago, not even, I was talking with a label – a big label – I’m not gonna name names, and the A&R person had me very excited about everything and then he grabbed my leg as we were in a meeting. He put his hand on my leg. So, that’s a betrayal because I’m here for the music. And, of course, I ran as fast as I could after that.
MM: It sucks that people have ulterior motives like that.
D: That was awful. It’s awful. And it can damage you permanently if you let it. But if you get it out, you’re done with it. I think that’s the key to life, you know, get it out and move on.
MM: You have a song called “Anunnaki.” And I understand they were a group of deities in ancient Mesopotamian cultures. I was just wondering, was that something you’ve studied extensively? And based on what you said about angels, do you think those deities were from elsewhere?
D: Yes. Anunnaki literally means those who from heaven came. And as I said earlier, I firmly believe that the general belief that we are the only ones in the universe is ridiculous. There are a lot of things that are not explained. Pyramids and other things out there. There are humungous drawings around the planet that can only be seen from the sky. How were they made? Who were they made for? And so on and so forth. So, the song is about the Anunnaki having something to do with the beginning of man. The question is, did they abandon us? Or was it just the point to create man and move on? So, that’s what it explores.
MM: I know you were a fashion designer in New York City for years. How long were you doing that?
D: I think it was about – I want to say six years. Yeah. I worked in the heart of Manhattan. My music was on the side. I worked for Intimate Apparels’ brand Donna Karan and I worked for Vanity Fair Intimates. It was a huge learning experience for me and I really enjoyed it.
MM: How did you get into that? Was that something you went to school for?
D: Yes, that’s what I studied. I had a modest diploma. I got it in San Diego where I went to school. It was what I really wanted to do. I mean, I knew how to do it and I knew a lot because my grandmother was a seamstress. So, I grew up doing it. But I needed some kind of diploma that said that I knew how to do it. I started in fashion design and merchandising and I moved to New York. And I began working. Through persistence I got the job of my dreams but I was not happy.
MM: Because you wanted to make music?
D: Yes, because I wanted to make music. And it was because at that point I couldn’t make music because I was afraid of becoming famous. And the reason why was because if I became famous somebody could talk about my story and I was terrified of it. So, I pushed it aside.
MM: I know your father dying was one of the reasons you left the fashion industry. How did that impact your decision to leave fashion design and go work on music full-time?
D: Completely. It was the catalyst to everything. In fact, it changed my whole life. He had been battling bone marrow cancer for – I want to say seven years. And when he finally passed away one of the last conversations I had with him had to do with me being authentic and me not being afraid and him telling me not to live a life that I really didn’t want. So, right after he passed away I gave my two weeks notice at my company and began not really knowing where I was gonna start. It was just really crazy almost. But, I think, looking back, it’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Because when you’re authentic – when you’re real – it’s the only way that you can be happy. Look at all I’ve got now. I’ve got music. I’ve got love in my life. My friends are my friends for me, not who I pretend to be. So, a lot of good comes out of that.
MM: With Quimera Music you were doing symphonic metal, but there’s still some symphonic elements in your music. Who are your inspirations in terms of that symphonic sound?
D: I must say, this band Sonata Arctica.
MM: I’ve heard of them.
D: Yeah. And Nightwish. They’re Finnish. So, my influences are very European. Nightwish is one of the bands that I like to listen to. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them.
D: They’re really cool. They’re heavier than what I do. It starts that idea that film music can be really cool as rock songs as well. The first time that I put two and two together was when I saw Phantom of the Opera and I listened to some of the songs. I also love Sarah Brightman, who sometimes dips her feet into rock music.
MM: Did you do any touring when you were with Quimera Music?
D: We did New York touring. It was heavy. Everything I’ve been doing since I began music has been very intense. Doing the first album required a lot of work and dedication. And then I was touring it. I jumped right in. As soon as I had released the album, I had never, ever, ever been on stage. I just jumped right in and whoever would have me, I was performing, putting in my time. And the thing with Quimera Music is the New York circle is where I honed my skills. I could not have chosen better. New York is tough. New York is difficult. But if you survive that you are so much better for it. But, yeah, it was all New York.
MM: What prompted you to move to Los Angeles?
D: There’s opportunity – Hollywood calling – not just for myself but for Patrick. And there are a couple of projects I’m working on. Especially television takes time. There’s a television script that I worked on. There’s some interest. And also my voice over work in commercials. It helps a lot. I’ve been doing meditation. My voice has been used on lots of meditation programs. And for soundtracks as well. So far for independent film and I can see that I will be doing that in the future.
MM: I lived in Los Angeles for three years myself. I lived in Glendale. What part do you live in?
D: Right now I’m in San Bernardino, which is about a good hour from LA. But I really, really like how I’m able to have a big studio. I have the mountains nearby. And when I have to be in Los Angeles I get there forty five minutes, an hour later. It’s worth it to me. And I like to be able to have have space. When I’m singing and performing it’s great to have a lot of people and I love it, but most of the time when I’m not on stage I’m creating and I like to have space to be able to go to the mountains and all of that. It’s the best of both worlds. Even when I lived in New York I lived in Brooklyn outside the craziness. So, I could get crazy vibes when I wanted, not forced upon.
MM: Do you have any plans to tour behind your new album?
D: Yes, I’m working on it now. It’s, again, I wish I could talk about some of the things that are happening behind the scenes but it’s too soon to say what is happening because nothing has been signed. But I will begin touring in Los Angeles within the next month. As I continue, we are finishing up our music video and then I’m filming two more so they can be edited while I’m doing something else.
MM: Is there a continuous story in the videos or do the individual videos tell their own stories?
D: That’s a really great question. I think when all the videos that I have written are all said and done you could probably organize them into a story. But my videos are meant to be like mini-films. So, I’m telling a story with each one. Like a mini-film.
MM: You’re quite good at it. You could work on videos for other artists if you had to to pay the bills.
D: [Laughs] You know what? It’s funny you should say that but I’ve received a few e-mails from fellow artists that are wondering if I would write and direct their music video. So, I think I might be doing some of that in the future when I get some free time. I do all the work on my [videos]. I’ve been lucky because for instance on “Speed Racer” the fine people of Alexander McQueen provided some of my wardrobe and I’m not a huge act, you know, but I had shared my story and what the video was gonna be about and that was pretty cool. I pretty much write all my storylines down to wardrobe and things. With my artistic side I’m able to draw the storyboards myself. So, I’m very organized. And I keep running back and forth. Even if I have a team I’m very involved with running back and forth to see what we shot and if we forgot something. Yeah, I think it’s something I really would like to do in the future. I really enjoy it.
MM: Have you ever thought about making an independent movie?
D: That is one of the projects I’m working on. That is precisely one of the projects I am working on and I have my eyes set on Angelina Jolie to be involved in it. I believe in the power of creation in all of us human beings. If we think about what we want and we work really hard and have faith it happens. I’ve seen magic in my life all the time. That’s one of the projects that I’m working on and I also have a TV show idea that I had written. So, we’ll see what happens. This is one of the reasons that I moved here because of this interest that I have but music is my number one.
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions, as you’ve probably noticed. Is that cool?
MM: What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given and who gave it to you?
D: The most useful piece of advice… Um, yes, You are not your body. You are a spirit inhabiting your body so make the best of your time here because someday you’re gonna have to leave. It was given to me by my grandmother. She was this Mexican wise woman. She was very spiritual and that was very helpful.
MM: One of the questions was would you like to act in movies, but I guess –
D: – Yes.
MM: Yeah, I was just thinking that would probably be a yes.
D: Yeah. In science fiction or action. I don’t like drama. I might be happy to do comedy. What I like is a kick ass type of female. I’m 5’10”. I could do some damage, you know? That’s what I would like to do. If I did films, that’s the kind of stuff. Like Prometheus. That type of film. Avatar – oh my God – what an amazing film.
MM: What song is stuck in your head right now?
D: “Visitor,” the title track of my album. [Laughs] Probably because we’re working on the music video now. It’s always playing in my head. It’s crazy.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
D: The first album I ever bought with my own money? Let me think. Oh, wow, I believe it was Like A Prayer, Madonna.
MM: Do you think you’ll ever write a musical?
D: I think it’s in the scope of the things that interest me. So, it could happen. I mean, the film that I’m thinking of could be turned into a musical.
MM: This year we lost two mega-stars, Prince and David Bowie. Were you a fan of either of them and how did their deaths effect you if so?
D: Yes, I was a fan of both. I am. I admire their creativity, their music. Bowie, especially, impacted me very much because he was a weirdo, just like me. And it’s so hard to come by. You see a lot of sameness out there. The trouble I’ve had with labels is they don’t know where to put me. I’m not Rihanna and I’m not Ariana Grande. I definitely respect women like Lana Del Rey because she stands by herself, by what she believes in, and her own voice. There’s no other like her. So, Bowie was a weirdo like me, or I am a weirdo like him or whatever. And I say it respectfully. One of the things that really shocked me though about this planet is that we wait until people are gone to celebrate them properly. To tell them how much they mean to us. It really bothers me. I think, to me, Madonna is one of the most important women in history and I hope I get the opportunity to tell her how amazing she is. What she’s doing for all of us women with ageism, with people not liking that she’s still so youthful and crazy and out there. She is breaking ground for women out there. She’s gonna be 60 in a few years. It’s amazing.
CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH DALEA, which focuses on Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, diversity and inspiration.
Much thanks to Dalea for taking the time to do this long interview with us!