Listening to Jody Watley's last album Midnight Lounge, it was a refreshing change to see one of clubland's true visionaries release a mature-sounding and fully-realized album. Previews of her new charming new album "The Makeover," where she reinterprets some of her favorite songs, are just as refreshing. In this era when karaoke covers seem to dominate dance clubs and radio, leave it to the legendary Jody Watley to show us how to do it right.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: So you're off to Tokyo tomorrow?
Jody Watley: Yes. I've been rehearsing all week, and I was at San Francisco Pride Sunday, I'm still a little bit hoarse from that. It was crazy.
RS: With the show in Tokyo, you're at the Kon Club, does that mean you're doing sort of a jazzy thing?
Jody Watley: I do my full show with my band, and we always mix it up so it's a combination of my classic hits, come new stuff, some of the things from Midnight Lounge, and then I'm previewing some of the material from Makeover.
RS: The Makeover, what I've heard so far, it sounds really cool. How did you choose the songs for it?
Jody Watley: I picked songs that I love, you know, that's really much it. I have a medley of songs by The Carpenters like We've Only Just Begun, Close To You, and Superstar, and Karen Carpenter is a vocalist whom I've always loved her voice, so I've done an electronic kind of Afrosomething-you've-never-heard version of it. And Brenda Russell's Piano in the Dark, with beautiful piano works. So we kind of matched that up, and of course Borderline and Waiting in Vain, Bob Marley's song, and I love Diana Ross and part of me wants to do a whole tribute to Diana Ross because she's had some great songs. So anyway I picked songs that I loved and also I wrote some new songs for it as well, and from that I'll start working on my next fulfillment too.
RS: So many times when covers are done they're just basically re-sung, but with you you're actually reinterpreting the songs and bringing new meaning to them. What was in your mind when you reinterpreted Borderline?
Jody Watley: Again, I always loved the song, it has a melancholy quality to it even though it was originally obviously a pop dance song. The melody of it, it's kind of like my song Don't You Want Me, it has a longing in the lyric, that sentiment. And so when I was thinking about The Makeover, and I tested the version that I ended up doing, I did some shows in San Francisco and I called this song In The Key of My Life and I tried it out, and the people loved it and they were singing and holding hands and hugging each other and there was such a feeling of love and I thought, yes, this is a keeper. And I had no idea in doing it there would be some Madonna fans that would be crazy and think, 'how could you.' I've written pretty much most of my songs and if anyone's ever covered those, number one I'd be flattered by it and just hope that they did it with some integrity, and that's what I tried to do with Borderline and the other songs as well.
RS: That definitely comes across, and I'd have to say that to those Madonna fans because they should hear some of the other Madonna covers out there, you actually bring emotion and love to it. Which brings me back to your last album where you had a cover of Don't Give Up, which I cried the first time I heard it. And did that sort of give you a launch for this project or
Jody Watley: Good question. Yes and no. Don't Give Up, it's one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs, the lyric is so meaningful and it could have been without me thinking about it. Before that the only other cover or makeover of a song I did was Stevie Wonder's Too Shy To Say on my Intimacy album. And you know, again, after I finished Midnight Lounge I wasn't exactly ready to write a full album of material and there are a lot of artists who do covers of other classic songs, but what's most common is that they're jazz songs, you know, like Rod Stewart doing American Songbook or stuff like that. And I thought, you know, why not take some pop songs and re-imagine them in the style of music that I like, which is a little more DJ-influenced, and go from there. And so in the midst of that, again, I still managed to write some really good songs to surround the other songs that I've done for The Makeover. And I've revisited two of my own songs as well.
RS: I love your term Makeover, it's so much more appropriate than cover.
Jody Watley: Yes, because a cover could be just like almost just redoing it in the same way, but yes, I like makeover.