Debbie Gibson Interview
When she was only 16 years old, Debbie Gibson was signed to Atlantic Records.
Her first album "Out of the Blue" went triple platinum with 4
singles — "Only In My Dreams," "Shake Your Love," "Out
of The Blue," and "Foolish Beat," going Top 5.
"Foolish Beat" went all the way to Number One, making Debbie
Gibson, at 17, the youngest artist in history to write, produce, and perform
a Number One single.
Debbie's second album "Electric Youth" went all the way to Number
One on the charts, producing two Gold singles — "Electric Youth" and "Lost
In Your Eyes."
A third album "Anything Is Possible" took Debbie around the
We spoke to Debbie Gibson about her career.
Q. Your parents were very supportive of you. They helped set up a recording
studio for you. They bought you a synthesizer. That's pretty expensive stuff.
Are your parents well to do?
A. No. In fact, that's a big misconception to say that they went out and
bought me equipment just because we all put in money. I did theatre and
t.v. commercials since I was 5 years old. So, I had a lot of money saved.
Q. Did your parents have a show biz background?
A. No. We all kind of learned as we went along. I started in community
theatre, and eventually I said, "Mom, I really want to go into Manhattan
and audition professionally." I felt I had done what I could do
in community theatre. So, I started buying Variety, Backstage, Show Business,
and going on open calls, and eventually through talking to people at auditions,
finding out about agents. We all basically learned by getting out there
and doing it. (Laughs.)
As far as the studio equipment goes, I had a lot of money saved. My parents
were never well to do actually. They both always worked 9 to 5, with 4 kids
in the family all taking piano, dancing, and acting. Looking back, I don't
know how they did it. But, they always made us feel like we were living
comfortably. They didn't burden us with anything like that. But, they definitely
weren't well to do.
Q. Are you then the only one in the family in Show Biz?
A. Well, in the onstage part. My two older sisters are working with my
mom in the management company, and the music publishing company. My youngest
sister, Denise, wants to be a fashion designer. She helped me with my wardrobe
on the "One Step Ahead" Tour. So, they're more into the behind
the scenes stuff. That's just what they chose to do.
Q. You got the whole family behind you then.
A. Oh, it's great! When you're surrounded by strangers so much, it keeps
you well grounded when you've got people that are close to you — around
Q. How did you shop your demo tape?
A. I literally knocked on doors myself. I can remember coming home from
school, and my mom and I going through those industry papers and anything
to do with music management, record companies, we'd be sitting there putting
my picture, resume and demo in an envelope, and sending them off. Also,
I was still going on auditions. Whenever I was in a building that had
other industry offices to do with music, I would literally go from
floor to floor, and knock on doors.
Q. And how were you treated?
A. I was pretty much given the standard "well, you seem a little
young, but, we'll listen, and tell you what we think!" I pretty much
got back the standard form letters. I did get some interest from a couple
of companies that said, please keep us updated, but nothing major. I got
a rejection letter even from Atlantic. Once they signed me four years
later, I went back and said, "Look, you sent me this four years ago." The
material at that time definitely wasn't suitable for radio at least. I always
think to myself, it's a shame people don't pay attention to younger artists
and try to develop them. Most companies just don't want to put that effort
in. They want people that are just ready to go. That's why my mom manages
other artists who are starting to dabble in writing and production, and
let them use our studio that we have set up at home just to see what they
come up with, and help develop what they're doing.
Q. When you get right down to it, your success or failure rests squarely
on your shoulders. Wouldn't you like to be part of a group for a change?
A. No. I don't think I ever could be part of a group. I could be in terms
of theatre and film. But, when it comes to my music, I need to be able to
do it the way I want to do it. It's definitely a bigger responsibility being
a solo artist, because I always look at groups and say wow, they divide
up the interviews and stuff like that. My thing is my thing. The only way
I would have ever been part of a group is with my sisters. We used to sing
together. Sometimes I kid around with my mom and say, we could've been like
Wilson-Phillips, but they just didn't want to do that. But, I never felt
enough of a strong musical bond with anyone to even have considered starting
Q. What song did you perform onstage with Billy Joel?
A. "Keepin' The Faith."
Q. You were writing with Lamont Dozier. Given his hit songwriting background,
were you intimidated?
A. Well no, because I had met him a few times actually, just at different
events. I always said what a nice man he is. Someone like that wouldn't
decide to work with you, unless they respected what you did. He didn't decide
to work with me, until he saw me live,' and saw what I was all about. So
that part didn't intimidate me. The whole idea of co-writing was something
new for me, ‘cause I hadn't co-written before. I didn't know exactly
how people went about co-writing. It always struck me as funny when I see
five people wrote one song. What, did each person take a sentence? (Laughs).
I always wondered how it was done. Lamont and I work independently within
the collaboration. In other words, he'd come up with some basic melody
ideas and the chords, and then I'd come up with the finished melody, and
then the lyrics. And so, it wasn't too far off from what I was used to doing.
Q. When you had a Number One record at 17, were you in private school?
A. No. I was going to the public school.
Q. Your teachers must've been giving you some strange looks.
A. Yeah, some of them went out of their way to make life difficult for
Q. How so?
A. I never wanted to get a tutor. I always wanted to stay in regular school.
I was very used to juggling school work and a career, 'cause I'd been doing
it forever. I would go to them early and say, 'Can I have the work for the
next week?' 'And they'd say, O.K., but there's a test on this on Friday.'
So, I would take my work home, read the chapters, do it all. I would
come in on Friday, take the test, and get let's say a 90. But then they
would say, 'It's great that you got a 90, but you have to take another test
on all the things you missed in classroom discussions this week.' I said,
wait a minute, so you're telling me I have to do more work than everybody
else?' I just did what everyone else did. The teachers would hear that I
was traveling and they pictured me lying out on a beach somewhere. If I
was in Florida, they didn't realize I was going from the airport to the
hotel to the radio station, to the club, back to the airport. (Laughs.)
They had this illusion. A lot of teachers thought I couldn't possibly be
learning anything of value outside of their classroom. I believe that maybe
fifty percent of what you need in life is learned in the classroom.
The other half is definitely learned outside of the classroom.
Q. You were lucky in that you were able to see that other half, at such
an early age.
A. Yeah, I'm very lucky. In elementary school there was a creativity program,
and you were out of the regular classroom a day and a half out of every
week, and you'd go and do independent studies. I had the opportunity to
direct a play at that time; all kinds of things that you don't get to do
in the regular classroom. I was lucky that that program was around too.
I think that helped encourage me a lot, helped encourage my creative side.
I wish there were more things like that in schools.
Q. Has you record company ever tried to manipulate
your image into a more revealing one?
A, Only in the beginning. Because I was so young they were just afraid
of what the public would think. Even at that time, I think my image was
a little sexier, when my first single came out, if you look at the record
cover from the twelve inch "Only In My Dreams." It was a sexier,
older photo. I didn't want people to dwell on the fact that I was young.
I just wanted to see how the music would be taken, period. But, at this
point in time, they just want me to be who I am. In the beginning, to get
my record played, I didn't go for the gimmicky, young thing. But then once
my music started getting accepted and I was myself, people started latching
onto that. But, it did take projecting a bit of an older image just to get
my foot in the door, especially in the clubs. In fact, before we even sent
out a picture on the sleeve, we sent out a plain sleeve, so that people
just saw my name and didn't know anything about me; didn't know how old
I was, and it became a hit. At this point, I don't care about image too
much. I don't think about it too much. (Laughs.)
Q. Your mother Diane is both your manager and executive producer. As executive
producer, what does she do for you?
A. She coordinates everything to do with an album. It's not like she produces
the music. She really coordinates all the sessions and the musicians, and
logistically takes care of all the details, of an album.
Q. The more success you have of course, the more is expected of you.
Q. Is it hard to try and make every record bigger and more popular than
the last one?
A. Well, I don't think of it that way. I don't put that kind of pressure
on myself. For me, every record has to be a personal growth. If I start writing
songs, and I feel I'm taking steps backwards, instead of forward, then I'd
feel really depressed. Every time I write, I feel my writing gets stronger.
So, it's really more of a personal thing for me. And, it's the same thing
with 'live' shows. My whole goal when I'm on tour is to make every show better
than the last. And, it's always been that way for me. It's more personal
than what happens on the charts, or what the public thinks, or what the critics
think, so I don't let it become pressure.
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