Donna Destri is a scintillating songbird who sang backup vocals on the Blondie album No Exit. In addition, she sang with Jayne County, Ronnie Spector, Cherry Vanilla and many more groundbreaking bands. On top of that, she’s worked with producer Steven Jones (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcGmfTc9HCo&feature=youtu.be). She grew up around musically-talented family members to boot. Her uncle was the drummer for Joey Dee and the Starlighters, and her brother, Jimmy Destri, wrote lyrics and played keyboards for Blondie. Yet, she is not merely known for her angelic voice, as she is also a great performer who can also play piano and keyboards—besides writing lyrics! In addition to her amazing musical career, she’s a mother and holds a master’s degree in literature.
Donna, it’s truly a pleasure to be interviewing you!
Certainly, the pleasure is mine, GL!
Many people know you for your beautiful voice and career in music, but I have to say that the literary buff in me was also pleasantly surprised to learn that you also have a master’s degree in literature, correct?
Yes, I do! When I was a young girl, I decided to skip college and go to the Max’s Kansas City Conservatory of all things Rock and Roll instead. I moved to the East Village and into my good friend Janie Heath’s apartment. She was actually a NYU student at that time and seeing her enjoy her studies so much made me toy with the idea of enrolling in college. However, singing in bands won out. I have to admit, if I had to do it again, I’d probably make the same choice. Later in life, as a divorced mother with no marketable skills, I went to college and did a Masters in Literature with the intent to teach. My first choice was music, naturally, but I knew that when teachers get laid off in the city, it’s generally the art and music teachers that are first to go. Still, I’ve always had a love of books, so the course of study was pretty painless.
Did you ever complete your dissertation on Dante Alighieri’s Pagan references in “The Divine Comedy?” Because if you did, then I’d love to read that!
No, GL, but if I say so myself, it was a very entertaining paper! It started off with the PreRaphealites, their seances, and their fascination with all things occult and their fascination with Dante Alighieri. When I was at University, I would sit in the library between classes. In the corner of the library that I favored (where there was the least amount of student traffic) were volumes of the New Catholic Encyclopedia. I found that it read like a “Who’s Who” of Heretics! Some of the finest poets, writers and artists were branded Heretics by the Catholic Church. I began to get intrigued and when Dante’s name came up with Guido Cavalcanti, one of my favorite Italian poets, I began to research the connection. What I found was that both men were believed to be members of a group of literati called “The Fidele de Amor”: rumored to be an underground and anti-Church sect similar to the troubadours. Then I started to read the Divine Comedy closely and the anti-Church and pro-Pagan references were startling, considering that some people believe the work to be a testament to all things Christian. The panel of academics that I proposed the paper to believed that I would never be able to completely prove my thesis unless I moved to Italy and made it a life’s work; however, proving it was hardly my intent. I just wanted to plant a seed of doubt as to the validity of the Divine Comedy as a Christian document. Later, I found out that one of the old curmudgeons on the panel had written a paper with a similar thesis for a stuffy academic journal. It would’ve been harder to prove the plagiarism than to prove my original idea!
You obviously value great learning, but did you get a bit turned off by the perhaps pedantic aspects of academia as well?
Yes, I was totally turned off. Gary Valentine, ex Blondie member and a true scholar, who lives very nicely without a PHD, warned me about the stuffiness of the halls of Academia. I should have listened and perhaps I would’ve avoided that most disheartening and unpleasant incident! As it is, I guess things turned out the way they were intended to, because now I can hardly picture myself in those hallowed halls of Academia.
Switching gears, I love your “Fire” song and the remix because of your vocals and I’m pretty sure anyone who hears it will automatically start dancing—a response great club music should elicit! Are you singing both the lead vocals and backup vocals?
Yes, I am singing all parts on all of the tunes, unless you hear a male voice and that’s Steven Jones. I absolutely love doing backup vocals. To me they are such an integral part of some songs. I mean, what would “Gimme Shelter” be if it didn’t have those haunting backup vocals? I would love to have other people sing backup with me, but for now it’s easier and more cost effective if I do it myself.
Using Egyptian imagery totally works for the “Fire” video. Why was it chosen for that particular song? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uacKWERXvyw
It’s funny that you ask that because it really is a case of synchronicity. Before I met Steven Jones and Dennis Murphy (the man responsible for the creative and artistic concepts behind our videos), I had had several Tarot Card readings in which the Goddess Isis card made an appearance. It was uncanny how this one card would appear again and again, sort of like a message to pay attention, I thought. Well, when I met the boys and I found out that they were members of The Fellowship of Isis, led by Lady Olivia Robertson, the last surviving member of the Golden Dawn—again the literature connection, for Yeats was a star member of the group—we all decided that the temple of Isis would be a perfect backdrop for our first major video outing. Incidentally, Steven and Dennis have produced a spectacular documentary on Lady Olivia called Olivia: Priestess of Isis.
Please tell Target Audience Magazine readers more about your Element of Fire CD.
Well, it was our first major collaboration, and, therefore, it will always be special to me. The original mix of Fire, Steven Jones’s, is still my favorite of all the mixes. “Fire” is really a Rock and Roll song as far as I’m concerned. I plan, in the very near future, to rerecord it using live instruments…wailing guitar, real bass, real drums. Still, the mark of a good song, I think, is when people hear it and they get excited by it. Such was the case with “Fire” and “Some of Your Time”: our first two releases on that EP. So many people wanted to remix those songs. “Fire” has had several incarnations now…sort of like the Phoenix rising from the flames. It’s the song that wouldn’t die. I also love the sparse euro-electro vibe on the original “Some of Your Time.” I’ve always liked Euro techno music like Kraftwerk and Gorgio Moroder…even back when I was a Punk Rocker! The videos were a gas to do and exciting because I hadn’t really been before a movie camera since Rebel Rebel! It was amazing to see how my parts, which were shot here by my good friend Ricky Longo Burrows, were so seamlessly edited by Dennis in the UK, making it seem as if Steven and I were actually performing in the same room.
I’m also hooked on “Three Kisses Before Dying” which can be heard at: http://prideshowcase.blogspot.com/2013/01/donna-destri-three-kisses-before-dying.html What/who was the inspiration for this track?
I love that track also, GL. The current mix, the one that’s showcased on the Pride Network, is Fabio Bonelli’s mix, and I think it has “Major Club Hit” written all over it. Ashi, AKA Francis Perry, is a musical genius and Yogi, who Steven befriended over in Liverpool. Ashi sent me the original backing track to “Three Kisses…,” and I provided the lyrics and melody. I love working with him (and this is true of Steven also) because he gives me free reign and trusts my ability as a musician/writer as well as a singer. Well, getting back to the track, I’ve always been inspired by Bond themes and Bond movies; I think my first crush as a very little girl was on Sean Connery! To that end, and as an homage to all things Bond, I decided to create sort of a Goldfinger, heartbreaker, type villain to sing about because when I first heard the track, I thought movie theme…which is the vibe that one gets from many of Frank’s tracks. Frank has an incredible musical sensibility. His tracks are just gorgeous, and I’m proud and happy to put a vocal on them. I’m most proud of what he’s done with my music, however. I wrote a song called “Time Doesn’t Wait” (https://soundcloud.com/etrangersmusique/time-by-donna-destri-ashi-mix) that Frank produced, and, if I say so myself, what he’s done with my music and vocals is absolutely stunning!
What’s in the pipeline for 2013 and beyond?
We’ve got so many plates spinning that my head spins to try to keep up with all that’s going on! We’ve got a track out now that is undergoing several remixes…with lyrics written by the lovely Angela Caruccio who runs the Wicked7 Network (Bookings/Music Promotion) in the UK. It’s called Transparent People and is already getting a lot of play on Ibiza Global Radio. We’ve got our most excellent EP Empire State Neon…a fine collection of dance music tracks produced by Marco Mauss Cozza and Tommy Box, AKA Costume , out now on iTunes and Bandcamp…There is a sizzling remix of “Fire” on that EP as well as the song “Sugar Me” which I think is just sooo hot. Steven and I are providing voiceovers for a weekly radio show in the UK also produced by Angela on www.thekeyradio.com. We are writing more songs for our forthcoming album Three Kisses produced by Ashi, hopefully another collaboration with Mann Parish, and we hope to go to Ibiza during the summer for vacation and gigs! I have to say that I’m so very thankful for the wonderful turn my life has taken these past two years! Being so very busy doing what I love is truly a blessing from the Universe. And of course, GL, thank you!
Thanks again, Donna, and all the best to you!!
G.L. Giles for Target Audience Magazine