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Interview: Singer-Songwriter Deborah Vial

Interview: Singer-Songwriter Deborah Vial

Deborah Vial has lived a colorful life. Even if you didn’t know about her performing for troops in combat zones or opening for bands like Concrete Blonde and Chicago, you’d still sense the depth behind her music. Vial just released a video for the single “Angel,” so we chatted with her about music, her relationship with Caron Barrett, and why being closeted isn’t an option.

Deborah Vial has lived a colorful life. Even if you didn’t know about her performing for troops in combat zones or opening for bands like Concrete Blonde and Chicago, you’d still sense the depth behind her music. The songs feature a solid rock vibe but with the kind of lusciousness that can only come from a singer-songwriter. She's clearly lived every word that comes onto the page and out of her mouth. It's full, rich, passionate, and something you should hear for yourself.

The performer is mostly known in indie rock circles, living in Maui with Caron Barrett, a musician and music producer in her own right. The two are partners in life and business—pictured below are Barrett on the left, Vial on the right— and their latest album is Stages and Stones. Their video "Don't Make Me Take It," is a dark ode to obsession, sexy and disturbing, and shot by openly gay director Israel Luna (Ticked-off Trannies with Knives). Now Vial and Luna have released a video for the single “Angel,” so we chatted with her about music, her relationship with Barrett, and why being closeted isn’t an option.

What was your inspiration for Stages and Stones?

Caron and I had been involved in a lawsuit for close to three years so we stopped writing. Stages and Stones was the end result of that tunnel. I finally felt ready to write again, but I also felt very confused as to where to begin. I was a changed person. I had become a grown up.

The CD’s title came from the stages we all go through in life, the stones we step upon trying to reach the nearest safest shore, and the stones people throw while we are doing it. The fear of making a mistake. All the while knowing somewhere deep inside that you cannot be broken.

Each song is meaningful to me. I recorded them for myself and my friends. If anyone else likes them, that is an added bonus. I always hope that others will like them, but that is not the end game. I am old enough now to know it is impossible to please the masses and maintain any truth.

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Why are you using Maui as a hub, rather than a more music-centric city like Los Angeles?

We did fly to LA to record the CD after numerous attempts at getting it done on Maui. But the music industry is such a different beast than it was just a few short years ago. Music is free now. People buy a song and share it. The recording studios are all hurting as well as the musicians.

I polled every player I came in contact with in LA regarding how they are making money, and everyone had the same answer: touring. You have to go on the road to make any money, and we are currently working out a European tour for Summer 2012.

That said, I do it because it is part of who I am. The idea of no longer [creating music] would be as odd as my saying, “Oh, I am no longer an Aunt.” I do it because I cannot not do it. If we make money, that is a bonus. Not the focus.

You become a crazed lesbian stalker in the video for “Don’t Make Me Take It.” How did that come about, and how did you meet director Israel Luna?

I contacted Israel Luna via Facebook after seeing his movie Ticked Off Trannies with Knives. I loved it.

"DMMTI" was a song I’d written about aggression and obsession. Not just sexual aggression but cultural and ideological aggression. [The video] needed to convey the absolute taking over of someone else. The raw power. All I told Israel was that I wanted the video to reinforce the themes in the song: crazy, raw energy.

Israel came back with [the idea of] Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and I said, “Hell, yeah.” It was a concept I had never dreamed of, and I dug it. He is an extremely creative and talented writer/director/editor. I love the risks he takes. The videos are his art. I am merely along for the ride, hanging my head out the window. I give him complete and total free reign.

It is important to me to include members of the LGBT community in my videos. Erica Andrews and Krystal Summers, who are two of the stars of Ticked Off Trannies with Knives, participated in the music video. Erica plays my unfortunate love interest. They are both very talented and very beautiful and I was thrilled to include them.

Most recently you had Israel direct the video for “Angel."

Israel flew to Maui to shoot it [because] I wanted to include ethereal underwater footage.

We asked Amy Hanaialii Gilliom to participate and play the back-up singer in the video. She is a good friend and four-time Grammy nominee—the highest selling female Hawaiian artist of all time. She is a straight woman but she participated in the NoH8 Campaign and is an avid participant and supporter of our community. Amy is so recognizable in Hawaii and Japan that there are drag queens who perform as Amy Hanaialii. The shots of a little girl in the video are Amy’s daughter Madalyn. We shot the whole thing at our house, then in front of a historic church on Maui, and then out at Molokini crater in 300 feet of clear water.

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It’s refreshing to meet an artist who’s out and performing for the sake of her art rather than staying closeted to create a celebrity brand.

I have never been closeted. I never had a reason to be. I always felt like I was different than other girls because my crushes were always on the gray. I loved girly looking boys and manly looking women. I have no explanation for that. It just was. I could not have changed it if I tried.

I think artists are kind of given a free pass on sexuality. Polite society expects us to be a bit off. A bit more colorful.

I have been singing at Gay Pride parades ever since I can remember so I can’t say it has ever occurred to me to pretend to be straight in the media. We used to [even] talk about it when I would SCUBA dive, which used to be 3-4 days a week. Caron did not participate so invariably I would end up talking to tourists from Nebraska [who were diving while visiting Maui]. I always thought it was important to tell them that I had a female partner. Even if they did not see any turtles on their dive they would leave thinking Wow, we met the nicest lesbian. Maybe they aren’t so different. Maybe there is nothing to be afraid of.

What’s next?

We’re putting together a “Lesbian Week on Maui” for the summer/fall of 2012. It will centralize our travel group around local friends and activities to maximize the hometown experience. The Maui Sunseeker is the only LGBT resort on the island, has 25 rooms, and [the staff] is awesome to work with so we hope to use them. We are in the infancy of planning this but will send you info as it develops.

Check out the Deborah Vial Band's two videos below.

Buy the CD, and visit Deborah Vial's website.

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