Back In The Solo Album Groove With Diana Grasselli
Desmond Child & Rouge vocalist recalls lending the group's signature sound to "Move On," working with Paul Stanley, the spark of the creative relationship between Stanley and Child, and details her current projects and signature vocal technique.
Interview by Tim McPhate
KissFAQ: Diana, let's start with Desmond Child & Rouge. The group formed in 1973, correct?
Diana Grasselli: I think that's accurate.
KF: And where did the group form?
DG: We actually formed in Miami, Florida, and then we moved to New York together.
KF: So if we back up, how did you initially meet Desmond Child?
DG: We met in 1973 at Miami Dade College. We were in the theater and music departments together and we sort of just found each other (laughs), like soul mates, and started doing projects together right away, theater projects that we would write and produce ourselves and record projects.
Desmond Child & Rouge
KF: Initially, the group formed as a trio with yourself, Desmond and Maria Vidal.
DG: Yeah, we started working together in Miami a a trio. We were kind of an inseparable trio, doing all kinds of things together.
KF: When did Myriam Valle come onboard?
DG: Myriam was a friend of Desmond's that he met in upstate New York. She was a New Yorker. When we moved to New York, Desmond and Maria moved in 1974 and I moved at the beginning of '75. Then Myriam joined us at that point.
KF: And the group proved to become quite a fixture on the local New York scene.
DG: Yeah, we performed in every club in New York, let's just say that (laughs). We were really ambitious and really fired up about what we were doing and we did our own self-promotion and marketing. We just sort of barreled through New York City.
KF: As it turns out, Paul Stanley frequented a few venues on the local New York music scene. Paul actually has gone on record with his praise for Desmond Child & Rouge as, and I quote, "one of the best live bands I ever saw in New York."
DG: Yeah, that's amazing.
KF: Do you remember meeting Paul at a Desmond Child & Rouge gig?
DG: I can't say I know the date exactly, but I remember where. It was at Trax, a premiere rock showcase club on the Upper West Side, I believe it was on 72nd Street. We had quite a few gigs there. As a matter of fact when we did our national tour we ended it at Trax. And Paul was often in the audience and he would come backstage and we'd talk. We sort of became friends. He really loved the band and he loved Desmond's songs, and we just sort of kindled a relationship together.
KF: And this would have been 1978 that you initially met Paul?
DG: I think it might have been the end of '77, the beginning of '78. We got signed in the summer of '78 as I recall and I think we met before we got signed.
KF: What was your general impression of Paul?
DG: He was warm and sweet and respectful. He was a really grounded, upstanding guy.
KF: KISS were quite popular at the time. Were they on your radar?
DG: Oh yeah, sure. You weren't in New York without knowing who KISS was (laughs).
Courtesy of Diana Grasselli
KF: In 1978 each of the KISS members were busy working on their respective solo albums. What do you recall about the relationship between the band and Paul morphing into an offer to participate on his album?
DG: It felt like a really natural, organic transition because we knew Desmond and Paul were kindling a songwriting relationship. We had a sound that we had developed together as a band and it was a sound that a lot of people hired us to add to their records. We were completely honored, of course, and excited. It was a really fun session. It went really well. It was fast and everything flowed the way it should. The working relationship was really easy and smooth. It was great.
KF: The New York sessions for Paul's album took place at Electric Lady.
DG: That's where we were.
KF: Paul was wearing a few hats, creatively speaking. He was writing and performing and was quasi-producing at that point. Other than Paul and the band, do you recall any other people around the studio during your session?
DG: I don't think I remember anybody else. Do you have some names?
KF: Sure, Paul's solo album band at that point was Bob Kulick on guitar, Steve Buslowe on bass and Richie Fontana on drums. Then again, it's likely this was an overdub situation so maybe there was no one else around.
DG: I think maybe Kulick was around. But like you said, most of these type of things were overdub sessions. And sometimes they were rather late at night (laughs).
KF: Of course. You are featured on the track "Move On," which Paul has described as a straight-ahead Bad Company-style rocker. Do you recall Paul being specific in terms of what he was looking for or was it a matter of letting you guys just provide your "sound"?
DG: You know, I think that he might have given us a little bit of direction that he might have wanted some kind of girly sound in the bridge. But I'm not sure about that because that was what we did. We had a really feminine sound. Yet, for most of the choruses we we're doing a straight-ahead Joan Jett kind of rock vocal. And we're adding that sweetness in the bridge. We were kind of known for doing that so I think that was why we were on the record.
KF: My intervals are a bit rusty. In the song's fade-out, are you guys singing harmony or is it more of a stacked vocal?
DG: I believe in the choruses we were singing chant style but we might have had a two-part at points because we also did that, which made it sound sort of modal.
KF: I think the cool thing about the chorus is your voices provide the foundation for Paul to improvise some phrases in between. It gives the track a nice flavor.
DG: Yeah, I think it was a really beautiful record.
KF: And so we can get a mental picture, would you three have just gathered around one mic?
DG: Yeah, we would often do that. Sometimes we would sing three-part harmony. Sometimes we would sing one harmony and triple it. I'm not sure what we did on that record, but it sounds like we did it in three-part. Or sometimes we would split off and two of us would do one part. We would experiment with what effect would work best for each song.
KF: You mentioned that this went fairly quickly. So we're probably talking about one session?
DG: Yeah, it was one session.
KF: And I'm curious if you recall trying out any ideas other than what ended up on the final song? Maybe a different idea or two?
DG: Yeah, that's always a possibility. There were four of us and we all had a lot of strong ideas (laughs). There were five of us with Paul there. We probably tried some things. But I think that what it ended up being was a pretty strong consensus that was the best way to go.
KF: In terms of the credits, it's just the Rouge portion of the group who are credited with singing. Did Desmond sing at all?
DG: I think that if he did, his name would have been on there. But he probably didn't sing on that. Paul probably wanted a girl sound.
KF: But Desmond hung out during the session?
DG: You know, he might have been there. I'm trying to think, did Desmond co-write the song?
KF: He did not. He and Paul didn't collaborate on any songs for this particular album.
DG: OK, so that being the case, Desmond probably was not there.
KF: Did Paul invite you to sing on any other tracks?
DG: I don't believe so. I think he had an idea of what he wanted in his mind for this song and for the others. You know, he was really feeling his oats. I think that he wanted to do whatever he wanted to do from track to track. He wanted to indulge his whims (laughs). I think he got a lot of other people to work on the record that he maybe wanted to work with for a while.
KF: In listening to "Move On" some 35 years later with fresh ears, what is your take on the track?
DG: You know, I think it really stands the test of time. I think it's a classic rock and roll track. I think the song is strong, I think the production is strong. I think that the performances are strong. I think it really holds together.
KF: It's interesting to hear your perspective. Paul's album seems to still resonate with fans to this day.
DG: Yeah, that's great. Paul has really great taste. He listened to a lot of really, really exceptional music. People might have this thought of him as sort of a cartoon character rocker, but the guy is a serious musician. Even back then, he was a serious musician. One of his biggest influences was Laura Nyro. He was known to just play really artful music, and classical music too -- he loved classical music. He had a lot of really good taste in music. I think that lasts. He was pretty well-educated as a musician and when you have those kind of roots, you can make music that lasts.
KF: Given that you are a fantastic vocalist yourself and that you are a vocal teacher with your own voice method, what are your thoughts on Paul as a singer?
KF: I'm going to have to put you on the spot, Diana (laughs).
DG (laughs) You know, Paul's a great singer. He's great. His voice has held up. He has a lot of control. He's taken his instrument seriously. I think he's taken good care of it. And yet he's got a lot of soul and a lot of really hip phrasing.
KF: Getting back to Desmond Child & Rouge. From what I've read of some of the critics' reviews, your first LP was described as being "too soul-influenced and too inner city-minded for rock stations." Do you think the group was ahead of it's time?
DG: I would say that they would even admit that. We were a little bit ahead of our time, we were about six years ahead of the trend. We were combining rock and R&B and nobody was doing that. You were either a black artist or you were a white artist. And we decided to fuse both together because we loved both and we loved the way it sounded, combining deep R&B grooves with rock guitar. So the label was absolutely perplexed because it was the end of the '70s and disco was very big. It was really dominating the music industry. Then there were the rockers and they were dominating the touring industry. And they really didn't have a clue about what to do with a band that was doing both. I think the same year, or thereabouts, the Stones came out with "Miss You" and that was a milestone. I don't remember if we released our album just before that or after that, but still this was the Rolling Stones so they had a ready-made market and it wasn't going to hurt them to do something out of the box like that. But for a new band that needed to be branded, they just didn't know what to do. In their defense, radio was really segregated. It was going to be difficult to get black radio to play a white band or get white radio to play a black-sounding white band. Plus we had a completely different configuration. We had three women and a man.
KF: That kind of lineup is unique, especially for the time.
DG: There wasn't any such thing. If it was that way, It was one guy and three background singers. But the fact was the three women were a very powerful force in the live show as well as on the records because we all sang solo. It was very confusing for people. We were kind of like Culture Club, a few years prior.
Desmond Child And Rouge, "Our Love Is Insane"
KF: All that said, the track "Our Love Is Insane," which features you on lead vocals, proved to be a hit, reaching the Top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think my heart melts every time I listen to this track. What a vocal performance, Diana.
DG: (laughs) Thank you.
KF: Your range is amazing and your pitch is spot on, and this is before the days of Auto-Tune. How many takes did you need to capture your vocal?
DG: To be honest with you, it took one take to do the body of the song. And then I might have done two or three takes for the fade when all the other girls came in. It was a funny kind of situation because I was up all night the night before. I was very young and I was up the whole night without any sleep, partying and having fun. And I went into the studio the next day and it was like, "OK, time for you guys to do your solos." It was like, "OK, let's do it." And Desmond said, "OK, I'll be right back. I'm going to the bathroom." And he came back from the bathroom and the track was done (laughs). And you're right there was no Auto-Tune in those days.
KF: It's a superb lead vocal. The phrase you sing starting at 3:00 is astounding. I think you're hitting a high C there.
DG: I think I just had a really good time that night (laughs).
Desmond Child And Rouge, "The Fight"
KF: I would say so (laughs). The group's debut album features a song co-written by Paul Stanley, "The Fight."
DG: Oh yes, I remember that. And it sounds like it too.
KF: I believe this might have been Paul and Desmond's first collaboration.
DG: You know I really don't know the actual details of that happening. But I think it made sense that they would write a song together for that record.
KF: The group's second album, "Runners In The Night," also was released in 1979.
DG: Yes, I think the first one came out in January and the second one came out in like December (laughs).
KF: That type of schedule was more common back then, but certainly these days would qualify as an anomaly. This album contained more of a streamlined pop/rock direction. In hindsight, what are your thoughts on "Runners In The Night"?
DG: It was really a weird, interesting and fated occurrence. Because the label was so dumbfounded and confounded about what they were going to do with us as a group, we were kind of convinced by management and maybe the label to be more straight-ahead rock/pop, rather than combine all of the sort of theatrical elements and the colors and all the different stories. That first record had so many urban stories. And we already had procured G.E. Smith, we found him in a bar band in Connecticut and brought him on the road with us for the tour of our first record. So we had this jamming guitar player working with us. And Desmond was going through a big transition in his life so there was a lot of drama going on and a lot of angst and it just needed to come out in that way. A lot of elements came together at once. I'm not going to say it was easy, there was a lot of pressure on us because of how the business was having a hard time marketing us. And it was also a matter of respect at that point. I think that it was hard for them to really understand what this was, with three girls and a guy, and we felt a little bit like we weren't respected in the way that we wanted to be. So we just sort of said, "OK, alright, here you go."
KF: Staying in 1979, Desmond co-wrote a huge hit for KISS with Paul, the disco-influenced "I Was Made For Lovin' You." Do you recall how popular that track was?
DG: Oh absolutely. It was a huge breakout and it was really, really good for Desmond.
KF: That's the interesting thing, Diana. I think this track was really the catalyst for Desmond becoming Desmond Child, the songwriter.
DG: That's right. And then it was through his relationship with Paul that he met Jon Bon Jovi and probably Steven Tyler too.
KF: Yes, Desmond collaborated with Paul for songs on 1984's "Animalize" and 1985's "Asylum." Bon Jovi toured with KISS in 1984 and subsequently Desmond met Jon Bon Jovi and co-wrote songs on Bon Jovi's third album, "Slippery When Wet." And I don't think Desmond has looked back since.
KF: In knowing him in his formative musical years, do you recall sensing that Desmond had a special gift?
DG: Oh God, yes. From the minute I heard his first song when I was 17 years old, I remember being at his mother's house and him sitting at the piano playing his songs. I would always just weep because he's known for these big, gigantic wide-stroke rock songs but he actually started out with a really delicate sensitivity. And he wrote these heart-breaking, absolutely gutting, beautiful ballads. And we did a lot of those in our early days. We would just weep. We'd be sitting in rehearsal just weeping. He'd say, "OK, I've got a new song. I'm going to play it for you." And all of us, we'd be crying our heads off. He really has a gift. He can write just about anything he wants to, it's just that he had early success with big rock songs so he kept doing that.
KF: It's funny, Diana. There are some KISS fans who perhaps don't mind Paul working with outside writers like Desmond and seeing where it creatively leads for KISS. And then there are others who really don't like what a songwriter like Desmond interjects into the KISS formula. Personally speaking, I believe in the mantra that the song is king, and I don't really care who wrote it. That said, I certainly respect songwriters and their talents. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think Desmond has been unfairly ridiculed by a certain segment of rock fans.
DG: Well, I dare to say that most people who ridicule those kinds of things don't really understand music or the creative process. It was really only since the '60s that artists wrote their own songs. Before that, most people got songs from writers. You know, there were writers and they had really amazing writing skills. And there were singers who were the best singers in the world. They had the best writers and the best singers in the world and they put them together. This idea that you have to be a great writer and a great singer is new. I think it's not going to last. It's a limiting and a limited concept.
KF: You performed with Desmond when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008. As a matter of fact, the entire group reunited for that.
DG: We sure did.
KF: Did you enjoy the reunion?
DG: It was ridiculous fun. It was unbelievable. We spent a week in New York together, which of course we love to do anyway because we adore each other. We're like family still. We just hunkered down and put together this great medley of all of Desmond's hits. Myriam sang the Joan Jett song "I Hate Myself For Loving You," we did "Our Love Is Insane," we did 'You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Livin' On A Prayer," and "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" (laughs). It was all his music, just 30 to 60 seconds of each song. It was totally fun.
KF: So you still keep in touch with Desmond and the girls?
DG: Oh yeah, I just talked to Maria today actually. And Myriam, I'm going to call her in the next day or two. We talk to each other every couple of months. The girls try to see each other once a year. And Desmond, we see him maybe every other year or something. He's really busy with so many projects. And sometimes we see each other more than once a year. We have multiple things going on. We do get together and do other things. We did a tribute for Laura Nyro in New York. Last summer we got together because she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And there was a big tribute put together for her at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center and so we all converged on New York and rehearsed two gorgeous Laura Nyro songs and performed those there for a packed audience. There must have been 5,000 people there in Damrosch Park. Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash sang, and so did Melissa Manchester and Felix Cavaliere. It was a beautiful day.
KF: Diana, nowadays you are quite involved with teaching. Can you tell us more about that as well as your signature voice technique, "The Vertical Voice Method"?
DG: Sure. I moved to Minneapolis in December '98. I was just really exhausted from living in giant cities and I had some friends who had some really lovely artist friends here. I came to visit them and fell in love with the gentleness of the city and the beauty of it and the vibrant music and arts scene here. It was shocking actually. There is some incredible world-class talent here. And I was fascinated with the extremes of the weather. I think my fascination with the winter is a little bit past its prime now (laughs). But it's been a really good town for me in that way. I went back to school. I quit school when I was 19 when I went to New York to work with Desmond, Maria and Myriam. I just felt like going back and finishing my music degree because I didn't do that and I felt there were some holes in my education. I went back to do that here. And I started teaching here because it became obvious to me pretty soon that I wasn't really going to make a living as a singer like I had been doing in New York and L.A. And I thought, "Well, maybe I should teach? Let me see what that's like." It turned out I was quite good at it. I had a lot of real-world experience but all the time that I was working in New York and Los Angeles, I was studying classical singing. I just loved using my voice in that really optimal kind of way. To me, classical singing has been like a martial art because it takes every ounce of focus and every ounce of energy and you have to really train for it and stay in tip-top shape. I did that all along which was why I was able to do all those high-flying notes with the band with no problem. I never have had vocal fatigue or vocal damage or never had a day of hoarseness, because I really kept my voice in good shape. I was really lucky because I had such exceptionally good voice teachers all my life. I had one that worked at the New York City Opera, one that toured with Pavarotti, another one that worked with a lot of Broadway stars. I just had really good luck with that. I learned to love the human voice through all those experiences. I just started teaching and saw that I had a way of analyzing issues that people had and I was able to move them through it. Pretty soon, before I knew it, years would go by and I had these young students who started with me when they were 9 and 10 and they were going off to college. And at the same time, I've been working with really great artists here, doing fantastic shows and recordings and collaborations, really lovely work.
Diana Grasselli's "The Vertical Voice" method
The concept of the "The Vertical Voice Method" came to me over my years of teaching. I had been thinking of writing this book for five years and last year decided, "OK, now is the time." And I started writing it and little did I know it was going to take two years to write and produce, and all my savings (laughs) to make this beautiful, wonderful vocal method. I think it's really a very good product, if I do say so myself. I think it really works for people. I'm very happy with it. It was finished in January and I just need to find a publisher and get to marketing it.
KF: So the book is finished. Is it available now?
DG: It's finished and it's actually downloadable at this point. I have a website called theverticalvoicemethod.com and you can go on to that site and download it directly form there. It's 152 audio tracks and a 64-page PDF. It's a book, an audio book and 35 vocal exercises. It's a real vocal foundation textbook but it has beautifully designed photographs, diagrams and drawings. "The Vertical Voice Method" was written for both the contemporary singer and the classical singer. My largest niche as a voice coach has been helping contemporary singers build and maintain a healthy, balanced voice with which to sing contemporary styles like rock, country, theatrical, and R&B. I have been lucky enough to discover how to do this myself and I have found a really effective way to share it in "The Vertical Voice" technique.
And then I have also started a school. I had this vocal studio all these years and I just decided, "Well, I'm going to be here for a little while longer so let me just start a school." So I've got a full-fledged music school now called Chanson Voice & Music Academy and we've got 14 teachers. It's in St. Paul, and you can find us on Facebook. In the next few years I'd like to actually buy a really beautiful old building for the school and make a real academy of music in St. Paul.
KF: You seem very passionate about music education.
DG: I am. It's been really, really lovely. I still have a passion for performing and singing myself. I'm going to get back to that as soon as these projects get off the ground. But I have real relationships with my students that are lifelong because of how significant a mentorship is in one's life. And I've taken that role really seriously. I'm happy I've done it. I've taught probably over 5,000 people at this point. I want to add that out of so many of the students that I've worked with, there have been quite a few that have come to me because they're huge KISS fans.
KF: No kidding? Imagine that (laughs). Diana, today, we've turned the clock back a bit. In just talking about the '70s, working with Paul Stanley, Desmond Child & Rouge and the great city of New York, is there any part of you misses those days and the scene?
DG: Yes, I miss the high energy of the performing scene in New York a lot. I don't miss living in New York. That was always kind of difficult for me. The first five years, I had an absolute love affair with the city. After that, it got kind of hard for me because I'm a little bit more sensitive and kind of a delicate person. So New York was a little bit harsh for me. But I do miss those heady days of performing with the band and doing all those beautiful clubs and playing on Broadway with Gilda Radner and meeting lots of luminaries and working with them. I do miss that. But I do feel that I will get back to it on some level, in some way, at some point. But in a different kind of way.
(KissFAQ thanks Diana Grasselli for her time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Diana Grasselli:
A talented recording artist and vocal producer, and a budding screenwriter and film and stage actress, Diana Grasselli recorded two albums for Capitol Records in 1979 with the popular East Coast group Desmond Child & Rouge. Their Top 50 single, "Our Love Is Insane," with its funky bass, infectious beat and Grasselli's soaring lead vocal rocked airwaves and dance floors throughout the United States. For Paul Stanley's 1978 solo album, the female component of the band -- Grasselli, Maria Vidal and Myriam Valle -- sprinkled their talent on the album's second track, "Move On." After a successful national tour and appearances on several contemporary television shows, including "Saturday Night Live," Grasselli appeared with Vidal and Valle in the hit Broadway show, "Gilda Radner - Live From New York at the Wintergarden Theatre." Grasselli has also lent her shimmery vocal sound to artists such as Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, Cher, Belinda Carlisle, Alice Cooper, Chynna Phillips, and Ronnie Spector. Uniting with Desmond Child & Rouge, she performed at the opening event for the 2008 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where Child was presented with his induction into the organization. Now based in Minneapolis, Grasselli has owned, directed and been the primary instructor for Chanson Voice & Music Academy since 1999, and has instructed, directed, counseled, mentored, and produced performances and recordings for thousands of young vocal and theater artists and teachers. She recently debuted her signature vocal technique, "The Vertical Voice Vocal Method Series," which is available for purchase online. Learn more about Grasselli, her career and her signature vocal technique at theverticalvoicemethod.com.