Caro Meets Music Interview Spoken Word Interview

Denise Marsa: The Pass

By | Published on Friday 21 September 2018

American singer and songwriter Denise Marsa first came to notice in the UK as a “mystery voice” – the then unknown singer who duetted with Dean Friedman on one of the big hits of the late seventies, ‘Lucky Stars’.

Her upcoming show at The Playground Theatre is something of a departure from her usual output, as it takes something of a theatrical format, blending her life story with the music.

I spoke to Denise, to find out more about the show, her career, and what the future holds.

CM: Can you start by telling what to expect from the show…? It sounds like a mixture of story and song?
DM: Yes, it is. There are vignettes, aka short stories, and songs in between. I jump through the years, starting as a young girl and then moving through the 70s, 80s, 90s and onward. Talking about opportunities, change of fate, circumstances, mistakes, self-discovery, challenges, trust. The vignettes take place in various cities such as New York City, Bradley Beach, New Jersey, London, Los Angeles, California, Tucson, Arizona and even Skoie, Illinois, during a very short lived “on the road” experience. Working in the music business, has meant travelling and relocating. I have experienced many situations from hit records to music publishing deals to working on yachts to pay for my first album ‘SELF’. The things we do for love…

CM: Are the stories you tell entirely biographical?
DM: Yes. I speak from my personal, intimate experiences.

CM: So it’s based on your own life, and is therefore factual, but do any particular themes emerge from the telling of it?
DM: Yes, as I work on it I realise there are many themes and defining moments. Strength. Artistic survival. Not giving up. Timing. Being resourceful. Being yourself. Doing it for yourself. Grabbing Opportunities. Courage. Being a strong woman and not backing down because in your head and heart you know what is best for you. Doing your art as you see it and feel it (especially when I first got started, I was producing myself and there was push back). Not being forced subtle or otherwise, to do what makes you uncomfortable. Also, on a personal level, the challenges and struggles between being who you are and keeping your identity, while in a very close long-term, intimate, committed relationship.

CM: What made you want to create a show like this? What made you want to tell your story?
DM: Natural development from a concert at a library; we (the audience and I) created an interactive experience. Q&A after each song. People seemed interested to learn about the process of song-writing. And how to navigate a career, especially through the decades.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about what happened with the Dean Friedman song ‘Lucky Stars’? What was your involvement and why didn’t anyone know about it?
DM: Dean and I met at Columbia studios, as I was auditioning for Don Puluse, my first manager. Then he came to one of my shows with his record label and a few weeks later, we ran into one another in the West Village, where I live. Then he called and told me he had written a song with me in mind to sing, for his second album. I went up to his apartment, on the upper west side, we sat at his grand piano and worked on the song. My involvement, as I recall, was to work out the end of the song with him. We’d each take a chorus at the end and then the final 3rd one, I suggested we sing together and I’d add a harmony. I just jumped in with the harmony and sang what I heard in my head.

As far as financial, business involvement, it was an on-going issue collecting royalties. I was not credited when the song was first released, and not paid any royalties until 2008, and that started from that year forward. Eventually, the fans made sure they knew who I was, and they made it easier for others to know as well. The letters poured in and my name went on all singles being pressed from that point on. My name was on the album and I thought it was odd that my name was not on the single when it first released. Maybe it was a sign of the times?

CM: How did you end up working in the industry to begin with? Did you want to be a performer when you were growing up?
DM: As I mentioned, my first manager Don Puluse, first opened doors for me. He was the head engineer at Columbia Records in the late 70s when I moved to NYC. I had been performing, singing my whole life. As a child performer, in rock bands as a teenager, in college and after. I was drawn by centre stage, the microphone stand and the microphone. It was my chocolate. Through the years, I had various bands, 2-6 pieces at times, however, I was very sporadic with performing. I’d play a few months, then take off, then back on, sometimes not performing for years. Maybe I tried to get it out of my system, still it never left. Now I have a pianist, Tracy Stark. She jams.

CM: How did you begin your career? What steps did you take to further it?
DM: First professional part, where I was paid, was Baby June in Gypsy, at 8, Lambertville Music Circus, NJ. I performed for various other events as well, recitals, women’s organisations, birthday parties. I am still taking steps… however, moving to New York City, was the “big” taking it further step. And then starting my own record label in 1997, KeyMedia Group which is now KeyMedia Music Group.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your career thus far?
DM: My songs are the overall highlight of my career. Also my first music publishing with Warner Bros Music, London and moving to London to write and record. Then my second music publishing deal, Warner/Chappell, Los Angeles, moving there, working there. And most important, my current publishing deal with BMG, Los Angeles. I have amazing support from them. Another highlight was my first award for one of my own songs, a double award in 2013 for ‘Steady’. The song won Best Adult Contemporary song in the New Mexico Music Award and I and my co-producer Andy Gabrys, (who was living at the time in New Mexico) won for Best Producers in that category as well. ‘Steady’ is on my second and most recent album ‘Live Forever’. Most of the tracks were recorded in Santa Fe, all vocals were recorded in my own home studio.

CM: Why did you bring the show to London, and where will you take it next?
DM: To have an audience, as I am best known in the UK for the duet. It seemed like a good way to get ‘The Pass’ started with some momentum. I have learned, you need to do lots of press, marketing and promotion no matter where you are physically, metaphorically in your career. Unless you have a big fan base, which of course, I do not, have not cultivated that at all. Dean has been brilliant at that. And I lived in London from 1985-1989 and loved it. Next up, I would ideally like to come back to the UK for a small tour, small theatres, venues outside of London. Also a few shows in NYC and maybe a few other places/venues in the states.

CM: What other plans do you have in the pipeline?
DM: Pipeline unknown, though we are tossing some ideas around at the time of this interview. Right now my focus is on the first three nights at The Playground Theatre. There is so much more to presenting a theatre piece then a “set” at a venue or a club. We have a lighting designer, sound designer, stage designer, a project manager and I am very proud of the crew compiled. You can see the team on my website here (and please do check!). We want to give the audience real value for their ticket and help them to step into the show, creating an exciting yet intimate experience.

‘The Pass’ is on at The Playground Theatre from 27-29 Sep, see the venue website here for more information and to book tickets. 

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