photographer / Michael Donovan
story / Lily Golightly
styling / Katerina Simonova
hair / Adam Livermore
makeup / Heather Heiman
shot at Do Or Dine, Brooklyn, NY
Lady Miss Kier from legendary dance outfit Deee-Lite sang Groove is in the Heart in my office. No joke. I looked around at my coworkers and they were smiling behind their computers. Kier was showing me her writing process- one that begins with a simple melody paired with lyrics from her journals. “The melody was with me for a couple of years.” she said. “Then I found the lyrics in my journal and they just fit…. the CHILLS that you SPILL…” she SANG!
People who don’t know Lady Miss Kier need to really get schooled on some things. First off, she was not just the singer. Yeah, Kier is an amazing performer but it was the least of her duties in the band. She was also the producer, the songwriter, and costume designer. Performing makes her cringe, still to this day. What she loves doing is creating art- whether it be costumes, songs, or even projections and animations.
In the early 80’s Kier lived in Williamsburg- the hipster haven that we love now was empty and scattered with warehouses and prostitutes. There was no Kent Ave- it was known as ‘Cunt Ave’ because it was populated with women of the night. Kier lived in a sixth floor ‘run up’, known as such because you couldn’t walk up the stairs in the building lest someone would pull you in and murder you, or steal all your crap.
An art school dropout who found the galleries to be too pretentious, the Art Nouveau movement particularly appealed to her. She began designing textiles, fabric and was fascinated with two dimensional art forms. The prostitutes in the neighborhood became her muses as she forayed into the world of fashion designing. She hated couture design- she proudly called what she created ‘costumes’ and sold them to mostly drag queens. Her designs were inspired by nature- by insects, butterflies, butterflies, flowers, and colors “ but mostly other people just walking down the street.” said Kier “Style inspires fashion. And there is no limit to inspiration in this world”.
Also a big fan of music, she designed costumes for bands and projected visuals for their shows. Kier met Dmitri in Washington Square park and the band Deee-lite was formed in the sunshine over a shared acid trip. Kier had been writing songs for a long time, but never seriously. She had never sung either. But a huge fan of Grace Jones, the ska scene and most importantly punk rock- she jumped into her new role as band member fiercely.
“The punk rock scene really appealed to me. I was a really angry young girl and the anger wasn’t getting me anywhere so I turned it 180 degrees and turned it into really positive thinking. That was the birth of the band- built on my punk foundation, political, socially aware, but killing the flies with honey” she said.
The band signed to Elektra and started touring, hitting the road almost immediately. The song “Groove Is In The Heart”, featuring Q-Tip, began charting and charted # 1 on the Billboard Dance charts and number 4 on the Billboard Top 100 list. The music video features Lady Miss Kier dancing in a full body multi colored spandex suit with trippy lights behind the eclectic party. The video makes sense when you know that the band was born on acid.
While touring, Kier got a chance to meet Timothy Leary and they went to a play. When I asked her if she went on a date with him she said “No- but I did date a 70 year old man once. Age is underrated- going out with a man who is 70 means he has 50 years of experience with women. He whispered beatnik poetry in my ear, and knowing that was wooing women 40 years ago with the same rap was very cool. It still works!” She giggled. “He dressed mighty fine with a feather in his hat, pants with actual creases in them, he opened the door and he told me his stories. I love a man with stories. Give them a chance for romance”.
Deee-Lite disbanded in 1995, and Kier began touring again- this time as a DJ. “I never play my own music when I DJ. Some DJs do that and it’s fine, but I just don’t.” She also continues to write music- with hundreds if not thousands of songs scrawled in her lyric books. “I’m like Emily Dickinson, they’ll find all of my songs when I’m gone”.
Now Kier listens to Janelle Monae and Ebony Bones. She loves to listen to women who produce and write their own music- like she does. “Never once got asked about the production or writing process. Everyone just thought I was the woman with a bunch of guys, nobody knew I wrote all of those songs”. She explained how a song starts with a melody- a bassline and how there are three parts to a melody. One hook down, and you have to take it up like it’s stairs. She then pairs the melody with lyrics from her lyric books. She’ll have tons of melodies that don’t have lyrics assigned to them and she calls those ‘homeless melodies’. “The melodies could fit with a ton of different chord changes. That is the sign of a good melody”.
Being a legend is something she never actually wanted. She would have been happier writing the songs and making her art behind the scenes. She cringes when she has to perform. “But who else is gonna sing these songs?” she asks. “These songs ARE me”. But when people come up to her and remark on what an inspiration she has been in the EDM community, she says “It’s better than winning a Grammy- it’s why I do this”.
When asked about the current state of EDM, she sighed. “I can’t stand that term, EDM.” According to Kier, their label looked down on the band because they were promoting technology. The label president thought it wasn’t real music and refused to fund it. Deee-Lite fought them all the way.
“I understand why now,” she said regarding the label’s feelings about samplers and technology. “There are tons of people who are just looping a beat and putting that out. We were classically trained musicians and we used samplers the way that classically trained musicians would. People that are embracing the technology don’t know the basic fundamentals of music theory. As a DJ I’m listening to over 500 tracks and I can only find three that I like. It was kind of the same way 20 years ago, but there is just so much more bad music now.”
She also sees problems in the way that modern technology is affecting normal everyday people. “We really have to be careful with what’s happening. We’re in a technological revolution. We have to call the shots, we have to make sure not to let it rule us. I went to see Ebony Bones the other day and I wanted to film her. But I thought- wait a minute this is hurting her performance because she has to see people in the front row and she needs to see me dance and I need to give her my energy. Even though I’m just one person it is still going to affect her and the performance. I kept thinking, this is so rotton- how much better would the show be if I could just put down the goddamn phone? Does this technology own me or am I in control of this?”
Technology interests Kier- right now she’s scoring a science fiction animated graphic novel written by a neurosurgeon. “It’s a fascinating story. And I’ve written several science fiction stories of my own”.
When asked about Lady Gaga Kier said this: “She’s like a Broadway Musical to me. I’ve been living in New York city and I’ve only seen two musicals. I’m not a Broadway person”.