Q: We’re talking to Karla DeVito about few of the facets of her many-faceted life. In the past few months, Karla, you’ve been pretty busy. Why don’t you fill us in on some of your activities.
Karla: Well, last January I opened on Broadway as Linda Ronstadt’s understudy in The Pirates of Penzance, and subsequently I went on for her on second reviewer’s night, like, three days after opening night. And went through all kinds hysterics, but had a good time and got some nice reviews and I took over the lead on June 2nd. So that’s what I’ve been doing last few months.
Q: Great. Great. Now during that time, you got yourself an album as well, right?
Karla: Right. I was working on the album. I recorded part of it in California in November, and then this summer … well, actually, coinciding with the time I was taking over the role, I ended up cutting a few more song.
Q: Is good timing.
Karla: Yeah, good timing. Do a little culture at night and a little rock and roll during the day.
Q: That’s great. That’s great. You’ve got another song that we’ve been listening to, called “Dance in My Pants”, that’s on another album altogether.
Karla: That’s on Jim Steinman’s album. Yeah, that was something I also did during this period of time. On Jim’s album Bad for Good. And this week on Monday we’re going in filming a video of that.
Q: That’s great. I remember that Meat Loaf video that you did of “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”. Is this sort of the same feeling or is this one …
Karla: No, this is a lot more comedy, I think, because it’s Jim. But anyway, and of course, my album Is This a Cool World or What? is coming out.
Q: That’s terrific. Any you’ve written the title song, as well as a number of the other songs.
Karla: Right. “Cool World” I wrote with a friend of mine, Gregg Mundt, and Danny Lawson. Danny who wrote several other songs on the record.
Q: It’s a great title.
Karla: Cool world or what?
Q: I don’t know.
Karla: Is it?
“Cool World” plays.
Karla: Well, my motto for the year has been “There is no future in specialization,” that’s why I can sing “Cool World” and also go and be Mabel at night in The Pirates of Penzance and do all kinds of different and odd and sundry things.
Q: Great. In Pirates you sing a coloratura soprano role, right? That didn’t sound too coloratura to me, “Cool World,” just now?
Karla: Right. No, well, no. I never had sung soprano like that before in my life other than when I was a kid. I used to imitate this blond woman on “The Three Stooges”, there was this segment about Señorita Cucaracha. Curly was all dressed up and pretending he was an opera star. They were trying to make some money, I think, or something, and they faked it to this record. And there was this blond-haired woman that used to sing “The Rite of Spring,” and used to go [faux opera singing]. That was my comedy impression of how an opera singer sings. Luckily Mabel doesn’t sound like that. But that’s how I learned that.
Q: I think Beverly Sills learned from that same Three Stooges cartoon.
Karla: I know! We just had a conversation the other day, I said, “Bev, you know, The Three Stooges inspired me, how about you?” So anyway.
Q: So that’s where your classical training came from.
Karla: Well, also a real solid background in my high-school. As silly as that may seem, that’s the truth. It’s real good. And that prevented me from blowing things out when I was doing rock ‘n’ roll too.
Q: So what brought you to New York in the first place?
Karla: Well, I was in a show called El Grande de Coca-Cola in Chicago, and I also did the Boston company of that, and when they had an opening in the New York cast, they brought me in. So I came here with a job. I didn’t come here with my suitcase and twenty dollars, in the romantic way like everyone else it supposedly does.
Q: That was at the Plaza 9 [formerly the Rendezvouz room at the Plaza Hotel, ed.], right?
Karla: That was at the Plaza 9, yeah. I was in it for about nine months. I was in that until the time it closed. And after that… That was during the era, like when the cabaret scene was very big in New York, and I was just like not a cabaret singer type. I mean, I love songs from the thirties and the forties, but the whole camp thing, I wasn’t into that. I just didn’t know, how do you start out in rock ‘n’ roll? As I said you don’t go to college to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer. So ,I started out very simply, I looked in the back of The Village Voice, and surprisingly enough there was an ad in there: Bruce Springsteen was auditioning women. He was thinking of adding one woman to his band. This was right prior to the release of Born to Run, and I guess they were kind of confused, you know, they were trying to figure out what would be right for Bruce to do at the time. As a fan, I thought it was a dumb idea, but naturally I auditioned. And I guess about two hundred girls auditioned for Mike Appel, that was his manager at the time. And five of us got chosen to go out to Asbury Park and audition for the band. So on that day I was supposed to ride out with Jon Landau, who was producing his record, but his car broke down. And then I had to take the bus. And then I took the bus and I was late. I missed my first bus, so then I missed my ride that was supposed to pick me up at Asbury Park, at the bus station. So when I got there, there was no number to call him, cause they didn’t have a phone at the rehearsal studio. So I had to call back into the city, you know, for them to try and reach them somehow to come pick me up. They couldn’t reach anybody, I had to take a cab. I had two bucks in my pocket. There wasn’t enough money, the cab driver didn’t know where he was going, took me for this wild goose chase around Asbury Park. We finally got there, I had to go in and borrow money from the band to pay for the cab ride. I was so embarrassed, and besides, I was a big fan of them at the time, and Bruce. And my knees were knocking. It was like the queerest experience of my life. And I did alright, I guess. I think I even sang “It’s My Party” at the audition. And after the audition Bruce came out, and he goes, “You did real good you know.” I was really happy as a fan of his in the end that he didn’t add any woman to the band, cause I always loved the male backup vocals. And, you know, it was quite an experience.
Q: I notice on the album, you have a good variety of selections. And there’s some great ballads on that album.
Karla: Well, one I wrote, which we’ll play probably later, but another one I’m real pleased with, is “Heaven Can Wait,” which Steinman wrote. Jim Steinman, the guy who wrote all the stuff for Meat Loaf, and for himself now.
Q: Sure, we remember Jim.
Karla: And I just threw that on at the last minute, cause I felt like I wanted another ballad on the album. Because my music and Meat Loaf’s and Jim’s music is pretty different. I mean, there’s not too many similarities. But “Heaven Can Wait” is pretty universal and I really like that song. It’s a beautiful song. I hope I did it justice.
“Heaven Can Wait” plays.
Q: I’ve talked to people from all over the country, and even a couple people from overseas, and many of them have said, “Karla DeVito, I know her. She is from Atlanta. She is from Boston.” I mean, …
Karla: That was Meat Loaf’s little practical joke that he used to play me every night. He also told people we were getting married … I mean, we never dated. It was strictly a professional relationship. But Meat, mr. Work-the-Audience, he would announce that I was from whatever town we were in. I mean, Frankfurt, Germany. You know? Forget it. They thought I was from Australia. So then I’ll run into these people, and they’ll say “Oh, you’re from my hometown,” and I’m like so embarrassed saying, “No, I’m sorry, I’m not …”
Q: How did audiences vary around the world? Was there universal response, or …
Karla: Well, an audience is an audience, and the difference between … like I was just thinking about the difference between a Broadway audience and a rock audience … I mean, audiences are pretty much the same. The thing is how you feel. When you’re out there with a rock band behind you, you’re feeling a much stronger position of power, I think, than like, coming out to do this cadence at the beginning of Pirates, you know, “I hope my E-flat is in shape.” I get much more nervous before going out on Broadway, than I would in a rock situation. My favorite performers in any situation are people that just, like, are loose. You can be bad at something, but if you’re loose and just out there to have a good time, you’re really great, I think.
Q: Do you psych yourself up before a performance? I mean, you mentioned …
Karla: I do karate chops before I go out to be Mabel on Pirates of Penzance. It’s so silly. I never did anything to go out, other than warming to go out with Meat Loaf. Because I think, trying to center your energy, and just kind of release all this junk, so that when you go out there you can just be natural and be yourself. The character yourself.
Q: You were out on tour with Meat Loaf for about a year, I guess. What was that like, with all the insanity and the madness. I mean, all we heard was stories about oxygen tents and, you know, craziness out on the road. What was that like?
Karla: Well, it was like that. We went all around the world, Australia, Europe, North America, spent a lot of time in Canada, enjoyed that. But working with Meat is an interesting thing. He’s full of a lot of energy, to say the least. And I was out there on the road with twenty-three men, and it was a pleasant experience, and I had a real good time, for the most part. But the performances were always crazed. Meat Loaf always felt he had to get psyched up for the performance, so he would get mad at somebody, and he would equally get mad at the men as the women. And as I said, I was the only women there.
Q: So that was twenty-three to one that he would get mad at you.
Karla: Yeah but he never hit me. No. Just kidding. He used to kick chairs around and trying to get rubbed up, so to speak, for his performance.
Q: Well, the shows were great, I mean, and the two of you together were pretty fantastic.
Karla: It was fun. I created a character. I a way I feel like, you know, the character I’m creating in Pirates of Penzance is kind of as far from me as the character I’ve with Meat Loaf. But I’m proud of that. I mean, for whatever it was, I feel like it was a good excercise. And it was a lot of fun.
Q: It was fun.
Karla: Yeah, it was fun.
Q: It wasn’t work.
Karla: Well, it was work too. I mean, we’ve all gotta work, right? I think this is kind of a link into the song “Work” I wrote with a friend of mine, Paul Jacobs and Danny Lawson. And I wrote the lyrics, because, just thinking about, you know my mom and my brothers back in Illinios. Out there in the Mid-West.
Q: Middle America.
Karla: Middle America. All my friends and buddies and myself at times. Cause even though you may be co-starring on Broadway, or something like that, it’s still kinda like going to the factory. You know? You gotta go every night and it’s a job. So, I was inspired to write “Work” because of all those reasons.
Karla: I grew up in the Mid-West, as I said, in Mokena, Illinois. I went to Loyola University of Chicago. I went for a year. And I majored in theatre there, and I auditioned that summer for a national company of Godspell. So in a way I started out in theatre and got in Godspell and that’s how I got in the actor’s union and all that stuff. So did I start out in theatre, because there is really no college to go to to be rock ‘n’ roll, you know.
Q: Birmingham?/Bring ‘em youg? [unintelligible]
Karla: No, do they have a rock department there? Someone else said to me, “Well, you can if you grew up in LA. You can go rock ‘n’ roll high-school.” But anyway.
Q: So you went to Loyola.
Karla: Loyola, right. And at the same time I was studying at Second City and Billy Murray was like in [the children of sayre] with me there. And in that time the night show was … Belushi was in that, and Joe Flaherty who was in SCTV. And that was a real good experience that applies to help continue improving my sense of humor throughout the years. Which is always the most important thing. But anyway, that’s how I met some people from the Organic Theatre Company, which is out of Chicago. And back in 1974 they wrote this play called Bloody Bess. Before all these other pirate shows and pirate things are happening. It’s about a female pirate in the seventeenth century. And when I saw that I thought I was gonna die. I said, this would make an incredible rock musical. And at the time I wasn’t writing songs because I though you had to go to Berklee School of Jazz or something to be a song writer, you know, know all your theory and all this stuff. And in fact, that did change when I saw the Ramones in ‘75.
Q: They didn’t go to Berklee?
Karla: No! I tell you, that really released me. Because I said, God, fine! These guys can do it, they know three chords and that’s it. So I can do it too. Well anyway, back to Chicago. I saw Bloody Bess, and I was inspired. I’ve just got the rights from them to make that into a rock ‘n’ roll musical, which I hope will happen in 1982 or something ike that.
“Bloody Bess” plays.
Q: You think Bloody Bess was a real pirate? There were some historical woman pirates back in the …
Karla: Yes. Annie Bailey, I think, was a real pirate. And this was based on that. But it’s a fantasy nonetheless.
Q: The were fewer women pirates than men pirates, just like up until now there’ve been fewer women rock ‘n’ roll singers than men rock ‘n’ roll singers. At least, on a regular basis.
Karla: Yeah. And it seems like in the past few years just about every women rock singer and her brother has come out from under a rock. And I think that’s good though. I know people are always saying “what are you thinking about this” but I think the more women out there the less people will, you know, identify them as women and more as rock singers. In other words, it won’t be any exciting thing, “oh, there’s this woman singing rock.” Obviously there’s Pat Benatar now, and everybody else, you know. And I think how I felt about being a woman rock singer, like, four years ago, has changed, because then it seemed, and no offense to any of these female rockers from long before, but it seemed that most of the women singing were kind of the wimpy sort, so to speak. You know, lot of ballads, lot of sweet stuff. And at the time I felt like, God, to come out, this is before Benatar and everybody, who is the first one to come out, you know, had to be like the toughest and all this other crazy stuff, which is totally silly. You can’t be everything to everybody, you know. Just be yourself and eccentric or whatever. Just go out there and have fun.
Q: That’s great.
Karla: That’s what I intend to do.
“Midnight Confession” plays.
Karla: I went to see a friend of mine, his name is David Rimmer, he wrote this play called Album, and I saw the first preview. I guess that was a year and a half ago, or something like that. And it had a lot of rock music from, you know, when I was growing up, sixties, seventies. And one of the songs, I remember I was … I can’t even remember know what grade I was in, but anyway, was “Midnight Confession.” And when I heard that, that old Grass Roots song, it was so exciting. I mean, it just made you start stomping your feet and everything. So when I was thinking about what cover songs I would put on the album that was right there in my mind. And I think it’s really funny, kind of almost camp in a way because it’s so serious about this midnight confession. When I was a kid I didn’t know it had to do with marriage and all this other stuff that this person he was singing about had a little gold ring on her hand you know. So it came clear when I started, you know, read the lyrics and everything. But I just think it’s a great song.
Q: You also picked up an gregrorian choir on the way somewhere.
Karla: Yeah, well, I wanted to do that. On my album, obviously in “Bloody Bess,” there’s a lot of extra male vocals, and same thing in “Midnight Confession.” I wanted to add that kind of texture to it. ‘Cause in a way, I think the most exciting singing for me, just as a singer, not as a performer, was singing with a chorus. You know, singing a capella with a a chorus. Because it’s all these voices just create it without an orchestra, without anything. All acoustically. I love it.
Q: It’s great. You can tour with the Norman Luboff Choir, or something.
Karla: Well, I was talking to Mormons about it. The Tabernacle may come out with me. I clean up my act a little.
Q: This album has taken a bit of time to put it all together. I know albums can take two and three years when you get Steely Dan together with Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman.
Karla: Well, for me, it took a long time finding the producer in the first place. Originally, when I was thinking about making a record, before I even signed a contract or anything, I was thinking on the Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds type end of it. Then I listened to this John Fogerty song which is on my record, which has also been on a lot of other peoples’ records. But I started listening to John Fogerty a lot about three years ago. It’s called “Almost Saturday Night,” it was off one of his solo albums. It was so strong, and then I started thinking “God, I would love to make a record like that.” It’s just so raw, his stuff is just the music and that incredible raw voice.
“Almost Saturday Night” plays.
Q: So in a year now, you got the ultimate album.
Karla: Oh God. I don’t know. Albums are such strange things, you know? You create ‘em and then they’re there, it’s kinda like a kid or something. In a way you wish you could just let go of it, but it’s kinda like a child too: you can’t. You have to keep helping it out along the away. I just can’t wait to get out there and perform it. That’s just gonna be fun for me, you know.
Q: Do you have tour plans?
Karla: Yeah, I hope to go out in early October. We’ll see. Doing club things, it’s gonna be fun, I can’t wait. Get back to rock ‘n’ roll.
Q: Often, the simplest sentiment is the best, it’s the purest. And the final cut on your album is a song called “Just Like You,” which is your song. No one else had anything to do with that song, except you. Came out of your head, and your mouth.
Karla: Yeah, but … It was the first time that I did all the music and lyrics for a song, so it was really a breakthrough for me. I used to write poetry, you know … I wrote good poems, I think. But trying to go from poetry to song writing, it was really though for me. Because for some reason I felt like if there is music, it had to be a total different thing. And so I’ve written of the worst songs ever. I mean, I wrote a song “Ricky Ricardo Rock”. I wrote a song about Superman before Barbra Streisand ever thought about the idea. You know, I wrote these stupid, stupid songs. I guess you have to go through a lot of crud to write one decent one. If I don’t write any other song, I’ll still always be proud of “Just Like You.” It was the first song that I really got to my emotion. Right to the core. About this situation, whatever, in my life. And was able to come across and still be meaningful and mean things to other people, not just to me. And I’m real proud of it.
“Just Like You” plays.