Throughout my often adventure-filled career as a music and 'entertainment' journalist, I have been blessed with a veritable wealth of opportunities to work with artists and groups that the public at large (i.e. you, the increasingly faithful reader) are more than likely unfamiliar with. As a result, I have frequently found myself wholeheartedly embracing an increasingly mind-boggling array of artists and groups that--in my ever so humble opinion, at least--are deserving of your attention. A prime example of such an artist is Johannesburg, South Africa-born singer/songwriter Dilana Robichaux. Having already released pair of well-received solo efforts (most notably the Mick Mars-fueled Inside Out) and finishing second behind The Halo Method frontman Lukas Rossi on Rockstar: Supernova, Robichaux wasted little time unveiling the oft-stunning gem Beautiful Monster...
Todd: In hindsight, could you have recorded Beautiful Monster (2013) without the financial help of Kickstarter?
Dilana: “Most likely, yes. But, not at the time. I probably would have had to save for a few more years, then do it myself. So it's not ruled out, but, at that exact time, no. It wouldn't have been released at that particular time. ...It's very, very frustrating most of the time. But, I think that's part of the beauty of being an independent artist. We really struggle, but at the end of the day the reward is so amazing that it's worth the struggle. I'm just one of those individuals who believes that without crawling and without pain and suffering, I'm not going to really enjoy my rewards at the end of the day. ...Even if all of it does end up sounding a bit like self-mutilation.”
Todd: How has becoming a mother impacted your career? Speaking as a parent, I would assume that adding a child to the proverbial 'touring artist' equations would most certainly pose an extraordinarily serious challenge...
Dilana: “I've spent at least twenty-five years building this career of mine, but there's nothing that compares to being a mother. It's almost like all those years were in vain, in a way, because once you have a child, nothing else matters anymore. It's really hard to describe unless you've had a kid yourself. I've so often heard other mothers say this, and I've always thought 'Whatever', but, now that I've had a baby, everything else seems very insignificant. But, at the same time, it's also more clear what my future path needs to be. In the past, it was more like I wanted to do it because I love it. And I still do, but now it's more of a need. I need to do this because this is my income, my livelihood and how I can take care of my daughter. So now it's more of a pressure job for me than purely just for the love. When I was by myself, I didn't have to worry if a show got canceled or if I didn't have enough money in a particular month. Now, it's just that I have to make sure that I play a lot and I really have to fight for the highest price and guarantee. There are a lot more conflicts now. The days of walking through an airport with just my bag and my guitar are history. Now, it's me walking through the airport with a car seat, a stroller, a baby in my arms, my suitcase and a baby bag. It's much, much tougher now for me, really.”
Todd: Do you feel as if the birth of your child had an 'impact' on your songwriting? Did it negatively affect you?
Dilana: “Absolutely not. The physical wounds of child birth can heal, but becoming a mom just leaves me with an emotional wound so raw that I'll be forever vulnerable. I don't look at a single newspaper anymore without thinking 'What if that were my child?'. I don't look at a starving child without asking myself 'What does their mother feel? What would it feel like to see your own child die of hunger?'. Disasters like fires and plane crashes... You just look at everything differently than you used to. ...I don't look at anything the same way now.”
Todd: What prompted you move to Holland from Johannesburg? Considering that you did it at such a young age and traveled such a significant distance to make it all happen, it's amazing that it all turned out as well as it did...
Dilana: “When I look back at that, I go 'Wow. I actually did that?' When you're young, you don't think of things like that. You just go, go, go. So, when I was twenty, I made my first trip to Holland and I just fell in love with the culture. Everything there is so different than South African culture. I felt as if it was something that I needed to do. I needed to move. I needed to move around the world and see different places and make music in as many places as I could. I went back to South Africa after that trip at the age of twenty and had someone very close to me die very violently. ...She was a good friend of mine who was shot in the stomach while she was seven months pregnant during a carjacking. “The Woman I Am”, which is the first song on my new record, has a little bit about that in there. After she got killed, it was such a clear, vivid red flag for me. I was like 'Okay, this is it. Get the hell out of here', so I did. I waited one week, packed up a suitcase, picked up the only guitar that I had and moved to Holland. ...I barely knew anybody there. I was signed to a Dutch label. That's about all I had. Like I said earlier, I didn't even think about anything. It was just what I needed to do and I waited for it, so going from Johannesburg to a small town in northern Holland was an easy step for me. From there, I just kept focusing on my career. It was all about getting rich and famous when I was younger, but now it's all about survival. I went from Holland to getting married to an American and then moving to Scotland. ...I then went from Scotland to Houston, Texas. We got divorced and two years later, I auditioned for a TV show called Rock Star: Supernova. I moved to Hollywood and I've been in L.A. ever since. I've been in L.A. for eight years now.”
Todd: Were you surprised that you didn't win Rockstar: Supernova? We really thought you were going to win...
Dilana: “Everyone did. And so did the audience, because I got the highest vote at the end of the show. But the male ego kicked in and decided that a female wasn't what they wanted. So they chose Lukas, which is absolutely fine by me because, there was no way in hell I could sell their material. I didn't believe in it. For me, the most important thing as an artist is to believe in your songs, believe in your lyrics and the emotion you're trying to put out there. If I don't believe it, I can't sell it. I really could not connect with their songs. I honestly tried the best I could, but I just couldn't, so it was a big relief for me. I felt like it was all I needed as a stepping stone. I got all the exposure I needed and it was perfect. At the end of the day, it's all TV. It's all TV glam and nothing really happened to any one of us after that show. No twinkie labels came running to sign us. ...I just got exposure, mostly with some industry people, but for the bigger part with the TV viewers. …Those are the people that recognize me at the airports and everyplace else. ...But it's not like I became an overnight superstar.”
Todd: Overall, do you feel performing on Rockstar: Supernova ultimately had a positive impact on your career?
Dilana: “As far as exposure, yes. I definitely think it gave me a boost. When I released Beautiful Monster, I had a lot of people online and say 'I remember you from that show. I'm definitely getting your record', so from that perspective, yes, it gave me a boost. But that's about it. I also didn't expect anything major to happen and I still don't. It makes things a little easier when I name drop the show, which I hate doing because I'm trying to build my brand as Dilana. But at the end of the day, whenever I go 'I was on that show Rock Star: Supernova, the light goes on and then they say 'Wow, I remember you'. It has given me a real boost with the recognition factor.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? I would imagine you'll still be touring as much as humanly possible.
Dilana: “I've been touring like crazy this year. My little girl's first tour was through Texas, which was just two months over. We haven't stopped. We've been to Europe once this year and we're finishing a little Midwest run now. I've got three shows this weekend in the Chicago area and then I'm home for ten days, before we go to Africa. From Africa, we'll go to Europe and then be back home to LA where I'll have two weeks off before I'm off to Europe again. I'm doing a lot of European trips this year. I'm probably also going to be starting a TV show we're shooting about an Indy rock chick mama on the road with her little baby. So, it's a busy year for me. At this point, I am hoping a few of those shows get pushed to next year, because my year is so clogged up already.”
Todd: Was starring in a quasi-autobiographical television series a thought you pitched to a network or Producer?
Dilana: “No. Actually, I wasn't. But the guys that thought of the idea did it because they had me in mind and had been following my Facebook road reports and my daily updates about touring and how tough it is with the baby. So they called me and said 'Hey, we have this idea'. I'm going to meet with them next week when I get home and then we're going to sit down and I'll be able to give them more of an inside scoop on the promoters, the agents and the venues that screw us around and people who don't like babies. All that stuff. It's going to be fun.”
Todd: It's amazing how children can change literally everything about your psyche once they come into you life.
Dilana: “It really is. Sometimes, when I'm onstage in the middle of singing, all I can think about is the smell of my baby and wonder if she's okay backstage or at the hotel. All I'll want to do is run offstage and go check on her. It takes every ounce of energy in me to stay on that stage. ...She's not going to interfere, but she is my very first priority and I honestly have this attitude now that if you don't want me as well as my baby, then you can go to hell. I'm not playing your joint. If there's absolutely no green room and it's a smoking pub, obviously I understand and I'll just go to a hotel. But if there's a green room and it's possible for her to be there, which is what I prefer... Then, if I have a code blue, I can just run offstage and be there with her. And if they don't want her there, I'm just like 'You know what? Screw you. I am out of here'. ...She really is my number one right now.”
Todd: While putting your child first certainly isn't a revolutionary idea, it is odd to hear someone be so defiant...
Dilana: “And it's not like it affects my show at all. If anything, I'm the best singer now that I've ever been in my entire career. Having this child has physically changed my voice. I have almost two more octaves now in my voice. I feel better than I've ever felt. I'm more clear-minded and clearheaded. Before her, I drank, I smoked and I did the occasional fun drug. But from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I turned around three-sixty and those things are a definitely 'no' for me now. My entire life is so much better. When I stand on stage, I feel so powerful. Being a mother gives you power. If anyone has a problem with that, book someone else. I don't care.”
Todd: Care to offer some insight regarding your tenure in L.A. Guns? Very little has been officially said. When I initially heard that you had become a member, I was very, very excited by the thought of 'what could have been'.
Dilana: “I thought it was going to be pretty cool. I have to say, it's one of the best bands I ever played in. Musically, it was fantastic. I think Tracii Guns is one of the most amazing guitarists out there. I really enjoyed singing their songs although when I first heard them, I was like 'Oh, my god. This is awful. I can't stand these songs. They're real icky'. But that gave me a challenge. I wanted to improve on the songs. I wanted to make them better. I wanted to own them and that's what I did. I loved singing them and I love rocking out. Everything was cool onstage. It was the minute we got offstage that Tracii and I bumped heads severely. We're both alpha humans. Onstage, I don't have a problem with him. I'll be the first person to stand back because I just think my voice does the talking. I don't have to stand in the spotlight, I just have to open my mouth. That's the way I feel about my voice. He loved me up front, so that wasn't a problem. It was just behind the scenes. I'm a very organized person. I love a tour schedule. I love to know where I'm going each day, what times I'll be going, how long the drive is and where we're going to be staying. I like to know the sound check and loading times and I like having a routine when I'm on the road because it's the only way I can survive it, especially if I'm the only chick in a smelly van. Even then, I didn't bitch about it. ...But most days, we missed the sound checks. The van was always being towed or we had to get rides with fans because the van was just a complete mess. Tracii wouldn't get it fixed. I'd say 'Get the battery fixed. Just replace it'. Then, we'd have ten days off and I'm thinking 'In the ten days, he's going to clean the van and fix the van', but when I'd get back for the second leg of the tour, he wouldn't have touched it. He wouldn't have cleaned it and it would have been sitting in the sun for days with smelly shoes, dirty sheets and pillows from the bed in back. ...It was so disgusting and I refused to deal with it.”
Todd: What was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back? Was there a particularly awful gig or incident?
Dilana: “It was stuff like that, ya know? That and not getting paid. I still haven't been paid. He asked me if I would pay for our hotel rooms on my credit card, which I did and he still hasn't paid me back. I've never shared this before. This is truth. People keep asking and I've never told anyone because I don't want to badmouth anybody. But these are the facts and this is the truth. ...Those are the main reasons I could not stay in LA Guns.”
Todd: For the sake of professionalism, I won't 'name any names', but your definitely not the first musician I've heard speak disparagingly of his business practices. It seem as if the way he operates isn't some well-kept secret.
Dilana: “Everyone knows it. He'll pay you with old amps or old guitars. He left two crappy amps at my old manager's place in Texas while we were on tour. When I quit the band, I asked for my money and he said 'Oh, you can keep the amps'. Well, we put them on eBay and I didn't even get one single hit on them because nobody wants those crappy old amps anyway. Everywhere I go around L.A., if I talk about it, somebody will go 'Oh, yeah. He came and rehearsed at my rehearsal studio, didn't pay, and said he left an old guitar there I could have'. So he leaves old gear behind and thinks that's the way he's going to pay people. There are tons of people walking around with Tracii's old shitty gear. That's really funny. Looking at that now, I can laugh about it, but at the time, it was very, very hurtful. I felt like I gave my everything and he basically treated me like a piece of crap. At the end of the day, Tracii and I have a very deep musical love for one another and I know this. He recently posted one of our videos on Twitter and said 'Wow. I've never even seen this. It was so amazing'. I know that he still respects me as an artist and I respect him as a musician, but it'll never work out for us. Never.”
Todd: In retrospect, how did you become involved with the group? To me, it always seemed like an unlikely pairing. Being from South Africa, I can't imagine you had been exposed to their prior works on a regular basis...
Dilana: “I had never even heard of L.A. Guns. I didn't grow up here. When Tracii called me the first time, I didn't even know who he was. We met at a Starbucks and he gave me two CDs. He said 'Listen to the material'. One was live and acoustic. I remember when I was driving home, I popped the CD in my CD player and I literally pulled off on the side of the road because I started laughing so hard. I called him and said 'Okay, dude. I get the joke. Where's the real CD? This is funny. Where's the real stuff?' and he goes 'What are you talking about?' and I said 'I'm listening to the acoustic CD. It's so bad that I know you guys did this on purpose, right? This is a joke'. And it wasn't. It was their real, live acoustic CD they had released. I thought it was so bad. I thought it was a joke. Tracii even tells this story about the first time I called him after listening to the stuff. I was like 'No way. This is just terrible'. I didn't know the songs at all. Not a single song had I known or heard before. There were a few songs I refused to play because I just couldn't connect with them. There's a song called “Bitch Is Back” (from L.A. Guns, 1988) that I refused to do. I just thought it was a silly song. ...Of course now I've listened to it again and I kind of get it. It's the whole songwriting style from the 80's that's very simple and very literal that's hard for me to do because I'm a very metaphorical and deep writer. I guess it's just a slip of the mind that I do those songs, but when I did, I really enjoyed them. I really got into them. They're really power songs, ya know? I leveled the guitar riffs in them and I kicked them all in the original keys, which was really fun for me because a lot of my songs are more mid-to-low range and these are all upper range. I loved singing them. At first, I thought 'Oh, crap. This is going to be challenging. I'm probably going to lose my voice after two or three because they're all so high', but, that didn't happen once. I didn't have any vocal problems. It was a nice learning curve for me because I realized I could sing much higher and with endurance and not have any issues.”
Todd: At this point, what type of set list are you working with? Are you playing mostly from Beautiful Monster?
Dilana: “At this point, yes. I'm doing a lot of material from Beautiful Monster. I'm doing some of the older stuff from Inside Out and even one or two songs from Wonderfool. And I do a few covers, too. I do my own versions, of “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin), “Lightning Crashes” (Live), “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper) and “Zombie” ((The Cranberries). ...Some of them are songs that I did on Rock Star: Supernova. I didn't really like doing “Lithium” (Nirvana) or “Ring Of Fire” (Johnny Cash) because the Production was everything on those songs. “Lithium” was okay but “Ring Of Fire” was really hard to pull off without playing acoustically like I am on this tour. I also like to just jam with the local guys, ya know? The openers are awesome. That is always fun.”
Todd: Taking that into consideration, which do you prefer? Playing as a solo artist or working with a 'full band'?
Dilana: “That is such a tough question. I love both. I really do. If I could have it my way, financially, I would have the whole band and I would do a bit of both. I'd start off electric and in the middle of the set, I would break it down and have everyone come up front and have my drummer on a gong or some other percussive instrument and play five acoustic songs and then get back into the electric again. It has such unique properties. Still, when I play electric, the energy is amazing. ...But, I also feel that I'm competing constantly with my amps and cymbals. It's much harder to get the message across. When I'm playing acoustic, it's very fragile and I'm very vulnerable. You can hear the breath in my voice and you can hear every lyric. It's hard to keep back my own tears sometimes when I'm playing acoustically. It's very emotionally draining because I really can get into my songs.”
Todd: Now that you've been able to amass a certain notoriety and success, what do you feel was your big break?
Dilana: “Making the big move to America. I was at the peak of my career in Holland. Wonderfool came out in Europe and then 9/11 happened and my ex-husband and I decided to move to America. He wanted to be closer to his family. Then, when I got to Houston, I couldn't find the right musicians. I tried everything to start a band. I kept comparing everybody to my European band, which was so killer. Eventually, I just took a year off. I said 'Screw this. I'm going to stop making music'. That's when Rock Star: Supernova came up. At that time, I was playing a one-chick show. I was playing a lot, but I was alone and it was mainly covers. I was trying to get my original sound. I wasn't even really serious about my career anymore. I was just scooting along this day-by-day. But then Rock Star: INXS was on and I found out they had another season. I thought 'Let me take a chance at this thing' and I got answered. It was my big break, really. ...I had kinda lost interest, plus a severe motorcycle accident had put me out for a year. After Rock Star: Supernova hadended, I was able to get it all back on track.”
Todd: Musically, what are your influences? You obviously drew from multiple sources with Beautiful Monster...
Dilana: “You bet I did. I think the main influence on there is just my African roots. I try, with each song, to have some element of Africa in there. Whether it be the backing choir, the percussion or the bass riffs... My influences were really odd people. I cannot sit down and say I was influence by this artist or that artist. My influences come from life itself. The pain, the learning, the truth and the lies. All those things are what help me come up with the things I do. It's actually very hard for me to write at the moment because I'm so damn happy. This baby is making me so happy, I'm afraid I'm never going to be able to write another song. ...I'm not very good at writing happy songs, but I want to. I want to write a happy record. I think those are all my experiences.”
Beautiful Monster (2013)
Inside Out (2009)
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