MadonnaTribe meets Niki Haris + Donna De Lory
The MadonnaTribe team is thrilled to meet and chat with two legends in Madonna history.
Niki Haris and Donna DeLory are back with an amazing cover version of one of Madonna’s most loved ballads, Rain, and they are sitting down with us to discuss this new record, their Madonna past and their future music adventures.
Hi Niki, hi Donna, welcome to MadonnaTribe. Let’s start this chat talking about the new single. Why did you choose Rain as the Madonna song to cover?
Donna: I watched our live version of Rain that someone had posted on Facebook and remembered how great we sang that song. It evokes a great memory for me and I love the rain!!!
Niki: Donna revisited the song and said she would like to try a new version of it with me. It was an idea that I was open to as we had initially sung a beautiful song entitled Kinder [on Donna’s album The Unchanging]. Recording that was so effortless that recording something else was a natural progression. We were suggested many Madonna songs to cover, but I think we chose one that works well for us.
What does the song mean to you? I mean what is the emotion that these lyrics bring to you?
Niki: Interesting question in that during the recording of some ad-libs with Donna the songs lyrics really start to take meaning for me. When we were singing “I’ll stand out on the mountaintop and wait for you call my name” the idea of “Standing in the Rain” resonated for me. We were laughing and singing and it felt like “MUSIC” raining down! We started singing, “IT’S RAININ!!!” and it felt great!! She and I have stood on many mountaintops together and waited for a long time to do this project, so feeling all this support raining down fills me with gratitude.
Donna: To me it means being connected with nature. Standing on a mountain top is a place of clarity and strength. Finding the strength in the vulnerability of being in love and waiting for the call to be answered.
The acoustic version you released is very reminiscent of the version you performed with Madonna on The Girlie Show. Were you actually inspired by that performance?
Donna: Yes. We got together to try out the song with our voices now and we listened to that live version to come up with our arrangement.
Especially the part after the bridge. That live version seemed more dynamic to me and would lend itself better to the kind of stripped down production that we were doing.
Niki: When we initially sang that version, we weren’t really sure what the plan was or if we would even like what we had come up with. We just knew we wanted to sing together again.
Kinder had let us know that. Rain was a song that had a complete arc and the arrangement we did in that show let us really be heard together, so we tried it. Hope you like it…
I love it! and by the positive reaction the single got online it really seems the fans are enjoying it much.
Rain was also truly an highlight of The Girlie Show and one among the most magical moments in Madonna’s touring career. It featured an hint to Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) by The Temptations and a Singing In The Rain theme inspiration.
What do you remember about rehearsing that routine together? A funny or a tough moment on those sitting stools wearing those long black robes?
Niki: Aye Yi Yi!!! After so many years of singing, rehearsals are challenging to decipher. I remember that she had an excellent band that tour and they were funky! Tons of great ideas to open the music up to different possibilities for interpretation. Lots of fun!!! Black robes were a cinch and easy to get on. Someone under the stage to simply slip them on our arms, snap and sit on the stools until we were lifted up onto the main level. By the way, it felt great to sit down after all that dancing!!!
Donna: I remember how much we were sweating at that point in the show. We would try to dry off before we went back onstage for that number.
It was so nice to sit down for a song and just sing and look into each others eyes. We had to look at each other to harmonize and blend so well together. I loved singing with the two of them!!!
What I’ve noticed in your cover is that Niki sings it more freely, going a bit free style on the melody, while Donna stays more close to the original version. So apparently you chose a different way to interpret the song. What was the approach of each of you to the song?
Donna: I always go for the feeling when I sing and that’s how I was feeling it when I recorded the vocal, to stay more with the melody and let Niki be more free with it. Niki does have a different style, more soul/R&B you could say, so that comes across and I loved what she did with the melody. My changes were more subtle because that is how I was feeling to sing it in that moment and I love M’s melody. If we sang this over and over on a ND tour I am sure my melodic parts would change a bit.
Niki: I had no particular strategy in my approach. I just SING. Sometimes it works, Sometimes it is questionable… Like life…
Rain was originally the fifth and last single to be released in 1993 from the highly controversial album Erotica. You worked with Madonna on the backing vocals of that of some songs of that album. I’m not sure if I can hear you on the original version of Rain, but your performance on Deeper and Deeper is amazing. What do you remember about working on Erotica, a concept record that has a sound and production which is completely different from its predecessors?
Niki: I only remember recording Deeper and Deeper, as it was a classic dance track and a “tip of the hat” to the disco era. Very Studio 54 sound. I guess you would need one of those tracks if the album is Erotica… Loved it!
Donna: I loved working on all of M’s songs in the studio!! Deeper and Deeper was so fun and Niki and I got a chance to really sing out, which we love to do, “Sweeter and Sweeter and Sweeter…r.” I also really loved to sing in unison with Madonna on the choruses. First we would do those vocals then layer in the harmonies. We kept asking M, “Can we lay down another high part?” I grew up with Disco so I loved the beat and I was excited to know how crazy the fans were going to go for it. When we sang it live in the Girlie show it was such a party!!
Ok, as we are already travelling back in time… how and when did Donna and Niki meet? If I’m not mistaken it was for the Who’s That Girl World Tour in 1987, right?
Niki: This is a story told many times but, yes, we met on the Who’s That Girl Tour, 1987.
Donna: We met the day Niki came in to replace another singer that was not working out. She had so much energy! She had it all the moves, the voice, and the personality!!
How was working on that show? There were three back up singers and dancers on that tour but then you became the “dynamic duo” supporting Madonna on her videos and live music performances.
Donna: That show was great and so perfect for my first big tour!! Then I think Madonna changed her concept for her singers to have 1 on each side.
Maybe that is because of what she saw in us as strong entertainers and she wanted us to be right next to her. We performed alongside her in this way for 4 tours together.
Niki: The Who’s That Girl Tour was hard work, but, I was young and eager. I had five days to learn all material and dance routines. I was in Japan on stage with her after a week of rehearsals, UGH!!! I just remember giant mini blinds blowing in the wind! I thought if one of those things breaks, it will be like a flying blade!! And of course, there was dancing on the conveyor belt across the top of the stage! Crazy but, fun!
And then came Vogue… A milestone in Madonna career and you were both part of it, singing on it and being featured in the David Fincher directed video. What do you remember about those gouging days?
Niki: Wow!! You are really taking us back now, again I’ll say, hard work, fun and lots of laughs!!
Donna: It was sooo much fun!! I learned so much especially from the famous lighting director who told me to always keep my chin up to look 10 years younger!!
And the ultimate dare was to tell the truth… Do you happen to watch Truth or Dare once in a while? What do you think of it now?
Do you think now that the whole idea of exposing yourselves so much was crazy like Warren Beatty hinted?
Niki: I haven’t seen the Truth or Dare film in over 20 years! But, EVERY TIME it comes on, someone will let me know they have watched it! Thank you internet! We were all such babies then! Maybe one day I will take a look at that part of the journey again! Now, I’m trying to get this next track finished with Donna.
Warren must be a “Seer”! Who would have known this world would have people trying to have cameras follow them around and that reality TV would be dominating so many peoples’ lives?
The invasive nature of it all and the public’s feelings of entitlement to the intrusion. Definitely interesting turn of events.
Donna: I think it took a lot of courage for Madonna to expose so much at that time. It is a great documentation of that time in so many ways and has inspired many to share their lives behind the scenes for their fans to see. It was a bit crazy for us to have the cameras around at first but then by the end so much was happening and we almost forgot that the cameras were there and how they had captured so much of our lives.
I was praying at the premiere that my “truth and dares” were not in the film because I was afraid that my boyfriend at the time would see it and know what I had been up to!
Did you watch Strike A Pose, the new documentary about Truth or Dare? What do you think of it and why did you decide not to take part to it?
Donna: I haven’t seen the film but I watched the preview and I cried. I love those guys and we share so many memories of that time.
I really want to see the film and I am so happy that they get to tell their story. They are all brilliant.
Niki: So glad the men are getting some love for their experience and for all they gave to thousands around the world!!
I haven’t seen the film yet but, I have spoken to all of them and even received a video Birthday Day Song from all of them while they were in New York together!! So happy they are being loved up! The film is really about them and their journey. Donna and I had already been there since 1987. This was all new to them. I believe it is a story the director really wanted to tell.
Niki, a lot of the fans keep asking me this question about Like a Prayer. On the record, is it your voice doing the “I’ll Take you There” solo on the gospel bit? I’m pretty convinced it’s you but many are confused by the woman who plays the gospel choir director in the music video.
Niki: I simply sang the parts for the concert versions. The Andre’ Crouch Choir was used for recording. I was not available to do the video for Madonna and a woman was cast to play the part.
Favorite Madonna song?
Donna: That is a tough one…. Live To Tell (Ballad) and Holiday (Dance)
Niki: Live to Tell (Ballad) – Music (Dance)
Favorite Madonna album?
Niki: Ray of Light
Donna: Like a Prayer
Favorite Madonna movie?
Niki: Evita and her latest online Dreamfacto Blog LOVED IT!
Favorite Madonna moment?
Niki: PRIVATE !! Sorry!!
Donna: Riding with her to the Billy Idol concert right after she hired me for her tour in 1987 and one of her songs came on the radio in the limo!!
Favorite Madonna tour?
Donna: Blond Ambition
Niki: (TIE) Blond Ambition – Girlie Show
You have also released a remix of Rain, the “Willie Ray Lewis Remix” which is more uptempo, tell us more about the idea behind the remix and which version
do you prefer?
Niki: Willie was a friend and had worked with Donna and decided to do a remix. It turned out great and working with him was easy and effortless! Just flowed! The way we like it!
Donna: I love them both. I love the acoustic version because that is how we would like to record the first version of our covers, keeping them organic, stripped down to get to the essence of the song and have a lot of room for our voices. It is exciting to give it to a remixer to see what they add to it and give it a new life. Willie Ray Lewis, who I had been working with on Be The Change remix featuring Niki Haris, heard the acoustic version and said, “I have to do a remix!”
He did such a great job and really put his heart into it! I love the beat. He and I got together to work out the arrangement for it after he came up with different chords and the beats. Niki and I added a few more add libs and I put some live strings on it as well.
Can we expect more versions of Rain to be released in the near future?
Donna: Hopefully some uptempo mixes. I know Willie is working on one and possibly another remixer. You can hear a bit of Willie’s under the Madonna footage in our video.
Since Rain has been very well received by M fans and music lovers in general, would you consider covering another Madonna song for a future single?
Niki: As far as other Madonna covers, we have not talked about that but all ideas are welcomed, all music that “speaks” to us is up for consideration.
Donna: Sure I would. She has such a great body of work. There are so many covers by different artists that we would like to do and many that our fans have requested, so we will see.
I personally think an acustic version of “Open Your Heart” would sound amazing with your voices…
Donna: Great idea! I have another band project that will be released this year called, La Machine De Reve (dream machine,) where I cover a very electronic downtempo version of Open Your Heart. I sang the original demo for the song that Madonna heard in 1986. This song is what opened the door for me to work with Madonna. My boyfriend at the time, Gardner Cole, was one of the writers on the song. He was so happy that I had done the demo and how she wanted to record the song after hearing my version. He had initially sung it himself and gave that version to her through her label Warner Bros. and she turned it down. Maybe Niki and I can do another version of it as well.
Or what about a dancey, heavily harmonized, version of Deeper and Deeper by Niki and Donna?
Donna: Sounds fun!!!
Rain is the first single of a new project, and you’ve proved that no once can give such depth and emotion to a Madonna cover like you did.
Can you tell us more about what is coming up next?
Donna: OOOh we have many ideas many covers and some original songs.
Niki: We are working on the next single now!!! Several songs that could be chosen but, we want to make sure they are what we love the most!
We promise to NOT keep you waiting too long!!
Keeping up on current events, did you watch Madonna’s tribute to Prince? Controversy and Madonna are always in the same sentence even if she doesn’t want that, what do you think?
Donna: I didn’t see it but I am sure it was amazing and she held the space for the world to honor Prince.
Niki: As far as the performance of the Prince tribute, I must say I have not seen an award show in years! Sorry! I guess I have been deep in 6th grade math with my daughter, final exams and I’m feeling the pressure that is put on children these days. TV is rarely on in our home and computer use is for homework! It’s just safer that way, for now. I’m sure I will see it one day. As far as controversy, considering how many we have lost in the music industry, I’m just grateful we are all be breathing! Is that controversial?
Donna, I want to discuss a bit Just A Dream, the song, written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, that she gave you for your first album with MCA back in 1992.
I don’t think I asked you about it in the interview we did a few years ago. I really love that song and I still listen to it very often. I’m very curious about how the whole thing came up together. From what is rumoured it was originally written in 1988 for Like A Prayer but it was not used as it didn’t fit well the album’s autobiographical theme. How did you end up with the song and inverting the roles, with Madonna singing backing vocals for you?
Donna: Madonna called me back then and said that she had a song for me. She told me to call Pat Leonard and he could give me a copy to hear. I loved it the moment I heard it and knew that I would sound great singing it. I could really relate to the words too. She had been trying to think of one of her songs that I could do and this was perfect.
A few months back I remember you were discussing on facebook about recording a new version of Just A Dream and re-releasing it to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary, do you still have plans for that? What style would re-do the song?
Donna: I would love to do a new version with acoustic guitar. More organic and just get into the emotion of the song. So if I do it will you guys download it ???
Sure we will!!! Ok, you haven’t been working with Madonna for a long time now, and after all those years of collaborations and friendship people have speculated a lot and created intricate urban legends about this. I am NOT going to ask you about the reason for this, but what I want to ask you is, are you still Madonna fans and do you still enjoy listening to her music, which has been an important part of your life as well.
Niki: Nothing but gratitude for all! Her endurance and work ethic is that of a top athlete!!! Respect and amazement! I’m exhausted just seeing how hard she works!!! God Bless Her!!!
Donna: I feel blessed to have worked with her for so many years and love where I am in my life now. I don’t think you can go anywhere without one of her songs coming on. I always love to hear them and sometimes point out to my kids that I sang on those songs. I will always admire her and her artistry. I saw her in concert in October for the Rebel Heart tour and I felt just as inspired by her as I did when we were working together. I had so much fun singing and dancing in the audience for the first time!!! I have never met anyone who gives that much, who works so hard to make her shows an unforgettable experience.
I want to thank you both for taking your time to be with us and wish you the best for the new projects!
Check out the two-track digital single featuring Rain (Acoustic) and an amazing remix by Willie RayLewis – on iTunes and support Niki and Donna’s crowdfunding campaign through PledgeMusic for lots of great, exclusive ways for us fans to join them on the adventure.
Interview written and conducted by Mario John for Madonnatribe.com.
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