In 2006, independent duo God-Des and She maneuvered their way into the mainstream, when their provocative “Lick It” debuted on Showtime’s The L Word. Having met in Madison, Wisconsin in 1999, the long road to success has been rife with true-life clichés, but after spending seven years building a fan base underground, God-Des and She hit pay dirt with their third album. Three, which was released on their very own G&S Records, secured the production talents of Brian Hardgrove (Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, Burning Spear, Aerosmith).
Defying musical categorization, God-Des and She have brazenly and seamlessly blended pop, soul, and hip-hop together. And for the past few years, the dynamic duo toured around the world—performing, at minimum, 100 shows a year. From Madison to New York City, and back again, these ladies have definitely earned their musical stripes.
In the midst of God-Des and She’s daily hustle and bustle, the two artists managed to squeeze some time out of their busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on their musical upbringings, some pressing social issues, and the crazy shenanigans that take place behind the scenes!
Before joining forces as God-Des and She, both of you had your own solo careers. Looking back on your childhood, at what point in your own lives did you realize that music was something that you wanted to pursue as a career?
God-Des: I actually come from a classical music family. My dad is a professional trombonist and my mom is a professional cellist. My grandfather was a violist. My uncle’s a violist. So music was kind of in my blood. But it was funny because my parents were always like, “We want you to be anything in the whole world you want to be, and we know you can, but please don’t be a musician.” [laughing] But I guess I didn’t take that advice. I started playing cello. My mom taught me when I was three. I moved to violin at seven and then I started playing percussion when I was ten. The drums were really where my heart was. The rhythm and the feel and the pulse of rhythm was really attractive to me, so I played percussion all through school and up through college.
I started playing in a punk band when I was 16. I didn’t know that I was going to be a rapper by profession until I was about 18 and I actually started writing a lot of rhymes and realizing that I really wanted to fill a void in hip-hop from a new perspective and speak about things that were really personal and really bothering me. When I started performing out and seeing the response that I was getting, I was like, “Wow. I think this is something I can really do,” and I really wanted to be a working, successful musician.
She: For me, I could always just sing since I was really little, and it’s never something I had to really try to do. I just could. And I really affected people from a very young age with my voice and stuff. I pretty much get fired from every single job I ever have, but I have an extreme work ethic when it comes to music. I’ve never missed a show. I’d perform sick, with a fever, and throwing up on the set break, but if I get a paper cut, then I couldn’t make it to my regular job [laughing].
So the music is definitely in your heart! [laughing]
She: Yeah. I got into music when I was probably in my teens. I started to write to get out what I was feeling and my frustrations. I learned how to play guitar and actually was in a rock band before I joined on with God-Des. I had a five-piece rock band and played music that way. I used to play on the street in Madison, [Wisconsin]. I was like, “Whoa! Instead of having a job, I can just play on the street and get little people from out of town that are going to the Farmer’s Market buying my record.” And the toddler contingency that would waddle up with a dollar for my cause – it was good times.
When did you finally link up and adopt your stage names, God-Des and She?
She: Well, God-Des was God-Des when I actually joined up with her. I was in a rock band at the time, and she’s like, “Why don’t you just maybe start doing some hooks for me and singing with me and writing some stuff,” and I’m like, “Okay.” So actually the first part of our partnership together, it was just God-Des. And I was just singing the choruses and stuff and I wasn’t that much a part of it because I had just started to work with her. My real name is Tina, Tina G — so we went by God-Des and Tina G.
And then when we moved to New York, we said we really need to brand ourselves. We really need to get a band name and a logo and really thought about the business aspect of things. I was drinking margaritas, trying to think of a name to go with God-Des. It isn’t easy, to be honest. And so, I was like, “‘She’ is kind of like an all-encompassing female, powerful name.” I thought, “Yeah, that could work.” And my grandma’s nickname was Sheka, so that was kind of funny. I think that means something bad in Sicilian, but, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a good name [laughing]. So we called all our friends and said, “God-Des and She, what do you think?” And they were like, “Yeah, that sounds cool.” And the logo looked cool. We kind of thought about how that would look. And it’s easy to sign. Three letters. I like that part.
Since you come from different backgrounds with different musical experiences, when did you realize that you had finally gelled into one unit?
She: You know, God-Des really made sure that I felt a part of it from the beginning. And it was definitely an evolution over time to meld our two powerful presences together into one band. I mean, we’ve been doing this for nine years, ten years now. But it’s just been, I would say, a definite evolution. It just happened. I don’t think there was an exact moment that I was like, “Oh, I’m part of it and we’re partners.” It just happened over time. And she always was very conscious of including me.
When I first joined, I would just stand there and then sing the chorus. And stand there. And sing the chorus. And it was really boring. I was like, “This is not enough for me. Hurry. I am bored.” But I didn’t really feel comfortable rapping. I’m not really a rapper and that was never an aspiration I had. I mean, I have good rhythm but I just felt silly, to be honest. And then after a while, I thought of it as a fun game to sound just like her at the end of sentences. And how lame does that sound? Holy crap.
I wouldn’t say that I could rap, but I could definitely hold my own if I had to say a verse, or whatever, just rhythmically, and how people have a good flow and stuff. I would say I’m way comfortable because I’ve done it for so long and I feel comfortable in my skin and I feel very happy with the sound that we’ve created together.
In this partnership, what are your respective roles?
She: Well, if I could get her to do everything by herself, that would be excellent! [laughing] But it’s really pretty equal. I think we both work really hard and we’re both very driven to get to where we want to go. And we’re the hardest working women in show business. I don’t get that twisted.
God-Des: We are so on the grind. When we’re not touring, we’re spending at least eight to ten hours a day on business. Sometimes that includes writing, but lately we literally print off labels for flyers. Put them all on there. Send them to venues. Put together street teams. We booked out our tour that’s coming up in February and we got ten gigs. We called those people on the phone. Made up the contracts. We are very hands-on and do everything, even on MySpace or Facebook or Twitter. It’s really a full-time job and sometimes it’s hard, between the two of us, to even keep up with everything that we need to do.
But we just know how important it is, and now that we have so much control, it just is really empowering. So many people think, “Oh, if I just get the right manager,” or, “If I just sign a record deal, everything’s going to be gravy.” But as you know, things don’t work like that anymore.
It’s really important that we are hands-on with our fans, that we are courteous and always reply to people when they hit us up. At all of our shows, we always stay after and tell everybody in the venue that they can take a picture with us and we’ll sign an autograph with them until every single person there has had one. And we’ve had to stay after some festivals and stuff for three hours doing that, but that’s just something we’ve always prided ourselves on. And whenever we return to a city we always have a great turnout.
She: We actually let go of our manager, our booking agent, and we took the reins completely. And thank God we have an awesome PR company and an awesome lawyer and stuff like that, but it’s really — no one cares about your career like you do. And we really have learned that through some rough times, but I really think that we work really well together.
I think we’ve really ironed out all the kinks and we really respect each other equally. If I’m slacking off, she’ll be like, “Hell, you’re slacking off,” and vice versa. And I’ll step my game up because I want to be successful and I want to inspire people and I want to change people’s perception of what hip-hop needs to be and what it can be.
When people think of the music business, they tend to focus on the music part. As independent artists, is it hard to be in control of the business aspect, too?
God-Des: Yeah. I think from the jump I really felt like that. It’s just so funny when people hit me up on MySpace and say, “Oh, I’m a struggling artist. How can I get famous?” And that’s kind of the ultimate question and there’s no right answer for it. Especially in the last five years, you can’t just meet Snoop Dogg and get a major record label deal anymore. You have to be in charge of your business and you have to be smart and I think I just knew that from the jump. I didn’t look and I didn’t say the things that a lot of other pop stars or female MCs were saying. And I knew that I was going to have to create my own path. So I think I’ve always been conscious of that.
Counting on people for so long, getting our hopes up from getting a new manager, getting a new booking agent, and then just realizing, “Man, they don’t live the same dream that we do” — we’re consumed by it. It’s something that we have such a strong belief in that we just really realized that we have to be in charge of all of our business, the transactions and of business affairs.
Your latest album is tons of fun, so I came up with a questions based on the songs’ titles [laughing]. First, I’ll tell you the name of the song, and then I’ll follow with the question. The first song is “What Would We Be.” If you hadn’t pursued music as a career, what would you be?
God-Des: Oh, wow! [laughing] This is great! And really clever [laughing]. I really love animals, actually. I really love dogs. I would probably be some hippie running a dog sanctuary somewhere – working overseas or something. I just really love inspiring people and working with animals, so that’s probably what I would do.
She: Well, when I was younger, I worked at a group home for juvenile delinquent teenagers and I was pretty darn good at that. So I’d probably be doing something like trying to help kids not be jerks and figure out a good path and stuff. I like kids. Not little kids, but teenagers. I like catching them before they really go down a wrong path. Without judgment and with humor, I was always good at getting them to really like me and do what I say.
The next song that I want to talk to you about is “Blue in the Face.” What social issue are you passionate about that you would talk about it until you were blue in the face?
She: I guess the social issue that I have been researching a lot is our water issue, and the fact that these major corporations are starting to really own the water in the world — like all over the world — and how the bottled water companies are so screwed up and they’re freaking me out, like, so bad. They’re going into different countries that don’t have money to buy bottled water and basically stealing their water. It’s such a life source, and it’s so important. I don’t think many people really think about it – especially in America, because you go to your faucet, you turn on the water and you have water. People don’t think about how, in other places, you have to walk five miles to get water or you have to go to the river and drink tainted water because you can’t afford to have this little spigot keyed to get clean water. I think that’s really, really something I want to make people aware of. I’ve been watching, like mad, documentaries. I’m kind of a documentary junkie, to be honest. And it’s something that Americans, especially, take for granted. They’ll take a half-an-hour shower. I’m not, like, a big hippie person, but one day you’re going to go to your faucet, turn on your faucet and water’s not going to come out. And then you’re going to be like, “What the heck? What happened?”
God-Des: I would talk about hatred. I just think that intolerance of racism and homophobia and sexism is just so annoying and frustrating to me. People are so closed-minded and ignorant and that’s something that I do talk about until I’m blue in the face.
The next song is “Radio Up.” What song from your childhood would always make you turn your radio up?
God-Des: “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie, baby! [laughing]
She: Oh, man. “Raspberry Beret” by Prince.
God-Des: Oh, God, She! [laughing]
She: That was my jam. I can’t lie.
The next one is kind of fun: “Spin The Bottle.” Do you remember your first kiss, and if you do, was it good, bad? [laughing]
She: My first kiss? Man. I’m old, man. Trying to make me remember way back. Yes, I do remember it. And it was pretty fun and silly because I was little. And we were playing “war” in front of little boys in the neighborhood. And I was the prison warden [laughing]. That’s a lot of sexual tension for a 12-year-old, to be honest. And then we were playing ghost in the graveyard after, and that’s when I got my first kiss, when we were playing ghost in the graveyard. It was pretty funny.
God-Des: I actually do remember my first kiss. I was riding my bike, my little dear bike, in my neighborhood. And this boy, he was way older than me, that perv. I was in third grade. He was supposed to be in sixth, but he was in fifth. And he walked up to me and he said, “Will you go with me?” And I said, “Go where?”
And then he started laughing. He was like, “Will you be my girlfriend?” I’m like, “I don’t know,” and then he gave me a kiss. And then he ran away. That was my first kiss [laughing].
My favorite song off the album is “Respect My Fresh.” Tell me about your fresh. How would you describe yourself to somebody? [laughing]
God-Des: My fresh is so fresh. You’ve just got to respect people’s swagger and their individuality and their uniqueness and what they’re rockin’. And so that was kind of the idea for the song. And we’ve actually gone around and asked a bunch of different people what they thought “Respect My Fresh” meant, and some people really took it too far and thought fresh was something like a feminine, you know, issue with girls. I was like, “What? That’s not what it’s about.” Yeah, it was really funny. So you know, I’m just fresh with my swagger.
She: Oh, man. I have that minty, fresh breath! [laughing] I chew gum and Altoids like nobody’s business!
You tour over 100 days a year – almost close to 200 – and you’ve been doing this for the past four years to make a living. Tell me the good, the bad, the ugly.
God-Des: Yeah. It’s definitely not all glamorous, I’ll tell you that. We’ve been backstage in dirty kitchens with cockroaches, waiting to go on. We’ve had no working microphones to one working microphone. If there was an Olympic sport, she and I would win for passing that thing like a baton. It’s great to do what we love. Sometimes it gets stressful because it is such a business, and really why we do this is because we love writing music and playing music. It’s a lot of work, and you have to really have a strong belief in what you’re doing. Some months are great and some months, they’re not secure. We have to be away from our loved ones and travel a lot, but there’s just nothing else I could see myself doing, and I know she feels the same way. So we just do it for the love of it and we really hope to continue to gain success.
For more information on God-Des & She, visit the band’s official website.