It's gotten much less melodic. A lot of stuff that comes out today wouldn't have been allowed back in the '80s. There's no subtlety left in lyrics. I really don't want to hear somebody moaning, or using the f-word constantly. And does every singer have to sound like they're 16 years old? You can't tell one from the other. Gladys Knight: you knew who she was; same with Donna Summer. We're not getting that quality now. They're feeding us this stuff that they think we want.
What do you think about auto-tune?
You mean the T-Pain effect? In sparsity, it's okay. But to have it cover up an awful vocal, that's kind of silly. I guess we've gotten used to it, though.
Let's talk about your first hit: "Do Your Best" from 1982. It's a soulful dance tune; but the album it's from, Portraits, was much more of a bluesy R&B album than a dance LP. How did the song end up being such a big disco tune?
I originally went into Nickel's studios with my band to record a demo. Jack Stang, the label owner, had very nice facilities. He had bands in all the time. One gentleman who was there at the same time was Rahni Harris from the group Dayton. Jack liked what I recorded. I didn't even realize it was turning into an album. But Rahni wrote some songs, and some of the guys from his band came in and did the sessions with us. Jack hired a promoter, and after we got the records mastered and pressed, we'd send out boxes of them to the record pools. We got really good responses. That was a whole learning process, because I didn't know anything about record pools. They could make you or break you back then.
Had you been pursuing music as your career of choice prior to cutting the demos?
I started singing professionally as a sophomore in high school. It was my passion and what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember.
After the success of "Do Your Best," you released "Into the Night," which signaled a change in musical style and was clearly dance-driven. Was that a conscious transition?
It never really occured to me to be this type of artist or that type of artist. The bands I was part of did so many styles of music, from country to jazz. Whatever feels good, I want to sing it. I think that Tristan's tendency to be more hi-NRG-oriented impacted what we wrote together. It really doesn't matter, though, as long as it's good music.