By: Harrison Giza
In the media today, older women are pushed to the side like the stale carrots your grandma makes. Young girls look for HOT, REBELLIOUS, and GLAMOROUS heroes… someone that they can pretend to be because being themselves is TOO MUCH of a hassle for them. You’ve got your Beyonce, Nicki, and various other pop princesses that sing behind electric-fluffernutter beats. However, most of these artists promote the same repetitive ideals and continue to the write the same songs over and over through whatever medium is popular at that time.
How many sorority girls do you think are jamming out to Joni Mitchell? When is the last time Aretha Franklin came into conversation at the club? Whatever happened to music with message instead of sweatily-bending break-your-hips-until-they-fall-off swill?
Donnalou Stevens is an artist that would make Lucille Ball proud (I’m talkin’ before the second divorce HOPEFUL Lucy). This summer, Stevens posted a video of her song “Older Ladies,” which garnered over six million Youtube hits to date. In it, she dances with friends, sweetly smiles, and sings about the insecurities of getting old.
I got to talk with Donnalou recently, discussing her upbringing, biggest influences, and what she has to say about female artists nowadays (she is all about that Meghan Trainor). I’ll say this much… out of everyone I have interviewed, Donnalou is without a doubt one of the most open and telling artists I’ve talked to. She isn’t afraid to say what she thinks. She isn’t afraid to be who she is.
Ladies, take note.
HG: When did you first have the idea for “Older Ladies?” How did that idea lead to over six million views on Youtube?
D: One of my best friends stupidly asked her husband one day something like, “Honey, do you wish my body looked like it did when I was 10 years younger?” Duh. Stupidly, he replied yes. Double duh! My friend, Bethlyn has always been one for practicing radical honesty and perfecting the art of not taking things personally, so I guess I was the only one who thought it was a very silly and dumb thing to ask! I have always been from the school of if-you-don’t-want-to-hear-the-answer-then-by-God-don’t-ask-the-question! Well, that story kept turning around in my head for a few months and finally came out on paper on an airport shuttle at DFW waiting to go to Bethlyn’s house for a short visit. The first few lines of the tune started coming through so I asked the driver for some paper and started scribbling and humming. I was so busy and caught up in my Muse’s great sense of humor, (I do not take any credit for my song writing. It comes and I dictate. How lucky is that?) I did not notice the van was filling up with passengers and all of them were men over fifty.
There I sat. Scribble. Hum. Scribble. Hum. Giggle. Scribble. Laugh out loud. Hum. The man sitting next to me turned and asked, “What are you doing?” “Writing on a new song.” He smiled and went back to his business, not wanting to distract me from the creative process. I kept at it. The first draft was finished in about 20 minutes and the man next to me spoke again. “That was fast. Are you finished?” “Yeah, with the first draft anyway.” I replied. “The next thing is just to sit with it and get the kinks out.” “Cool.” He replied and then turned around and shouted over the chatter of the rest of the men. “Hey, y’all be quiet. This woman is going to sing us her new song!” “You’re kidding, right?” I looked at him hard. “No! I’m not kidding. You all be quiet!” He repeated. I made a promise to myself long ago when I was afraid to sing that no matter what, if someone asked me to, I would. Gulp. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, I don’t like to piss anyone off or leave anyone out in my music so you guys are about the best audience I could possibly have for this song.” I sang. They laughed. I finished. They applauded. Whew. Older Ladies was born!
HG: How did you meet Christie? How much of the video was your own input?
D: I met Christine McHugh years ago at a hot springs in CA. We immediately liked each other and found out our senses of humor are EXACTLY this same. this makes for a winning combo, because we embellish each other’s jokes and keep each other in check if something is trite or not that funny! She has a background in theatre, so when it was time to do my last one woman show a few years back, ‘Shoot From the Lip’, I asked Christine to direct it. We had a great time and the show was really successful.
HG: Describe your perfect breakfast
D: My perfect breakfast – Meditation and a Mocha.
HG: How long have you been writing music for?
D: I started writing music when I was in my late 20’s, but didn’t do much with it until the early 90’s. I was always a confident actress, but was scared to death to sing in front of people. I was made fun of a lot when I was younger, so i didn’t think I could sing and I would get so nervous, it made things worse. In the beginning, I got other people to sing my pretty songs, but it was never quite ‘right’. I was always disappointed because the ‘heart’ or ‘essence’ of the song was missing. With my funny music, that was never an issue. My confidence in my comedic skills far outweighed any insecurity about my voice.
In the early 90’s I had an idea for an a cappella stage show that was a combination of country/vaudeville/burlesque genres. I found the cast and we co-wrote ‘the CowPattys’ and toured successfully for 3.5 years. Had the internet been invented then, The Cowpattys would also have been a viral sensation. we played to standing ovations at nearly every show. I wrote 90% of the music and it was then that I finally knew I was a kick ass song writer.
I cannot even say that fairly. I never felt like I was writing the songs. It was more like dictation and has become even more so that way. My Muse is funny as all get out and I happen to be the one who gets to write it down. Because of my deep and long standing meditation practice, it is obvious that ideas just arise out of thin air and I hear them. I would say once a song is written, I ‘craft’ it, making rhymes work better, shifting the parts etc… but basically when a song comes to me, the bulk of it comes in a matter of minutes and the rest trickles in shortly thereafter.
It wasn’t until a few years ago after a day long meditation gathering that I got clarity about singing the more poignant or serious songs. A voice spoke to me while driving home in an Oregon downpour. “You need to get out of the way and stop trying to sing the songs you have been given. Let them sing you.” In lay man’s terms I translated that to mean stop listening to the critical voices in my head and deliver the songs much like I deliver words when I act. They come from a much deeper place than the mind. They arise from the heart of the character I am playing. It was the same in singing, only there was no character, there was just the heart. perhaps why it always felt so vulnerable. With that, I made my first CD of pretty songs, Closer Than Near and my voice got stronger and stronger the more ‘I’ got out of the way.
HG: How have your friends and family responded to the video? I assume they all love it.
D: It was such a lovely experience. The video brought my family much closer than it had been. Text messages were flying back and forth between my 4 sisters and brother. They were constantly keeping track and celebrating the next numerical increase or article or feature. They went bezerk when ‘Older Ladies’ was given a big thumbs up on Anderson Cooper and 411 Fox Country Round Up. two of my sisters who don’t really ‘believe’ in things like Kickstarter even donated to my campaign! It was just great. My mom unfortunately has a bit of dementia, but she has enough clarity to know something big was happening and it was very good.
HG: How do you feel “older ladies” are represented in the media today?
D: I think the reason “Older Ladies” struck such a deep chord is because older women in general are not recognized as beautiful, powerful, worthy beings very much and we all know in our hearts that despite the changes in our bodies, that we remain as remarkable as we ever were. the thing that is important to me as a song writer is to make sure NO ONE is ever made wrong in my music as comedy is often at the expense of someone. I wrote the song making sure not to cast blame of this ‘invisibility’ issue on anyone, but to turn the issue on it’s head, avoid complaining and get to the heart of empowerment.
All my music is feel good music in some way, even if it is poignant. It delivered the message of empowerment and love in a light-hearted, sweet way that people respond very well to. My songs stick in people’s heads. that was the main feedback I got all along as a song writer. I heard and took responsibility for this. I had had so much pain and suffering in my life, I saw NO reason to give it any more voice than it already had. I overcame a lot of self hatred, a serious eating disorder and a 33 year bout with debilitating chronic pain. I suffered a lot. I never wanted to write poor me songs. It made me feel better to write songs of hope and love and courage. I wanted to give that to other people as well so I devoted my life to writing songs that inspire, uplift and empower. And when I watch people listen to my music, it is obvious they are hearing and identifying with the underlying message of self love. It is the sweetest gift to watch that happen in real time.
I have found that every person is a caterpillar, not even knowing it. Most think they are worms so they stay stuck feeling small. They do not know they have wings and are here to do something of benefit, no matter how large or small that is special and unique. Everybody’s got wings. I am here to remind people of that and to urge them to fly. It took many painful years of deep introspection to find out I was a butterfly all along. here I am at 55 speeding my wings saying, “It is NEVER too late.” or too early! (Please see my kickstarter video at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/418425358/if-i-were-enlightened
HG: Who are your favorite artists?
D: Favorite artists – Lucille Ball, Gilda Radner, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Flight of the Condor guys, Beluschi Brothers, Lily Thomlin, Red Skelton, Robin Williams, Carol Burnette and her crew, Bob Newheart, Bill Cosby, George Carlin,
Amos Lee, Sean Colvin, Willy Nelson, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Emmylou Harris.
HG: Tell me about “If I were Enlightened.”
D: If I were Enlightened is a spoof on the search for nirvana and pokes good, clean of our endless well-intentioned hard and often failed efforts to love ourselves and each other more. (Yes, it is based on my personal experience!) It is perfect for anyone who has ever gone down the path of self improvement and the search for happiness/God/Enlightenment or for anyone who has ever known someone on that search. It may not reach the same demographic, but I think it is going to be even funnier that ‘Older Ladies’ and features so many fun and funny lyrics and visuals. It is scheduled to premiere in early Oct.
HG: Are there any newer artists that you like nowadays? I know you’re a Bruno Mars fan…
D: I am in love with Meghan Trainor’s new hit. I like to say ‘Older Ladies’ is the ‘All About the Base’ for Boomers! I like uplifting music of any kind. I especially like Lennon & Maisey’s cover of ‘That’s What’s Up’. I guess I have a tendency to like songs more than any particular artist. I’m pretty easy to please as long as the music makes my heart feel good. Snake Oil Willie’s band has a riotously clever video out called ‘I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore’ which made me laugh out loud.
HG: What can we expect from you in the future? WHAT IS NEXT?
D: You can expect Enlightenednext and then I hope to make a living making music videos. I am really like a kid in a candy store. I was an actress/comedienne, a visual artist, a sing, a song writer, but never have I been able to do all these at once until I did a music video. OMG, I am in utter heaven and never wish to do anything else (ha! for now)… Next down the pike is ‘Do You Think that You Can Love me Like My Dog Does?’, ‘Older Men’, ‘Age Related ADD’, and my newest and perhaps my most favorite (but then again all my new ones are my faves!) ‘I’m My Own Valentine.’