Poster girl of ’80s pop Taylor Dayne celebrates 30 years in music ahead of an Australian tour.
Don’t feel sorry for Taylor Dayne, even if you presume you should. This November, the singer will visit Australia as part of a nationwide retro concert tour called 80s Mania. For many, seeing her name alongside the likes of Wang Chung, Go West and Cutting Crew conjures fond memories of youthful nights out – all hair mousse and acid-washed jeans.
It may also conjure up concern. Is this really what Dayne wants to be doing with her nights at age 55? Hasn’t she tired of belting out the same old tracks? Is it not a bit… demoralising? Not one bit, Dayne says. “People want to hear the hits,” she tells Stellar. “As a consumer, I’d be doing the same thing. You have to package and promote these things in a way that lets the public know they’re getting the most for their buck.”
TAYLOR DAYNE BROKE onto the music scene in late 1987 with ‘Tell It To My Heart’, a frantic dance track that caught fire in European nightclubs quicker than anticipated. “It was overnight stardom,” Dayne says. “Everything was catch-up. We had to make a video. We didn’t even have a record [ready]. I was just a woman in my early 20s, working in a Russian nightclub and going to the studio at two or three in the morning to lay down tracks. I was so sick of being in bands by then; I wanted to go solo.
“We borrowed money from my father and we made ‘Tell It To My Heart’. I got that track off a guy I went to high school with who was working at [a music label]. We were hustlin’.”
Instead of dooming her into creative paralysis, the huge success of ‘Tell It To My Heart’ kick-started a triumphant run for Dayne, whose first seven singles hit the Top 10 in her native USA. “‘Tell It To My Heart’ is just one of those songs,” she says. She quietly sings a few lines of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and explains:
“A smash is a smash. What’s not to like? Plus, I had the personality to back it up.”
She also had the voice. In her youth, Dayne undertook operatic training to hone her technique, and calls those classes “the best thing I ever did”. Her pipes remain her greatest asset – she’s been labelled the “white Tina Turner” and at her peak was considered a rival to Whitney Houston and Céline Dion.
“I’m vocalising every day as I’m on tour so often,” Dayne says. “You don’t have the luxury of putting your voice in a case when you’re a singer. [A band member] might get to put their guitar away and have dinner. But I’m always using that muscle. Because I love to talk… and have a cocktail… and shoot the sh*t.”
Aside from her Australian trek and a multi-date tour that spans America’s northern summer, the singer’s 2017 schedule is a hectic mix of cruise and casino gigs, gay pride parties, a state fair, an Oscar event, and a “Mother’s Day Mega 80’s Festival” in Hawaii.
There is good money to be made from embarking on these nostalgia trips, which keep Dayne in contact with fans. She says she “took it personally” when her tracks suddenly stopped charting in the mid ’90s, but finds that kind of accomplishment practically irrelevant in the streaming era. “What is radio anymore? What is Top 40? I make my own radio station happen now.”
The crowds expect Dayne to perform the same 10 or so hits at every stop – they want to hear ballad ‘Love Will Lead You Back’ and the mid-tempo ‘I’ll Be Your Shelter’. Dayne knows this, drawing on her own experience as a punter to keep herself in check. “When I go see Tom Petty, do you think I want to hear a new record, start to finish? No! I want to hear his stuff with the Heartbreakers.”
Besides, she adds, “audiences change every night”. She recalls a stint on Broadway in the early 2000s, when she headlined Elton John’s musical Aida. “Nothing is more gruelling than live theatre,” Dayne says. “You’re saying the same words, the same way, every single night.” At concerts, “I get to be me. I get to sing my music based on the energy the audience is giving back to me. I can change notes, I can do whatever I want. Good things can happen.”
DAYNE’S SURVIVAL INSTINCT – along with her passion for music – are in her DNA. Raised in Long Island by way of the Bronx and Manhattan as the daughter of Jack and Laura Wunderman (her birth name is Leslie Wunderman), Dayne speaks with the force and braggadocio of a native New Yorker as she talks about her parents, “typical Jewish patrons of the arts” who dragged her to obscure theatre shows in Manhattan. “We didn’t see Peter Pan. We would see Waiting For Godot. And I was like, ‘Why am I here?’” At 15, Dayne saw the Tony-winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ in its original cabaret form. “I’m in the audience with 20 other people, cafe-style, Mum lets me have a wine… that was earth-shattering.”
Dayne says that her parents were “absolutely supportive” of her decision to become a singer and “the radio was my best friend growing up. I slept next to it.” However, her childhood memories are tinged with more than the usual melancholy. Looking back, she recalls, “Sunday was the only day when there might have been some peace in our house – no screaming or yelling, as long as Dad was in a good mood.”
Pressed to explain, she says, “My household was on the aggressive, raging side. And I would say that was being children of first-generation Holocaust-surviving parents. There was a lot of stuff going on there. We will never understand that pain and struggle. My mother and father held on to each other tightly – and then not so tightly.”
Dayne has never married, but in 2001 she became a mother when a surrogate gave birth to twins Astaria and Levi. Now 15, they join their mother far less than they used to when she embarks on tours. And it sounds as if she has made the same sort of peace with their breakaway as she has with the numerous shifts in her career.
“If I see them in the audience, it’s rare. They would really rather be at camp, or in the city, or with their friends. I understand that. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody to be on a tour bus with me!” The 80s Mania tour starts in Canberra on November 2; abstractentertainment.net.
THE WAY SHE WAS (clockwise from far left) After 30 years in music, Taylor Dayne will be back in Australia to tour this year; her 1988 breakthrough album Tell It To My Heart went double-platinum; rocking big hair circa 1985; hitting a high note in LA...