Kristine W owns a potato farm. Only Madonna, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and Rihanna have charted more #1 Dance songs, but club play doesn't generate sales like it used to, and potatoes are still selling.
Kristine Weitz (she truncated to W when interviewers couldn't pronounce her last name) is a down-to-earth diva. Her dad died when she was just 3, leaving her mother to raise four young children in the Tri-Cities of Washington State. Kristine has music in her DNA - her father was a country singer and her grandmother a classical violinist - and it became her art and her means of survival. Dance music, with songs about struggle and confidence and free expression, was her format of choice, and Donna Summer her exemplar.
Kristine was Miss Washington 1981, excelling in both the swimsuit and talent competitions at the Miss America pageant. The scholarship money led her to Vegas, where she performed her way through college at UNLV. Billed as "Kristine W and the Sting," she had her own show at The Hilton, where she has performed more than any other artist. Vegas earned her a record deal and an understanding of the human condition that would make her an honest and savvy songwriter. The Dance hits piled up, but this was the '90s, and America was still a decade away from the club song crossover that would lead to Lady Gaga.
Those hits include "Feel What You Want" and "One More Try" from her 1996 debut album, and the title track from her 2000 follow-up, Stronger, all co-written by Kristine. After a bout with leukemia, she moved to Tommy Boy Records and released the album Fly Again in 2003. Going the indie route, she released The Power of Music in 2009 and Straight Up with a Twist - with jazz renditions of some of her hits - the next year.
The lead single from her 2012 album New & Number Ones is "Everything That I Got," which deals with a common theme in her work: survival. Kristine has always been a survivor, even if it means growing potatoes.
Kristine W: I don't think so. You just write a song that you think is going to connect with people. I don't intend to intentionally say, Oh, this is going to be a Dance hit. You think of your audience - what are they going to identify with? When you get with a songwriter, it just comes out. I collaborated with songwriters on this recent album, and topics came up: this is really important, this is really funny, this is really cool. Or sometimes I just want to say "da da da da," you know. And you build off of that.
Like, "Everything That I Got," the lead single from the album, that just literally came from a conversation. Lee Dagger of Bimbo Jones [the production team of Dagger and Marc Jacobs] flew over from London and he just literally said, you know, I feel like I'm doing everything now, I'm marketing myself, I'm doing this. I said, Yeah, I am working everything that I've got to try to make a dollar. And when I said that, it was like, Wow, if we're feeling this, probably everybody on the planet is feeling this way. We need to write a song about this.
Songfacts: In the song, when you're talking about coming to the city ["Came here to the city with nothing but my luck"], is that city Vegas?
Songfacts: But were any of those specific lyrics drawn from things that happened to you?
Kristine: Oh, yeah. Of course, you interject yourself into them, for sure. "Came here to the city with nothing but my luck." Yeah, I came to New York before I was famous and was overwhelmed by the city. When I first came to Vegas to go to college, I was 18 years old and fresh off the farm, and I didn't know anybody. I was scared to death.
Songfacts: Tell me about your role in the songwriting process.
Kristine: Well, I generally start with a chorus, coming up with something that I feel people would connect with and would want to sing, something that maybe they'd want to sing along to, or that would be their anthem, something that they would sing to themselves and say, That's my story. I like that.
I usually start with the choruses and then I go into the verses after that. I guess I would say that's kind of my format.
Songfacts: Do you only write the lyrics?
Kristine: No. No, no. I've got my piano there, got my guitar. I generally don't even start writing a song unless I've got my guitar. I feel really comfortable always having my guitar there to go through the changes. And I play the piano, too. So I guess I use one or the other or sometimes both.
Songfacts: Well, it's interesting, because traditionally, if you write a song on a piano, you'd hear it on a piano. But your songs get the producer treatment. But it sounds like you write them really as traditional songs.
Kristine: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, you could make it a country song. If you just put it in a different flavor, (singing), "You know I'm working everything that I got, hey, I got to find a way," or be-bop (singing), "You know I'm working everything that got," you know what I mean? You could do it any style.
A good song's a good song. That's why I did the album Straight Up With A Twist, because some of them were dance songs that flipped into bossa novas and sambas.
Songfacts: Are you alone when you do your writing?
Kristine: Yeah. If I'm writing just by myself. But if I co-write, obviously there's somebody else in the room. And that's really fun, too. I kind of prefer to co-write, because it's very inspiring. You get other people's energy and other people's ideas. And I guess I'm one of the songwriters that doesn't sit and write about my relationships like the Taylor Swift thing; that really works for her. But I always like to write something that brings the audience in. Like they feel they're a part of it. A lot of her songs translate into what has happened to other people, too, but I think she more consciously writes all of her experiences that she's had. I never start from that. I'll come up with something people can identify with and they want to hear, but I don't go, Oh, here's my life. Like it or lump it. [Laughing]
Songfacts: Well, of course we can all identify with losing somebody and wanting to get another try. So does that mean when you wrote "One More Try" that was not something that happened to you?
Songfacts: What did that one mean to you?
Kristine: That one to me was me going back to the Tri-Cities [Washington State] after I went to Las Vegas and was gone for a couple of years. It was so hard trying to go to school and make a living as a live performer there, and after two years of being away, my grandparents looked older, so many things had changed, all the people that I went to high school with, many of them were gone, they weren't there anymore, their parents didn't even live in those houses. So many things changed in my hometown that it was like, Wow. And it just hit me like that. "Every window in my hometown is empty and I really don't know why. And the house you used to live in is cold and falling down." My best friend that I grew up with next door, she didn't live there anymore and there were people I didn't know, the house was really rundown in a matter of a few years. So that took that connotation, my best friend and me and my hometown. But other people applied it more to relationships or somebody passing away. So it was very rewarding to see how it moved other people in different directions.
Songfacts: Definitely. What about the song "Feel What You Want." Tell me about how you came up with that.
Kristine: I was in London writing with a couple of songwriters that I'd never met before. I'd gone to London, I didn't know anybody. Was really feeling kind of precarious, too, because I wasn't signed with the record label. I leave the States to go across the pond all by myself and work with these songwriters and stay at this hotel and hope that I'm not going to get raped or killed. I really didn't know a lot about the record label and the people behind it. I just had a gut feeling and I kind of rolled with it.
They ended up being good people and it was a great project, but at the end of the day you could have found me in the garbage can or something if it would have gone not so good.
But "Feel What You Want" is my stepfather had died and I really was depressed over his sudden death. He was my mentor, really, and one of my heroes. And he died of an aneurysm really suddenly. So that was really feeling his loss. That song just made me think about everything from religion to pollution to the planet. I wove a lot of things that I was feeling into that song. "Sun rises at 9, it departs at 5 again, ain't doing overtime no more. In this world of color the brightest pictures are plugged right into your wall," in television, you know, it just seemed like everything on the news was depressing. So when you're depressed it even seems more depressing. I felt like I was numb from the death and I was not living anymore. I was just kind of existing.
So that's another reason why I went to London. I'm like, I have got to get out of here and find people that I can write with and creative people that understand my passion for dance music. And dance music was not really happening over here - it was happening there. It was the pop music of that time way before here. It seems like this is the year that dance music has taken over the pop airwaves. Seems like it took a decade for it to happen here, over a decade and a half. But dance music was pop music over on the radio there. So when I'd come home it was really strange to come back here and pop music was *NSYNC, boy band stuff all the time. Like poptart music.
Lot of different emotions are in those songs. I was playing to the Las Vegas audience putting myself through school and I come back from London and "Feel What You Want" blew up over in London, and then it was a big hit over here. And it was really a huge hit in the gay clubs. Because they took that song and that became their mantra. "Feel what you want it to be, what you want it to feel" became this massive gay anthem, and I didn't even know that it was. So that was a surprise. And it was really a cool surprise, because I got this fan base that was amazingly fun and supportive.
Songfacts: Talking about your Vegas show, did you do cover songs?
Kristine: I did.
Songfacts: I would think that a lot of the tourists coming through would expect to hear their familiar favorites.
Kristine: Yeah. You have to. We had a 14, 15 minute Donna Summer medley that I put together. Of course, I'd make it more dancey than disco. And then I had a Whitney Houston medley. Oh, yeah, we would just do our medleys and full on choreography. That's why the show was called "Come See The Music," because it was like watching a live music video with all the costumes and the props.
Songfacts: I thought that was a really interesting story about "Feel What You Want," about how it amplifies whatever you're feeling at the time based on your surroundings. Tell me about the song, "Don't Wanna Think," which sounds like you've reworked it as "I Get Up" on your new album.
Kristine: Yeah, exactly. I think that song has kind of morphed, too, because I added that new section: "don't text me, don't tell me, I've got to get up, I've got to get up." Because I get up, I go out, I work hard. You know, when I wrote that song originally, whatever, 13 years ago, the Internet was not everything. We were getting up, going to work, now we're barraged with even more. You find out somebody's dead like two seconds after they die. It's made reality just in your face, and everything's instant.
So I thought that song is more powerful now, because it's even more relevant now with the economy being so bad, and "there's a man and every day I see him on the street and he's asking for change and he looks my age." It's more relevant now than it ever was. That story was probably not really listened to then because it wasn't as in your face, the economy wasn't as harsh and beaten down as it is right now. So I just thought, I'm going to take that song, I'm going to add to it, and I'm going to reframe it. And I'm really proud of how it turned out.
Songfacts: Did that stuff really happen to you? Was there really a homeless guy that you would pass by every day?
Kristine: In Vegas, yeah. You see a lot of people that come to Vegas, they're going to win the big one, and they gamble and gamble and gamble until they have nothing. And you see them out there. I especially saw them at UNLV because they always ended up on the corner of Tropicana and Maryland Parkway. They'd have the cardboard signs, "I just need enough money to get to this," or "I just need a sandwich." Well, yeah.
Songfacts: It is a very interesting song, and as you're saying, it's relevant today more than ever. Because there's only so much you can worry about. A guy was telling me about how I shouldn't use the little Keurig coffee cups because they pollute the environment. But I'm thinking, Dude, come on. Don't take that away from me.
Kristine: Exactly. You can only take so much. How much can we take and how much can we absorb of all this? Sometimes it's a fear factor, sometimes it's facts, but sometimes it's a fact you can't do a damn thing about, right?
Songfacts: Yeah. And when you came up with that song, I don't think anybody was singing about it quite that way. So then four years go by and you've come up with your second album. What surprised me here was that your first album, every song you had a songwriting credit on. And I look at the songwriting credits on the next one, Stronger, and I think "Stronger" might be the only song that you're credited on, is that right?
Kristine: No. "Clubland" and "All That Glitters," "Lovin' You."
Songfacts: All right. So you did have more of a songwriting presence on it.
Kristine: Yeah. And I did "Let Love Reign," I wrote that. But "Stand In Love" I didn't write, which was an amazing song: "I don't want to fall in love, I want to stand in love." That was a gorgeous song. "If Only You Knew" was given to us by another writer. They wanted me to step away and go with songs that were more, I guess, pop friendly. And my songs tend to be a little bit more dramatic. I think they wanted me to show the kinder, gentler side of Kristine W.
I was down for trying it, and I did like the songs. I don't perform any of those songs in my shows currently like I do the other ones that I wrote. I do still perform "Stronger," I still do perform "Lovin' You" and "Love Reign" and "Clubland" and the ones that I wrote. The ones I don't write, I tend to not perform, and that is an odd thing. I never really thought about it. I tend to not, five years later, still be singing them. I don't know why that is. Maybe it's because it's somebody else's thoughts, and after a while you go, Okay, I guess I'm sick of singing their thoughts. I never really thought about that. But we're having a moment here.
Songfacts: Well, I would think you'd have more of a connection to a song you wrote than a song that somebody else wrote.
Kristine: Yeah. I never really think about it, but probably subconsciously I connect more with the songs that I wrote. So those are the ones that I end up going back to in the shows.
Songfacts: Is there a thread through your songs of a specific person or events that connects one song to another?
Kristine: Yeah. I think it's about survival. Because my real dad died when I was 3 and left my mom a widow with four babies, literally, 2, 3, 4 and 5. I remember hard times for a long time after he died, with a single parent and different family members trying to tell my mom, "Well, if you'll let me take this one, I'll take that one." She really had a hard time. And she kept the family together because she knew that it wouldn't be good if we split up. But it was hard times.
So there's a running thread about trying to stay positive and being a survivor. Just one foot in front of the other.
Songfacts: So when you're singing "My love is stronger than your pain," that means something different than a guy who did you wrong.
Songfacts: Wow. That's very poetic. You've talked about your songs connecting with people. What are some of the ones that have really connected?
Kristine: Boy, there's a lot. I think "Wonder of it All" really, really connected with people:
"If we could only see the wonder of it all, and all that we could be in a lifetime, you will always be forever in my heart and love will set us free if we just try."
It's a song of hope, really:
"I can see you coming, for so long you've been running. Wish I could save you just one time, but I'm feeling that my last words have come and gone."
Those words Eran Tabib and I wrote together and we were writing them about two completely different things. Eran Tabib from Spin Doctors, he's a great songwriter. I came to his house, and he was freaking out because they were being bombed in Israel. The Palestinians were bombing Tel Aviv and he's freaking out because he hasn't talked to his family in three days. He's just sitting on the floor totally bummed out, and I was totally bummed out because I had a friend that was dying of AIDS, and there was no coming back - he had passed the point of being able to survive.
So we came together on that, we were both in a very dark place. That verse meant something different to him than it did to me, but we did it together.
Songfacts: Why are there so few female producers, girls making the beats?
Kristine: Well, I just had one on my album: Twisted Dee. I've worked with her several times. She's a great producer. You mean more producers that are programmers?
Kristine: I think there are more and more female DJs, and I think because they're accepted as DJs now they get hired and they can support themselves. That gives them the luxury to be able to create, because something has to feed their survival, right? So Twisted Dee got famous as a DJ and then she started experimenting as a producer. And she became really, really good. But the gigs are what sustained her, the live shows are what sustained her so that she could become amazing at her craft.
Tracy Young, same thing. Her live shows went hand in hand with her being a producer. And her ponying up next to Madonna as Madonna's DJ on her tour. That provided the coffer for her to be able to create.
It's a difficult one, because DJs for so long were guys that got booked on most of the shows, the nightclubs. So it's been a slow journey just because of that. It always was male DJs. But it's starting to change. That is an interesting question. I love that question. Because it's true. It's just evolved slowly for women to be DJs. But it's happening now, so you'll probably see more of them as producers because of that.
Songfacts: Have you ever had a desire to do that?
Kristine: Oh, I do it all the time. Yeah, I do it a lot. In the studio I'm Skypeing with the guys and coming up with programs, kick drums, layering kick drum after kick drum, trying to figure out what are the best string programs right now. And bass lines, oh yeah.
Songfacts: Okay. That's good to know. Obviously you're musical, you play the sax on stage, but it's easy to think of you turning your stuff over to a guy who goes in his lab and starts coming up with the beats. But you clearly hear it, as well.
Kristine: Oh, yeah.
Songfacts: So the last thing I have, where does most of the money that you make come from?
Kristine: I would say live shows. Live shows, for sure, would be No. 1. I am actually a potato farmer.
Songfacts: Where's that?
Kristine: Washington state. I bought 50 acres, and I grow potatoes.
Songfacts: Organic potatoes?
Kristine: Nope, just regular potatoes and they're sold to Simplot. And I partnered with another farmer. Yep. So Kristine's a farmer.
Songfacts: Are you the kind of farmer that goes out in the field and digs?
Kristine: No. We've got a team there that does it. But I pay the irrigation bill and just go out there and make sure that it's all happening and that my circle is working. And then the guys take over after that. After I go out in the springtime and make sure everything's going. It grows and we hire people to harvest it.
Songfacts: Why farming?
Kristine: Well, that's the 50 acres. There was 360 acres that I was born on. And 50 acres of it was up for sale about 13 years ago, so I bought it. And then I went into a partnership with a farmer, because he was like, Hey, would you partner with me? I want to do potatoes and hay. And I'm like, you know what, that'd be fun, let's do that.
Songfacts: So this was part of the land that you grew up on?
Kristine: Yeah. It was 50 acres that the house was on. There was a total of 360 before my dad died.
Songfacts: So you guys had a farm?
Kristine: We did, yeah. And then he died and my mom lost it, because she didn't know how to farm and she wasn't a business person. She was a widow with four kids that had never done anything like that before. She never thought she'd be in that position.
Songfacts: I don't know how many children you have, is it just the one?
Kristine: I have two.
Songfacts: So are your two children into the farming lifestyle?
Kristine: Actually, no. My boy, he is a junior golfer, he's amazing. He's a scratch golfer already at 12. Scary. And Elizabeth, my daughter, she is a classical violinist. She's been playing violin since she was 3. She's really good. They're totally doing their own thing. They're little forces of nature, I'll tell you.
February 16, 2013. Get more at kristinew.com.
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