by Carl Wiser

The '80s pop star on songwriting, selfies, her hit Beatles cover, and her dance moves.

Tiffany is really good at being famous. "I'm a public figure, am I really hiding anything?" she says, happily taking selfies with fans and enjoying the perks of her renown, like getting paid to take cruises. It helps that her fame is underpinned with accomplishment. At 16, she became the youngest female artist with a #1 album, and also the youngest with back-to-back #1 hits ("I Think We're Alone Now," her buoyant cover of the Tommy James hit from 20 years earlier, and "Could've Been," a tearful ballad that proved she could sing far beyond her age). Her second album was also a million-seller.

At 21, she had her only child, a son named Elijah. This was in 1992, just five years after her star turn. A decade later, she became a regular on reality TV, first on Celebrity Boot Camp, then on Celebrity Fit Club, where she publicly battled her weight issues. In 2013 she did Celebrity Wife Swap, allowing cameras inside her Tennessee home while she switched places with Nia Peeples.

Most famous people can't tollerate this kind of exposure, but it brings Tiffany a certain freedom. She worked very hard to become famous, she's going to enjoy it. She's also going to accept the responsibility that comes with it, which means not just smiling for the selfies, but sharing her stories.

Of course there is sadness. I looked for it for much of this conversation before realizing it's in the music. The knock on Tiffany in the early years was that she didn't write her own songs. This was due to circumstance; she's always been capable of making music, but adults in her life were rather controlling, so she didn't have the chance. Now, she is part of the Nashville music community, collaborating with some of the best in the business. On her latest album, A Million Miles (2016), she sings of heartbreak and longing and failures. It's where we hear about her cousin, the "soul in her heart," who passed away (the title track), and where she "chases down the memories of her regrets" ("Tears"). The songs are her outlet.

In this candid interview, Tiffany talks about her evolution as an artist and as a person, taking some delightful detours to explain how she came up with her distinctive dance moves and what it was like looking herself up on the internet for the first time.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): You're outside of Nashville, I take it?

Tiffany Darwish: Well, today I'm actually in Boca Raton so it's very hard on me to look over the ocean as we speak.

Songfacts: Oh, because you just got off the cruise, so you didn't go right back.

Tiffany: I didn't go right back and I have a show for a charity event tomorrow, so whenever I can clump a couple of things together it's a beautiful world.

Songfacts: When you are in Nashville, you get together to write with a lot of these Nashville writers. What part of the songwriting do you handle?

Tiffany: Well, I write everywhere I go so I'm constantly writing with my band on the road, in LA, New York - so, my writing career has really become my full-time thing, actually. I'm out on the road doing A Million Miles, my acoustic tour, but it all really stems from good music and writing this album.

I write everything from country to rock to pop to dance - it could be for TV and film. I just constantly have these ideas and then a family of co-writers. I'm very proud of to be really good friends with a lot of people who wrote songs for me when I was 14/15 for the first couple of albums. I've been very lucky to have a lot of good influence my whole life from the songwriting aspect.

So, meeting up with a writer I usually have melodies. I don't play a lot of instruments. I play a little bit of piano, barely, but enough to start the process. I hear these melodies in my head - they drive me nuts.

And then I usually have something prepared when I walk into a session. Like writing with Ellen Shipley, who wrote with me on the title track of A Million Miles. She's written a lot of different things, including for Belinda Carlisle, which I'm a big fan. I really wanted to write with Ellen and she kind of came out of a semi-retirement to be a part of my project. On "A Million Miles," I had somewhat of a melody, but I had a thought and I just kept singing: [sings] "You're a million miles, you're a million miles" as I was driving down the 40 Freeway headed towards California.

And I realized as I was writing this song that I was writing about my cousin who had passed away, who was such an influence on my life. And here I'm doing a new record and so many great things are happening in my life from my son graduating college to just having really awesome people in my life and feeling energized. And the one person that I want to talk to about it, he's passed away.

So for me, it was really sad but yet wondering. "I hope that you're up there seeing this. I hope that you know I'm in a good place and that you still influence me in my life and I still remember all our long talks. And I hope that I'm making you proud and even though you're not here day to day, and I can't physically see you, I really do feel you around me." And that's really what it was all about.

So, by the time I got to California and to Ellen's door, I had a song in my heart and I was hoping that she was going to go, "Yeah, I like that idea."

You just never know. You can meet with a co-writer and come with an idea, but you don't want to work with somebody if they're not feeling it, and then you start with a new idea. In my book, if it's not magical and it just doesn't click - and you pretty much know in the first 20-30 minutes - then you move on to something else. And you also don't want to stifle a writer. They may have something amazing that they've been working on. So, usually the first hour or so I bring in ideas and show my passion for what I'm thinking but I leave it a little loose for the first hour to kind of see what transpires.

But I usually bring the melodies, and I'm a lyricist. Then the whole production side has really been happening for me the last couple of years working with my co-producer, Stephen Leiweke. By the time I've written the song, I've been living with it – the raw demo of that song – and I always have a lot of ideas.

But finding producers who wanted to take me seriously and really listen to me was a challenge. You know, you're paying for your record, it is your record, it is your name. You could demand whatever you want, but I don't really work like that. I'd rather it be natural and I'd rather people get that I'm good at this and I am a true musician and this is the next step for me. And, wow, pleasant surprise, have a mutual respect for me.

So, I found Stephen. We've been doing two records together now and that's probably where I'll stay for a while because we've worked so well together and he understands my crazy and madness. I will come in and be like, "Chunky guitar here and piano there..."

On this record, I had visions of beautiful cello and violins. Kind of theatrical, a little dramatic. With my voice, I wanted it to be crisp – you can hear some of the breath in certain areas – because I think it creates an emotion. He was very patient and listened to all my ideas. I was in the studio with all the musicians there. When you're a vocalist, you don't really have to be there when they're tracking, but I've always been there when they're tracking because I find it fascinating and I want to make sure that it's what I'm hearing. But I never really wanted to put my name out on an album as a producer. I wasn't ready yet until this one.

This has been a wonderful experience, and I feel like I'm growing and growing and I think that every musician wants to feel like that.

Songfacts: What a change from when you had no control of the musical process to now, when you're in there with these really talented and established musicians, running the show.

Tiffany: I've always had a say or an opinion, at least, but I was never credited with that. And I sometimes had to fight for those opinions. They did make it on the first couple of records - even some of the song selection. But I hit a wall by the time I was 16, 17 and 18 that I was a manufactured artist and that I didn't play an instrument and I didn't write my songs. That has really been a hurdle to have to overcome.
She was born Tiffany Darwish, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. On Star Search she went by Tiffany Renee. She also considered Tiffany Williams before deciding to just be Tiffany.
The truth was that I was writing behind the scenes and I always did have an opinion, but I was 14/15 and the people I was working with didn't feel that they needed to nurture me as a musician, as an artist in that aspect. So, I took a hit there because for so many years, talking shop with fellow musicians they were like, "Wow, I didn't know that you're the real deal." Yeah, I'm starting to tell my story now.

I think that everything has its timing. Maybe I wasn't ready as a musician to be as in-depth. A lot of my songs now, I write about life, I write about heartbreak, I write about soul-searching, I write about my failures. I'm very transparent in my writing. And when I write a dance song, that's probably harder for me because I don't want to write something that's just like [sings] "Ooh, ooh, ooh," and then we put some tripped-out track together. That's not me. If it's for another artist or it's for TV or film, I will rise to the occasion with what they want, but I like to have some kind of meaning, and usually those are about soul-searching or heartbreak or getting over love. I find it really hard just to write "everything is great" songs.

Songfacts: Well, a good example of that is the last track, which is called "Tears" and you're singing about how you have to set them free. It's sounds like a song about regrets you've had. Is that one of those personal songs you're talking about?

Tiffany: Yes. "Tears" came very natural because I wrote it with Steve McClintock, who has been such an influence in my life as a songwriter and as a musician. I started working with Steve when I was 14/15. He wrote "All This Time," "Love Is Blind" and many other songs for me. When I was in the studio recording I would say, "I feel like the vocal needs to go here," or "That little crack in my voice, I want that there because it's selling the lyric." I don't know how I knew that at the time, but it was just emotion, and I was like, "That's what you would be doing in your bedroom. If you were really saying these words you'd be crying and your voice would be tired." It was all about a real vocal, telling that story.

There were so many times that the producer would be like, "Well, no, I want it in a certain tone" or whatever, and Steve would say, "Just let her sing. Let her sing the way she feels it." He was a songwriter, so we'd get a good path in because he had said something. He always stood up for me and I loved it. He was always, "Be who you are. Go with your instinct." I've had so many wonderful chats with him on the sidelines.

Now, to be an adult and be able to hang out with these people and have a glass of wine and just talk about music and talk about success and failures and what's next, I feel blessed. I feel like a very fortunate person because writing "Tears" with him, he knows my story. He knows my heartache, my family, my divorces, everything. So, it was really easy to write "Tears."

Steven just has beautiful melodies. Those were his melodies that he came up with. I think we wrote it all in about 40 minutes. I'd had that song for a while and never knew what to do with it because a lot of the stuff that I had been doing is a little more blues or a little more rock or retro, so where does this beautiful song come in? And I'm known as a ballad singer, especially from the first couple of albums, so I have to work hard as a live artist to keep the energy up. Another ballad is like, "Uh, where do I put it?" But, finally, when I was doing this album, I was like, "Perfect." "Tears" was written for this album, I just didn't know it.

And that's what this album is about. It's about showing me as a vocalist and having music that takes me back to pop, but it's more adult contemporary. And the writing on this album has been a great experience for me - it's a well-written album. I want to take it to small theaters and have that intimate evening experience with Tiffany, so that's what we're doing. This album has opened the doors for that and it's something I've wanted to do for a long time.

It's hard to do a retro night like that. It could be fun, but sometimes people buy tickets to have retro, which you think as up-tempo and fun, and then you strip it down and it's an intimate evening and they're like, "Oh." So, I still do my hits during this show but it's nice to have the material that really supports a vision that I've had for a while. This kind of show is very transparent, it's very stripped down, and you either bring it or you don't. I don't think we've had the same show twice because it really is tailor-made for that audience, that evening.

You will rarely read about Tiffany without hearing about the famous mall tour. After losing on Star Search in 1985, she made her first album with her manager/producer George Tobin. Her label, MCA, convinced a marketing company that showcased products at malls to bring Tiffany along as an entertainer. She spent the summer of 1987 (between her sophomore and junior years of high school) doing three sets a day every weekend at malls across America. "I Think We're Alone Now" was a crowd favorite; that song was released at the end of the summer along with a video comprised of footage from the mall shows. By November, it was the #1 song in the country.

In the summer of 1988, Tiffany set out on a more traditional tour, bringing along a fledgling boy band from Boston - New Kids On The Block - as her opening act.
Songfacts: I understand how people may expect a retro night. You've been tethered to this song "I Think We're Alone Now," which you recorded when you were 15, and you've had to deal with that your whole life. What is that like and what do you think of that song now?

Tiffany: Well, I love the song. I'm very thankful. I appreciate the song - it's my success song and what people know. Sometimes it's hard because people only think of me as "I Think We're Alone Now" and they don't know the other hits and that I've been in the industry for almost 30 years now and have grown and there's other music out there that may have not been chart-topping but has actually made its way on to the radio and been critically acclaimed. But a lot of times, in America, especially, we think if it's not on the radio then it fell off the face of the earth.

So, I always have "I Think We're Alone Now" in my shows and "Could've Been" and "All This Time" and "I Saw Him Standing There." Those are my hits, it's what I'm known for, and I never will have a time where I perform and don't sing those songs because I'm a fan, and I know when you go to see people you want to hear those songs that made you connect with them in the beginning, and sometimes when I go to certain artists' concerts and they don't sing those songs I'm bummed. I want to have that moment with them, and if it doesn't happen I feel a little cheated. So, I never want to do that to my fans.

I've done "I Think We're Alone Now" in a lot of different ways: kind of acoustic, stripped down, we've done it ska over the years, we've done it more rock. It's such a well-written song and more than anything there's something about it that makes people feel good, which makes me feel good. I just have to go, [sings] "Children behave" and people go, "Yeah!" and I'm like: "Yay, this is going to be a winner."

Usually, I have that song at the end of the show and I'm looking forward to that moment and that excitement. I don't look at it as a bad thing. It opens the doors to allows me to continue to do music and tell my story now. There still are some hurdles sometimes because I'm painted as the "I Think We're Alone Now" mall tour girl,' but I just keep pounding the pavement doing what I love. Music is more than a career, it's my life. There's never been a Plan B. So, I've taken time to be married and have my son, but behind those scenes I was always creating and growing as a musician because it's just a part of me, it's just natural.

Songfacts: "Could've Been" is fascinating. The woman who wrote it, Lois, I spoke with her a few months ago. You were able to take this song, which is this heart-rending, deeply personal song for her, and just absolutely nail it, when there was no way you could have been through any of that yet because you were so young. How did you pull that off?

Tiffany: I have been an old soul for a long time. When I heard that song, I related to it immediately. You're right, at that time I hadn't lived any of that heartbreak, but I understood it. At 14, you go through dating a guy for two weeks and he goes out with your best friend. That is heartbreaking. Your world is falling apart and that is what I could relate it to.

That and also, I lived in a very adult world even before my career. My family had a lot of conflict. There was a lot of love but there were a lot of issues. I saw a lot of people that were older than me – my aunts and my uncles and my mom – make mistakes and get hurt, or trust and get hurt, and love gone wrong. So, I saw that all play out a little bit.

So, as a vocalist I was kind of singing and telling their stories. Songs that I maybe had not had a personal experience with yet, I still understood because of that upbringing, in a weird way. I definitely wasn't raised in a bubble.

Heartbreak songs have always been very therapeutic for me, in a weird way, even when I was younger. And I also was raised listening to country music, which is the king and the queen of heartbreak songs. So, there was always love gone wrong or something like that, and I started singing those songs when I was about six years old.

Songfacts: Was "All This Time" written specifically for you?

Tiffany: I don't believe that it was, but I fell in love with that song. The melody was kind of haunting, just those kind of strings in the beginning, that kind of sound. It was haunting but yet uplifting at the same time. It was just different for me and I've always liked that kind of sound.

Going in and doing a vocal on that I wanted to use more of a scratchy voice. That's natural for my voice anyway, but I recorded that song at probably two in the morning, after a pizza. It made me good and scratchy and kind of lazy as a vocalist with that "I just woke up" kind of sound. We really did think about the best way to approach the songs, and sometimes vocals on the first couple of records were done at two o'clock in the morning, just because studio things break down and they take time to track things, so I would end up falling asleep on a couch and they'd wake me up to do a vocal at one/two/three in the morning.

On her debut album, Tiffany covered another hit from the '60s, "I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles, flipping the gender to "I Saw Him Standing There." Covering the Beatles is tricky business, not just because they are considered sacred, but because there is little room for improvement. Earth, Wind & Fire ("Got To Get You Into My Life" and Aretha Franklin ("Eleanor Rigby") pulled it off, but very few artists have charted with their renditions. Remarkably, Tiffany's cover rose to #7, the only time a female artist has reached the Top 10 with a Beatles song. The timing was right: The Beatles got back on the charts in 1986 when "Twist and Shout" was featured in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as their second generation of fans was forming.
Songfacts: Did you have any sense of what you were doing when you were covering a Beatles song?

Tiffany: I didn't want to do it. I'm a Beatles fan and I was like, "I don't know if this is a good idea." My producer talked me into it.

The Beatles are so sacred to a lot of people and you're really playing with fire if you go out there and it's not well received. But I think that we did a great version on it. The mentality was just exposing my age group to The Beatles in a different way. That happened naturally with a lot of my friends later on, but not when you're 14, 15 and 16.

With "I Think We're Alone Now" and "I Saw Him Standing There," we were taking that risk of having kids listen to a song that their parents already knew, and you just don't know how that's going to end up. But, through the production and through the fun videos and I think just the songs themselves, it worked, because the kids could relate to it.

Songfacts: Well, not only did it work, but that is the only Beatles song by a female artist that has gone into the Top 10.

Tiffany: Yes.

Songfacts: Aretha Franklin couldn't do it. She did "Eleanor Rigby" and it didn't crack the Top 10. [It went to #17.]

Tiffany: I was very, very proud. I actually hung out with Ringo Starr quite a bit when I was in London for different things. I would seem to always bump into him and he was always wonderful and just fun. I hope I didn't dork-out too much. But, it was a big honor. Paul McCartney was asked in an interview one time about that and he gave the thumbs-up. He said, "I think they did a good version." So, that was awesome. You don't know what the other artists or the writers of the song are going to think.

Songfacts: This is remarkable, your ability to somehow endear yourself to the likes of Paul McCartney and be able to translate these feelings through songs. I'm starting to get a sense for how that relates to your television work - how you're able to go on these reality shows and connect with people. Am I making any kind of connection here?

Tiffany: Well, I pick things that seem like they're going to be fun because reality TV is just crazy, really. I was kind of a hater for a long time. I was like, "I'd never do that," and then some of the fitness shows came on. I'm a tomboy and I thought, "Well, that could kind of be fun, actually." I know that you have to expose yourself and you're not looking your best when you start and it's a little humiliating, but let's be honest, I'm a public figure, am I really hiding anything anyway? No.

Tiffany starred in the SyFy movies Mega Piranha and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. Her version of "I Think We're Alone Now" is a plot point in the movies Ted and Ted 2.

So, if these people can give me motivation, I think that I will meet my goal. I'm very competitive, and sometimes I do my best work under pressure. So, I did it [Celebrity Fit Club] and I lost 30 pounds. I looked amazing and it was fun.

It was stressful doing Celebrity Bootcamp but it was fun. You meet other artists and you hope that you make friendships. And Wife Swap, I just love that show.

Yeah, there's cameras there and it's all edited and produced and it's maybe not as "real" as you were hoping it was going to be, but to be put in a different environment and different situation, that's a way for me to live out a different lifestyle and see what it's about.

Nia Peeples and I had worked together before. I didn't know it was going to be her, but it just was even better. I was like, "Oh, Nia, OK, I've got this. Go to California? OK."

Now, my husband wasn't happy because I had already said yes to it before asking him. So, I was like, "Just, run with it." I informed Ben [her hubby] with a good bottle of wine and a steak dinner.

Songfacts: Have you rejected any offers to appear on these shows?

Tiffany: Oh, definitely. Like the marriage bootcamps and things like that. That just doesn't interest me. What was the one where you live in a house with a bunch of people? Yeah, that's not my thing. Celebrity Rehab I was like, "Well, I've never really had to go into a rehab and I'm not addicted to anything, thank God." But I did grow up in that kind of stuff, which affected me emotionally. I look at the world a little different, because you do change growing up in an alcoholic environment. I've had to really work through a lot of different things. And that's not being judgmental, it's just I've seen so many people go down that road. A lot of my friends in Hollywood took that road.

I've definitely partied, but partying is one thing, becoming addicted and losing yourself is another, and it's a fine line. People don't start out to do it, it just happens. That has always been my biggest fear, because I was raised in that. I realized this happens to good people and not just people who you think are the junk of society or losers. Good people get caught up and become dependent on that high or that feeling. For me, it was probably shopping at one point. After the mall tour I was like, "I haven't had a good day. To the mall we go." Thirteen thousand dollars later...

I'm a very open book, if you can't tell now. Being a public figure or just being an aunt or a best friend, I have stories to tell and experiences that if I can share with somebody and they don't need to go through it or it's going to help them in some way, that's what life's about.

Songfacts: The internet came around in the mid to late '90s. How did that affect you?

Tiffany: Well, sometimes I wish we would have had some of these great tools in the '80s, but there was such a magic in the '80s - we waited for things and there was a build-up for things. I think we lost that when we have the internet and such a fast-paced society now. It's pretty much instant gratification and I feel sometimes that we're excited for five minutes and then we're onto the next thing.

But, to have some of these tools to connect with your fans would have been really cool, from videos to just being able to talk to them. I'm a Twitter person, and on my personal Facebook I can talk to my family all over the world. I'm very busy and I'm not usually a phone or chitty-chatty kind of person with my girlfriends by text. I'm busy but I really value them and love them and want them in my life and people can feel they're ignored when you don't return their phone calls.

So, Facebook for me is the greatest avenue to be involved in people's lives. If I see something that I'm concerned about, boom, I give them a phone call. Or people just know I'm doing it: "This is what Tiff's doing today."

For my fans, it's awesome because they get to see a different side of me. When I was first on the scene, I was just a kid, but I think it would have been cool to see me doing the different things that made Tiffany who I am. You saw the artist, which was great, and you saw touring with New Kids and you saw all of that kind of stuff, but just being able to sit down and watch some of the early writing sessions with my band members that my producer didn't care about and how they would show me different chords on the piano would have been great.

It was really my band, and it continued to be my band members in my life and different musicians in my life that inspire me and help me make my dreams true. I will be forever grateful to them. Loren Gold, my old piano player and musical director who's now on the road with The Who and on and on and on, he was one of the very first people to start co-writing with me. Tommy Wright, who passed away a couple of years ago, it was writing songs in his kitchen and him showing me form. He was a Nashville songwriter and writes beautiful old-school country music, and there was a form. He was like, "No, that word wouldn't rhyme like that."

It has to sing well. If it doesn't sing well, I don't care that it rhymes. And sometimes you can also put something that doesn't rhyme because your ear just wants to hear that word and it makes sense. I have to sometimes fight for that as a vocalist because I'm like, "No, it's all about how you sing it."

So, I've learned all of this a lot of times working behind the scenes going, OK, nobody wants to do that in the studio now, the label doesn't want to listen to this now, but I'm going to continue to create on the down-low. And this is my life and this has got to come out of me because it's driving me nuts. And it's fun.

Songfacts: But when you first logged onto the internet with your AOL account or whatever, I would think the first thing you did was try to find out what people were saying about you and what's on there. What was that like?

Tiffany: Well, that's when I found out that people thought I was a one-hit wonder and manufactured and that the producer was twisting knobs to make me sound good. That kind of freaked me out. I was like, "I haven't accomplished as much as I thought. How could people miss that I'm a vocalist and that this is really my heart's desire?"

I started doing this when I was a little girl twirling around in my room. I had no clue that this would really happen, but it was my dream and it's since happened. And it's like, this is it, this is my life, and so I knew that there was work to be done to build that backstory. I think more than that were the pictures. I still go online and I'm like, "Oh, please take these pictures down."

Songfacts: What's wrong with the pictures?

Tiffany: I think they're dorky or goofy or ugly. Some hair and makeup people that I hired got way too creative for the event. They were like, "Oh, we're going to do this" and I was like, "OK." Because they know hair and makeup. Then I'd see the pictures, and I'd look like a stuffed bird. It would be overzealous makeup and a hairstyle that was not pretty. Also some bad fashion choices, and my weight - I fluctuate with my weight.

I'm getting better now and refining that. And that's part of being a public figure. I do take a lot of chances and sometimes I like to get a little funky with my hair and stuff. I've realized that the redhead is my brand and I'm proud of being a redhead, but for a couple of years, prior to being 25 or so, I wanted to be different. I wanted to have black hair and I wanted to look different and I wanted to change things.

I don't necessarily regret that stuff but over the years I've done some different things and it either works or it doesn't, but no matter what, it's out there in media land and you can't take it back - these pictures out there. And singing pictures. You know, when you're really giving it and your mouth is open and your eyes are squinting and then they take a picture, it's like, "Oh, really? That's not fair."

But, it's all part of life. I think it's maybe different for a girl. I'm 45 now, I want to look at all these pictures that are flattering. I have to pick through them to really find the ones that I approve.

Songfacts: Yeah, because you can't really control your image and what's out there, or your story, which had to be very hard, as you explained.

Tiffany: Right.

Songfacts: What's it like now that the selfie culture has evolved so there are people with their phones all over the place that spot you and think they're entitled to a picture?

Tiffany: I actually prefer selfies because I can see it right away. I'm like, "Oh, no, change that selfie, we don't look good," and I will. And if somebody's not happy with theirs, I totally understand.

I've had girls, even on the '80s cruise I just got off, who were like, "Can you do it again? I didn't look very good." I'm like, "Ooh, yes, girl. If you're not happy with the picture I get it, let's do it again."

And I use selfies of myself. I'm not overly obsessed but I think they're fun. I enjoy doing selfies. I just did one this morning. I was like, "I'm doing interviews overlooking the ocean with coffee in hand. Times are very hard. LOL."

Songfacts: Well, it's very good to hear how you have become so comfortable with fame because most people do not adjust that well to it. You can tell in listening to A Million Miles that you've made peace with a lot of this.

Tiffany: I think I have. I'm very comfortable in my own skin now and I know that I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing. My parents had no idea about the music industry. I didn't come from wealth, and my mom, a stay-at-home mom, and my dad, who ran his own business, went, "Okay, if you really want to do this." And then tested me in front of total strangers. I wasn't shy, and took it serious, and then just started asking people and going to the next level and finding my way. It led me to a producer who got me a record deal at 14 and a #1 song and album and on and on and on to now.

And that's really a blessing. That's not the norm. That was what I was designed to do and it all happened, and I'm very grateful and I love what I do. That's another thing for me: I never wanted to become somebody who is burnt out. I've made a personal stance for myself that if I don't want to do this anymore then I don't have to, I can do whatever. I can go be a wife, go be a mom, I could probably get a job if I wanted to - I'm a very bright girl. But I love music and I want to continue to love music, so I'm very picky about bringing good people in my life and making music fun. So, as long as those things are happening I'm in a happy place.

And I want to keep learning from musicians. I just went and saw Jasmine Cain, who does a lot of Sturgis, a lot of bike rallies. She's more metal. A bass player, crazy on stage, fellow redhead, and her voice is totally different from mine. She does Metallica, she does all these songs, and she's very comfortable with representing some of these guy vocalists that get down and dirty. And it's very believable with her doing it, even though she's a female, because she comes straight out and does it. She's not shying away. It may not be the most feminine thing but she does it feminine in her way. I just sat there and I was like, "Wow, I learned so much from you tonight. Just so much."

Watching other artists and listening to records and just being around other writers and musicians, I feel like I'm 14 again, in a weird way. Like I'm a sponge, taking this all in, but now I have control so I can use these tools. And I work with people who are listening to me. When I go back to Nashville, my producer's going to go, "Okay, what are we doing? Come on, you're the captain." And it feels pretty cool to be in that seat but I definitely am always growing and listening and thinking about what's next. So, it's awesome to be in charge of my life but with that comes responsibility, and if I miss the mark I have to own it. But, so far, it's been a great journey.

Songfacts: The little dances you came up with, did you do that yourself or did you have a choreographer?

Tiffany: I did that myself, and that was just looking at videos and looking at my girlfriends dancing in the bedroom. I was into aerobics. I had a girlfriend who was a dancer and I was a dancer for many years as well, before I even got a record deal. I was in Tahitian and tap and jazz and then I was a belly dancer. So, I was actually in touring groups that went around. I started dancing when I was two, so I had that background.

But, those little dances just came from everything that I've done, putting the whole thing together. And I knew that you had to dance. I watched Lisa Lisa and all these different people that I loved. I didn't want to be a dance artist or even really a pop artist, I wanted to be like Stevie Nicks with maybe more of a country flair. That's what I thought I was going to be and we did try, but it didn't seem to work out and that's when George brought in "I Think We're Alone Now."

I was really taken aback by that. I was like, "Where are we going with this?" And he was like, "Just go learn the song and come back and the track will be ready tomorrow." And then I came back and the track was [sings drum beat] and I told him, "This is dance. I don't want to be a dance artist because nobody will ever know that I can sing." He was like, "No, just take the track home. Do me a favor, let's just record it."

I was only 14, so I was like, "OK, fair enough." I took it home and was listening to it in my bedroom. That's when my girlfriends after school would come over to my house and they started dancing to it right away and I thought, "Well, they like it. This is my age group, they like it."

So, when I went in to record it, I still was a little like Uh, but I was a little more open to it. And then, once my voice was on it and I had sang the song and taken it home again and was playing it, the reaction that I got from just my friends, I knew that this was a good song, this was a good choice.

Songfacts: Yeah, it was kind of an inspired choice too because it was age appropriate and it was exactly a generation earlier - the song was older than you.

Tiffany: Yeah. It was mysterious, it was a little cheeky, but there wasn't anything really bad. It was just a little rebellious and a little bit what a teenager feels: spending time with that person, checking that person out, and having that alone time with them, no matter what happens. I definitely have heard some stories about where that song has gone over the years. With some fans I'm like, "Too much information, thank you very much."

Songfacts: You were also very successful in the UK, but I don't know if you ever went there.

Tiffany: Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time in the UK. I started going there when I was 15 and that was one of the very first places that I started touring overseas. I didn't know what to expect and when I got there, there were all these people at the airport waiting and they all had jean jackets and my signs and they all knew things about me. That made such a huge impression on me. I was overwhelmed, really. I remember going back to the hotel and just going, "Wow. This is bigger than I ever thought it was going to be."

I guess I didn't expect people at the airport to greet me and I didn't expect all these people to know so much about me and the song. And it wasn't just the song, it was me. Some teen magazines would know my favorite color, where I like to shop. When somebody in a different part of the world knows things about you, that makes a big impression.

I felt special, definitely. And I think the best thing the music industry has given me has been wonderful people, great friends. At 15/16 I was so open, and I'm still open now to meeting really cool people. That could be your bartender or another fellow musician or a celebrity or people that you work with: a great producer, a director or something. But I'm very open to where the next journey is going to take me and the host of characters that I'm going to meet. It is like a big field trip and I'm very fortunate that I usually walk away with new friends, people that are supposed to be in my life and make it a better place – musically or otherwise. That's pretty awesome as a musician, and I do a lot of touring so for me that's kind of on a daily basis.

Songfacts: I can see how being receptive to other people can bring all this into your life and help contribute to those ideas you're always coming up with for your songs.

Tiffany: Oh, yes. All these people make an impression on you, and if you're open to it, you can hear their stories. It often spawns a song. It might be a collection of things, but when I go back to Nashville or LA to write a song, I've met people who have had all these experiences, and then I have something to draw from. And then I add my own little stuff into that and hopefully come out with a great song.

March 10, 2017.
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Photos: Josh Romine (1), Ron Davis (3)

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Comments: 2

  • Steven Mcclintock from Long Beach , California A friend of mine in France sent this to me this morning. And said there is some good stuff about my songwriting. Tiffany was a godsend for me. With her a had this young person that had emotion and passion and got my songs, most of which a coat with Tim James. I think all in all we had 13 songs cut by her. I love it when someone does an in-depth on Songwriters as it just gives more credence to the work we do. So thank you
  • Shawn from MarylandIt was great reading the interview and reading the personal insights. I'm also proud to say I contributed to A Million Miles through PledgeMusic. :)
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