Donna De Lory has been by the side of Madonna for over 20 years throughout all of her biggest and most controversial world tours. In an intimate interview in Donna’s hometown of Topanga Valley in California Donna reveals the inner workings of being on the road with Madonna, talks about motherhood, religion and belief and explains how thing’s have changed in that oh so Material world.
ON FIRST MEETING MADONNA
I auditioned like anybody else to work with Madonna. I was working with Pat Leonard, who was producing her and working with her, and she had a tour coming up and he said he’d love me onboard. It was a while before I heard, but finally I got a call saying they needed to replace someone straight away. It was an emergency.
There was no air conditioning in my apartment in the summer and the phone went and they asked if I was interested and I said: “Yeh, what do you think?” I almost thought it was a done deal without any audition and my make-up was running down my face and then he rang and said I had to go down to audition with Madonna. I knew it was a huge thing. I’d done a lot of auditions so I got dressed and did my make-up. We sang La Isla Bonita in the audition and I was up against two other girls. One girl was really flat – the Madonna yelled: “You’re flat” immediately – so she was out. And I was like: “Oh no, I’m nervous now.”
Pat knew our voices were going to be really good together so he asked us to do the bridge together and we started. She turned her back on me and at one point turned around and was like: “Why aren’t you singing?” and I told her I was and Pat then told her that I was singing and that our voices were in harmony. She then said: “Will you sing on all my records then….” And I was just standing there wondering if I had the job. I got it!
ON THE WHO’S THAT GIRL TOUR
The first tour with her was huge. Being so young was a big thing. I got scooped up into the world of Madonna and it was a big deal back then. Everyone was like: “You’re friends with Madonna now.” It went to my head back then. My friends from back home knew I’d worked so hard for to get that far and were happy for me. I think the best part of the tour was when we were lined up at the end singing Get Into The Groove and I got to do all the choreography and walk out into the main part of the stage. Everything was such a new experience. It was so much fun. Being on tour with Madonna was more than just singing – we were all performers. Not just backing singers.
ON THE BLONDE AMBITION TOUR
We worked together on the MTV awards after the last tour so I’d been in touch with Madonna in between and I was over the moon to get the call again. I’d also worked on one of her records by that tour – the Like A Prayer album. I was also working on my own record so it was a busy time. We’d hung out a lot by then so we were ready to tour again. I think the best thing about the tour was the comedy aspect. Causing A Commotion was a lot of fun when we had a lot of time to play. It was great to be silly with her – we all had a wicked sense of humour.
ON MADONNA AND THE CONTROVERSY
Nothing Madonna did ever shocked me. The one thing on the bed with the touching was considered controversial. I don’t really get aware of what a big deal some of those things are in the public’s opinion. It’s people reading and watching TV that find some of it shocking. On tour you don’t get aware of the impact things make. I remember one time on that tour in Italy and people were annoyed about things and there were literally people throwing things at the cars and that got scary. I mean when you are dressed as a nun on stage in a concert like that it’s bound to cause a few raised eyebrows. It wasn’t meant to be controversial. It was about art, the imagination and getting people to open their minds. When you are thought provoking – nothing can shock you.
ON IN BED WITH MADONNA
It’s weird looking back at that film. When we are getting ready for a show now it’s weird looking at the way she was then and the way she is now. We are not at all the same. The three of us (including the other backing singer Niki Harris) were dynamic and were all on a team wavelength. Now Niki is not there when I’m with Madonna it’s not like the three of us and the way we used to hang out. I reminisce about those times with fond memories.
ON THE GIRLIE SHOW TOUR
It was a visually stunning show – Justify My Love was outrageous and so much fun to do. It was really over the top with the costumes. As the shows have gone on for me the clothing changes have gotten easier. Nowadays I’m not in as many numbers and you know, so be it. But some of the changes on this tour were unbelievable.
I think the Why’s It So Hard bit of the show was excellent. Not the orgy part of it! I also loved Rain – it was a chance for us to connect with the audience and get out the front. Justify My Love was great for the interaction.
It’s all about the work when we are on tour and then there’s a separate area in your brain about the papers and news. We literally don’t think about it. We are there to put out the best tour possible – I couldn’t tell you what’s been in the news on this latest tour. When we work together (Donna and Madonna) I don’t really want to hear about it. I don’t read the reviews or stuff unless they are really really good and there were lots on this latest tour.
ON THE DROWNED WORLD TOUR
It was a dark show. It was a darker show altogether. It had been a long time since the last tour – it was hard to believe we were touring again. The ninja part of the show was really cool, intense and beautiful. Vocally it was really fun too. I liked the oriental influences. I was wearing a kimono and everything. The costumes were amazing. I was glad to work on the album Ray Of Light – and William Orbit was such a great guy to work with too.
ON THE REINVENTION TOUR
It was great. There were so many messages going out there and it was full of army stuff and had a big political stance and it was a lot of fun. It was cool and the stage was just unreal. It was a tour that had never been done before. It was a little scary hanging up in the air like that. It was amazing bringing back the old stuff and knowing how much the audience was going to freak out when she did Crazy For You, Burning Up and all the rest.
ON THE CONFESSIONS TOUR
It was an amazing tour. It was very different this time because we were not out there as much with the audience. It’s a job at the end of the day and if she didn’t want me out front then that’s fine. I’m there for her and employed at the end of the day. We fit into the show in the best way possible. It didn’t work with us on the stage out front so we were in a separate part and then came out now and again. Jump was incredible and Music was amazing. It was so uplifting. I thought it was incredible to hear the old school version of Lucky Star in a live show. That was amazing for me.
ON BEING A MOTHER
I have to have a lot of help with friends and family. On the last tour my niece came out with me and babysat my daughter while we were moving around. My boyfriend helps me so much too. In the old days we would be going out and hitting the town – having a real laugh. Now, I rush off stage get into a car and get taken straight back to the hotel to bath my daughter and put her to bed. I have to get a room when I’m on tour that has another room attached. It’s a real change for me. I have a guest room on the side. My daughters four years of age now. She gets to see the whole show from a different angle and goes everywhere I am. She comes to all my own solo shows – she’s not a fan of mine though. She has no choice to listen but she doesn’t request my own songs. If I have it on in the car she moans! She wants me as a mom, not as a singer. It’s like touring with an on the road crèche when everyone has their children with them. It’s nice.
ON HER SOLO CAREER
It’s a great thing being able to tour the world with somebody like Madonna. It’s a great opportunity for me to travel the world and perform my own music to audiences that wouldn’t normally get the chance to listen to it. That’s the best thing about touring. I really take advantage of that time away from the family and home – it’s my opportunity to get my own music out there.
WHAT MADONNA’S TAUGHT HER
I have to keep the touring with Madonna separate from my own recording career. It’s really just a very fun job. I’ve learnt so much from working with her – the power aspect about how to use what you have is an amazing thing. I learn more stuff about myself as I go along. Now I’m more of a chilled out person. When I first started working with her I just wanted to be like her – I think I misinterpreted a lot of things. The fame. I just tried to be like her and didn’t do things my own way. It was funny looking back on it. Now I’m about my music, my motherhood and I love having the freedom to do my own thing. I appreciate everything about working with Madonna – it’s been such an amazing opportunity.
WOULD YOU WANT THE FAME?
I think I would like it if my music was appreciated before anything else. At first I thought all I wanted was to be her. And then I got more mature and I realised I wanted to stand on my own two feet. Back in the nineties they wanted me to do music that wasn’t me, they were sending me into the clubs and all that and it just wasn’t me. I wanted to do my own stuff and make it personal and really do something I wanted to do for my integrity and everything else.
I’ve worked out what’s truly important in life and I think my attitude has really changed too. Madonna gave me some great advice about my own career and really helped me to go for what I wanted to do – not what a record company told me. She always said I could do it. The main thing about being a mom too is that I’m a more forgiving person. With my family and everyone.
I actually ended up getting pregnant on my own and having to cope by myself and I got some incredible advice from her. It was a really spiritual time. Respecting her and having her as an example in my life – that’s the good thing about having her in my life.
WHAT’S MADONNA ABOUT NOW
Madonna wants to make people be a better person now. In the old days it was about her and nothing else – just like I was. We were all self centered. You have to be like that and take those steps to be a better person later down the line. To me you have to grow as you work your way through your life – that’s why we are here.
It’s amazing that she can come from that sort of place where she started to being a humanitarian like she is now. Coming from just wanting to be famous and be adored by everything to wanting to love everybody. She’s incredible. It’s a complete turnaround. She wanted to be served by everyone and now she’s serving everyone.
IS MADONNA A BOSS OR A FRIEND?
She’s my boss, the boss. And I want it that way. I have my friends and buddies and yes we are friends, but she’s a boss too. It pleases me that I work with a conscious artist – I couldn’t work with anybody who wasn’t about that.
ON BEING SPIRITUAL
I spent a long time when I was 14/15 studying eastern philosophies and my mom died when I was 16 and I moved to Nashville and met a lot of people in a community there. People gave me books and I learnt and then I moved back to LA and started taking yoga and that was the beginning. It gave me the basis of who I am today. I met lots of people, became a macrobiotic. It’s a whole philosophy. I’m not staunch with it but it influences me in the diet way. My family practically eats macrobiotic apart from when I need some comfort food! The chef inspired me when we were on tour – we always all eat macrobiotic on tour and I got lots of recipes off of her. It’s all about eating the best quality food you can, cutting out dairy and I guess working around a rice-based diet. There’s a lot of fish too.
My mom never made me choose a religion. I always wanted to go to church and everything and she never pestered me. She always said when I was grown up I could choose what I wanted to do. So I did. I went everywhere. I was at a synagogue with one set of friends, a Catholic church with another set and I saw truth in all of them. It’s weird because all of them were really saying the same thing. I think it’s all about one truth many paths. There’s something in every one.
I think it’s wonderful. It’s not something I’m interested in exclusively but I’d love to make it to a centre more than I actually do. The good thing about rumours about Kabbalah is that it makes you look into the workings of religion before they became formed and organised. It’s about trying to want to remove your ego and get to the truth of who you are. Identifying certain things about yourself. Identifying with the light that there’s other presence. There’s light from a lot of religions for me. You can have belief. It’s inevitable that they are going to want that – they are on their deathbed and all of a sudden they are praying to God.
The inspiration for my music comes mostly from being spiritual. There’s a truth that speaks to us all the time and it’s about trying to hear it. Be more awake and more aware. I’ve been really in Buddhism lately. There’s something about slowing down and appreciating each moment. I got into mythology years ago and I enjoy reading that. The more I read up the more I understand more about my own life. All interpretations of religion are good. They are belief. And that’s cool. I think people are scared by it sometimes.
Donna’s latest solo CD, Sky Is Open, is out now and for more information go to www.donnadelory.com.