LADY STARLIGHT: A SHOCKING OPENER WHO MAKES FANS GO GAGA


Photo credit: Tina Korhonen

By Paul Freeman [January 2013 Interview]

They were two wild Ladies in New York City, armed only with artistic vision and outrageous costumes. Together, Lady Gaga and Lady Starlight have conquered the pop world, improving the self-image of Little Monsters everywhere.

In addition to opening the ďBorn This Way Ball,Ē DJ/performer Lady Starlight entertains at the interactive, pre-concert tailgate experience, which allows young people to celebrate their individuality.

Starlight, whom Gaga often cites as being one of her primary influences and inspirations, was born Colleen Martin and grew up in upstate New York. Now sheís inspiring legions of fans.

She moved to New York City in 2001 and developed into a top DJ, integrating performance art and go-go dancing into her happenings.

Starlightís road to becoming a trendsetter hit warp speed, when she met another flamboyant female using the monicker ďLady.Ē It was kismet. The chemistry between Starlight and Gaga happened immediately.

In 2007, the two became the toast of the underground scene, performing as Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue. Gaga hit the big time and invited Starlight to open her 2010-11 Monster Ball tour. Collaborating with Gaga on fashions, performance concepts and set designs, Starlight tries to ensure that her appearances have a shock element.

Starlight has introduced Gagaís pop fans, the Little Monsters, to the thrills of metal and prog rock.

Prior to the North American ďBorn This Way BallĒ tour, Gaga and Starlight bonded with their followers in Russia, Scandinavia, the U.K. and Europe very.

Starlight, who has also toured with Judas Priest, hopes to expand her explorations into fashion design and also to create her own multimedia theatrical experience.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
Getting ready for the next round of touring, is it always a challenge to top what you did on the last one?

LADY STARLIGHT:
On one level, itís kind of the same thing. Itís just that thereís a shock factor that I always go for. And it needed to go to the next level. What I did before was sort of seen and expected. So itís kind of like, ĎOh, you like that? How about this! No? Cool!í [Laughs]

PCC:
Does it get more difficult as you go on, to shock?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Yes, it does. What happens is that it involves more and more personal and artistic risk. And thatís difficult, when you know that people in the audience are going to be looking at you, wondering what the Ďfí is going on. [Laugh]

PCC:
Whatís new for the North American ĎBorn This Way Ballí tour?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Well, itís pretty much completely different. I was just like DJing metal and doing performance to metal, which is something nobody else does. And I still do that. But I wanted the opportunity to go to the next level, where itís all choreographed and creating this sort of performance art, ethereal environment, which is more what I ultimately want to do.

PCC:
Does it still seem limitless in terms of what you can expand into?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. Itís kind of a problem, because I want to just do everything [Laughs]. I should be more limited. But I see no limits in anything.

PCC:
How closely do you coordinate everything with Gaga, on a tour like this?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Well, we travel together, so weíre always together and itís kind of like the old days, where we performed together, but just have different spaces on stage.

PCC:
Did the chemistry between the two of you happen immediately?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. The scene that we came from, there was a lot of attitude, a lot posing, a lot of judgment, a lot of, ĎOh, this isnít cool.í And the two of us are both on the same page of like, ĎLetís stick together and do something thatís going to change peopleís lives and really be free to do whatever we want to do without attitude or playing into the whole hierarchy of cool.í Because we were too cool. We were so cool that we didnít need to act cool [laughs].

PCC:
You were both already known as ĎLady,í when you met?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Yeah! That was another thing. It really did. [Laughs]

PCC:
Must have seemed like destiny.

LADY STARLIGHT:
It really did. And we met, my best friend was her boyfriend at the time. He was like the connector, without even realizing it.

PCC:
Was that an exciting time, when you were just starting to put everything together and create this whole phenomenon?

LADY STARLIGHT:
It was so exciting. Iíd been happy doing what I was doing, dancing and DJing. But this was the opportunities that we saw together and how inspired we both were to make something bigger happen, in the world, was kind of like, ĎOh, my God, this can actually happen!í So it was very exciting.

PCC:
So you did actually discuss how you wanted to impact the world. What kind of effect did you want to have?

LADY STARLIGHT:
World domination [laughs], right from the get-go.

PCC:
Was there always talk about the positive vibe you wanted to bring to the audience, to make them feel better about themselves?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. And just to make them feel free. And to just say, ĎYou know what? You can do anything. So just go for it!í

PCC:
For you, the whole creative element, is it as much about freedom as it is about outrageousness?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Itís more about freedom, actually. My motivations, oddly, itís almost like doing social work. I want to give people what I had, when I was growing up, in terms of a role model for artistic freedom and also take what you have and do it. My brother is an artist and a musician, a multi-disciplined kind of artist. And he had all these cool friends. So I grew up going to these noise shows and all this way alternative culture and art. And most people donít have that. Especially when youíre a teenager. Thatís such a critical time. And for those who maybe donít have that, I want to be that, for these kids that are in the audience. I want to help them.

PCC:
So did you grow up feeling like an outsider or did the art provide a sense of community?

LADY STARLIGHT:
I definitely was, on a daily basis, a complete outsider. I shaved my head bald in high school. But yes, at the same time, having that community there gave me strength to keep going with who I was, who I wanted to be.

PCC:
Beyond your brother, who were some of the role models, in terms of creativity?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Iím 37, so I grew up without any kind of social networking, thank God! [Laughs] So I would go to the record stores. There was one independent record store. I grew up in upstate New York, in the Albany area. And there was this one record store where youíd meet all of these people who had the same interests as you.

One of my biggest early influences, as a teenager, was anarcho punk, like crust punk, as they say, like Crass and Subhumans and Conflict and all that stuff. It was really politically minded and really serious, philosophical, political messages of punk.

PCC:
Was fashion always a means of self expression for you?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Always. My mom always tells me a story, when youíre young, you have these little patent leather Mary Janes. Most people had black. And she wanted me to get black, but I insisted on the red ones. [Laughs]. So from the get-go, I always had an eye for exciting things that you could put on your body.

PCC:
What drew you to DJing?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Iíve always collected records, even as a kid. My family was extremely musical. My Dad has a massive record collection. that was like a focal point in our living room. So it wasnít just a lot of records, but it was obviously important, by the fact that it was very prominent. So I grew up with the sense that music was very important. And rock music.

I always collected records and liked to search out different interesting bands from the past. In New York, the DJing grew out of this necessity. I wanted there to be a 70s glam party that I could dance at. It didnít exist, so I thought, ĎWell, we might as well create it.í So I created and produced this party, a huge promotion. I had never DJed in my life. So I got really drunk, because I was so nervous and actually ended up passing out on stage and going to St. Vincentís hospital [Laughs]

PCC:
Has the partying died down in recent years?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Contrary to my image of drinking, Iím actually like an old woman. I barely drink. If you want to succeed in your career in rock Ďní roll, you canít actually behave in a rock Ďní roll fashion. [Laughs]

PCC:
As far as the challenges of DJing, is it establishing the moods you want or is it more about giving the people something unexpected?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Itís kind of both. Obviously, DJing is about making people happy. So I Iove the music that I play, even though the audience might not expect it. But what I play, I believe they will like, even though they donít know that they want to like it. Itís a dance club and Iím playing rock Ďní roll, but Iím sort of like a cheerleader, through performance, dancing, giving energy to the crowd physically.

PCC:
Did you have any trepidation about trying to introduce the Little Monsters to the fun of metal and now prog rock? Or were you confident they would take to those types of music?

LADY STARLIGHT:
The really big fans, I know that they get it. And they get Gaga on a much bigger level than just being Top 40. You can tell that theyíre all wanting something more. They want like the alternative culture and art. Thatís what they like about her. Obviously they like the music. But they like the other aspects of her, as well. They get the background of everything. So I know that theyíre super open-minded and creative and artistic. So I feel like, even if some of them donít get it, I know that thereís a bunch of them that will. So that makes me feel happy and motivated.

PCC:
What made you feel so at home with metal music?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Coming from a punk and hardcore background, itís just a different kind of like rebel music. So itís the rebelliousness of it and itís very punk rock in the the attitude of, ĎI donít care whatís going on in radio, this is what I want to do and Iím going to do it.í Itís the integrity, the belief and the wherewithal and motivation to do it. Itís just so inspiring.

PCC:
Performing, for you, is it a lot about just challenging the narrow-mindedness of the establishment?

LADY STARLIGHT:
You nailed it. Thatís everything.

PCC:
The pre-concert tailgating, thatís basically a celebration of individuality?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. And bullying is such an issue. Again, itís a reason why Iím super-psyched that I didnít have the internet. I only had to go to school and get bullied and then it was over. There was a finite amount of ability to bully me, thank God. So itís now super-challenging for people to maintain belief in themselves, to maintain and celebrate who they are. So itís an opportunity for Gaga to not only say that on stage, and make them feel that way with a performance, but to also actually have a community there, of people you can touch and talk to, that make you feel, ĎOkay, Iím good. I got this. Iím going to go back home. And Iím going to wear this. And Iím going be that. Iím going to do this. And Iím not going to let anybody tell me Iím not good enough.í

PCC:
It must be gratifying to see this community expanding all over the world, as you tour globally.

LADY STARLIGHT:
Itís the coolest thing ever. Itís everything that Gaga and I both hope for. I feel like the Little Monsters are my Little Monsters, too. I feel like weíre all part of the same message and artistic vibe.

PCC:
Do you ever worry about pushing the envelope too far? Or is the risk-taking part of the fun?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Kind of both. It goes in waves. Sometimes Iím like, ĎYeah! This is so rad!í And other times, Iím like, ĎOh, Iím totally ruining my career.í [Laughs] Iíve been risking ruining my career, but thatís okay. Iím just following all my role models, all the important artists.

Especially Rush. Iím such a big Rush fan. And I will never forget, they were about to be dropped from their label and then they said, ĎHereís a great idea - letís do a concept album, where one side is a 20-minute song. Yeah!í It was so great. It was like, ĎIf weíre going to get dropped, f--k it. Letís do the album we want to do.í And Bob Dylan doing the electric thing. Those kinds of things are so awesome and so inspiring. You have to risk everything in order to do anything.

PCC:
But once youíve experienced this huge success with Gaga, does it become more difficult to have that kind of Ďjust f--k ití attitude?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Yeah, it does. Because then other people get involved, like agents and managers and things, so you have a responsibility and you donít want to let them down or make problems. And, of course, I want to succeed, because, if you do everything on the fringe, youíre affecting that many people. So theoretically, it can be more important to tone the message down and get the message across. But, at least for the moment, I donít seem to be able to make myself do that.

PCC:
Having fans emulate the looks youíve created, do you enjoy that? Or would you rather have them create their own looks?

LADY STARLIGHT:
A little bit of both. I love to see that. More than words, thatís the ultimate compliment is that they want to represent me in a visual way. Iíve always kind of wanted that, because I get so excited about the clothes I wear and the way that I look, as like an art thing. So to see that that resonates with somebody else means a lot.

PCC:
Would you like to get more involved in fashion design in the future?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. Thatís been my destiny, on many levels.

PCC:
Have you changed your basic approach at all, now that you donít have to rely on bargain bin materials, if you donít want to?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Well, I wouldnít go that far [laughs]. Actually, I was just in the Salvation Army in upstate New York. I will never stop going to second-hand stores, unless itís custom-made for me. I donít ever want to wear things that other people can have. Even really super-amazing designers, people know where it came from. I just want them to be like, ĎWhat!? Oh, my God! Where did you get that?!í

PCC:
Do you think itís because everythingís so formulaic these days that your going so far outside of that has been so appealing?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Absolutely. I hope so, because thatís how I feel. The appeal of what I wear is exactly that. So I hope that it does the same thing to others.

PCC:
You said that, when you were starting out, you were confident that you would both break through. Did you discuss how you wanted to build your personas or did they evolve on their own?

LADY STARLIGHT:
We discussed the effect we wanted to have, with what we looked like and what we wore and what we did. But the actual look and performance of the whole thing just happened organically.

PCC:
After playing hockey arenas with Gaga, do you still enjoy performing at clubs?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Oh, itís so much more fun. I donít think that any artist would say that an arena is an awesome place to perform. You have to overcome so much. Thatís why the stage set is so amazing and happening so big. You want to make people feel that theyíre entering this alternative universe, alternate reality, for this show. If youíre in the sterile atmosphere of an arena where somebody just played basketball, itís not a very artistic vibe. Itís so much better to play someplace smaller, because the audience is so much more engaged and can see you and feel more like theyíve had a really unique experience. In an arena, itís difficult to overcome the sterility of that environment.

PCC:
When youíre working on a set design, is a matter of just letting your imagination run wild?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Well, what I have and what I want are two different things [laughs]. I really donít have the money to do what I want to do... and I probably never will. What I see in my head is so grand, Iíll probably never be able to do that. So itís kind of like an exercise in figuring out how to get the most important things across to the audience with the least amount of props and atmosphere.

PCC:
So you sometimes feel held back, that there are things you just canít do, realistically?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Sometimes. Iím crazy, but Iíd probably be super-crazy, if I tried to just do whatever I think. Because thatís not effective. Itís so manic and all over the place that people donít get anything from it. So, even though, in terms of genre, Iím not restricted, when it comes to what Iíve decided to do, there is a lot of restraint involved. My whole vision is actually quite stark. So I am very aware of how things are put together. So there is actually quite a bit of restraint, not in the ability of what I can do, but once I decide to do it. It all has to make sense together.

PCC:
Is there a goal of expanding into some big multimedia theatrical event of your own?

LADY STARLIGHT:
Yes. Exactly that. What Iím doing, I canít believe itís happening and that Iíve made it work, but itís so not suited to a show this size. I designed the show to be in a reasonably small theatre, because then Iíll be able to create the environment that I want for the audience. So what Iím doing now is an exercise in trying translate that into this massive scale. Itís so crazy. I all of a sudden had to scale everything up. I hadnít even done it in a theatre and now Iím doing it in Madison Square Garden [Laughs]. Itís ridiculous. Itís beyond surreal [Laughs].

PCC:
Whatís been the most rewarding aspect for you?

LADY STARLIGHT:
The rewarding thing is, Iíve had this dream for so long, Iíve been so afraid, thinking, ĎNo, it doesnít work. It doesnít make any sense.í And I was in Milan. I was by myself, doing a gig. I was really tired, because Iíd just finished the Judas Priest tour. I was tired, lonely, in a hotel room by myself. And I was miserable. And I was like, if Iím going to do this and Iím going to live a life on the road, Iím a homebody, so being on the road is actually not in any way fun for me. Performing is great. And you have to go on the road. But the actually touring, I canít stand it. It does not suit my personality. So if Iím going to be on the road and Iím going to do this and Iím going to make these sacrifices, sacrificing a stable life, Iím going to do exactly what I want to do.

So I made that decision, started working on the show. And then Gaga called me and said, ĎAre you available for the ĎBorn This Way Ballí?í I was like, ĎCan I do this? Yes. Yes!í So it all just kind of came together once I decided ĎThis is what Iím going to do. Iím going to go for it and Iím not going to allow my fear, and all my preconceptions about whatís possible, to hold me back.í It was a matter of just following my own message. So thatís the best part, that I didnít let myself down. Iím making myself proud for overcoming my own boundaries.

PCC:
Before all the success, there must have been a lot of people saying, ĎThis is crazy. This isnít the path to success.í

LADY STARLIGHT:
Exactly [laughs] - ĎThis is not a good idea. It doesnít make any sense.í But if you believe in it... itís all about believing in it and saying, ĎIt doesnít matter. If it fails, Iím okay with going to work in some bank or something, because at least I know I did it.í

For the latest news and tour dates, visit www.ladystarlightnyc.com.