Cabaret performer David Gurland has been having quite a year already. Cabaret Scenes included him in their list of performers who are carrying the torch of Cabaret, and his debut CD, David Gurland, just won a Bistro Award for being one of the best albums of last year.
Jonathan: Welcome, David, to Talkin' Broadway. And congratulations on winning the Bistro Award for best album!
David: Thanks! It certainly was a surprise!
J: I'm sure it will look nice next to the Bistro Award you won in 1994 as Outstanding Performer and the Hanson Award in 1995. Since you are the first person I have interviewed who has won this special MAC Award, I can finally satisfy my curiosity: who is Hanson, and what is the significance of the award?
D: My understanding is that the Hansons are a couple which have been devotees of Cabaret for a number of years. They started giving a lump sum of cash to a performer who was felt to show great promise for a future in Cabaret and it became known as the Hanson Award. The funny thing is, the year I won, they decided to not make the Hanson Award a monetary award. I won it the first year that they made it strictly an honorary award.
J: Well, that would be a bit of a disappointment!
D: Yeah, but it was a great honor, and it's something to put in you press releases and your bio.
D: When I was working on my CD, I bumped into a mutual friend ours and she asked, "What are you doing with the CD?" I mentioned that I had finished it and was looking for distribution, and she advised me to send it to Lee. I did, he contacted me and I decided to go into an agreement with him for distribution.
J: So it wasn't one that he actively produced and had a hand in the creation of?
D: Right. I'm on LML solely in a distribution sense.
J: Your press materials make several references to your being an openly gay performer. I found that intriguing, since your CD doesn't really reflect that.
D: There's one track on the CD which technically 'outs' me ...
J: "Anyone Who Had a Heart?"
J: But that's pretty subtle.
D: True, but I think that I am, unlike a lot of other male vocalists, very honest and open about that side of me. Certainly when I do my live performances, I'm more verbal about being gay and I am more outspoken about it than most of my male counterparts are.
J: Which is such a tough decision to make.
D: It's a really weird area. I had a lot of people who tried to discourage me from including "Anyone Who Had a Heart" on my record, but I went with my instinct. I thought it was the right thing to do ...
J: It's funny ... Barbara Cook and Andrea Marcovicci, for instance, sing songs like "All I Need Now is the Girl" as written in regards to pronouns and it doesn't raise an eyebrow: people don't automatically assume that they are lesbians. But if male artists do something similar, they are automatically labeled as 'gay.'
D: Here's the thing ... I may be incriminating myself when I say this ... but I sense that there is a strange feeling of homophobia in the cabaret community towards male performers. Which is strange, since a majority of male cabaret artists are gay ...
J: You think? (laughing?)
D: (Laughing) Oh yeah! And so many of them make the choice to change the pronouns in their songs to the feminine, which personally offends my artistic sensibility. Because my aesthetic is, when you are up there singing, it's not brain surgery ... you are you, and I want to learn something about the person who is up there. But if they are not honest about who they are, then I don't connect with that person.
J: It adds one more layer of mask or distance between performer and audience.
D: And I don't want to see that. If I wanted to see that, I would go to a play, or see somebody do a characterization. Cabaret is about being yourself, so why go out of your way to hide that aspect of you? I think male performers are scared, and think that producing and booking people won't hire artists who are openly gay because it will scare away potential audience members.
J: Have you had any problems in that regard? Has it impacted your getting bookings, audiences, etc?
D: I don't know ... it might have. There's no real way of knowing, and it may not surface for some time. I think it's made me a better performer, much more in touch with who I am, and therefore the audiences appreciate me more. I have found that whenever I do anything where I do out myself, I've always had a positive response from the audience.
J: Do you change lyrics and pronouns to reflect the 'gay sensibility?' By that I mean do you actively change, say, "All I Need Now is the Girl" to a masculine image?
D: That's a good question. You know, I haven't yet ... that would be somewhat hypocritical ... but ... I don't know ... I haven't crossed that bridge so I don't know what I would do.
J: I'm just remembering a singer that really turned me off, because she constantly changed all the lyrics to things like "hers is the only music that makes me dance." And it just got in the way for me, because it was such a conscious forcing of the lyrics, that it seemed to be serving an agenda, rather than there being an organic, intrinsic reason to sing the lyrics differently than as written.
D: I don't feel any reason to have an agenda. At this juncture, I'm not trying to make any big political statement; I'm just trying to be who I am, and sometimes that's hard enough.
J: To get back to your CD: I liked the fact that I didn't know a lot of the songs on your album. It's refreshing not to hear the same songs over and over again. I especially liked "Where've You Been," which I hadn't heard before.
D: That one's a gem.
J: Yeah, and it's one I'm going to have to look for!
D: (laughing) Lee is after me for that one as well! You know, that brings us to a weird area, actually. I basically perform "Where've You Been" exactly as written, so anybody can do it. But if somebody took my version of "Every Breath You Take," which I do a lot slower and very distinctively, I would be pissed off. And there's nothing I could really do about it, because arrangements can't be copyrighted. I always thought you could, but you can't. So theoretically, somebody could take that version, which I've been doing for a long time, rip it off, and there's nothing I could do about it. But I have found that there's a great deal of respect among cabaret performers.
J: There's a sort of honor among us thieves ... .
D: Every so often I've noticed a singer ripping off other performers, but generally there is a good sense of honor about that.
J: You know, I hate to even do songs that other people have recorded ... it's not quite that I lose interest, but I get ... a bit paranoid about having people think I've stolen the idea.
D: I think you have to trust where your instincts are and go with it. Because no matter what you do, somebody is going to find something to criticize or make a comparison about it.
J: Who have been your musical influences?
D: Maybe being a gay man has a lot to do with it, but I really like women singers and songwriters ... Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Indigo Girls, people like that. And when I was growing up, I listened to Carly Simon. It wasn't until I was much older and in college that I became more familiar the standards through performers like Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett.
J: When I interviewed Rick Jensen, he mentioned that when he was growing up, the 'standards' were songs that were twenty or thirty years old. So that means in the year 2000, that 'standards' should be drawn from the 60s, 70s and now even the 80s, instead of the 40s and 50s as is the norm.
D: And I think they will. I think it's all relative. Look at Madonna ... she's now adult contemporary for people who are 40. It's kind of funny how it keeps changing ...
J: But you have to admit, it is scary to think that in 10 years "Like a Virgin" could become a cabaret standard!
D: (Laughing) True! But that's the way of the world, and people are already starting to look at that music as 'old' music.
J: By the time this gets published, you will have completed a run at The Firebird in New York and The Gardenia in Los Angeles. Where will you be performing in February?
D: I'll be at The Dark Star, which is underneath a club called The Triad in New York on West 72nd Street.
J: What's the cover there?
D: It's really cheap. It's only $5 to get in. It's strange to go from The Firebird, which has a $20 cover to The Dark Star which has a $5 cover in just a few weeks, but it's a different audience. It's a thing which I have sort of fallen into, having two different audiences: I have the upscale cabaret audience, and then I have this whole group of younger people who can't afford to see me at The Firebird, so see me at these other venues.
J: What are the dates?
D: February 12th and 26th, which are two Saturdays. They are late shows, at 11pm.
J: Is this show based on your CD?
D: Yeah, most of the songs are from the CD. I'm going to do some songs which I have not done in a long time, as well as some new stuff. So it's going to be a mishmash.
J: Do you have a website?
D: It's in the process of being built. It's going to be www.davidgurland.com, and it should be done by the time this gets posted.
J: Well, break a leg with your shows in February, and I hope I get to see you perform next time I'm in New York!
D: Thank you. I hope you can too!
David's CD is available in stores everywhere or by calling 1-888-856-9202 or through www.lmlmusic.com. The CD contains the songs:
1. Love Travels