Without knowing it, I was always into house music. I loved the pop hooks, the diva singers and the club beats that kept me dancing in front of my mirror. If it was catchy, I clung to it.
As a young teen, it was all just variations of pop music to me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realized that the title of my then-current obsession, Queen Latifah’s “Come into My House,” was a double entendre. She may have been rapping over it but the backing track was pure house. From there, I started to connect the dots and learn the terms: Italo house, hip house, diva house. I found the groove didn’t last unless it had a killer vocal on top of it.
My parents were singers so voice was always my number one instrument growing up, the only one that came naturally to me. This teaching was so ingrained that no matter the genre—house or classic pop—the singer’s voice would always prick my ears first before the beat got me dancing. As my taste in music expanded and evolved over the years, something remained the same: It was the voice that would always draw me in.
Working on my new album over the past five years, I wasn’t interested in making another indie dance record like I did with Face—the album I did with the band Light Fires in 2013. I loved that album but I really wanted to get into more classic sounding dance tracks, ones that would inspire DJs and work in dance clubs. I wanted to make songs like the ones that were created in the ‘80s or ‘90s—with memorable lyrics, a catchy chorus and a great groove—that I am still listening to today.
The producers and co-writers of my still untitled album are Matt and Mark Thibideau. I was introduced to them by the singer Diamond Rings (they live in the same building). They are both electronic musicians and producers who release music as Repair, in addition to many other monikers. What is so exciting about working with the brothers is they are synth- and techno-obsessed and very much purists with their music making. They don’t just make music that sounds like it came from the ‘90s, they use the actual instruments and record in the same ways they did back then. For the non-music creators out there, it’s essentially the opposite of what everyone else is doing these days in popular dance music, where everything is pretty much done inside and with a computer.
We thought we had finished the single “No Secret,” but I felt it didn’t have that soulfulness that I love so much from ‘90s vocal-based house music. That’s when I realized that I, as the lead singer, needed backup. Literally. I invited my friend and peer Isla Craig to join us in the studio to re-record some of the backup parts that I had sung originally, and then we added her own backup—that became the anchor that solidified the track. It was complete. Isla’s vocals were so transformative that I now can’t imagine the song without them.
The following are some tracks referenced throughout the making of my still untitled new album (currently set for a late summer/fall release). Putting this together during our social isolation efforts, while a very strange feeling, is my way of keeping some sense of normalcy and hopefully inspiring you to get up off the couch and dance along! We will get through this, and when we do we will leave our home dance parties and celebrate together.
Check out full tracks of Regina Gently’s house hit playlist here.
Crystal Waters – “100% Pure Love”
You can’t get much more iconic dance pop than her first hit “She’s Homeless,” but Crystal Waters managed to top it with her second album and this single. It’s one of the most successful dance songs of the ‘90s, staying on the charts for a record-breaking 45 weeks. The vocal hooks are like ear candy: So smooth and effortless, with substance to keep you engaged but enough simplicity that anyone can sing along. I was always inspired by Waters’ approach to singing—very direct without over singing just for the sake of it. If the melody and lyrics are strong enough you don’t need vocal theatrics to keep people interested. “From the back to the middle and around again / I’m gonna be there till the end / 100 percent pure love.”
Inner City – “Big Fun”
This is probably the band we referenced more than anything else while working on both my new single “No Secret,” as well as my single from last year “Good People.” Based in Detroit in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I became aware of this bands via their music videos which got a lot of play and brought their progressive sound into the living rooms of little queer Canadian kids like me. A true classic has longevity, and this sounds as fresh and current today as it did when first released.
Black Box – “Ride On Time”
A diva house track from 1989, sometimes also referred to as “Italo house”, the Italian producers that made up Black Box made the unfortunate choice of using a model in their music videos and on album covers. For that, they sometimes get a Milli Vanilli imposter rap. But this track, written by taking Loretta Holloway vocal samples from her classic R&B track “Love Sensation” and then re-recording them for legal reasons, stands out as a true gem from this era. The classic house piano chords throughout are such a staple of the genre, and here they’re used to perfection. Martha Wash from The Weather Girls and “It’s Raining Men” fame was the uncredited vocalist on most of the other tracks from the album.
The Pointer Sisters – “Automatic”
The Pointer Sisters, June, Anita and Ruth, are each great singers on their own, but are a force when they sing together! You need all three of those vocals to get a distinctly rich sound. This was the track that made me realize I needed to bring in other vocalists into our studio sessions to get the full effect we were going for with my new songs.
Singing your own harmonies can produce really tight, perfectly synched results, but when you get the right person to sing backup or co-lead you can create a wholly new and distinct sound. So much pop music in the ‘80s, from Culture Club to Eurythmics, used the power of other vocalists to great effect. Released in 1984, this certainly isn’t as iconic a track for the band as “I’m So Excited” or “Jump (For My Love),” but for musicophiles it’s a true classic.
The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”
The early ‘80s British smash hit was a classic that almost got away. Apparently it was never intended to be released as a single; it came about only after the record label insisted on a fourth single from the band’s third album Dare. The deep baritone of lead singer Philip Oakey (the only constant member of the band) and the dry, lighter female voice of Susan Ann Sulley gives the song a call and response effect. Each voice is distinct and great on their own, but together they really keep your ears engaged. It comes off so natural and effortless it doesn’t have any hint of the clichés common with duets. With nine albums and over 20 million copies sold this is the definitive The Human League track.
Technotronic – “Pump up the Jam”
One of the first house songs to gain mainstream recognition is “Pump up the Jam” from 1989. Yet another example of the ‘80s phenomenon of replacing the actual singer with a model to pose in videos and photoshoots. Apparently Ya Kid K, the actual singer and writer of the track, was too androgynous at the time and they wanted someone more “traditionally” feminine. This Belgian group with a rotating cast of vocalists also made its way to my childhood ears via the Canadian TV series Much Music. Incredibly, 30 years later, the track still keeps dance floors packed when I’m DJing at queer clubs, even if it’s a predominantly younger crowd. It has that perfect combination of steady beat, very simplistic instrumentation and a catchy vocal hook and lyric.
Regina Gently’s latest single “New Secret” will be released Apr. 3.