I was very excited to meet musician, songwriter and performer Denise Pearson to talk about her career and fantastic new album Imprint. You may recognise her from being part of the incredibly successful group Five Star. Sometimes referred to as the British Jacksons they had several hits in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The group was made up of Denise and her siblings Stedman, Doris, Lorraine and Delroy Pearson. Their father, renowned musician Buster Pearson, who played with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Muddy Waters, Desmond Decker and Jimmy Cliff, was the initiating force and manager. From their first single “Problematic” in 1983 they captured the public imagination. In 1987 their No.1 album “Silk and Steel” saw them become the youngest group and first Black British group to top the UK Charts. The group had six top 10 singles and sold over 10 million albums worldwide. Both the group and Denise have been Grammy nominated.
Having taken time out to raise her family Denise has decided to return to the industry. It seems coming from such a close knit family made her want to create her own and she has valued being a hands-on mum to her son and daughter, now aged 19 and 18 respectively. The family lived in the USA from 1994-2007. I wanted to find out what sustains her and what its like for her returning to the industry now.
She attributes her staying power to “staying young at heart, exercising, eating good food, always working out and singing each day – yes singing is my passion”.
Her family were somewhat surprised when she decided to be a contestant on the BBC show: ‘The Voice’, since she might be expected to be a coach. She embraced the opportunity to reintroduce herself to 11 million viewers and was very pleased to meet Tom Jones. It was her cousin Paulette Pearson who reminded her that she could be a mum AND a singer and no longer had to choose. This decision inspired ‘I found my flow’ on the Imprint album.
After The Voice she got signed to Universal for six months then moved to Baronet Entertainment. She is very pleased that her Dad got to see her performance on The Voice and he was very proud of her. The whole family came round to watch it and celebrate. It was a big decision for her but she is really glad she did it and has no regrets.
Her route back into the industry started once she was introduced to music publishing company Phrased Differently. Denise attended their writers’ retreats in Gothenburg where she met Jessie J and Charlie Dore who wrote the hit ‘Refuse To Dance’ for Celine Dion. This then led to her performing in Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre followed by its European and World Tour. Performances in Respect La Diva (Whitney Houston and Maria Carey songs) at the Garrick theatre would follow and this would eventually lead to her participation in The Voice.
What was it like for her performing in the theatre? She agrees it was challenging in many ways.
DP: Learning to act, lots of changes of costume in speedy time. I was sweating in my sequins and diamantes falling off from all the dancing. It requires lots of stamina. You’ve got to think ahead but still remain in the moment.
For a brief period In Los Angeles Denise was in a band called Tre’sor (three girls who are sure of themselves) but the collaboration didn’t really work. How is she finding performing as a solo artist now?
DP: When I did Thriller there were some solo parts so I could ease myself back into it. Also, on The Jacksons’ Unity Tour I performed with two other dancers. Now it’s just me but I am loving it because I love the material of the new album. Once I have that feeling inside – you can do anything once you love what you do. I am very happy being a solo artist now.
As well as being a solo artist she’s also had to adjust to not having her father around as manager or mentor since he passed away. He died in October 2012 and she went on The Jacksons’ tour in November 2012. After that she went straight into pantomime – playing Cinderella in Milton Keynes. She recalls “I had to learn lines, open the show, and that kept me busy through Christmas and New Year. Then I stopped moving and it all came back”.
What’s it like for her to be making music and performing without his guidance? She shares that “It’s different. Nowadays you have to build your profile and get the record companies interested. I love the writing, singing and being in the studio but I am quite a private person outside of that. Dad contributed so much to our career through his experience and wisdom and we were blessed to have that. I still remember some of what he used to say but I do have good guidance around too from Baronet Entertainment.”
Denise’s latest album – Imprint- is a great collection of well-crafted tunes covering pop, rock and R’n’B genres. I wanted to know how it all comes together?
For Denise “Everything just fitted. I did want that acoustic sound. ‘Kiss and Tell’ is a kind of 1960’s tune. Then ‘Freak Dance’ came about and it just matched with ‘Kiss and Tell’. Even in Five Star I would be the one writing the rock tracks or the RnB tracks.”
During her time in Five Star songwriting and musical arrangements were part of what Denise did so this was not new to her. Nevertheless her Gothenburg retreats helped to create the right space for this. She did the retreat “three times, one week each time. ‘Kiss and Tell’, ‘Here I AM’, and ‘Close To Nowhere’ all came out of those retreats. Normally I would sit in the room, write and produce myself so I was wondering how I would cope with live writing with a track guy, a melodist and me as lyricist and melodist in the room. But I did it and it was wonderful – just bouncing off each other.”
Denise seems quite a private person and I wondered what it was like for her to share so much of her life in her songs. She thinks that “if you write about life people relate to it because we’re all living, loving, hurting and happy so I think when you write about your own personal experiences or feelings there’s always someone out there who can relate to it so I like singing from the heart, it’s true”.
The songs have great melodies and are beautifully sung. I suggest that Imprint is as unique to her as her fingerprint, a sort of personal stamp of who she is now and she goes on to say, “It was the perfect title, my personal journey, a part of me. The words to the title song ‘Imprint’ are exactly how I feel about my dad. Holly Lemar, Olly Jacobs and I wrote it. You can get away as easily as you think but your impact and a connection remains. With ‘Freefall’ it’s about finding love and being in love for the first time and letting go, even if it’s a rollercoaster.”
I wondered if she saw going on BBC’s The Voice as a similar leap of faith captured in the single ‘Freefall’.
DP: Yes I think the braveness of it is similar. I get that from my mum who is very courageous and was always at the school for Sted … always there to fight his corner. Even at 5 feet 2 inches! All 3 girls are strong Pearson women.”
I picked out a few of the words in her songs such as “moon… stars… heavens… redeeming.. believing..” – and wondered how that fitted into her world view. She is not religious “but I was always spiritual, I believe in God and try to do the right thing.” Our conversation reminds her of a Jehovah Witness lady called Jenny who used to come round to their home when she was a child and their mother would make them sit and listen to her.
So, with my counsellor hat on I see the album as a journey of finding herself, coming into Denise – what does she think?
DP: Well I think it’s made me stronger as I go out and sing. I was so nervous and unsure of myself at the start in a way but when I listened to the master version I was so pleased with it. I think I’m getting to know me more.
I could not conclude our interview without asking about her experience on tour with The Jacksons. Denise gets the giggles as she remembers how privileged she felt having “front row seats to the daily sound check. Wonderful! It was a dream come true.” It seems that like all siblings they have their individual characteristics with Marlon bringing humour, Jermaine using his charm, Jackie being a beautiful dresser and Tito having the business awareness.
Did it bring back memories of touring with her family? DP: I remember my dad saying we should all stick together. We have had money and mansions and lost it, but as long as we had the family it didn’t matter what went up and down.
Denise was a great interviewee and answered all my questions honestly. When I asked how she recharged herself she did not hesitate to share her love of cartoons and her daily watching of these. Of course she keeps up with the grown up news as well but I couldn’t help but see it as a wonderful antidote to all the terrible global news we hear regularly. Films such as Frozen, Despicable Me, and Toy Story come highly recommended. Exercise, singing and chores are other parts of her daily routine when she is at home.
And is there any truth about her crashing an expensive car as a child? With much laughter Denise responds, “Yes, I did crash the Lamborghini into the Ferrari as a child.” She was in their driveway.
We speak more of her touring with Billy Ocean and how his Caribbean music mixes with her pop/rock/r’n’b tracks. She tells me about the set she used with him.
DP: I open with Kiss and Tell which is 1960’s, then I Found My flow which is jazzy, then Freefall, Chic is pop, then the Five Star medley: Can’t Wait Another Minute, Rain or Shine, System Addict and Higher Love. So there is variation in mine and they mix well.
With her knowledge of quality music over a long time I wanted to know which artists she enjoys and who she would collaborate with. Denise loves listening to India Arie, for her empowering words and her melodies. She also enjoys Nat King Cole, early Mariah Carey, early Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston. With regards to collaborations she would love to work with India Arie, Lionel Richie and was a little giddy at the thought of working with Smokey Robinson (ooh ah)
A lot has been said about women in pop recently: how they present themselves and how they are treated in the industry and in the press – I wonder how she feels about this.
DP: It’s a fickle business and can drive you crazy so you need to stand back and see what you’re putting out there. I’ll always stand by something I’ll be proud of and remain fully clothed. You can be rebellious in different ways.
Denise looks great so I wanted to know about her fitness and beauty regime. Her approach is around enjoying her life, relaxing when she can and sometimes staying in to recoup her energy. She does not wear makeup at home, which gives her skin a chance to breathe. She exercises to keep her weight down, uses cocoa butter on face, makes homemade soups, drinks lots of herbal tea, eats lots of vegetables and passes on sugar.
So, what’s next for Denise?
She wants to keep singing, making music and putting it out. If she retires she’d like to write words and melodies for adverts and other artists. She is inspired by the great melodies of the 1980’s and admires truly talented artists like: Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder. Given the chance she would like to make a record in the vein of Connie Francis, Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee – 1960’s artists.
Whatever she does I get the sense Denise is motivated to do her best. “Oh yes” she says, “I will do my best. Easy does not register in my life.”
It was lovely to spend a couple hours with Denise Pearson and find out more about this successful and talented lady. Now that she’s found her flow I anticipate many more albums and tours. You can find out more on http://www.denisepearsonmusic.com and order Imprint on iTunes.