(Soundbite of song, "Lady Marmalade")
LABELLE (Group): (Singing) Creole Lady Marmalade…
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Nona Hendryx made a huge impression on the music world as part of Patti Labelle's '70s glam funk trio, Labelle.
(Soundbite of song, "Lady Marmalade")
LABELLE: (Singing) Voulez vous coucher avec moi? He stayed by her pool while…
CHIDEYA: After Labelle split up, Hendryx went solo. Over the last three decades, she's released albums that mixed soul, art rock, new age, even heavy metal. She's worked with artists as diverse as the Talking Heads and reggae dancehall star Bounty Killer.
Nona's latest project stays true to her experimental roots. She's co-created a rock musical called "Skin Diver." It's a multimedia science fiction tale of man merging with machine. Hendryx wrote and produced all of the music for "Skin Diver," which will be performed next month as Joe's Pub in New York.
Nona Hendryx, welcome.
Ms. NONA HENDRYX (Singer; Songwriter): Hello.
CHIDEYA: So you know, you did this album with the help of Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream.
Ms. HENDRYX: Yes.
CHIDEYA: It's almost 20 years old now. Tell us how you feel about this music, and why did you decide now to make it into a theatrical production.
Ms. HENDRYX: Well, "Skin Diver" was on its way to being a trilogy. And I stopped at the second installment of "Skin Diver," exploring, you know, the internal life and external life and the technology that was changing if you go back 20 years ago. "Skin Diver" was way ahead of its time in terms of exploring these thoughts and the possibility of turning this into a musical, a multimedia musical. It came about over this time because technology was catching up with what I was presenting.
CHIDEYA: Now, you're doing a performance that, I understand, is a musical performance. You want to flesh out some of the theatrical aspects. In your dreams, what would this theatrical presentation be?
Ms. HENDRYX: It would be today's version of "The War." It would be a hybrid of Cirque du Soleil. It would an experience for people to have a look at and feel, but look at what - how we live with technology today and where it's going to go in the future and be able to feel musically connected to that rather than the separation between music and technology in terms of, if you're a nerd, you're not musical; or if you're a geek, you're not musical. And if you're musically creative, you have to be completely erratic and not in contact with the other things that are going on in life.
CHIDEYA: Let's back up a little bit.
Ms. HENDRYX: Yes.
CHIDEYA: Patti LaBelle is often seen today as a more traditional singer, but when Labelle was around, you guys had this very space-age, glam look. I mean, I remember you guys wearing some crazy silver outfits and things like that. How did you come up with that sensibility?
Ms. HENDRYX: That developed actually just the music, in a way, and some of the people that we were being introduced to in some of the shows. I mean, we were performing in very small clubs in New York, and our loyal fans from the days of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles were coming to the shows. But we were also were in the village again, which was another sort of rise of the village in New York instead of the '60s rise because this is a '70s rise.
And some of the people who were living in the village were very experimental. They had their own little spaces, lofts that they were developing all kinds of creative - (unintelligible) various. And one of the groups was Larry LeGaspi and the group that he - was creating with and they were working with silver. They had a shop called Moonstone. And our relationship grew.
And as our music, I guess, my music - as I was writing it was influenced by, you know, many of the sort of writers of what would be - you know, books like the "Cosmic Stone" or, you know, some of the stuff that Timothy Leary and people like that had written. I was much more into a science fiction writing. So this sort of came together and grew together. It wasn't - we didn't think like let's just - let's do this. It evolved out of like-minded thinking.
CHIDEYA: You've worked over the years with people including Peter Gabriel, David Burne, Keith Richards. How hard is it to do what you do and be a black woman in a rock space and doesn't always fly with black audiences?
Ms. HENDRYX: Yeah, it, you know, it doesn't. And it's a challenge. You know, I don't mind. I mean, I've been called quite a few things that weren't endearing because of the - my decision or my choice and my desire to follow my heart and follow the music that I feel passionate about. And I don't see those walls or limitations when it comes to music. If I am inspired by something or someone in their creativity and I have the opportunity to work with them, I will. It's, you know, it's not about whether they are very successful. I mean, the names you named were very - I've worked with other people in other areas, who no one would know of, but I find what they do fascinating, and I want to explore it.
CHIDEYA: Well, Nona, thanks for coming on.
Ms. HENDRYX: You're welcome.
CHIDEYA: Singer and songwriter Nona Hendryx. She co-created the new rock musical "Skin Diver," which will be performed at Joe's Pub in New York, October 1st.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.