[Exclusive Interview] Niki+Donna of the Holy Trinity
Ever since Donna De Lory and Niki Haris met more than 30 years ago, the singers have shared a deep kinship, both musically and spiritually. Fans felt it, too, as they heard the pair’s extraordinary harmonies wrap around each other to form one singular voice for nearly 15 years as they backed Madonna on several tours and videos. Their lives had other uncanny parallels too: both are the children of professional musicians and their daughters, now 13, were born one day apart.
Now, Niki and Donna have reunited, as Niki + Donna, for their double track single, a cover of Madonna’s “Rain,” available digitally May 13. The remix version sparkles with sensual vibrancy, while the acoustic rendition highlights their amazing vocal union, reminiscent of when they first performed the song with Madonna on 1993’s Girlie Show tour.
De Lory and Haris came to wide attention in 1987, when they began a long working relationship with Madonna, initially backing the diva on her Who’s That Girl World Tour. The ladies continued to work with Madge on record and in live performances for many years (Haris through 2001 and De Lory through 2007) and can be heard on such classic albums as Like a Prayer, I’m Breathless, Erotica, Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light.
The pair hopes to record an EP of covers and never-before-heard originals through a crowdfunding campaign on PledgeMusic.
Niki and Donna have each had remarkable solo careers. Donna has recorded albums on MCA, then formed a partnership with cellist Cameron Stone for her first independent release, Bliss, as she moved into world music, had her music heard in yoga studios around the world and, most recently, released The Unchanging, on which Niki appeared on the track “Kinder.” Niki has released 9 studio and live albums, as well as collaborated with such artists as Whitney Houston, Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Santana and Enrique Iglesias. Now they’ve come back together in response to both their fans’ requests and their own hearts.
Madonna Adria had the chance to get in touch with NIKI HARIS and DONNA DE LORY!!! WHAT AN HONOR!!! Nicki and Donna talk about their new releases, what songs their project might include, direction of the album, memories of journey with Madonna, touring, stories from the recording studio and much more! We hope you will enjoy this exclusive interview!
Madonna Adria: Hello Niki Haris and Donna De Lory! Welcome to Madonna Adria. How are you doing?
DONNA: Very well. It is my youngest daughter, Luciana’s birthday this weekend so we are getting ready to celebrate!!
NIKI: I’m Doing Great!!! Watching 2016 slowly come to end!!!
Madonna Adria: Congratulations on your double track debut single of the cover “Rain”! It has received rave reviews from the fans and media. How do you feel about the reaction?
DONNA: I am so happy that people are enjoying our version of this very special song. Every moment recording this I was thinking of the fans.
NIKI: I am so excited whenever people are moved by the music…I appreciate ALL the support and kind words we have received. So good to know people are loving the collaboration.
Madonna Adria: How did your collaboration come together?
DONNA: I asked Niki to sing on a song called “Kinder” on my last album, The Unchanging, and we remembered how great we sounded together and we knew that we needed to record more songs together.
NIKI: After singing with Donna on a song entitled “Kinder” and performing it “live” together, we were BOTH aware there was “something” still there with us vocally. WE wanted to tap into THAT and see where it took us.
Madonna Adria: How did you come up with doing an acoustic version of “Rain”?
DONNA: We got together with our friend Steve on acoustic guitar and started to work out the arrangement. We first listened to the version that we sang live with Madonna from the Girlie Show tour then we put a rough version down. I came back later to listen and to adjust some parts of the arrangement. We recorded it in 2 hours; it was so effortless as it always is when we sing together. I am so thankful to Madonna for putting us together and now we are back working together we have so many more songs to sing!!!
NIKI: We were going over the parts with Producer/Guitarist Steve Postell and Donna’s daughter, Sofia was filming us. Looking at the footage and realizing how those parts never really left our memories, WE KNEW WE had something.
Madonna Adria: The harmonies on the song are absolutely beautiful. Did you think beforehand that your styles of music would immediately blend together?
DONNA: Yes we both love the same kinds of rootsy soulful music. Many times Niki and I wanted to add many harmonies to the songs we sang with Madonna. We would always hear these in our heads. We love to harmonize and feel a very unique connection with each other when we do.
NIKI: I believe we knew that we could start with what WE KNEW and go from there…Whereas, OUR styles of music may vary, WE KNOW HOW to SING TOGETHER and WHAT WORKS FOR US! So even when we sing various styles, we understand the idea of telling the story first and letting OUR voices “carry US” and TRUST that if it feels good to US, it will resonate with others, as well.
Madonna Adria: Digital single features an amazing remix by Willie Ray Lewis. Why did you choose to work with Willie Ray Lewis on this project?
DONNA: My brother A.D. de Lory worked with Willie on his Album and I came in to sing when Willie was producing. He was so kind in the studio and such a great musician and he loves electronic music too!!!
NIKI: Willie was someone Donna had worked with previously and he was excited to do some work on this project!! SO glad it worked OUT!!
Madonna Adria: Are you planning to record more Madonna covers?
DONNA: Not right away. We will see in the future. I would love to do a version of one big song that we used to sing but centered around our background parts. I would love to hear from the fans what they would like to hear us sing.
NIKI: We are OPEN to doing songs that move US both and if they are Madonna covers then that would be great, as well. We simply want songs that inspire US BOTH!!
Madonna Adria: Will this project feature some originals?
DONNA: Yes at least one but mainly covers right now.
Madonna Adria: Sonically, what is the direction you’re trying to go with this project?
DONNA: First we will record the songs acoustic with guitar, percussion and live string instruments centered around our voices then we will have remixes done like we did with “Rain”.
NIKI: At this point, we are keeping every simple and concentrating on the vocals and the story…We don’t want to get lost in the production.
Madonna Adria: What songs did you do so far for this upcoming EP? Can you tell us…
DONNA: It’s a surprise. We are still running our PledgeMusic campaign to raise money to record and market the EP and your suggestions for covers are welcome.
NIKI: We have experimented with several songs and covers…From Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” to Ben Harper’s “Blessed to be a Witness,” an original song re-written for us by Dillion O’Brian entitled “Two Friends,” as well as an upcoming song to help our hearts through the holidays, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Looking forward to many more!
Madonna Adria: You did a photo shoot and a video with Los Angeles based celebrity/music photographer and music video director Nick Spanos. How was the experience on the set?
DONNA: Nick has taken all my personal artist album photo’s and done my videos too so I was so excited to introduce Niki to him and hoped they loved to work with each other. We had soo much fun on that shoot at a private home on Malibu beach and know that we will do a lot more with him in the future. He is a great artist.
NIKI: Nick Spanos is AMAZING!!! He made the shoot SO EASY and EFFORTLESS!!!! He has been integral part of this project and HIS support has been priceless!! HE IS A GEM!!!!
Madonna Adria: You have also launched a crowdfunding campaign through PledgeMusic which has lots of exclusives including Haris’ cone bra that she wore during Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/niki-and-donna. What other photographs or memorabilia do you keep from the years with Madonna?
DONNA: So many costumes and some rehearsal tapes too as well as tickets from a stadium show in London in 1987 when I first started to tour with Madonna. I must have had an extra pair of tickets that I think I may frame one day with some other pictures from my years touring.
NIKI: We both have memorabilia, photographs, clothing and more!!!! After such and long and important time of OUR lives were spent together, we were honored to be able to come together and give back some of the joy we experienced as well.
Madonna Adria: Your first award show with Madonna was the MTV Video Music Awards in 1989. How was the work behind the scenes of the Express Yourself performance?
DONNA: It was so much fun for us to put that routine together. Girl power at it’s finest!!!
NIKI: OH, HOW YOUNG WE WERE!!!! It was so fun to simply be in a dance studio together and come up with what is now considered, an iconic performance!! We were simply having fun!!!
Madonna Adria: The moment I became a true Madonna fan was Music performance on MTV Europe Music Awards 2000 in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a high-energy number. I loved it! How was that experience for you on the show?
DONNA: I remember that so well. We had a lot of energy and I remember how the producers of the show really wanted to make sure that Madonna got what she wanted perfecting all of the camera shots and we worked hard on our moves but still had space to improvise and have fun and capture what it was like when we all went out dancing together.
NIKI: FUN! FUN! FUN!!!! AND HOT!!!!!
Madonna Adria: You worked with Madonna on the backing vocals from Who’s That Girl to Ray Of Light era. Do you remember any memorable moments happened with Madonna in the studio?
DONNA: Always so professional. We worked hard on those records sometimes Niki and I would start to laugh and couldn’t stop!!! But we worked so fast putting down our many layered parts so that made up for the time that we were rolling around laughing on the floor. We were all happy to know that we had done great work on those classic records.
NIKI: Madonna (in the studio) was always interesting and fun. Seeing her work through her lyrics and notes and watching a SONG GROW in the studio was always an amazing experience. She had open ears and an open heart when working. I loved working on the ballads and hearing her voice in a beautiful and gentle way and I would relish the times WE all could just GET DOWN when she was recording SLAMMIN DANCE Songs!!! So Cool!!!
Madonna Adria: How was working with Madonna on the tour different from working with her on the album?
DONNA: We would go in for a day or two on the Album and work fast. The tour was a lot longer and a lot more strenuous.
NIKI: My Feet didn’t hurt when we were recording, but my WHOLE body was aching when we were preparing for the tours!!!! YIKES!!!
Madonna Adria: Did you work on any song or number that was not included in the final set list on tours you worked on?
DONNA: I am sure. Niki will remember this better. She would change numbers in the show during the tour too, which is smart because it keeps things fresh.
NIKI: Great Question!!! Gotta think on that…”Take a Bow”?
Madonna Adria: While touring and recording with Madonna, some singles were left without a proper video. Do you know if there were any plans to shoot a video for some singles?
DONNA: Don’t know.
NIKI: Not that I know of…
Madonna Adria: Through the years you’ve attended many parties with Madonna. Which one you remember the most?
DONNA: The Fendi party in Rome 2006. It’s funny I wear Fendi glasses now and am reminded of it when I look at the label.
NIKI: My favorite party times with M were simple BBQ’s at her place, nothing fancy, just good food, family and friends, and a movie later in the evening in her bedroom, all of us piled on the bed or laying on the floor!!! Just keeping it simple…LOVED IT!!!
Madonna Adria: If Niki could join Madonna on any tour post Drowned World 2001, which one would it be? And Donna which one post Confessions 2006 would you do?
DONNA: I would have loved Niki to do all of the tours. It’s hard to say for me because the tour when I stopped touring with her I was pregnant with my 2nd child and my life took a different turn, which I am happy about of course. I would love for us all to get together and sing one day to raise money for a charity.
NIKI: HMMMMMMMM……..I had been so deep in “MommyLand” and between the JAZZ projects – which really have me learning so much and allowed me to play in places I only dreamed about like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Kennedy Center, and sing music I love, and my spiritual Work and Inspirational concerts, which allowed me to touch other cultures and inspire people from India, China and Africa – I really didn’t attend many pop concerts. I would want to do a stripped down concert with Madonna and Donna and go back to our roots of great vocals and let the people REALLY SEE and HEAR US!! NO tricks, no samples, no vocals on tape, just really trusting that WE STILL GOT IT!!!! Cuz ya KNOW WE DO!!!!! HA!!!!
Madonna Adria: What are you listening to right now?
DONNA: Today, new songs that I am recording for my next EP, also some of Tracy Chapman’s songs.
NIKI: Robert Glasper….Love!!!! Gregory Porter!!! Love!!! And learning symphonic music for upcoming concerts with the Dallas Symphony and Jazz Orchestra concerts for the holidays!! Always learning and trying to grow.
Madonna Adria: Thank you Niki and Donna! Thank you so much for sharing your time with Madonna Adria and its readers! Much appreciated!!!
DONNA: Thank you for your support! We wouldn’t be doing this without you!!! Much love and many blessings to you!!!