Dallas girl Deborah Vial moved to Hawaii 9 years ago, but even life in paradise can’t keep the talented musician away from her Texas home
It’s hard to feel sorry for Deborah Vial. She married the love of her life, moved to paradise (i.e., Maui) and can still sell out The Kessler Theater for a concert (where she’ll be performing with Jane Doe on Saturday). The adage is true: You can take the girl out of Texas, but not Texas out of the girl.
Vial chatted with us about her creative itch (and how she scratches it), gay life in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the difference between lesbian and gay remodels and what’s still her favorite club to perform in.
Dallas Voice: You moved to Hawaii a long time ago, but you still come back to Dallas. What keeps drawing you here? Deborah Vial: We have been in Hawaii, full time, since August 2004. The day our dogs arrived on Maui is the day we started staying here for more than just a long weekend. I love Dallas — my family and friends are in Dallas. We come and go several times a year but we have not performed there since the House of Blues gig in 2011 [when we released Stages and Stones]. We were just in Europe performing a couple of months ago and when people ask me where I am from, I still say Dallas.
Have you recorded anything since Stages and Stones? We released [the CD] at the same time we released Israel Luna’s video for “Don’t Make Me Take It,” featuring the stunning Erica Andrews and the beautiful Krystal Summers. By October 2011, we had decided that we needed to release a video that was a little lighter in spirit, so Israel flew to Maui where we recorded the video for “Angel” with special celebrity guest Amy Hanaiali’i. Most of the footage was taken in our home and at Molokini crater. I was pretty much pooped after that. Creativity ebbs and flows. We have not recorded anything new since 2011. But we are still writing.
How have you occupied your time since then? Caron and I got involved in other creative outlets. We decided to become home-wreckers … I mean, “remodelers.” We bought five condos in the real estate crash and we are now wrapping up the last remodel. Thank God we have lots of gay guy friends on Maui. We have established a hierarchy of remodeling: ”Hetero remodel”= “horrible and you probably need to rip it out.” “Lesbian remodel” = “pretty good but they — meaning me! — saved money by skipping out on something major, like the flooring. “Gay guy remodel” = “the entire condo gets gutted and put back together again … beautifully.” [After all this work], writing and recording music is starting to look pretty enticing to me again.
Tell me what keeps you in Hawaii, other than being in paradise. Maui is absolutely beautiful. Every single day I wake up and appreciate the natural beauty all around me. Eighty percent of the people that move to Maui move back to the Mainland within eight months and I will tell you why: It is so freakin’ slow here. There is no nightlife other than dinner parties. We have an amazing community — straight and gay alike. I am the featured act at Maui Gay Pride every October and a good percentage of the audience is straight because our entire island-wide population of all people is only 130,000. I think we had a total of 400 people at the last Maui Gay Pride event but that is an event in its infancy and we are working on growing it into a destination event. We laugh when we meet a lesbian couple contemplating moving to Maui. Caron always tells them that they have now met two of the five lesbians that live on Maui — an exaggeration but we think it is funny and not that far off-base.
Does being there help you creatively? My creativity is fueled by friends. Living in such a small-town environment inspires everyone to make their own fun. We filmed a version of the “Maui Shake-ode to the Harlem Shake” — no reason, just because we were bored. Friends in full drag on a boat. It is horrible but hysterical. We perform on Maui several times a year. We opened up for Melissa Etheridge a few months ago and I perform at various fundraisers throughout the year, Zeptember being my favorite. The beneficiary changes yearly but the song remains the same: only Led Zeppelin music allowed.
You’ll be at The Kessler performing once again with Jane Doe. Tell me about that dynamic. We love the Does — those girls are the kindest-spirited ladies you could ever hope to meet. They are all professional in their musicianship as well as their career lives. I love bringing Jane Doe into the mix because a lot of the dynamic at my performances has absolutely nothing to do with me. It is the dynamic of the audience members of the “Sue’s patio” days coming back together again and reconnecting. It is a reunion. Jane Doe is a part of that reunion.
Back in the day, you performed everywhere from Sue Ellen’s patio to House of Blues, and now the Kessler. Do any venues hold particular charm or memories for you — a sentimental attachment? The old Sue Ellen’s is my all-time favorite, even with its 1980s teal-green booths. Those years of getting dressed in the shed with Whitney Paige, Linda McLain and Chris and Candy Smith will always be my fondest memories. The countless Friday nights on Sue’s patio in the dead of summer heat. I remember my first Sue’s experiences: The patio was nothing more than an asphalt parking lot with barriers erected around it. Talk about hot. That black asphalt just absorbed the day’s heat and threw it back out at night. We had hit the big time when they poured concrete and put up a proper fence. Every Friday, we would wrap up around 10:30 p.m. and go inside to watch Linda and the twins go-go dance on the speakers. I loved those nights. I remember constantly being on the lookout for Kathy Jack, afraid she would catch me rambling instead of singing. One night, she had a talk with me in the office. She had timed me and I had been on stage for 45 minutes and only sang two songs. To this day I try to monitor my mouth.
Whenever you get back here, what do you notice that’s different about the scene in Dallas? Dallas is absolutely booming. The cityscape has changed so rapidly with high-rises, Bishop Arts, etc. I am always astonished over the changes that occur in between visits.
You and your wife Caron were married in D.C. Did you ever expect marriage equality to spread like it has? I never thought I would see marriage equality in my lifetime.Caron and I became legally wed in D.C. on April 10, 2010, literally within two or three weeks of D.C. passing gay marriage. We have been wed, in our minds, for upwards of 14 years but legally, we are newbies with a mere three years under our belts. She is practically a blushing bride — cough, cough!
What are your thoughts on recent developments concerning marriage/gay rights? Have those issues entered into your songwriting or art? Or have you become more politically active as a result? I am not a political animal but I love to back those who are. Two of our very best friends on Maui, former Dallasites Michael Waddell and Llevellyn Lightsey, are very [politically] active. They have been together for 39 years. They formerly owned Maui’s only gay hotel, Maui Sunseeker. They sold it, but we are a small community so Michael ended up staying on as manager in an effort to help out the new owner, Chuck Spence. They were all just featured on Hotel Impossible. All three of them participate politically and we help out musically.
Llevellyn shot all of the photos at our Dallas House of Blues gig in 2011 and he is flying in for the weekend to shoot at the Kessler. He is awesome. All of my promo shots, gig shots and even real estate shots are his work. Whatever our newest creative outlet becomes, Llevellyn is game.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 16, 2013.