The main stage at Capital Pride is always an eclectic setting for all kinds of talent — from local legends to up-and-comers to household names. Although not technically considered one of the headliners — that honor is being shared jointly by Icona Pop, Cher Lloyd and Emeli Sande — Russian-born diva Sasha Gradiva, slated to go on at 6:51 p.m., has one of the envious culminating slots (for a full list of scheduled performance times, visit capitalpride.org).
Gradiva is starting to make a name for herself in the world of electronic dance music with songs like “I’m on Fire,” “Wanted” (No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Singles chart) and “Say My Name with Love, working often with producer Tricky Stewart (Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”).
Sasha Gradiva, “I’m on Fire”
In near-perfect English yet with a noticeable Russian accent, Gradiva, 28, took a half hour with us by phone on Memorial Day from her home in Los Angeles in which she discussed everything from her career, her reasons for leaving a successful music career in her homeland and why she got kicked out of the Grammys for attaching rifles to her dress last year. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.
Washington Blade: How are you spending the holiday?
Sasha Gradiva: I’m with some friends here in L.A. trying to figure out how we’re going to spend the day.
Blade: You live in L.A., right?
Gradiva: Yes, but I travel madly so I don’t get to spend much time here.
Blade: On average, how much are you home vs. on the road?
Gradiva: I’m probably gone about 70 percent of the time. I’ll be out for three weeks, then back a week, then maybe out another four.
Blade: What are you doing musically these days?
Gradiva: I am working most often on new music. Writing and recording and getting a new show together, which I’m very involved in personally. Every single stage of the show. I pay a lot of attention to costume and sets and the videos that play on the screen behind me. My shows are very important and I’m making sure everything is exactly the way I want it.
Blade: Do you record mostly in L.A. or elsewhere?
Gradiva: Mostly in L.A. My single “Come With Us” is coming out very, very soon. We’re literally putting the finishing touches on the campaign right now and working on the final mix. It’s a very detailed process. I was performing a remixed version of it on my tour last year and got really amazing responses. People really love the track.
Blade: Will this be on an album, an EP or just a single release?
Gradiva: It’s part of an EP, which we’re hoping to release closer to August. I have maybe like 20 songs ready to record and that’s what I’m focusing on while I’m here in L.A. There are a lot of producers in Tricky’s camp I’m very lucky to get introduced to so we’re trying to find something new. I’m working really hard to create something new that hasn’t been done before.
Blade: So often in electronic dance music, the producers get much of the credit while some pop stars — not all certainly — are seen as the outlet but not really the visionary, more so than in other genres perhaps. Does that dynamic bother you?
Gradiva: No, because I’m very involved. My songs are really born out of guitar or I’ll go to the studio and produce something basic on guitar myself or play my songs on the piano. I’m very involved, though. I pay attention to every lyric. I want something deep, meaningful and universal. I love the process — creating and perfecting.
Blade: Creating an image as a dance artist is so essential but is there ever a clash between being perhaps aloof or mysterious for a photo shoot or in a video or even on stage, but then in interviews or with social media presenting yourself to fans as a real person who eats, sleeps, shops, etc. like everyone else? Does one diminish the other?
Gradiva: I don’t find it hard at all to be down to earth or to talk to fans. I totally say no because I think perception of art and show business has changed tremendously since maybe like 10 years ago and I literally feel that there’s (in embracing) all the new things with social media and the internet, it broadens your reach in a lot of ways but at the same time, there’s some anxiety because there’s no curtain anymore. Even when you have nothing left to give. People can see through it all now and they’ll know exactly who you are. They see your Tweets and your pictures and this wall is dissolved. It’s good but it’s challenging at the same time. The solution for this is just to relax and be available and be yourself and this will be the best protection from anxiety that you could have. We’ve chosen this path to be in front of many people and we commit to sharing our life and vision with them. It’s an important gift, not a curse.
Blade: But did the old system allow celebrities to have more mystique?
Gradiva: The entire machine was working differently back then. Now that’s just impossible. If you’re going to be behind the curtain, you’re going to stay behind the curtain. You need to be accessible and available and share everything with fans. That’s why you’ll be a successful artist, not because you hide something. It might be more difficult for the artists to deal with, but it’s more honest. If an artist is dumb, fans will know right away. Of if you’re not genuine, they’ll pick up on that. It’s a little bit brutal but it’s honest and I prefer honesty.
Blade: You got a lot of press buzz for the guns you wore to the Grammys last year. When the dust settled, do you feel the message you wanted to convey came across or was there some sense you’d become simply “the girl in the gun dress.”
Gradiva: I definitely got a lot of attention, which I didn’t expect from the peace movement and the anti-violence movement. I meant it as a political statement if you will for people to pay attention to how much energy and money and sources the world spends on useless things. The most horrible things in the world are wars and producing weapons and drugs and when you think about how many things people could use this money for that would be so much better, people aren’t even curious to hear the research that’s been done on this which is very much available by the way. Our society just seems not to be there spiritually yet to address that. That was my attempt and we got good results. I want to do more socially to make the world a better place because I think that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do, not just sing and have fun.
Blade: Are you straight?
Gradiva: At the present time, yes.
Blade: How did you end up playing Pride events? Is it just a logical fit considering the kind of music you make or do you have some personal investment in the community?
Gradiva: I feel very connected to my gay audience. I guess it’s a destiny. The gay audience has been the first ones to support my music. And it saddens me that in my native country, in Russia, they don’t allow gay Pride. I will be fighting as much as I can for gay rights. It’s definitely something that touches me a lot.
Blade: You had released a few albums in Russia and seemed to be on your way with a music career there. Why did you uproot and move to the U.S.?
Gradiva: All the music that inspired me growing up was from America and Europe — people like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Depeche Mode — and I always wanted bigger stages, to travel the world. I’d had two albums that were very successful but at some point while I was still young I just thought, “Well, I want to move and do this — it will either be in this lifetime or in the next, so I decided to do it in this lifetime.” My friends and colleagues thought I was completely out of my mind because it was not logical at all, but this is what I’ve done and the reaction in America so far has been so rewarding. It actually makes me cry, it’s really touching.
Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.
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