Rebecca Northcott Photography
Iconic singer Simone Denny has had one of the most varied careers in the history of Canadian music. In the mid-late 90s she became a house music legend from her Juno-winning work with the group Love Inc. She’s also the voice of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy theme, which ended up being played repeatedly during a memorable episode of South Park.
Most recently the Love Inc. hit “You’re A Superstar” closed the first season finale of Canada’s Drag Race, something that Denny was unaware of until it was happening.
“It was a surprise, I had no idea it was gonna happen” she says.
“I had been watching a few episodes and thinking, ‘it’s so strange, how come they’re not using any Love Inc. tracks? It’s Canadian, what’s happening?’ I didn’t get to watch the finale until my phone started blowing up. I jumped out of my seat and watched it. It was awesome, it was just a beautiful moment to witness, and to be remembered.”
On the other side of the musical spectrum, her 2015 collaboration with former Monster Voodoo Machine frontman Adam Sewell produced the alternative R&B solo album, The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1. It’s a side of her sound that Denny intends to explore further, and she views it as an essential part of her musical identity.
“By no means is that done,” she says with conviction.
“I think a lot of people tend to forget that I was first and foremost a musician, and that I come out of live music. That’s where I got my start. I loved doing Stereo Dynamite, I enjoyed every minute of it. To be able to play with a band and have that camaraderie. To work with Adam and (co-writer) Justin (McWilliams) was a beautiful thing. The album was a little bit darker, but it’s exactly where I was at in my journey emotionally. So it was perfect for me.”
Sewell was introduced to Denny in the mid-90s by his wife, who was working for the label BMG, and he knew immediately that he wanted to work with her.
“It's such a weird pairing of people, but we get along so well, and we've done some incredible recordings and performances together,” he says.
“Standing next to her while she's singing at full strength is as close to a religious moment as I'm capable of having. One day Canada is going to look back and regret not supporting her the way she deserves.”
Jahlen Barnes Photography
While Denny has certainly had a fair amount of acclaim, Sewell’s statement rings true. For someone who has had such a prolific career, her name recognition at home is not at the level of some of her collaborators. To this day she continues to grind harder than others with less hits behind their belts, something she attributes to the mainstream music industry demanding a level of compromise that to her, just isn’t worth it.
“I still feel like I have to hustle,” she says carefully.
“How can I say this respectfully? There are things that I’m not willing to do that others in the industry are. I’m not saying that to take away from anyone. Mine may be the longer route, but I’m good with it. I like to be with the right people in the right place in the right time. I’m not just gonna dive in with whoever, just to say I’m a part of something. Do I have more hits in me? Absolutely! That’s a given.”
Aside from further collaborations with Sewell, long-time friend Shawn Desman, and other more secretive projects, Denny has been busy during quarantine showcasing some of her other talents. Most notably she’s hosting a series every Sunday on Instagram Live, where she interviews entertainers and artists, many of whom like herself, are both notable but underappreciated. It’s an outlet that she hopes will bring her closer to her fans, as she is admittedly quite a private person.
“I meet incredible people as I go through my career,” she says.
“I wanted to show the world, (there are) some people you know, and some people you may not know, but that you need to know because they are incredible artists. There’s a personal side to them, and you get to experience the essence of who they are. I see it as me opening myself up a little bit more, ‘cause I’m generally very closed off with that. I am a person who likes to be very private. Now this has turned into something where I get to connect with people. That’s not something I’m able to do usually, when I’m on the move as much as I have been. (I’m) taking some steps to open up myself and my personality to my fans and they can get to know me on another level.”
Last year Denny spent 10 months on the road, so she’s used most of her quarantine time to reconnect with her parents and her sister. The Instagram Live series has also had the pleasant side effect of allowing her to catch up with her industry friends who she normally only gets to see in passing backstage somewhere. But quarantine has also been accompanied by a deluge of news about racial injustice, and it’s caused Denny to reflect on her own experiences of being a recognizable woman of colour.
“When it all first kicked in I had quite a few of my white friends call and check on me and they’re like ‘Are you ok?’” she says, sounding slightly amused.
“I’m like, ‘I’m fine!’ (laughs) and then they’re like ‘Are you sure?’ I’m a woman of colour 24/7, 365. This is nothing new. I’m sure for many, when we’re in our tracks suits or our loungewear, you walk in a store and you still get looked at or followed. I’ve had it happen to me when people (then realize) who I am and it’s very disgusting. They come to up to me and they’re ‘Oh you’re… oh!’ That shouldn’t matter. I don’t want to experience what George Floyd or any of those people experienced. I don’t want my friends or anyone out there to have to experience that. I don’t wanna get too deep, but in the year that we’re in, in the world we’re living in, it’s absurd. We tend to feel that it doesn’t happen here. But I’m quickly learning that it does.”
Rebecca Northcott Photography
Denny says her next release will most likely be house music or dance-pop. Given the upbeat nature of those genres I had to ask if that’s something she can balance with this state of social negativity that we currently find ourselves in.
“I can definitely weave the two together,” she says excitedly.
“I’m by nature a very positive person, at least I try to be. Doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days! I think that if you stay in the negative, then that’s all that’s gonna keep coming at you. You must, someway, somehow, lift yourself out of it by choice. You have to choose to find the good in every situation. I feel a responsibility to continue to deliver that to people, to give them that release.”
Denny is musically adaptable, but regardless of what style she’s performing, she maintains a consistent image; that of the consummate professional artist. Her talent is what’s on display, while other aspects of her personality are usually kept away from the stage. As she said, it does make the journey longer, but if she was any different then the music would probably not be same. The blessing in disguise that’s come out of quarantine, is that Denny has found a way to show other sides of her personality in a way that suits her.
“I don’t like to follow things that other people are doing,” she says.
“That’s just me. I’ve never felt the need to display everything all the time. These other people who can do that, I’m in awe. That’s really gutsy! (laughs) I’m gutsy on other levels. They’ll see me on stage, and that’s good. That’s why I’m there, I’m there to sing. That’s probably why I don’t sing on Instagram. You guys already know I sing, so let me show you other capabilities that I have.”
Watch Simone Denny every Sunday at 5pm EST on her Instagram Live. This Sunday (October 18th) she’ll be speaking to Juno-winning R&B star Sean Jones.
You can also listen to Love Inc’s classic 1998 self-titled debut album on Spotify, and you can stream The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 in full below.