The former queen of mall pop talks reemerging as her true rock chick self, Dave Grohl collab hopes and attending AA meetings as a kid
She gets raving reviews from Dave Navarro, listens to Led Zeppelin, hopes to collaborate with Foo Fighters pal Dave Grohl and has been busy recording new music at Wales’ iconic Rockfield Studios, where Queen worked on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Some might find it hard to believe that this is the same pinup who was the sweet picture of pop in the eighties, but three decades later Tiffany, 47, is fully nurturing her inner rock chick as she records the follow-up to her latest – and “best” – record Pieces of Me, while hitting the road on a headlining tour of the United States.
“It’s taken so long for people to truly see my talents and that I really do have the chops as a singer and live entertainer,” she says. “Ultimately, I’m a live artist, so it’s great to have music that supports that, which is starting to turn some heads. A lot of [rock] musicians knew me at places like The Whiskey or Rainbow Room where I’ve been going since I was 18, but it’s been amazing coming back and showing my talent and seeing people going, ‘Oh, she really can kill it!’ It’s wonderful for them to be able to take me seriously.
“And, it’s great to have Dave Navarro involved,” she adds of the rocker, who praised her “incredible transformation” and reinvention after hearing Pieces of Me. “We sent him the album as soon as it was mastered and he wrote back this wonderful email and I said, ‘Can we use that quote because I’m a huge fan and your opinion really matters!’ The music is impressing people, so I’m all smiles.”
It’s long way from her earliest days in showbiz, during which those smiles were a little scarcer as the young California native pursued music while struggling to find her voice as an artist, and amid the domestic turbulence that plagued much of her childhood. Her parents, James and Janie, had a difficult relationship and as Tiffany’s fame snowballed, largely thanks to her breakout 1987 single, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” so did tension between her parents, with Janie also suffering from alcoholism.
VIDEO: Tiffany – “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1987)
“I was raised with a family where there was a lack communication and coping skills,” reflects the singer, who kicks off her Pieces of Me tour in San Francisco on Sept. 2 and hits LA’s iconic Whisky A Go-Go on Sep. 4. “They were wonderful people and loved each other, but they had issues and once you add fame, people watching every move and paparazzi outside the front door to it, all your messiness comes rolling out and my family didn’t know how to handle that. I certainly didn’t. My mom, with her issues really depended on me, but I was like, ‘I can’t tour the world and do everything that’s expected of me and enjoy it, then come home to crazyville and people arguing.’”
At 16, the drama led Tiffany to file for emancipation and while the petition was later dropped, she went and lived with her grandmother, a move which she believes was blown out of proportion by media.
“I think that was my first experience with fame,” she says. “You say one thing and it’s blown out of proportion, then somebody else takes the story and it gets more colorful as it goes down the line. It became really awful seeing my family put through the wringer when it was something so simple – I just wanted to live with my grandmother! But my parents started fighting that, and they wanted a divorce, so divorce attorneys become involved and you don’t realize sometimes that lawyers are fighting just to get a bill.
“That’s why I’m so big on communication now, to the point that I’m probably annoying,” she continues. “I don’t like things to stew because as a child everybody hid everything. Now I’m like, ‘We need to get down to the root of what’s going on,’ and that’s what I was trying to do with my parents at the time. I’m very thankful that after all that my mom got her life together – and became more of a vocal person. We had a great relationship and she was a great grandmother to my son [Elijah.] And I ended up taking care of my stepfather years later when he had cancer, which was a great honor. I would never have seen that coming at nine years old when we fought so much, but the love I had for my stepdad at the end of his life and many years before was very healing.”
The lessons of her rocky home life would prove valuable in an industry where many lose their way, especially those who find fame at a young age. She describes being a pop star in the eighties, especially in Los Angeles, as “crazy times,” and admits it was “fun and alluring” to hit up all the cool clubs with all the cool kids. But having witnessed Janie’s struggles, in addition to seeing friends experience drug problems, Tiffany had attended AA meetings from an early age and while it was primarily to support friends needing encouragement to attend, the sessions firmly ingrained the dangers of addiction in her, as well as other lifelong lessons.
“I think that’s helped me over the years to have some of those principals about checking in with yourself, having personal goals and knowing that nobody can do things for you,” she explains. “You have to be able to take things on yourself in a world full of problems and know that sometimes things fall apart, and even if you run from your problems, they’ll still be there. A lot of my friends turned their lives around and some didn’t, but it was good for me to learn all that early on because the music industry is really excessive. There’s praise, rejection, false people wanting things from you and a lot of money. You can work it for all the bad things, and having those foundations meant I didn’t do that.
“I mostly stayed away from that [partying scene] and anything I was experimenting with, like alcohol, I did on the downlow at home,” she adds. “But I was also afraid of being overcome by it because I had a lot of friends who got caught up in all that, then their careers didn’t do well or they ended up dying … there was a lot of reality there.”
With three albums on her belt, the singer married makeup artist, Bulmaro Garcia, and welcomed her son, Elijah, in 1992. While she got divorced in 2003, becoming a mother proved to be another grounding force, drowning out any potential temptations. Elijah was only a few months old when she resumed touring.
“Having Elijah at 21, I was very grateful and it’s also what helped me not succumb to a lot of the crazy,” she says. “Being a mom was something I’d always wanted. Coming from country music, they have the dog, kids and family on the bus, roll up and do their show, spend time with fans then get back on the bus and go riding down the highway. That’s what I was exposed to at 8/9 and I wanted all of it and was lucky I had – and still have a lot of – that.”
Elijah is now 26, but far from following in his famous mother’s footsteps. From drums to piano, she put him in “every lesson known to mankind” as a child, wanting to ensure he was offered the same fun career path he grew up immersed in. Instead, he found many of the lessons frustrating and difficult and she ended up completing most of them herself.
“Elijah’s a structural engineer and I totally get it now because when he was playing with his Hot Wheels as a kid, I’d join in and he’d be like, ‘Mom, no! They’re in a line. There’s a structure!’” she laughs. “It’s funny because he’s completely different to me. He’s an introvert and I’m an extrovert, we speak different languages, I’m the clown in the room and he’s very chill. But everybody has their calling and he loves what he’s doing, so I’m very proud of him.”
It was during those early days back on the road as a new mom, that Tiffany started to truly find her voice as a songwriter. Having recorded what managers or producers had pressured her to throughout her teens, often feeling like the material was too mature for both her and her audience, she realized that in order to retain longevity and creative fulfillment, she needed to nurture a vision for herself and speak up no matter how awkward it felt. Voicing her creative hopes didn’t always achieve her goals, with multiple producers unable to see beyond her popstar image and “watering” every track down into a pop song. But once she started writing through jam sessions on the tour bus with her band, she unleashed some of her proudest work.
“Colored Silence had big acclaim in 2000 and that turned the corner for my hopes and dreams to have more of a rock edge and show myself as a songwriter and producer,” she says. “I always had it in me, but no one wanted to nurture that. My producer didn’t want to go there. And I didn’t want to sit down with famous writers because I didn’t know what I was doing yet, but I felt comfortable to fall in front of my musicians, who were also my friends, so that’s how it started and I’ve been doing that ever since. The last two or three years in particular, I’ve really been living my dream and ‘Pieces of Me’ is the best album I’ve done.”
Tiffany’s authentic love for rock is showcased on the record and she’s particularly thrilled that fans have heard her Foo Fighters influence in the single “Beautiful,” sharing the band’s impact while meeting frontman Dave Grohl. “He’s always been somebody I’ve wanted to meet,” says the singer, who also recently launched her ‘Pieces of Me’ podcast, with topics spanning songwriting to cooking. “I was at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and turned the corner and he was like, ‘Tiffany!’ and I was like, ‘Dave!’ running up to him. He’s so cool, warm and friendly. I told him his music is really important to ‘Pieces of Me’ and he was like, ‘That’s cool!’ I would love to [work with him.] That’s the next step!”
She also released a revamped rockier version of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” originally by Tommy James and the Shondells, earlier this year.
VIDEO: Tiffany – “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Revamped, rockier version, 2019)
“I love that we put an edge to it, because it makes it current and it’s such a great song that can be done a million different ways, from acoustic to punk,” she says. “I love the new version because it’s got a bit of edge and a bit of sass – like I am now!”
“And I don’t ever get tired of performing the song,” she adds. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but it makes people happy, so I’m very proud and I never know what I’m going to be told when someone goes, ‘I have a story about that song.’ They’ve told me some weird and TMI stories, but it’s fun.”
Indeed, Tiffany’s passion for rock music has never stopped her from embracing her popstar roots and her love for continuing to perform hits like “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Could’ve Been” was evident during New Kids on the Block’s recent Mixtape Tour, which featured other eighties favorites like Salt-n-Pepa, Debbie Gibson and Naughty by Nature. Joining the lineup felt full circle given that it was Tiffany who gave the boy band one of their biggest breaks by hiring them to open for her during the peak of her fame in the summer of 1988. She later dated band member Jonathan Knight, with the pair remaining close pals and relishing their time back on the road together recently. Knight and his bandmates paid tribute to the singer, showing a video of their thank you messages to her at each concert.
“I skipped that whole part sometimes because I start to cry,” she said of the touching gesture. “But it’s endearing and I’m very grateful and didn’t expect that wonderful touch.”
“I’m so proud of all of them,” she adds. “The tour was a wonderful way to reconnect with everybody, but also to expose the new music to a lot of my original audience. All these women came out saying they’re reminiscing about the girls they used to be or the girls that are still there inside of them – and I saw that come alive every night.”
See Tiffany’s Pieces of Me tour dates here.
VIDEO: Tiffany on Today Extra in Australia, March 2019