An interview with Stevie Nicks' tribute singer Michele Tyler
by Tina Hall
Michele Tyler of Bella Donna
Bella Donna is a critically acclaimed Stevie Nicks Tribute Band from Southern California. The band is a seven-piece concert show that recreates Nicks’ solo career, as well as her career with Fleetwood Mac, in a stunning and authentic experience from her music to the lace, velvet, and chiffon handcrafted wardrobe. The band takes its name from Nicks’ 1981 first double platinum selling solo album, Bella Donna. The tribute band Bella Donna was awarded the highest honor after lead singer Michele Tyler was invited to meet Nicks after she listened to a Bella Donna performance.
Maximum Ink: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from and what do you think has made you who you are at this moment?
Michele Tyler: Where to start? Well, I am one of those rare Los Angeles natives. I would freeze to death on the East Coast or anywhere it gets below 65 degrees. So, I am here to stay. I believe being in LA, with all the music influence and diversity, has contributed greatly to where I came from and where I am still going.
MI: Other than Stevie Nicks, who were some of your earliest influences?
MT: This is an easy one for me. Grace Slick, definitely. I used to listen to my dad’s music, you know, Frank Sinatra, Vickie Lawrence. I loved it all. I would walk around the house singing these incredible songs. But, when I heard “Somebody to Love” on the radio and that rich, powerful, icy voice, that was it. I had one of the ultimate thrills when I portrayed her on a national TV show, Your Big Break singing “White Rabbit.” I think I have thousands of hits for that one on YouTube now.
MI: Did you always want to be a musician? What was the feeling when you first realized that being a musician was your career path?
MT: I never really thought I would be doing this as long as I have. I thought it was fun and something to do that I could make a few bucks. It also impressed my friends, so I thought I was the coolest chick in the room at times. Being a musician became a choice when I realized that I could not stop singing and be happy. Music is something that is a part of me.
MI: What first led you to create this tribute? How does it feel making a living paying tribute to Nicks? Did you ever imagine you would be doing that?
MT: Over the years, some of the most popular cover songs I have done have been Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks songs. They were always well-crafted tunes that really touched people. Nicks has some of the most devoted fans in the world. I always received many requests to do more of her material, which naturally led to putting together Bella Donna in 2002. Actually, we don’t consider what we do a formal “living.” It’s hard to make a dependable wage as a full time musician today. Previously, there used to be more places to play. The dynamics of the record industry has changed, and so have the dynamics of live performance. We love what we do and we put everything into it and hopefully we can make a little along the way. It’s really a labor of love.
MI: What was it like to hear you are the only tribute band to be praised by Stevie Nicks?
MT: It was an amazing thing of synchronicity. We were doing a show, and unknown to me at the time, a woman was there who is married to Nicks’ vocal coach. She called her husband who was on the road with Nicks, and her husband put the call through to her. Nicks then listened in to part of our show. The woman was frantically waving the phone trying to get my attention, but I didn’t know there was a bigger name on the other end. As the situation turned out, I was put in touch with her management. Her management then arranged through Nicks for us to be her backstage guests after one of her California shows. Stevie immediately knew who I was and had nothing but great things to say about the band. She even winked and told me “You can take over any time, because I’ve about had it.”
MI: How would you describe the live tribute show?
MT: It really is a “tribute,” in every sense of the word, to Stevie Nicks and her incredibly amazing body of work. Whether we’re playing songs from her solo collection or her contributions to Fleetwood Mac, our music is the essence of an incredible legend. We touch on early works right up to the latest of what Nicks’ up to. So, our show is always a “work in progress.” I have studied hundreds of hours of everything Nicks, and I think I have a pretty good handle on bringing the audience the essential spirit of this amazing rock ‘n’ roll queen. We study Nicks down to the most intricate detail. I have someone who makes most of my clothes fashioned after Nicks’ clothes. Studying “everything Stevie Nicks” is an important piece of the puzzle.
MI: I recently heard a manager say, after seeing your show in Las Vegas, that Bella Donna is the best tribute band he has ever seen. What does it feel like to hear things like that?
MT: That really makes me feel great. I mean, when someone says those kinds of things about a band, it is very satisfying. I am assuming the Las Vegas show you are referring to was the Hilton show. That was amazing in and of itself. To be on the very stage that Elvis performed on was something that I never thought I would do. So, these experiences just go to show that anything is possible.
MI: What do you like to do in your spare time?
MT: I don’t ever seem to have much of it, but when I do, I like to play the piano and work on classical pieces. I used to play a lot and now I am rediscovering what I have forgotten. So, it’s a Zen-like thing I do for about an hour per day when I get a chance.
MI: Have you ever considered what you might do after Bella Donna?
MT: I don’t really know. I do know that in some capacity, I will always make music. I could not imagine ever giving it up. It’s just saturated into my soul. Maybe I would try my hand at painting or learning another language.
MI: Do you have any amusing stories from your career to share with our readers?
MT: There are so many stories that we could do an article in and of itself. I would have to say that I have met a great number of colorful personalities along the way. People who claim they are married to Stevie Nicks, the ones who have written me who are Internet stalkers, or the people claiming that I am somehow the bringer of world peace are very memorable. As well as the people who meet me and will not accept that I am not Stevie Nicks. They say “Only the real Stevie Nicks, would say she is not Stevie Nicks.” Everything has been completely fun, off the wall, and never predictable
MI: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
MT: I have double jointed thumbs. No, really. Did that surprise you? (Laughs) I think people might be surprised to know that I am just so normal besides that.
MI: What projects are you working on next?
MT: I’m always looking ahead at making the show bigger and better. We are now adding visuals to go along with the music. Also, I am having new wardrobe made. The band is better than ever, and we have a great crew of people. The band has seven very talented musicians and singers. Everyone gets their moment to shine in this band; it’s not just about me. I am excited to see where the New Year takes us, and I will always be in great debt of Stevie Nicks for giving us such great music to love and share.