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STAR Views: Lantana

By: Estella Pan

If it seems like Lantana – comprised of Biz Haddock, Karol Ann DeLong, and Dalene Rachelle – blew in like a Texas tornado, that's really smoke and mirrors you're seeing. (After all, you should note that "success" is never an "overnight" thing.) That said, Lantana is an ever-evolving testament to several years of hard work. Having emerged on the Texas country music scene, these gals are ready to take the nation by storm! Their debut single "Country As a City Girl Can Be" has already flown to #11 on the Texas Music Chart. [NOTE: The single broke into the Top 10, landing at #9, after this article was first posted.] Their debut album, Unbridled, is sold in WalMarts across the country as well as several online outlets. Biz took some time during a rehearsal break to phone in and shared stories about writing songs and studio sessions. As a bonus, Karol Ann and Dalene pitched in at the end of the interview and all three offered up interesting tidbits about themselves!!

Photo credit: Billy Joe Gabriel/Fort Worth Gazette
Biz sings confidently these days!

Watching her on stage these days, you'd never guess that Biz used to freeze up in the spotlight! So, how'd she get over it? "I put a band together! That's my story of coming into Lantana! In fact, when I auditioned, I couldn't remember the first word of my song and subsequently, any words after that! The music was playing and here I am on this gigantic stage. They told me, 'Just make up something!' But I couldn't even make up words I was so nervous!" Fortunately, the people she auditioned for saw her potential and granted her a second audition, one that would eventually lead her to riding the Lantana wave! Since those rocky years, Biz happily reports that "my anxiety, now, by the way, it way down! I get nervous, but I think it's the normal kind of nerves and I can breathe!"

Top to bottom: Biz, Dalene, and Karol Ann

Biz sheds light on the evolution of the trio. "Lantana began birthing itself about five years ago. In an effort to get an EP recorded, we had to get the right mix of people. That's when Karol Ann came in around three years ago. We did the EP that we sold it at our shows, and when we had some success with it, we were encouraged to pursue it further." From there, Lantana released a single that was a success within the Texas market. "At this point, we thought Why don't we take it a little farther?" When it was decided they would pursue a career as recording artists, one of their original members had to bow out. Biz says, "She's a cancer survivor, and going on any more than what we were doing was taking its toll on her. She wanted to go on with us, but she just couldn't. So left the group, and we found Dalene. We began working with her this past June, when we went in to record our album Unbridled. Personnel changes haven't affected the closer-than-sisters dynamic shared between Lantana's three members. "Karol Ann and I are like sisters, of course. It's really hard to come in with two people who've been recording and touring together. But, Dalene just jumped in and melded right into the group!"

Lovely Texas lantanas

Through discovering the story behind choosing of Lantana as their name, I found out that Biz is not only an accomplished vocalist, but quite the knowledgeable botanist as well! "Depending on what part of the world you’re in, 'lantana' is different things. Here, it's a native Texas plant. It's a flowering plant. When you plant it in your garden, it comes up stronger and stronger each year. You can cut it back in the winter and it will come out bigger the next year." Biz adds, "It's drought-tolerant so it will still survive even if it's not watered properly. But, if you water and take care of it, it will dominate your flower bed."

Naming the group took a little growing of its own. "The name came up about four year ago. It was in the summertime, and we were all growing lantana. We liked it but we weren't jumping up and down on it. We took it because we had shows to do, so we said, 'We'll be Lantana until we figure out otherwise.'" Biz confesses, "We tried to change it a few times, but we just kept coming back to it, because we all liked it. But, once we got a song on the radio, we were done shopping; we married it!" Without trying to intentionally, together, Lantana's music embodies the essence of their namesake plant. "It really does represent us as we would like to be represented – [in] the variety of our music we sing, who were are. We're three women, and there are a lot of personalities going on in here! We all have our own music styles and influences, and we wanted to capture that, turn it around and give it back to the fans – without alienating the country sounds we were after." She adds, "It was not easy to do, but I think we accomplished it."

Unlike their contemporaries in the music business, all three women of Lantana trade lead vocal duties, depending on which voice can best "delivered the character" for each song. "We realized that just by changing the lead singer can change the sound of the whole song entirely. Sometimes we'll all share the lead [within the song] and other times, one person will take the lead for the song." There is a high morale for team spirit within Lantana. "You really have to be about the team and not about yourself in this group. You have to look at the best interests of Lantana and in that, what's going to be best for each song." Next Biz talks about the album, Unbridled, as a whole. "The music is upbeat, fun, energizing, as well as serious and tender. It covers all aspects of music that people might be interested in; there will be something for everyone on it. You don't even have to be a country music fan to like it. It's a party in a jewel case!" The name of the album alone says it all! "We wanted our sound to be unbridled; we didn't want to be pigeonholed into one sound. And so, our music is what we consider to be Unbridled – it's carefree and fun."

Lantana w/ their publicist, Martha Moore,
Photo credit: Billy Joe Gabriel/Fort Worth Gazette
showing off their new CD, Unbridled!!

On the album, Biz and her band mates share writing credits on "The Juice Ain't Worth the Squeeze," a song which "was born through a heartfelt sentiment and real life experiences," Biz tells me. "We felt like it was something people could relate to. It's not about quitting. It's more about evaluating what you're doing and knowing when to say, 'This is just not working.'" Having poured their hearts and souls into their album, it was difficult choosing one particular song as an ultimate favorite. "These are thirteen of our children, so that makes it hard to say which one of them is my favorite. They all mean something different." Biz says, "The great thing about this album is that not every song is a morning song, not every song is an evening song – there are different songs that you'll enjoy listening to different times of the day." Having said that, she adds, "In general, all of us migrate to the song 'Give,' just because that song is on a more serious level. This album is very much fun-oriented. But, 'Give' reflects who were are at a deeper, core level and about what we've learned in life. We can be tongue-in-cheek and catty about a lot of things – we're women, my gosh! We like what the song is about. It's a sentiment we all believe and what we want to teach our children."

If you like the music featured on Unbridled, Biz is betting you'll likely enjoy Lantana's live shows, which she describes as "kind of like the album! It's very energetic; we dance around a lot." Biz stresses this clarification: "We're not just standing in front of the microphone. But, we're also not be-bopping around the stage like some pop artists. As a group, we're trying to be different than what is already out there. Trading off leads, we move around the stage a lot, and we try to keep the energy up through a group – as opposed to one person singing the lead, moving around, and the other two being still. We're all three running around in somewhat of a coordinated fashion." Laughing about the occasional running into each other, she admits, "Let me assure you, that's happened!" Essentially, it's a big all-girl slumber party – minus the pajamas!! "We just have fun! We poke fun at each other onstage while performing. We're always testing the audience – which are usually paying attention – we love surprises. We dog each other, and we have a few practical jokes! Nothing outrageously obnoxious, just lively entertainment." Biz also has some words of wisdom for budding performers. "There's this balancing act of singing and moving. You can have to be careful about not over-moving your upper body, because then you start getting into your lung space, where you're breathing."

Having spent some time getting to know Biz, Karol Ann, and Dalene, it's clear that they are enjoying the process of creating music and sharing it with their fans. "We really do have fun! It's hard work – no kidding!" But, even that doesn’t matter, because as Biz puts it, "We're passionate about what we do, so it's not like somebody’s telling us we have to do it. We want to work hard, and we're enjoying it. That's the true payoff!" In other words, the juice IS worth the squeeze for Lantana!

STAR Country!

Photo credit: Melissa Webb
It's all about fun for Lantana!!

Besides choosing songs to put on an album, you also have to decide who will sing lead in the whole song or whether all three of you will alternate singing lead throughout a song. Is that an easy process?
Biz: We just go with who we think can give the "best character" to the song. If two of us want to sing lead on a song, we'll try it both ways and let Bill Green, who produced our album, make the call. Sometimes, we make changes at the last minute. For example, I was supposed to [sing the lead] on one song. But, I told Karol Ann and Dalene, "I don't like my voice on this song at all! I just don't like it, and I don't think I should do it." So, we had Karol Ann do it! That's how it works. Karol Ann is our anchor singer.

You all get along very well and have so much fun both on and off stage. What is your secret?
Biz: Well, I know when I was growing up, if three girls were playing together, it was difficult; it's hard to play in threes. But, as we mature – and you do have to be very mature to do this and make it work – we learn to put our egos aside. We realize it's not all about "me," individually. We are, collectively, Lantana. There's just no room for three women with three big egos at the table! Gosh, no one would want to work with us!

As we talked about earlier, the three of you collaborated in writing "The Juice Ain't Worth the Squeeze." What inspired the song?
Biz: I wish I could find out who coined the phrase the juice ain't worth the squeeze. It's been around for a long time, and I use it all the time! We sort of adopted it within the group. Whenever we found ourselves in situations where we were working very hard, we'd say it – that the payoff is not worth it. So, we talked about writing a song about that and I threw some lyrics down just in fun one day. We were laughing because [my lyrics] were raunchier than what ended up on the song. Then, when it got down to working on the album, Karol Ann said, "I want to bring out 'The Juice Ain't Worth the Squeeze.'" So, we sat down in the studio, took the bones of what I’d had, and pulled together the song while we were recording our album. The chorus was written in one minute – the words just rolled right out! That was really the gist of the song: no matter what, there's nothing that's for free. For example, there's the Texas State Fair going on right now. Kids get in free with their school tickets, but you spend $200 to be there! There is a price for everything, and you've got to ask yourself, Is the payoff worth what you've got to spend? I get so many "free" offers that are really quite costly, and I’m just like, I don't know, I'm scared of "free"!

At the end of "Feel Like Rockin'," there's an audio collage of various conversation bits. Were they planned?
Biz: No, those were all spontaneous! That day, it was like two o'clock in the morning, after months of being in the studio. It was the last song, and we just were having a good time. We were throwing things out with the song, trying things here and there. The music was playing and Bill left the microphones running. We did the same thing on "I Ain't Your Jailier" as well. We just started bantering – about things that really happened! There's a lot that have been edited out, but the things that were left in, oh my gosh, we were just rolling! We kept going back and listening to it! We found out it's better with an iPod, because you have the left and right earphones; there are different things being said in each ear, so you can hear the separate conversations.

The bit where Karol Ann takes on the Thai accent – what a riot!
Biz: Do you know where that originates from? There's a DJ who called a Thai restaurant, and he was messing with them. I can't remember the website, but somebody sent it to me years ago, and it was really funny! So, my husband started talking Thai. Then, my kids thought it was funny, so they started doing it too; everyone started speaking Thai in my family! Karol Ann was the newest member into our "Thai language" and like I said, we were being very spontaneous. So, she started acting like she was on the phone with my husband. He knew we were recording, and he kept calling all day. If he couldn't reach me on my phone, he'd call her phone. And, those two, every time they're on the phone, that's how they speak to each other. Well, my husband wasn't really on the phone, we were just acting out what had happened earlier that day. We were being silly in a very dramatic way, but it was really funny!! My husband got such grief for that! I teased him so badly for that, and then, the fact that it went in the song! He heard that and goes, "That kind of hurt of feelings." But, I said, "Well honey, you called all day and we were busy!" It's like, "I promise I'll call you back!"

The Lantana ladies want their audiences
Photo credit: Billy Joe Gabriel/Fort Worth Gazette
to have as much fun as they do on stage!

What do you hope people get from listening to your music?
Biz: We want people to feel like they're in on the celebration. On stage, it's not us performing to an audience. It's us giving the audience and they give it back; it's a two-way exchange. So, they're having fun, but we're having fun with them. We could probably feel safer holding a guitar and standing in front of the mic – and boy, I could breathe easier! – but, the energy of our songs don't allow us to do that.

What is something interesting that not many people know?
Biz: I used to suffer from paralyzing stage fright! Singing used to put me in a catatonic anxiety attack; I just had such anxiety – I absolutely couldn't breathe, which in turn impeded on my ability to deliver a song the way I wanted to. My best friends since I was 12, and still is today, knew I'd always love to sing. She'd always try to get me to audition for school functions, and I couldn't do it! If someone were to say, "Come sing in the school play," I'd do it in a heartbeat and be just fine. But, if I had to audition, I wouldn't do it. I think it's the pressure of people watching you and expecting great things. But, my best friend was getting married a few years ago, and she really wanted me to sing at her wedding. Of course, I said I would, but I can't even remember how I got through it!

How did you get over your stage fright? Biz: I got on stage! I got tired of fighting it, and people told me to get myself in front of an audience. Years went by, and people at my church got me to sing in the choir, at Bible studies. At times, I just thought I'd die! I never wanted to be a singer, in the sense of a superstar singer. But, I wanted to sing with confidence. That was my mission in life! I had to do a second audition, needless to say. Fast forward to now, and I'm looking at my album that says, Unbridled – I'm like, "Well, I guess I reached my goal!" I joke about Lantana birthing itself; it was a force that had a desire to happen in it of itself – I'm just part of it!

Dalene Richelle

Karol Ann DeLong

Dalene and Karol Ann, what is a little known fact that each of you would like to share?
Karol Ann: My eyes are like mood rings. They change colors all the time.

Dalene: My little known fact is that I can play the piano while upside-down. I discovered this when I was younger as I got bored practicing. [NOTE: Dalene is proficient on the piano, keyboards, mandolin, AND upright bass!]

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