Long before she was the Baywatch vixen and MTV personality that we know today, Carmen Electra was Tara Leigh Patrick, the small-town girl from Ohio whose singing chops caught the ear of rock demigod Prince, who, incidentally, was the one who suggested she change her name. “We decided Carmen Electra was gonna be it. I loved it, so I decided to keep it forever.”
She started her career off in dance and music, and in the early ’90s moved to Minneapolis to work with Prince and Paisley Park Records. She opened for him on his Diamonds and Pearls tour all over Europe. “That was pretty huge for me at the time, because I just left Cincinnati, Ohio, to pursue my dreams and try to make something happen. So meeting Prince and having that opportunity… For someone like him to believe in me was just so inspiring!” On tour, she learned the ropes of live performance – singing and dancing in huge stadiums as her first gig. “I got to dance and have my own band. It almost feels like it was a dream. Sometimes I think, ‘Did that really happen?!’”
Prince went on to produce her first album, and with that in tow, Carmen left Minneapolis and the glamour of touring to make it as an actress in LA, starting from scratch on her own. “I walked away from everything. I didn’t have much,” she says. “I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a bank account, and I struggled for a couple years. I remember just standing and thinking, ‘I made the biggest mistake. Why did I do this?’ Now I understand why… It makes me grateful for every opportunity!”
Fast forward a few years, and Carmen Electra had become a household name, with numerous acting and modeling credits. Despite all of her success in front of the camera over the years, what she really missed was performing. “More than anything, I love to perform in front of an audience. I love to feel the energy. There’s no better feeling to me than sharing that energy. I love going into rehearsals, hiring dancers… the whole process is so much fun….”
The time had come for her to go back to her beginnings and re-invent herself. With a renewed passion, she has released a new single and hopes to light up the music scene again. “I’ve always loved dance music… Starting off as a dancer, I respect the music because that’s what makes you move. That’s what music is for me. It helps me stay in touch with my feelings and not ignore them.” While she has been romantically linked in the press to pop-culture deity Simon Cowell, her recording projects are done all on her own. “I never mentioned it [to Simon]. I just went in the studio and recorded. I did it on my own and didn’t say anything about it being released, and when it came out, I remember him saying, ‘Young lady, I want to hear your song!'”
The ’90s pin-up icon isn’t losing momentum any time soon, keeping busy with a full album in the works, single “I Like It Loud“ out now and a forthcoming movie, Book of Fire, due out soon. Through it all, she remains independent, driven, and unhindered by disappointments, living according to a simple but powerful mantra: “If you’re not leaning, no one will ever let you down.”
Here’s the full-length, exclusive interview with Carmen Electra for The Music Issue of The Untitled Magazine:
Indira Cesarine: So you’ve been working on a brand new film, Book of Fire, which you filmed in a pretty amazing, possibly haunted location?
Carmen Elektra: I don’t know if I’m a believer or not, but it is creepy. It was so creepy. It was abandoned in, I think, 1932, so all the equipment inside is so old school. Ah! (laughs) It just has creepy vibes, you know?
IC: What is the movie about?
CE: It’s called Book of Fire. It’s sort of, horror, amazing special effects. Our special effects guy, he did Spider-Man, so he’s bringing a lot of things that have never been done before in this movie, which is really cool. Yeah, it’s fun. I had to get blasted through a church door last night.
IC: Blasted through a church door.
CE: Yes. (laughs)
IC: That’s insane! Did you have a stunt double?
CE: Yeah, I do. But I try to do as much as I can, you know, and if it’s completely not safe, then I won’t do it…. You still go as far as you can, and then they bring in the stunt double.
IC: Why did you decide to reignite your music career? I know that you had come out with some songs a few years ago, and now you’ve come back again with this new song. Tell me a little about your decision to foray back into music.
CE: Yeah, I started off my career in dance and music. More than anything, I love to perform in front of an audience. I love to feel the energy. And there’s no better feeling to me than sharing that energy. (Laughs) I just love it so much. I love the process. I love, you know, going into rehearsals, going into production and hiring dancers and figuring out what the look is gonna be. It’s just — the whole process is so much fun. I think whatever it is that you choose to do in life, if it’s something you love to do and you’re having fun? You can’t really beat that. So, when it comes to performing and putting on shows, yeah, I just love it. I feel really comfortable, and I feel the most at peace when I’m performing.
IC: Tell me a little bit about your music career? How did you get started?
CE: I moved to Minneapolis when I was younger and had an album, a self-titled album that Prince produced, and I opened up for him on the Diamonds and Pearls tour all over Europe. That was pretty huge for me at the time, because I just left Cincinnati, Ohio, to pursue my dreams and try to make something happen. So meeting Prince and having that opportunity, and for someone like him to believe in me was just so inspiring. I learned a lot from that experience.
IC: That must have been amazing to perform with Prince, opening for him. And he produced the album, that must have been incredible!
CE: Yeah! I had my own band… It was so much fun. I mean, performing in huge stadiums, you know, because Prince was performing. It was my first time in front of so many people. (Laughs)
IC: Did you get stage fright doing that?
CE: I didn’t get stage fright. I was of course always very nervous right before going on, but by the end of the tour, I wasn’t nervous anymore, you know? I would just go out there and just do it. I got to dance and have my own band, so the whole thing was just… you know, it almost feels like it was a dream. (Laughs) Sometimes I think, “Did that really happen?”
IC: Well it’s so different from studio work and acting, which means closed sets. To perform live in front of like, 50,000 people is just a totally different experience, I would think.
CE: Yeah, for your first time, performing your own music. You know, usually people start off performing in small clubs or bars, you know, smaller places, and you learn so much doing that and you graduate. So I think when you get there, you had all this experience and then you’re ready. It was crazy because I was just—you know, I didn’t have that. I was just thrown into, “Well, here it is! What are you gonna do?” And of course, when you believe in something and you want it so badly, you have to go for it. So it was definitely a huge learning experience and I’m forever grateful for that. It gave me a little taste of what it’s like to record and have music and perform, so from then until now, it’s still been my dream and my passion and everything that I’ve wanted to do. I feel like until now, it hasn’t been the right timing, the right people. A few years ago, I went and recorded an album, and it never was released.
IC: That must have been frustrating.
CE: But the music was really fun. So, a lot of people don’t know, but I’d spent a lot of time working in the studio. But once again, I learned a lot from that experience. At the time it was frustrating, because I really was ready for it to come out, and now, I understand that it wasn’t supposed to happen. And just to have the opportunity now to work with such great producers — Bill Hamel produced “I Like It Loud” — and to be with such a great team of people that I feel really get me so I can express myself and feel completely free and comfortable… it’s great. It’s a good feeling. I’m actually back in the studio working with Nick and Luciana, and I just love Luciana. I admire her so much. She has her own style, and she’s just… she’s badass. (Laughs)
IC: And the new song that that you just released, “I Like It Loud”, is obviously a dance music track. Can you tell me a little bit about your sound and your decision to go into that kind of electro dance direction?
CE: I’ve always loved dance music. It’s the music that you want to hear when you’re out at a club; it’s what’s always made me want to dance and I think that’s important. Starting off as a dancer, I respect the music because that’s what makes you move. That’s what inspires you to feel, whether it’s a song that makes you cry, a song that makes you want to dance, a song that makes you have a memory that makes you feel happy and makes you feel love, or makes you angry. (Laughs) That’s what music is for me. It helps me stay in touch with my feelings and not ignore them.
IC: Can you tell me a little bit about your name? Carmen Elektra. Is that a performance name? How did you come up with it?
CE: Yeah, I was recording my record at Paisley Park Records in Minneapolis and there was another artist out during that time by the name of Tara Kemp, and she had a No. 1 hit on the dance charts. So, Prince suggested that I change my name. I was really open to it and thought it would be fun and we decided Carmen Elektra was gonna be it… I loved it, so I decided to keep it forever.
IC: It’s quite a long stretch from Tara Patrick, isn’t it?
CE: Well, you know, I love my real name just as much. My real name is Tara Leigh Patrick, I love it… But I love having this other name (laughs). It’s definitely a name that grabs your attention.
IC: Yeah, absolutely. ‘Tara Leigh’ has a little bit more of a country ring in a way.
CE: I could see that, sure.
IC: So, obviously you were on TV shows, like Baywatch, that a lot of people remember you from. How do you distinguish yourself between yourself as a musician and yourself as an actress? Do you feel like it’s seamless, or do you feel like there are two different sides to your creative entity?
CE: They’re definitely two different sides because when you’re acting, you know, someone else is writing for you. At times you’re doing things that you never thought you could ever do, in film and TV, things that you don’t always necessarily know how to do and so you have to learn… So it’s kind of crazy, you know? I mean, it’s exciting because you’re always in different situations, but you are still playing a part. And I feel with music, you’re truly expressing what you’re going through and how you’re feeling, what’s happened or what’s happening in your life. I think because of the real experiences in that, I think it reaches more people.
IC: It’s coming from inside, it’s more authentic.
CE: Yeah, people get to know you more as yourself, instead of as this character or this character on this show. So, I completely love both. I guess I need that because I have ADD, and it’s good for me (laughs)… You know, every day is a new experience, completely different than the day before. And I embrace that.
IC: And what do you feel is your breakthrough moment, professionally? Do you feel that that was working with Prince, or was there something else that kind of catapulted you into entertainment and your current career?
CE: I would have to say what really helped me start my career on a different level would have been when I started working for MTV, and started shooting Baywatch at the same time. So I was doing both shows… Baywatch was, you know, the most popular show worldwide at one time, and MTV was MTV, you know.
CE: (Laughs) MTV needs no explanation; it’s MTV. But I had a blast. I had so much fun working with MTV. It was a place where you can be free, mistakes were welcome and that’s what was fun about it. It always felt like a constant party no matter where we were… I’d always host Spring Break so we’d get to travel and have fun. It was wonderful. It really helped bring me out of my shell.
IC: Do you have a favorite band or musician?
CE: Hmm. Who am I loving right now? Well, I was super excited to go to Coachella. As far as like, old school, this year I believe that the Chili Peppers and Wu Tang are both performing at Coachella. I just booked an appearance, so I’m not gonna be able to go, but…Wow, just to see Wu Tang again. I saw Wu Tang twice, once in New York, once in LA back in the day, and I think Wu Tang’s one of my favorite all-time hip hop groups.
But currently, I don’t know, let me look at my playlist… If I can remember… Oh man… My computer is…slow right now… looking…”Ghost Town” by The Specials, “Sail” by Awolnation. Let’s see, what else do I have on here? T-Rex “Jeepster”, Lumineers “Ho Hey”, “I Like That” by Richard Vision and Static Revenger starring Luciana, “Titanium”, David Guetta… I can go from hip hop to rock, punk, heavy metal, Joni Mitchell, you know. I love a lot of different kinds of music…Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban music, to Pantera or Slayer at any given moment… Sly and the Family Stone.
IC: That’s a good mix. So, who do you consider the most inspiration person in the music industry?
CE: Right now, I’m gonna have to say Beyoncé. Because the situation happened with her, you know, singing the national anthem. But when she got up on stage during a press conference for the Super Bowl and just went out there and showed everybody, “I can sing. And this is how it’s done.” I thought she schooled this. She didn’t step back and let that situation bother her. She went, she stood up, grabbed the mic and she did it. I just think that, you know, with the music and imagery and her stage performance, she’s doing thing’s that people haven’t done. She’s setting the trend and she’s setting so much for all the people. I think that she’s very inspiring.
IC: Did you ever fear you weren’t going to make it?
CE: … At different times, you know. There have definitely been moments where I had to get out there, make it happen all on my own, especially after leaving Minneapolis. I decided to move to LA and I made the decision to do that one way. When I was in LA, I thought to myself, “If I can’t do this on my own, I shouldn’t be in this business.” I walked away from everything. I didn’t have much. (Laughs) I had some nice clothes, but I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a bank account, and I struggled for a couple years. I remember just standing and thinking, “I made the biggest mistake. Why? Why did I do this?” But it really—now I understand why, and I felt like I needed to start over. I wouldn’t have had the experience of MTV and Baywatch and, you know, all the films that I’ve been a part of. And going music on my own now, you know, those things wouldn’t have happened. So I understand now why I did it, but during that time I would have moments just sitting on a park bench, watching cars drive by and I would just wish I had any kind of car. It didn’t matter. Just to get to 7-Eleven.
IC: How long did you not have a car? That’s hard in LA!
CE: Oh, it was tough. Probably three years?
IC: Oh my god.
CE: Or four years.
IC: That must’ve been… It’s like, you’ve earned the fact that you can remember that. Those experiences probably makes you appreciate everything that you have now!
CE: It makes me feel grateful. It makes me grateful for every opportunity. Grateful to talk to you right now, grateful in so many ways. At the time, I couldn’t understand why, why did I do that! I didn’t make the wrong choice. But now I know that I did need that experience and that I’m glad that I had it. But you couldn’t tell me that during that time (laughs). It wasn’t easy. But sometimes when you struggle, you maybe have a little bit more drive to make things happen. And I decided I wasn’t going—as much as I love my hometown and everything—I know that for what I wanted to do, those opportunities were here in LA. I wasn’t gonna go home. I was not gonna give up.
IC: Well, you stuck it out and it worked. So, a lot of people have been talking about how you’ve been dating Simon Cowell and he’s obviously in the music industry. Does he impact your music in any way? Do you ask him for advice?
CE: No, we have a great friendship and I feel very intimidated to talk to him about my music, so I never mentioned it. I just went in the studio and recorded with Bill Hamel, as you know. But, I did it on my own and didn’t say anything about it being released, and when it came out, I remember him saying, “Young lady, I want to hear your song.” (Laughs) … It was very cute. But, I mean, I just really like being friends and just kind of was shy about talking about, you know, work stuff.
IC: Was there ever like a really difficult moment in your career, like a performance or anything where you thought that you just might not be able to get through it?
CE: The most difficult performance…Well I remember having a difficult time, an uninspiring time. There were a couple of years not that long ago where I felt a little burned out. You know, I’ve been working nonstop for a while, which I can’t complain about because it’s what I’ve always wanted. But there was just a couple years where I felt a little down, wasn’t feeling like myself, kind of just felt like hiding in a cave or something (laughs) for a while. I don’t know, I was very uninspired and I took a minute for me to just miss everything so much and just say, “You know what, I have to follow my heart, no matter what.” No matter what. You know, we all have to what makes us happy, as long as we’re good people… I missed everything so much, and then decided, you know? That’s it. I’m going back in. I was still working, you know, I was still working here and there. But I always had such tremendous work ethic. Maybe that just comes from my childhood and knowing what it’s like, to open up for Prince on tour and then walk away from all of that and sit there on a park bench (laughs).
IC: Without a car!
CE: Without a car, with hardly any money, and just like, in the heat (laughs)… At that point I knew what both ways felt like. It’s like, “No, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna do it on my own.” But I think, sometimes we have to go through those highs and lows. That’s just life. That’s what inspires you again. We get uninspired and re-inspired, and that’s life. It’s okay, you know?
IC: Absolutely. So tell me, totally changing the subject, do you have a favorite designer or any favorite brands that you like to wear?
CE: Well, I love Tom Ford. As far as performance, I love the Blonds.
IC: They’re so great. I love them too! Amazing.
CE: Aren’t they amazing? As far as more casual clothes, I like Helmut Lang, I like IRO. I’m really into sneaker pumps right now (laughs)… I can’t resist. They’re so comfortable, but you still have a little height. Perfect.
IC: So do you have a favorite artist? Do you like art?
CE: I do like art. Favorite artist, though, hmm. That’s a good question. I don’t have a favorite artist. A lot of times, I look at art and I’m not even sure who the artist is, but I love art. I love it. I don’t know if I have a favorite.
IC: So do you have, like a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
CE: Let me see. Oh yeah, I was just thinking of it. Give me one second to think. Okay. “If you’re not leaning, no one will ever let you down.”
IC: I’ve never heard that one before! I like it! So what is it about music that you love?
CE: I love the freedom of expression. I love the emotion. I love the fact that I could be having a bad day and play a song that that makes me feel really happy and I could kind of pull myself out of that day and feel happier. Music is so powerful.
IC: Can you tell me a little bit about projects that we should look out for that you have coming up this year in 2013?
CE: I have a lot of things in the works right now. I’m releasing my video for “I Like It Loud”. We shot it in New York and it’s sort of based on a day in the life. It’s everything from rehearsing for performances to the actual performances I did in New York. Really fun stuff, performed with Cyndi Lauper. You know, great, really inspiring things for my first run out there with the single. We also on a double decker bus in Times Square with all these really cool club kids. And sort of behind-the-scenes, going to different talk shows to promote the music, and then seeing the other side of things. An underground club that I hung out in sometimes, you know, just sort of showing everything. So that’s gonna be released I think next week, maybe.
IC: Do you have a plan to put out an EP or an album?
CE: I’m in the studio right now. So I’m listening to music and recording and right now, just really deep into music, focused on it. And still doing other things, so, in the studio for a couple days and then work on this movie. I still have quite a few more weeks on the movie, so, yeah, as of now, that’s what I’m up to.
IC: You’ve got so much going on! These days a lot of people think of you more as an actress, It’s exciting to get back to the beginning with your music, in a way.
CE: Definitely. It feels like a new beginning.
Photography and interview by Indira Cesarine.