By Anthony Costello, Jan. 29, 2015.
Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Rob Fusari – known for writing smash hits for Lady Gaga and Destiny’s Child – is debuting material from Journal 8, his first album as the enigmatic Cary NoKey, at RuPaul’s Drag Race’s: Battle of the Seasons at Tucson’s Rialto Theater on Feb. 3.
NoKey is the opening act of the show, which will be hosted by Michelle Visage and include performances by such famous drag queens as Bianca Del Rio, Raja, Manila Luzon, Courtney Act, Sharon Needles, Alaska 5000 and Ivy Winters.
For Fusari, the performance is yet another step forward in the evolution of Cary NoKey, a gender-bending persona he discovered within himself over the course of his journey in the music industry.
“Cary NoKey was always within me, I had been looking everywhere else for fulfillment but it’s been here the whole time,” he said, adding that success and happiness can only come from within yourself. “Cary NoKey is who I am, the way I want to dress … I couldn’t do that as Rob Fusari the record producer.”
During his performance, NoKey will debut his new song “Do Ya?” from his forthcoming album. He will also sing “American Dream,” a song that not only encapsulates the blurred vision of the modern American dream, but also is a reflection of the highs and lows of his journey in the music industry.
Fusari’s musical journey began at the age of seven, when he first encountered a piano at his mother’s friend’s house.
“Something just came over me, it was one of those moments that made me look at my whole life differently … it was magic,” Fusari said. “From that point on I just started taking classical piano lessons.”
“I did that for a few years and competed. I kinda shied away from music in my teens … but it was always there,” Fusari said. “Whenever I tried to get away from it, it called me back.”
In his early 20s, Fusari started playing in bands and while working day jobs.
“I figured I’m just gonna try to do something in music, give it a shot,” Fusari said. “One day I got fired and said to my mom ‘If I can just stay and try music for a year, and nothing happens, I’ll leave it behind.”
During that time Fusari wrote “No, No, No,” the song that would make him – and Destiny’s Child – famous.
“I laid the hook down, thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion it wouldn’t work and left it alone,” Fusari said.
Months later Fusari’s friend came over and brought Vince Herbert, the founder of Streamline Records, over with him. Fusari played “No, No, No” for them and the rest was history.
“I said ‘this is a song I’m working on still, I need to check it out,’ and Herbert lit up like a [Christmas] tree saying it was a hit song,” Fusari said. “It was amazing how quick it happened.”
Fusari gave Herbert a copy of the song and the producer pitched it to Destiny’s Child. Two days later Fusari was in the studio as the trio of women provided vocals. Three months later it hit No. 1 on the music charts.
In the years that followed, Fusari wrote hit songs for Whitney Houston, The Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga, who was a songwriting protégé of Fusari’s from 2006 to 2008, as he wrote “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich,” and, “Paparazzi,” among several other songs with her for her smash-debut album, The Fame.
However, the unforgiving industry soon took its toll on Fusari, with the producer finding himself caught in the “game” of it and eventually left it entirely.
“It’s a tough game, you’re going to get burned early on,” Fusari said. “I still love performing, creating music though … you don’t quit. You take it and you keep going.”
From there, Fusari attempted several new ventures in music with no success – until a song he wrote for himself.
“I had all these awards, it was the complete opposite of what I expected,” Fusari said. “There’s nothing monetarily rewarding with NoKey; the reward with Cary NoKey is I can be who I want to be, comfortable in my skin, and nothing can top that now.”
As NoKey, Fusari finds freedom in expressing who he truly is, which includes putting his life experiences into song and wearing women’s clothing.
“I don’t wear men’s clothing, I just don’t like it, I’m just not as comfortable,” NoKey said. “I feel like Rob Fusari is the drag persona, dressing the part.”
The emergence of NoKey is also inspiration behind much of the new music on Journal 8, including “American Dream.”
“I just realized the American dream is to really be who you are,” NoKey said, adding that the video stars transgender actors and actresses. “They just have this inner glow and I become envious of it. They have this peace and calmness to them. The symbolism in the video is about that, it goes for transgender people and drag queens.”
With Fusari’s experience and NoKey’s confidence, the songwriter-performer said fans should expect a frenetic, energetic opening act.
“It’s very chaotic, but organized,” NoKey said. “It’s a high-energy set, one of the most high-energy sets I’ve ever done.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race’s: Battle of the Seasons
9 p.m. Feb. 3 (doors open at 8 p.m.)
The Rialto Theater
318 E. Congress St., Tucson
A New Artist with a Track Record
The Grammy Award-winning, multiplatinum music producer, songwriter and music executive has proven that he knows what it takes to deliver a hit album.
Echo caught up with Fusari ahead of the release of Journal 8, NoKey’s debut album, and here’s what he had to say about some of his most noteworthy music writing experiences.
Destiny’s Child – “No, No, No” and “Bootylicious”
Fusari: The two songs were like working with two different acts. With “No, No, No,” they were a new act, and they were kind of shy, but in a very class way. I took an immediate liking to Beyoncé and her vocals. By the time “Bootylicious” happened this was a different act altogether. I learned very early on Beyoncé was a force to be reckoned with. I loved Kelly, too, but Beyoncé was the Diana Ross of the group. Bey wrote with me on “Bootylicious,” but not on “No, No, No.” It was more of an artistic connection there (with booty) than it was with “No, No, No.”
Lady Gaga – “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” and “Paparazzi”
Fusari: “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” came at a peak of our artistic endeavor, and there was an excitement in the air when we wrote and recorded that song. Sure “Paparazzi” was a bigger hit, but we had both known working on it that our relationship was coming to an end. I think you can hear it in the song because there’s a bittersweet element to the song and a sadness to it. “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich,” is very upbeat and at the upside of our collaboration.
Whitney Houston – “Love That Man”
Fusari: This was also bittersweet. She’s so legendary, you hold [artists] up so high and Whitney, at the time of recording, wasn’t in the best place. I know how hard it is to really disconnect when there’s a struggle. Though the record came out great, and I was proud of it, it was just bittersweet. She was with Bobby Brown at the time and I can say it didn’t add to the energy of the project. But Whitney is such a pro when it comes to getting it done. And to hear her sing that song – a legend singing your song – just can’t be described. It’s just so epic.
Skye Ferreira – Pretty Ugly (unreleased song)
Fusari: She was very quiet. She’s one of those artists that help me understand a different side of what I had really become accustomed to working with. A lot of artists, more so in the 2000s, were signed that really shouldn’t have been. Ferreira wasn’t that. She helped me better understand and become a better artist. I had to find out what was driving her. She was someone who had something to say and I had to change my way of producing and writing. The song was risqué and aggressive, which I don’t think the label liked, but I loved working on it for her.