Playing Donna Summer would require feathers and a boa and shiny dresses. To Tayla Parx, the Dallas-born musician and actor, this “was the complete opposite of who I am.” That’s exactly what attracted her to the role.
Spinning Gold, which releases in theaters on March 31, tells the story of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart and how his indie label’s roster of legendary artists—including KISS, Bill Withers, and the “Queen of Disco” herself—ruled the 70s music scene.
“Playing somebody who is an icon that people know and love, it was definitely a big challenge to take on,” says Parx.
Well, challenge accepted. We caught up with the “Flowers” singer to talk about her star-making film role and why she’ll always feel love for her hometown. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Artists portraying artists in the film—like Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, Jason Derulo as Ron Isley, and Ledisi as Gladys Knight—was that part of what attracted you to Spinning Gold?
Absolutely. Sometimes I think when you’re casting a biopic, people are so focused on, “Do the people look like them?” versus, “Can they capture the essence?” But I think there was a middle ground and an intentional aspect [with Spinning Gold] to make sure that musicians are playing musicians. There’s a respect. And there’s a carefulness that goes toward that—because as a musician you knowhow specific that responsibility can be. Looking to my left and right and seeing so many incredibly talented musicians not only being themselves, but also transforming themselves, I love that.
Donna Summer’s vocals are unique, as are yours. How did you meet the challenge of bringing her sound into your singing style?
The way I’m singing as Donna is very different. It’s completely opposite of how I sound as an artist. I usually don’t sing from that same place in my voice. So that was really, really fun. I’ve also been doing voice-over acting for the past few years. And, as a songwriter, I’m able to manipulate my voice to sound like whatever artist that I’m writing for at the time. It wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. However, you also want to make sure it doesn’t become a caricature of the person. That was something I wanted to stay far away from. I was focusing on the essenceof it, while also doing my job as an actor embodying this person.
What was it like for you to slip into the glamourous image of the iconic Disco Queen?
You know, as a queer woman who is very fluid with my outfits and my sexuality, when it comes to feminism and my idea toward what is feminine, I felt very different. It was interesting to be able to be like, ‘OK, I’m stepping into this version of my feminine, this version of my idea of sexy.’ I was very excited because my fans know that this is a huge step out of what they usually see me as. But also, I’m such a believer in the fact that femininity and all of those things canbe just that fluid. My mom saw me in these outfits and she was like, ‘Whoa, I feel like I am back in those times to see my daughter like that!’
Speaking of family, you consider Dallas your hometown. Do you still have relatives there?
Yes, I still have family in Dallas. When I was young, my parents picked up their entire lives for me and they moved. Even though I’ve been gone since I was 9 or 10, anybody that knows me can tell there’s a little sumthin’ else going on. You can take the Texan out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas part of me.
How has Dallas had an influence on your creativity?
The sets that were playing on the radio back then, the cadences that I have as a songwriter, are because of the music that I was listening to in the South. I was born in ’93. If you go back even in the 90s. The East Coast and the West Coast really had their sound. And later on, we understood what the South brought to the table. For me, understanding what the South brought to music made total sense. That is a part of why I stand out, in my own way, as a singer and as a songwriter.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in Dallas?
I’ve been working for so long. I’ve been working my whole life now. Dallas reminds me of when I was, literally, just a kid, singing and having fake interviews with Oprah in my bedroom. That’s what Dallas is for me. It’s a reminder of little T.P. I have a tattoo on my arm of my hand holding a bluebonnet. And the bluebonnet is growing through the hand. I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t born in Texas.
Why do you feel the dreaming big theme in Spinning Gold embodies your personal philosophy?
They say everything is bigger in Texas and I feel that philosophy of ‘no matter what you do, be great at it.’ Be great at your version of great. At that time, Casablanca Records was an indie label playing in a big boy’s game. They were kind of small fry, doing something different. But they said, ‘No matter what, even if we’re an indie label, we’re going to approach this like we’re a major label.’ Seeing the amount of perseverance it took for all of those artists in Spinning Gold—and to end up us having a conversation about them decades later—it happened because they were able to do something big, right?
My parents always instilled in me: If you’re prepared to do anything, no matter what you want to do in life, and you can be a student of your craft—you’ll be OK. Everybody is always saying [about dreams], “It’s a one in a million.” But I was always crazy enough to believe that “one in a million” could be me.Spinning Gold releases in theaters March 31