The Kids Are All Right: DJ Colette
Colette Marino, aka DJ Colette, has three full-length albums to her name, along with a litany of singles and EPs. She held a nine-year residency at SmartBar and has been a staple at the Winter Music Conference in Miami for the better portion of 20 years. But she considers motherhood to be one of her greatest achievements.
Colette’s own childhood was spent in the heart of Chicago, where she was raised on house music. Her family’s home was a mere five blocks from Gramaphone Records, and at 15, she was already frequenting the clubs where DJ greats like Derrick Carter and Mark Farina regularly performed. Though she studied classical voice, house music felt like a long lost love. Then, 15 years ago, Colette made the move to Los Angeles. Since then, she has worked hard to sustain a pedigree of success that has followed her since those early days in Chicago.
“After I had [my son], a lot of people said, ‘I thought you were going to quit when you had the kid.’ Why would I quit? I love the music; it’s a part of me. Other people have children, and they don’t quit their jobs.”
Today, she resides in Studio City with her husband of nine years, actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, and their 4-year-old son, Nolan. As most mothers of toddlers, Colette cannot recall her last good night’s sleep and admits to getting the most rest when traveling for a gig. Now pregnant with her second child, the DJ/producer is taking a break from touring, but given the massively creative period she experienced when pregnant with Nolan, it’s very possible more tunes may be on the horizon.
What was it like growing up in Chicago around such a great house music scene?
I was exposed to house music when I was 10. I saw my first DJ when I was 13—in my school lunchroom, when they had a dance. He was my age, and I was blown away. If you ask most people who grew up in Chicago, most of them started DJing at age 12 or 13… I already thought I was too old. I started buying vinyl and seeing other DJs at 16. I just loved it. When I started singing over house music, it just clicked. I had my stereo with a cassette player, and I would record myself singing. Then I got a little tape recorder, and I would write tons of songs to instrumental house records that I bought at Gramaphone.
When did you fall in love with DJing?
I really learned how to play vinyl around 19 years old. I was promoting parties and was more of a singer then. Then I met Shannon, who later [became] DJ Dayhota. We started DJing together because we were at the same level. DJ Heather was a mentor to us then. She suggested we do a night together, and that’s how Superjane started. That was in 1997, and that was the first time I DJed outside of my house. Lady D became a fourth member a year later. When I graduated from college, I focused all of my energy on music. I worked at a record store, worked at a record label, promoted DJ nights; it was seven days a week, nonstop.
Who have been your mentors in the DJ world?
Probably the women of Superjane. I have learned from Dayhota and have toured longer with Heather than anybody. She and I have been playing music together for 18 years. Derrick [Carter] and Mark [Farina], I think, are everyone’s mentors in Chicago. The way they approach playing music—they have so much knowledge in music, stylistically and technically—it’s just the whole package. I think that is what everyone strives to do when they are playing.
Does your son get into music?
He loves to sing. My husband, besides acting, is also in a rock band. So we have two studios in the house. My studio is DJ-centered, and my husband’s has a ridiculously large guitar collection. I ask him, “Why do you have so many guitars?” And he asks, “Well, why do you have so many records?” I don’t think it’s the same thing; they are songs and are totally different. [Laughs]
Nolan got an actual guitar when he was 2. He loves to play it and sing, but it’s funny, because he doesn’t like it when I sing with him. He is very particular and tells you what songs he likes and doesn’t like. I finished half of my album when I was pregnant with him. He now tells me which songs are good and which are bad; he gives me thumbs up or thumbs down. He’ll also play my old tapes. Right now, there’s an old Diz tape in there. Then he says, “I’m listening to my music, and I’m doing work.” Then he dances around. I don’t know many 4-year-olds that do that.
“It’s crazy how my son has a natural rhythm and is fearless. That is really the only way to learn music: to not be afraid.”
Does he jump on the turntables?
I do not let him do that yet, because I first need to find some vinyl that I don’t care about. He wants to, desperately. He’s been in piano lessons for over a year. I feel that piano is a base for everything. If you know how to play that, then you can do anything. We’ve also given him a couple of drum lessons. It’s crazy how my son has a natural rhythm and is fearless. That is really the only way to learn music: to not be afraid. We joke around that he’s going to end up being a scientist or something.
Has he traveled with you to festivals or shows?
He’s only seen me DJ once, because everything I do is at night and in clubs, but he has been traveling with me since [he was] 6 months. When he was 2, he did go with me to the Brunchlox Party in Chicago.
How do you make it all work?
You have to take time and realize that you are not going to get everything done in the same manner as you did before you had kids, and that’s okay. Hearing music with your children is one of the best experiences ever. Hearing my son sing makes him happy, so that makes me happy. I sang all the time when I was a kid, so it’s so cool to see him discover that for himself. The other thing is that you really need to get help. The saying “It takes a village” is true. My mother-in-law lives 15 minutes away and helps me out a lot.
Do you have any advice to other parents in the electronic music scene?
I know a lot of people who think that it’s impossible to have a kid and work in the music industry, but it’s not. There are also a lot more of us than I thought. After I had a kid, so many DJs came up to me and showed me photos of their kids. I had no idea they were parents. It’s cool, because after I had him, a lot of people came up to me and said, “I thought you were going to quit when you had the kid.” Why would I quit? I love the music; it’s a part of me. Other people have children, and they don’t quit their jobs.
If having a family is something you want to do, you shouldn’t be afraid to do it. I think it would be really cool if my parents were traveling around the world and playing music and I got to go to shows. How can they hate on that?
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