Dita Von Teese Talks Sex, Sweatpants and Her 'Soundtrack for Seduction'

Hear burlesque icon's breathy rendition of Mae West number "A Guy What Takes His Time"

Dita Von Teese selected the songs on the new compilation 'Soundtrack for Seduction.' Credit: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com/Rex

Dita Von Teese is a woman of many passions — burlesque, modeling, fashion design, writing and, with the arrival of Soundtrack For Seduction, music. Her latest endeavor is being released by 12on12, a limited-edition vinyl label that invites all manner of artists to curate their own limited-edition "life soundtracks." With songs by Peggy Lee, Royksopp, Blood Orange and Handsome Boy Modeling School, Von Teese's compilation explores the duality of her public vs. private taste. It also serves up her biggest toe-dip into the music scene so far — with Von Teese herself performing on four tracks. You can hear "A Guy What Takes His Time," a collaboration with producer Chuck Henry, below.

"The Crazy Horse [the Parisian cabaret] does a thing where girls lip-sync to tracks and I thought it would be fun to do a standard like that," Von Teese tells Rolling Stone. "I'm a really big fan of Mae West and she does this talk-singing thing so I found this song, "A Guy What Takes His Time," and I found a certain arrangement she did in the Fifties, so I worked with Chuck to make this more of a burlesque sound. I recorded it when I was really sick, and it gave me kind of an extra little breathiness to my voice."

Rolling Stone caught up with Von Teese to talk about the album (out on pink vinyl exclusively until March 14th) and whether or not the glamour icon owns sweatpants.

What elements have to be in place for a song to be "perfectly sexy"?
For me, I really like songs that have a slow and inviting tempo. I like music that tends to become part of the atmosphere. You don't want it to become distracting. When I think about music that you would actually make love to you don't want anything that turns kind of weird. It's important to have music that sets the mood but doesn't completely overtake.

How did you come to be involved with the making of Soundtrack for Seduction?
I was approached by 12on12 and, of course, I loved the idea. My idea was to utilize the two-sided aspect of a record to kind of give people a glimpse into both sides of my musical taste. So one side has a lot of focus on my burlesque persona, with a lot of classic, glamorous music, and the other side is more the type of music I like to listen to in my everyday life that maybe people wouldn't expect me to listen to. That was something I felt was important to me because I've always felt there was a bit of duality in my life with what people think they know about me. Like, maybe all they think I listen to is vintage music, but there's a whole other genre of music that I love.

Side A of the album consists of tried-and-true examples of music you'd hear at a burlesque show. Do you veer away from performing to more modern music, like rock or rap for instance, for any particular reason?
I like music that enhances the visuals of the performance. I don't like music with vocals, unless it's my voice on it. Some standards which I love aren't songs that I would perform to on stage, but they're songs I might perform a striptease to for my boyfriend, or for my cat. Then there are a few songs on there that were made just for my shows. I tend to not use existing songs on iTunes because the burlesque scene has become so massive and everyone's just using the same music, so I have music created just for my shows. The songs that are on the album which are my own are songs that have never been released before in any way.

If the first side is for a striptease, and the second side is for "business time," can you suggest a smooth transition for people when it comes time to physically flip the record?
That's a good question. I hadn't thought about that and now I'm painting all these pictures in my head. Well, let's see, the last song on the first side of the record is Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" so it's the perfect cue to get up. That's not all there is, there's something more. So that's what I'd do, just take a cue from what the song is saying and let the person know there's more to come.

What are some of your go-to bands or albums for those rare moments of leisure, when you're not working or entertaining?
Blood Orange and Monarchy, who are both on the album, they're two artists that I listen to all of the time. My cast and I, when we're getting ready for a show, we also like to warm up to hip-hop and rap music. We just want the complete opposite of what our show is, and what the vibe is, because we just wanna let go.

You give the impression of being someone who is constantly put together. Do you own sweatpants?
I don't hang around in sweatpants but I do have the same desire we all have to be feeling comfortable when at home. Like for instance right now I'm wearing a slim fit T-shirt and black capri pants and ballet flats. It's comfortable but it's like a uniform though, while also being something I'm not embarrassed to look at myself in the mirror in. And when I wanna be really casual and comfortable and I'm just at home doing my work I like to wear a dressing gown.

According to an interview you did with The New York Times, 80% of your fans are women. What do you think the average woman looks to you for?
When I'm on stage or when I'm doing a book signing, like I did this weekend, I look out at the audience and the first thing I see, more than anything, is kind of a sea of girls with red lipstick on with curls in their hair, embracing retro glamour. And they're all different shapes, sizes and ethnicities. I kind of think to myself that they're getting out of it the same things I did when I started doing what I do.

The reason I started playing with beauty and glamour of a different era is because I didn't have a lot of modern role models for beauty that I could relate to. When I was growing up, I couldn't relate to supermodels, but I could relate to the created and, if you will, artificial brand of glamour. When I looked at pictures of someone like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth the hair and the lipstick and the clothes were such a huge element of what created their appeal. I like to think that maybe I'm the same kind of role model. It's really about dressing it up by accentuating the positives and hiding the negatives.