INTERVIEWS THE CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES|
HI AND LOThe CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES scored a hit in 1998 with 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT', an ode to debauchery and living it up. At the time, I was in my last year of college and because of the grind of school and work, I missed out on the swing movement of the late nineties. I only knew there was such a movement from hearing the BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA, SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS, and BIG BAD VOODOO DADDIES on the radio from the STARBUCKS at the University bookstore, where I worked. By the time 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT' was a hit, it seemed like it had shown up a little too late. Afterwards, there were a few DOCKERS commercials with folks swinging in their Khakis, and before you knew it - the "movement" was over and replaced by BRITTNEY SPEARS." If you think about it - that that (The Swing Movement) happened at all was very strange." says Cherry Poppin' Daddy STEVE PERRY - the band's lead singer. "It was very weird and then it was gone."
STEVE PERRY OF THE CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
THE MIXED BLESSING OF BEING A 'SWING BAND FROM THE 1990's',
STEPPING AWAY FROM A "DICK-ISH" MUSIC INDUSTRY
AND COMING BACK WITH THEIR LATEST CD 'SUSQUEHANNA'
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
In 2008, I was told of a forthcoming release from that late-nineties swing band with the funny name.
Wait a minute! They all had funny names!!!
The CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES are on the verge of releasing their latest CD 'SUSQUEHANNA' on SPACE AGE BACHELOR PAD RECORDS. In one listen, I was hooked and at the same time, surprised. While silly me was expecting a bunch of outdated 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT' sound-a-likes, I was instead blown away by the albums diversity; the rock en espanol sound of the album's opener 'BUST OUT', the gritty rock-a-billy of 'THE MONGOOSE AND THE SNAKE', the punchy SKA sound of 'HI AND LO', and the irresistable reggae groove of 'BLOOD ORANGE SUN'. In researching these sultans of late-nineties swing, I've learned that all of their work had been marked by this kind of diversity and that their 1997 release "ZOOT SUIT RIOT: THE SWINGIN' HITS OF..." (MOJO RECORDS) was just that; a collection of the bands "swing songs"."Yeah, people didn't realize that. A lot of the songs on that CD were recorded as far back as 1990. We've been doing swing music since November of 1988 and that album came out in 1997." says PERRY. "...except for the one (album) that we are most famous for, We've always done a lot of work with different genres and try to step out of our comfort zone. I think it's more interesting to put different genres on a record."
ROCKWIRED spoke with band leader STEVE PERRY over the phone. Here is how it went.
You've got a great CD here. It's definitely put a smile on my face!
So you've had a chance to listen to it then?
Only through this e-mail that your publicist had sent to me. I can't wait to get the whole CD in the mail but I've got to say what surprised me the most was the diversity of it.
Our records have always been like that, except for the one that we are most famous for. We've always done a lot of work with different genres and try to step out of our comfort zone. I think it's more interesting to put different genres on a record.
I also had no idea that the album that you are most famous for was actually a compilation of all of the bands swing songs.
Yeah, people didn't realize that. A lot of the songs on that CD were recorded as far back as 1990. We've been doing swing music since November of 1988 and that album came out in 1997.
Longer than the SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS.
Yeah, but they were a different band because they concentrated on jazz exclusively and we had the kind of record where there were two or three swing songs and the rest would be made up of anything that we wanted to do. We've always been very experimental as far as pop is concerned.
So, you've got the band back together and this CD 'SUSQUEHANNA' is coming out in June. How do you feel about all of this?
About the record or-
Let's start with the record first.
I like it! I think it's the most satisfying in terms of telling a story all the way through. People think that the album is disjointed. To me, it's not disjointed and I'm not thrown by having different genres on a record, but a lot of people are and the criticism often is "Gee, not every song sounds the same and I don't like it!". I try to have the overall record give you a distinct impression and 'SUSQUEHANNA' really does. It's a relationship album. It's all about memory and loss and it really does stick to three or four ideas which I like. So, 'SUSQUEHANNA' is an album that I like alot.
Not only is 'SUSQUEHANNA' a return for the band, but it's also a return to being independent as opposed to being on a big label (JIVE).
That's a big difference. The whole world is different now. Even in the few years since we've not been making records, it's a whole different thing. For me, I thought, this is a great opportunity to finally be taken the way we'd like to be taken - as experimenters trying to do things with the album format. Now we're able to be taken as we are, as opposed to the mixed blessing of being thought of as a swing band from the 1990's, which I like to a degree, but there is more to us than that. But at the time, we were never able to make that very explicit when you're selling two million records and you have a huge song and that's all that anyone knows about you. We were marketed in such a way that it got to be really annoying to people.
Geez, I was in my last year of college when 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT' was a hit.
So it probably annoyed you even more because you were working your butt off.
I was! I wanted to get out and I did! And so did you! You got your Masters in Molecular Biology.
That's right! I finally got my degree finished and that was something of an 'undone' thing for me. That was the blessing of taking some time away from the music. We still played all these years. We didn't break up or anything. We played a certain amount of gigs every year. We didn't put out any records and we did it on our schedule. There were few enough gigs for me to finish my degree.
I was reading in WIKIPEDIA - and why would WIKIPEDIA lie?- that you also had a glam band in your absence from THE DADDIES?
When I was finishing up in college, the guitarist JASON and I had a band called WHITE HOT ODYSSEY. We put a record out on JIVE of all things. It was kind of a proto-punk NEW YORK DOLLS kind of record. That was the kind of stuff I wanted to do because that was the kind of music I grew up listening to. It's hard to write very orchestrated-type stuff, like the DADDIES', but a four-piece rock band was easier to do while I was studying molecular biology. Once a week I was able to get a song done and we managed to turn out a record. I actually really like the record! It turned out really good. Other people in the band had other side projects as well, so we all kind of got our ya-ya's out for a few years.
Just by what I've been reading, it seems that starting a band like THE CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES was one obstacle after another.
I did an interview the other day and I've kind of realized that I've always thrown things in front of my own way and then I fall over them. You don't name your band CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES and expect things to be easy, and you don't tackle multiple genres and string sections and big band swing. If you do, expect trouble. Like ZORBA THE GREEK, you've got to loosen your belt and look for trouble, and that's what we've always done.
And you guys had started just as that whole grunge thing was getting started.
Yes. When we first played Seattle, all the bands just sort of showed up regardless of the style of music. When we did our first show, it was with the MUDHONEY guys, and NIRVANA. This was all pre-grunge. It was just bands that played and there weren't that many of them then. When me an DAN (bassist) started off, those were the bands that we were in so we knew all of those people and then we decided to not do what everybody else was doing and do it on our own, which is pretty much in the spirit of punk rock. That was when we had tried to merge our punk rock impulses with jazz. We thought that it would be an interesting combination, if we could pull it off. So yeah, we came out of that scene but what we were doing was kind of threatening to a lot of the guitar rock people, because if you had horns in your music, you were somehow reactionary- which is really weird - but that was how it was back then. I think it's less so now. Because we had music that everyone wanted to dance to, I guess the guys in the grunge scene thought that we were putting on heirs.
Grunge had a way of coming across like a huge brick wall.
There was a lot that I liked about it. There is just no denying that a band like NIRVANA was super-honest and excellent, artistically! I think grunge went on a little too long for my taste. I got tired of people doing the same old thing and not doing anything different with it. It started to feel too commercial and not honest enough. And I think that people assumed that about us as well. You hear 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT' all the time, and people were probably thinking 'Oh, these guys are trying to cash in!', when it was really just a fortuitous accident for us, but we didn't try to chase that kind of sound, we just kept doing what we did and if people didn't see us for what we were then, what can you do?
And in a couple of years after 'ZOOT SUIT RIOT', no one would care because of the whole teen pop thing.
Exactly and if you think about it - that that (The Swing Movement) happened at all was very strange. My favorite marketable pop movements are the ones that are extremely strange like glam rock stuff like BOWIE and T-REX. If you think about it, that whole space-dance-rock thing was kind of weird and I like all of those kind of movements that were strange and sort lasted for two seconds. Psychedelia was like that too. It was very weird and then it was gone. Swing was like that too. Guys run pop criticism and everything else and guys don't like music that's indifferent to them. Guys like music that empowers their testosterone and swing isn't like that. So, the whole swing movement was not meant to last. Swing wasn't man music. It was largely powered by women. It was empowering to women, so it couldn't have lasted. It's just like disco. There was a huge backlash against disco because women were involved and the guys had to get things back to the 'rock' side.
Yeah, women and gays.
Yeah. That shit doesn't last long in America. I enjoy those kinds of movements because it's really threatening. That sort monster mouth metal, to me, is not threatening. It's like the antithesis of threatening. But people dancing together back then, that was really threatening. It questioned alot of the values that people held and still hold. I think dancing in and of itself is suspect here in the United States. People like to snipe at people who are dancing around, but the thing of it is, is that dancing is the ultimate expression of joy and life and vitality and giving up all of that stupid stuff. The thought that you've got to gaze at your shoes and cry in your soup is so ridiculous to me.
And that's not rock n roll.
It's not. You've got to rise above with another person. So I really like dance music. I like what it represents and the ideas that are beneath it. I think it's really cool!
Are there any tracks from SUSQUEHANNA that stand out for you particularly?
For me, its hard because they're all my babies. I just tried to tell a story with these songs, so I guess the songs that tell a story and have a poetic sense to them, like 'BLOOD ORANGE SUN', are the songs that I like. It's got a good story and there are moments where you are allowed to put it together yourself. My most successful songs are the ones where you are put in a time and place and you know what's going on. The songs also have moments where something abstract is said and that allows you to make it your own. Like the song 'ROSEANNE', which is a flamenco kind of thing, the lyrics are pretty much all abstract. You can sort of feel the whole thing rather than having to hear it in a narrative. I like the song 'ROSEANNE' as just one song. I would never do a whole record like that. So, I like the songs where you know what's going on, but where there is a little bit of wiggle room.
I must tell you that 'HI AND LO' is my favorite track.
I don't quite know why, but there is something about that track - and I don't mean this in a bad way - just feels familiar to me. Like when a song feels like home.
Lyrically or the whole way that it feels?
Just the way it feels. Maybe it's the chord progression or the horns. It just feels natural!
Good! I like that idea that a song can feel natural. That's a good way of putting it.
The years away from the spotlight clearly had nothing to do with the band hating each other. What prompted you guys to step away for so long?
Some of it was me. I was exhausted. Our record 'SOUL CADDY' came out in 2000 and we had been touring hard since the early nineties, and around '97 and '98 we toured really, really hard. When you're thinking about the band constantly 24 hours a day, you start to realize that life is more than that. I felt like my brain had gone down the toilet. I didn't feel connected to people. It's actually a pretty lonely life to be in a band - especially the leader of a band because when you're the leader, people don't like you because you're making the decisions. Everybody's got ideas to bring to the table and you have to pick one and a bunch of people are going to be unhappy. So, I had just had it and I needed a break. I moved back to New York, where I grew up and kind of chilled on everything. It was kind of disappointing that the record label was so dick-ish when we worked so hard at trying to make a good record and it was never in the cards that they were going to promote it. It was a pain. We might as well have pooped on plastic and gave it to them instead of work hard. It was sort of music business fatigue and wanting to do other things with your life and having a life like a human being that wasn't defined by the music business. There was so much business in it and not enough art. I just wasn't feeling it. Another part of it was the time period. I remember writing 'SOUL CADDY', and 'SOUL CADDY' is a really lonely record. When I listen to the record, I know that I was feeling like 9/11 is coming. I felt it fucking coming. I hated the late nineties. I hated this feeling that we were this bratty country. We had horrible movies and stuck up people and the culture was crappy. I just remember being really unhappy with the whole thing. Everything seemed cheap and crappy and we seemed like arrogant and insolated as a country. I just felt icky all through that time. There was a song off of SOUL CADDY called DIAMOND-LIKE BOOGIE and that song addressed it. All of the interviews I was doing at that time were all super-negative and now looking back on that time, I think that had a lot to do with it. After 9/11, things changed and that period sort of went away. The Country was doing well financially and the way we reacted to it was icky. After 9/11 happened, I was in school and I just wanted to rebuild myself. It was kind of a relief to tell you the truth.
What do you want someone to come away with after they've heard SUSQUEHANNA?
The ultimate would be "Oh geez! What was that all about?" and then go listen to it again. My ultimate goal would be for someone to listen to it again and have someone realize "Hey, there's something here! I wanna hear this thing from the beginning!" I want people to care enough to listen to it as a whole piece and realize that every song was done for a reason. It seems like what I'm hoping for isn't that much, but that is what I want. I want people to get that it was 'thought about'.
Does it annoy you that you have the same name as the guy from JOURNEY?
Yes. It's funny! When we were blowing up big time, I used to get a lot of his fan mail and it would say "I really liked the JOURNEY stuff but this is great too! This new direction is great!!!"
Oh people can be so stupid!
Well, it's a gigantic world and it takes all kinds.