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By Brian Lepire
Boston, MA, USA
You’re about to read a name you probably haven’t heard of in years. The name I’m about to type is of a band I can almost guarantee you’ve heard of, if you remember the late ‘90s or ever lived in Eugene, Oregon. For awhile, their biggest single was a mandatory spin at any party or dance.
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Ok, ok…so you’re first reaction is probably a head tilt and a quizzical look. How do you know that name? Next is the realization not only do you remember the band, but you liked their brand of neo-swing that roared through 1997-98 as part of a short-lived fad. “Zoot Suit Riot,” right?
This is when I come in and say they aren’t a swing band.
The Daddies have been around since 1988, playing a range of musical styles from swing and rockabilly to ska and punk. Their big leap to fame came in 1998 when their label, Mojo Records, decided to take advantage of the Neo-Swing fad controlling the charts at the time. Mojo compiled all of the swing and rockabilly tracks from the Daddies’ catalogue and released them on one record. That’s when Zoot Suit Riot entered the public lexicon.
Since then, The Daddies have headlined large tours and festivals, saw the end of the Swing Revival, released a record that incorporated a wide range of musical genres to create a unique album, summarily were dropped from their label, went on hiatus, started side projects, went back to school, had families, played small shows and fairs together and watched as the name Cherry Poppin’ Daddies faded into the background of the public’s minds.
Why did I just tell you all that? Because they are back.
After a successful European tour in 2008, the Daddies plan to release TWO new albums this month on their new label, Rock Ridge Music. The first, Susquehana, is a traditional album in the Daddies’ catalogue, which means every musical style is used to create a coherent narrative where no two songs sound alike. SkaBoy JFK, the second release, is a compilation of the band’s ska material.
I recently interviewed Steve Perry, Daddies’ lead singer and co-founder, from his home in Oregon about the band’s return, the sad demise of scenes and The Damned.
THIRSTY: It’s been over twenty years since you started CPD and you guys are about to release two albums simultaneously. How does it feel to still be making and performing your own songs across the globe after all the years and twists and turns?
Steve Perry: Yeah, right. Well, obviously it feels pretty good. I mean, not many bands get the chance to have this kind of longevity. We’ve been sort of lucky, being in the Northwest, sort of away from the big media centers. I think it’s been easier for us to just sort of chart our own path, you know. We’ve made sort of strange albums with all sorts of different styles on them and I think if we were really part of the, you know, national [laughs] or big city scene where everyone is trying to make it, they would have forced us into more of a creative straitjacket. Luckily, we’ve sort of avoided that by staying in the Northwest.
THIRSTY: I was going to ask what’s kept you in Oregon so long, but that’s it. You guys are hiding out.
SP: Oregon’s an interesting state. Portland is really a Mecca for indie music. I think it’s one of those states that charts its own course, you know. It’s kind of a nice place to be, but we don’t tell anybody usually. [Laughs] Try to keep people away from it.
THIRSTY: Do you feel being outside the scope of a label, not even having a label expecting a final product, gave you more freedom with your recording?
SP: Yeah, exactly. And that’s sort of what we always wanted to do. Even when we were with a label, we were so far out…that the head of the label wasn’t going to come in and listen to what we were doing. They weren’t going to fly in to Oregon and check us out and see what we were doing. We produced our own records and pretty much said “Get it to us when you are done and then we’ll criticize it and listen to it.” But what were they going to do? They weren’t going to change it. It’s worked for us creatively to be like that, but I think inside the music business is so based on fitting inside a niche and branding. That’s not why we started playing music or what we’re about. It would be waaay smarter to move to a big city and try to sell yourself to Pepsi, but that’s not what we came out of. We came out of punk rock. We came out of Oregon. We like it here. We are still trying to do it and do it so we can make enough of a living so that we can eat.
THIRSTY: The first album you’ve got coming out is Susquehanna. Am I saying that right?
SP: SUS-ke-han-NAH. Yeah, it’s a river in Pennsylvania and New York State.
THIRSTY: It’s the first you guys have come out with since 2000 and I’ve read you’ve called it your “coming out party”. What does this album offer that will reintroduce you to the public?
SP: Well, it’s kind of…not so much reintroduce us…It’s kind of a traditional album for us in that it uses a lot of different styles, like I said. Song to song, it goes very far-field. You’ll hear a song that will be a heavy tune and next to it will be sort of a glam tune and then a swing song with a light, almost folky song in between, then some Latin [influenced] songs.
THIRSTY: I was going to mention that the songs I’ve heard so far off the album have a latin or reggae overtone to them.
SP: Yeah. We’ve always made records like that and sometimes people don’t know. When other bands say “We play different styles,” the truth is they…really don’t do a lot of styles or each song kind of sounds the same even if it’s a different style. With us, we approach each song as its own thing and try to make it sound different than all the others. While saying that, all our songs are ordered in such a way that tell a little story and relate to each other. Maybe the styles don’t relate to each other back to back, but the album has a whole does.
THIRSTY: I’ve heard you draw your inspiration from James Joyce. Is he one of your favorites?
SP: Yeah. I like the idea of not having to…of the creative freedom to do different things and I think Joyce was someone who people could recognize who did that...We are trying to write songs that are different. It’s hard to try to explain to people, because I think it’s weird for people to hear a record like that. I don’t think it’s weird, but I’ve found through the years that people think it’s weird.
THIRSTY: This album you guys released on your own last year and Rock Ridge heard it and brought it onto their label.
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SP: That’s right.
THIRSTY: Along with Susquehanna, Rock Ridge is releasing Skaboy JFK. They took some of the ska tracks off your previous stuff and put it out altogether. Did you guys have any misgivings about doing another genre compilation after the first one [Zoot Suit Riot]?
SP: In a way, it’s sort of good because I’ve always been answering questions about Zoot Suit Riot being the record most people know of ours. Doing another one with a different genre points out more of what we are. Yeah, most of the albums we do are like Susquehanna, but occasionally we can put out records of one genre and it kind of helps to explain that way. People have been asking us to do that…put out our ska stuff. A lot of people, a lot of ska people, that’s all they want to hear. They don’t want to hear a lot of the other stuff.
THIRSTY: I bet you find that a lot on the road, when you are on tour. A lot of your fans are saying “Do the ska stuff, leave the swing stuff behind,” or others are asking for the Swing with no ska.
SP: That’s been a problem for us our entire career. In a perfect world, like Eugene and places where we are better known, we can play a diverse set and people will be happy. But, for instance in Europe, it’s really rockabilly [and] swing that they want to hear…What we do, in that case, is we basically cater to them. We’ll play our swing and rockabilly stuff and they’ll be happy and that’s fine. We look out into the audience and try to figure out what they want. Having a ska compilation helps us connect with those people who want that.
THIRSTY: That sounds very handy, having such a diverse, genre-spanning catalog like that that you can take a look out into the audience and pinpoint what they would want to hear.
SP: Yeah. It’s not ideal, but that’s the way the world works, you know. We came up playing with both swing and ska audiences. They are different, but they both tend to be orthodox. It’s a problem, but it’s interesting for us, because we can play such different sets.
THIRSTY: These albums are the first the public has heard from CPD since Soul Caddy in 2000.
SP: Actually, the guitar player and I did a record on Jive [Records] called White Hot Odyssey. Our keyboard player and bass player had a band called The Visible Men. I guess we went through the “solo project” phase. We still played together, went to some fairs and shows…We never stopped playing during those years, but now we have started doing more. Doing Europe and playing clubs over there made us yearn to play the States more. We had a bunch more material as well, so we wanted to get that out there…We have a bunch more in the hopper too. We’ve got another record heading out after these.
THIRSTY: I was wondering if you had something in store because, from my understanding, the stuff on your albums are songs you’ve already been playing live. Is there anything on the tour people should be on the lookout for?
SP: Yeah, as a matter of fact. One thing we are doing, sort of the glam rock thing. We are going to put out a vinyl single, a glam single, here in January. [The two sides] fit in, in a weird way. We’ll probably being playing a lot of ska, in the US especially, during the fall, because of SkaBoy coming up. Then will throw in a couple of things that will fit with that. It’s hard to explain. The glam things kind of fit with it too. They are along the lines of Slade or Sweet, you know. They sound like they fit with the ska stuff though. That punk rock that preceded ska. It’s so hard to explain. It’s like it has a ‘50s glam thing to it. Like a Gary Glitter thing, but it works in the set.
THIRSTY: Alright, just listening you just list off all those different bands and different styles, I’ve really got to ask, what the hell did you listen to growing up? What are your influences? Who was on your wall as a kid?
SP: (Laughs) I’m old. I was in high school in the late ‘70s [during] the first New York scene, the first punk rock scene, which was a lot broader. Mink DeVille was an early punk rock band. They were very eclectic. They dabbled in zydeco and more punk rock style. Back in that day there was King Creole and the Coconuts, too. It was a kind of new wave, Ramones, early punk rock. The early punk rock, before it became hardcore, before Black Flag. There was a wide range of styles [which] is sort of where we are coming from. I think there is an experimental vibe to us that we have held onto for. We’ve always liked the bands that were weird, like the Meat Puppets and The Wipers. Punk bands that don’t fit into what you think of when you think of punk rock bands. Take Elvis Costello, who is a pop dude who always makes some interesting, New Wave sort of records that were somewhat mean and nasty. He was a great musician, but he made nasty weird songs. Look at him now. He’s putting out hillbilly records.
THIRSTY: I think one of his first tours he went on the road with The Damned. What a fucking show that would have been?
SP: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be great? He produced The Specials. There was a lot of interbreeding in those times. The Damned is one of my favorite bands.
THIRSTY: Same here. Actually, with some of the stuff on Soul Caddy, it seemed like you were going through your Dave Vanian phase.
SP: We wouldn’t make the whole record like that, but I’ve always liked their….that kind of gloomy, gothy but funny [style]. The Black Album is a great album. I like that more than some of the earlier stuff, like “New Rose”. Strawberries and The Black Album I think are great.
THIRSTY: I read that in the off time you went back to school.
SP: Yeah, Molecular Biology. I dropped out of school to start playing music, and when we had some time off, I thought, “Well, you know what. I’m just going to get this finished up.” I did that. Made my mom proud.
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THIRSTY: Did you want to be a rock star-scientist as a kid?
SP: No…I was a kid who really didn’t know what he wanted to be. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and wouldn’t know until I was actually doing it. I just started playing music, and that was it. I wasn’t thinking about a career. I was thinking “Today I want to do this. Today I want to write a song. Today I want to read a book on genetics.”
THIRSTY: What have you personally been listening to in the off-time? Any new bands you would recommend or feels deserves some mention?
SP: I wish I was, but I’ve sort of been out of the loop. I just recently had a daughter, so seeing bands is not something I’ve been doing. To be honest, I listen to a lot of classical music. In theory, I like some of the indie rock and experimental stuff but, for me, it doesn’t have enough ass to it. It’s kind of too pop, in a way. It’s not animal enough…like Iggy [Pop]. It doesn’t make me want to explode.
THIRSTY: You guys are hitting the road in support of the two new records. Are you still up for touring? Do you still like to tour?
SP: I do actually. I really like it. I like playing the small clubs. You’d think it’d be tiresome, but it’s actually fun. It’s fun to play new music, too.
THIRSTY: Is touring now different then it was 10 or 12 years ago? Growing up on the road, has it changed over time?
SP: Yeah. There’s less clubs now. (Laughs) The shows are smaller. Kids stay home and are on their PlayStations. It’s not as scene-oriented as it used to be. Overall it’s a little different vibe.
THIRSTY: Does it piss you off that it’s not like it was?
SP: Yeah. I think the music in general is less important in their lives. There are still kids who are like that, like it was with me, that the music is everything. I think now that kids have their computers and are able to access a lot of different [bands].
THIRSTY: They don’t have to hunt it down anymore.
SP: Right. And when I was a kid in the early ‘80s, it was an Us versus Them mentality…you got beat up. You got chanced around [for what you liked]. Now, everybody thinks they are them, I guess.
THIRSTY: That sucks.
SP: Yeah. I think it sucks. If you are a kid though, you try to make your little subculture. I think those still exist, but they aren’t like they were back in the day.
THIRSTY: You guys still have your hardcore fans who still come out there and are psyched for the new releases.
SP: Yeah. We are making new fans too. People who appreciate…us for our musicianship. Those are out favorite fans, the people who dig what we are doing as a band. It doesn’t matter if someone says “You’re a great swing band,” and that’s it. Of course we like that, but it’d be great if people saw the whole of us and thought it was cool….We ask a lot, so I understand if people aren’t going to get it.