Do you remember that “swing fad” in the late 90s? Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer? Well, if you remember it as a fad, you haven’t been partying enough.
Eugene’s own Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have been going strong since the late 80s and haven’t looked back. The band’s mix of swing, ska and rock ‘n’ roll helped them break into the mainstream in 1997 with the hit, “Zoot Suit Riot” (check out the video below). Since then, frontman Steve Perry and company have been chugging along with a handful of different musicians and were even inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
JACK Seattle got a chance to shoot the breeze with Perry before Friday’s show at the Tractor Tavern.
What is it like to come back to the Northwest, particularly Eugene?
It’s pretty cool. The audience has changed somewhat from the early days when we first started playing. We weren’t exactly a swing band when we started; we played swing music and we played it kinda ferociously. If you look on YouTube and watch some of our old shows, you see people stage-diving — and now we’ve been a band for 23 years and don’t play the distorted guitar kinda stuff that we used to do. Now people swing dance, so it’s a huge shift. But what’s weird is that music hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s just the audience that’s changed.
Talk about the atmosphere in Eugene during the band’s controversial early days.
We were kinda Zappa-esque. I’d say the very beginning, we had elaborate stage shows. When we first came out it was the late 80s, so ‘politically correct speech’ was just starting and Eugene was the epicenter of it. It was a very loaded atmosphere at the time and we used our stage show to comment on it at the time. We’re not the same people we were 23 years ago, obviously, we’re a lot more mature and we don’t have bones to pick with society and that kinda stuff. We just made a new record and there’s a lot of social commentary in it, but it’s not ‘in your face,’ it’s subtle and how a ‘near-50-year-old’ would put it instead of someone in their early 20s. A little more poetic!
The new record is being produced with the help of fans via PledgeMusic (similar to Kickstarter). Do you think more bands are going this route because of the economy or is it something that bands would have been doing a while ago had the technology been there?
A little of both, really. The reason we did it was because we’d recorded a record that was pretty much 100% done and then we decided we were going to finish some other tunes and make a double record. So the entire project wasn’t funded by PledgeMusic. We also thought that [doing it this way] might keep people engaged in the process. I’m not the best ‘reacher-outer’; I have Facebook but I never really go on, I’m still a guy who e-mails his friends. So this was a way for me to write little blogs and tell people what I’m thinking about when I’m writing new songs for the record. It was an experiment, but I think it turned out really well.
Is the current tour in support of the new tunes?
We’re setting up that tour now, so I think it’ll be early next year when the new album gets released. For the last two records we did, we basically made the record and got it done and went, ‘phew, that’s done! Now what do I do? Well, let’s put it on the website and press a few copies.’
Do you have any interesting tales from the road thus far?
Ya know, I’m basically getting old. It’s funny, I just went through a few DVDs of our old shows and was under the impression that I moved around more when I was younger than I do now. But after watching, that actually wasn’t true, I move a lot more now. So, it hurts more now! I move around, my voice goes easier, I have to be careful about what I do and still rock out. But it’s not like were doddering around the stage, though. If I did that, I would stop if it was sad.
You said you recently took your first voice lesson ever. Did the coach point out anything you’d been doing wrong?
The Daddies’ material is actually really difficult, there’s a lot of high pinpoint movement. You don’t sing that kinda stuff for 23 years unless you’re doing it correctly. I mean when I first started, I smoked cigarettes and I would lose my voice every show. Eventually I had to stop or else I wouldn’t have been able to keep singing Daddies’ songs. I do a lot more exercises now, though. I remember we played with No Doubt years ago and Gwen Stefani had all this elaborate preparation stuff and I remember thinking that was stupid. I thought if I wasn’t having problems with my voice I didn’t have to bother with that stuff. But now I’m starting to realize that if I am going to be doing this performance night after night that I’m going to have to be smart.
The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies play Friday, November 30th at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard with The Jilly Rizzo. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased right here.
-Chris Coyle/JACK Seattle