Being Bangles

By Warren Kurtz

Debbi Peterson in 2011, Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA.

Debbi Peterson in 2011, Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA. Photo by Kirk Stauffer.

Debbi Peterson is the drummer, a vocalist and co-writer of many of the Bangles’ songs including their final Top 40 hit of the ‘80s “Be With You.” Along with her sister Vicki Peterson Cowsill, and their longtime friend and bandmate Susanna Hoffs, the group has just released an album of their early ‘80s material called “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Bangles!”

Goldmine spoke to Peterson about the new release, their recordings, upcoming concert dates and their boost to the spotlight, courtesy of Prince.

Goldmine: When I played the new CD, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a surf instrumental as the opening track, with some guitar notes that almost seem to return to the instrumental break on “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

DEBBI PETERSON: We call the song “Bitchen Summer/Speedway,” with a fun surf sound inspired by Dick Dale & the Del-Tones. It had only been available locally in L.A., on a 1982 compilation previously.

GM: Speaking of 1982, based on a magazine review, I bought your debut EP. I loved all five songs and it is great for Bangles fans to finally have these songs and more on the new CD. On the opening EP song “The Real World,” Susanna sings, “When I was a little girl I wanted everything ideal.”

DP: That love song is almost innocent, highlighting how different things can be when you grow up.

GM: The next EP song is when I first heard your deep rich vocals on “I’m In Line.” The guitar and drum parts remind me a bit of Jefferson Airplane.

DP: It’s funny that you should bring up Jefferson Airplane. “White Rabbit” was one of the first songs we did in the garage. “I’m In Line” is the first song I wrote and sang on. I suppose it’s a bit of a homage not only to The Beatles, but to The Jam. A lot of songs on that EP represented our influences. We were mad for the ‘60s, which is definitely part of early “Bangledom.”

GM: You brought the same uptempo beat you delivered on the EP’s “Want You” to the rare ‘60s song “How is the Air Up There?” It was written by the same duo who brought your brother-in-law John Cowsill’s family band their first hit “The Rain, The Park & Other Things.”

bangles-cd-lad-gent-webDP: It is funny how it all comes together. It was just meant to be. We learned that song through a recording by the La De Das from New Zealand. We tried to give it more of a “Stonesy” feel.

GM: The four 1981 demo recordings included on the new CD start with “Outside Chance,” a song The Turtles’ management tried to promote for the group a couple of times including being the flip side of their short-lived “Making Up My Mind” single.

DP: My sister Vicki sings that one and is one of our early favorites to play.

GM: When you were signed to Columbia and your first full-length album “All Over the Place” was released, I played “Live” for my wife and told her that she will love this one. She said, “I already do,” and started singing along and told me “I know this one.”

DP: We knew “Live,” which Emitt Rhodes wrote when he was in The Merry-Go-Round in the mid-‘60s. I love singing “Live.”

GM: Another one you sang on from that album is “Going Down to Liverpool,” which was the flip side of Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” single.

DP: That one was submitted to us, written by Kimberley Rew of the Waves before they became Katrina and the Waves. We loved it, especially the whole Liverpool reference.

GM: When the next album, “Different Light,” came out, you achieved your first Top 10 single. Goldmine did a memorial on Prince and we highlighted “Manic Monday.”

DP: Prince was very supportive. He was into psychedelic pop at the time, so we were a good fit for him. He gave us the “Manic Monday” track to sing on, with the music that he had already recorded. We wanted the song, but also wanted to play the instruments, too. We jammed until two in the morning and we are not a jam band. He didn’t want to play Beatles songs, all he wanted to play were Bangles songs. I did get to play his drum set, so that was cool.

GM: When the next single from the album was released, “If She Knew What She Wants,” the album’s closing song “Not Like You” made a great flip side. It is such a non-judgmental friendship song.

DP: My brother had gone through some hard times. Even though he was “busted down and broken all in two,” I wanted to offer encouragement that “I’ll be around for you.” It is more bubbly and happy of a recording than I envisioned for it, but it is still uplifting.

GM: After four Top 40 singles from the “Different Light” album, you returned some months later with a song from the “Less Than Zero” film soundtrack, your powerful version of “Hazy Shade of Winter.” Have you ever broken anything with your drumming?

DP: I have broken a few drum heads and have had tips flying off of my drumsticks, maybe not on that song, but certainly on others. With “Hazy Shade of Winter,” we were proud to get all of our voices on the recording. The foundation of The Bangles is our harmonies. For example, with “Let it Go,” the flip side of “Walking Down Your Street” from earlier that year, we had all written it, all sang lead on it, and are so proud of that one.

GM: 1988’s “Everything” album had 13 great songs, but one that was not on the initial release of the album, and only appeared as the flip side of “Eternal Flame,” is the uptempo “What I Meant to Say.” With this great song, just like “Stealing Rosemary” and “Mesmerized,” I can’t figure out which sister is singing.

DP: On that one and “Stealing Rosemary” from the “Doll Revolution” CD and “Mesmerized” from the “Sweetheart of the Sun” CD, it is both me and Vicki. With sisters, it is often difficult to tell our voices apart.

GM: One of my favorite parts of hearing “Eternal Flame” on the radio in 1989 was waiting to hear all of your voices together. Your voice was certainly featured on the radio that summer with “Be With You,” while we were driving around.

DP: That record did remind me of a seasonal song, reminiscent of the old days, driving around with the top down, driving along the beach. I wrote it with our keyboardist Walker Inglehart. I was getting married that summer and we just celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary and have two great children.

GM: There was a break from The Bangles in the ‘90s and you were in Kindred Spirit, where you recorded the gentle “Ask Me No Questions.” I was happy to finally own a version of that song on the “Doll Revolution” CD in 2003.

DP: I wrote the song before Kindred Spirit. Those recordings are rare collectors’ items. I always envisioned it for The Bangles and wanted to get Susanna’s voice on the recording.

GM: The CD also included the “live in the moment” song “Here Right Now,” where you declare there is “no place better than here right now.”  On the next CD, “Sweetheart of the Sun,” you seem to go deeper with “One of Two.”

DP: Both are relationship songs with “Here Right Now” feeling more like a pop hit where “One of Two” is darker and more ethereal, like a Neil Young song.

GM: Like the variety of your music, as you tour, you are heading to an interesting array of places.

DP: In late August we have a seven day tour of the northeast. In October we will be in Mexico. In December we have a three day return to the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. where we have not only played in our early days but recently, too. After that, next year, I am hoping we will continue to write some new songs.

GM: In the meantime, fans will certainly enjoy “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Bangles.”

DP: My brother Dave helped on this CD and mastered it. It just comes full circle for the Peterson family. I hope fans will enjoy the new compilation which shows how we started. It also includes both sides of our debut local single “Getting Out of Hand” and its flip side “Call on Me,” when we were known as the Bangs. We were all so young and eager, and it’s great to hear these old songs again, as it really brings back the energy, devotion and excitement that we all felt in the early days.  

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