By: Justin R. Beckner, Rock Concerts Correspondent
The Bangles are back! After a rough breakup at the peak of their popularity, they have reformed with new life. The band is well under way in the recoding of a new album and playing shows across the country. The Bangles broke new ground for women in the music industry in the 1980s and continue to inspire while treading forward in an often difficult and frustrating business. We chatted with Debbi Peterson to get the latest on the group.
Melodic Rock Concerts: How is the vibe within the band right now. How does it feel to be back together?
Debbie: It’s actually better than it was because we all have kids – our priorities have changed. So instead of everything being Bangle, we’ve struck a better balance now. Its also a little more challenging as far as trying to schedule things around our lives. Its working out great, we all communicate better and I think that’s a real important point.
We’ve all matured and after the break we all had a chance to work with other people and experience different things, which was good because it got us out of this little world we had made for ourselves in the ’80s. And with touring, it’s hard to leave the kids at home and it’s kind of hard to take them with as well, especially with younger kids. Plus we don’t want to pull them out of school. But they do come out to some local shows and hang out backstage, which is fun for them.
MRC: What can you tell me about this new album you’ve got going on?
Debbie: We’re still working away on it. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been very different because were working with Matthew Sweet and he’s a wonderful guy, fun to work with, and has a lot of good ideas. Also Susan and Vikki have home studios and so we’re working at their places a lot and my sister Vikki is learning how to be an engineer. So it’s taken a bit more time to get it together because of children and school and things but it’s been really fun. It’s been a steep learning curve on this album and I think what we’ve got so far is a little bit more rock than were had in the past. We’re rocking out on this new album a bit more and sort of returning to our Bangle roots.
MRC: Was that the idea going in to making this alum?
Debbie: It’s just something that happened naturally. I think were all willing to try new things and trying new sounds and different ways of recording. We’ve done a lot of experimenting on this album. But its been a blast.
MRC: Do you have a release date or title or anything like that yet?
Debbie: Oh man, I wish we did. We’re hoping to have it out toward the end of the year. We don’t have a title yet either – on the Doll Revolution album we had a big white board where we brainstormed different names and I think we’re about ready to do that now.
MRC: Does the absence of a deadline help your creative process at all?
Debbie: Well, us Bangles tend to try a lot of different things plus we have so much going on in other parts of our lives that it makes it difficult to make deadlines. We try to keep some structure, like scheduling recording dates and sticking to them. So the absence of structure has been a bit challenging to us but it does help to make it less stressful.
MRC: Have you discussed any long term plans for the band or are you just playing things by ear?
Debbie: We’re just playing it by ear right now. We don’t plan on breaking up anytime soon. Were going to continue because we like working together and we’re coming up with some good material. So as long as that happens, we’re going to continue to record and do shows. We’ve had thoughts of doing a book. There’s a lot of ideas floating around out there to keep us busy for a long time.
MRC: The music industry has undergone a lot of changes since The Bangles broke up. What are some key differences that you’ve noticed between the industry now and the industry in the 1980s?
Debbie: Well, you have to do things very differently with the internet and things like that. Its good and bad, things like YouTube and MySpace and mediums like that are great for getting exposure. Unfortunately they don’t always pay. It’s so different now because back then, record labels used to be everything and now they don’t seem as important because you can record an album in your living room now. I think that’s an amazing thing and we’re finding that tool very useful. So we can put a record out by ourselves, we can license it to another company, you have a lot more options now as far as putting records out which I think is a good thing.
MRC: How was your relationship with your record label back before the breakup?
Debbie: Well, we felt compromised slightly by having the record company. We knew that we had to do it to get our foot in the door so people could hear our music. They had so much control in those days because they had the money to put out your record and promote it. It became frustrating because they were shaping the band into something that we were not. That wasn’t how we wanted to be seen, so it was frustrating but we knew that we had to let it happen to some degree so that we could get our music out there. It wasn’t the best experience and I think that’s why now we would rather not work with a record company or if we do, we will do things on our own terms.
MRC: Did you ever feel as though you were writing songs for the record company and not for yourself?
Debbie: I suppose there was an element of that back in the 80’s just because they had so much control. We were writing the songs that we wanted to write but a lot of them wouldn’t make it onto the album or they wouldn’t get promoted because it wasn’t something they pictured as what our music should be. As for right now, we write songs because we love to write songs and we write songs for ourselves and hope that the fans like it. And we don’t have a record company looking over us and telling us that it doesn’t work. We have a lot more freedom now.
MRC: Now you’re all very beautiful women and you’re also very talented musicians. It seems that lately there has been a trend of beautiful musicians whose looks and fashion sense often overshadows their musical abilities.
Debbie: Right, a lot of mainstream music now seems very manufactured in the Disney sense. Some of those girls do have a lot of talent but they tend to find pretty people and make them into singers. And that’s been going on for a long time but there are really not a lot of female musicians who play instruments very well and there should be more. I get frustrated when I see someone who is made into an idol – like on American Idol where people get manufactured because that’s not how women should be seen. There’s a load of talented women out there who don’t get half the attention that they should because of some kind of company that is not interested in them for whatever reason. It’s a very familiar story of having this manufactured artist out there. Especially with these female “bands” out there which are really just four or five singers who aren’t playing instruments. I’d love to see more female musicians, real musicians, out there.
MRC: The Bangles have inspired a whole generation of female artists to pick up instruments and its really a shame that they are not given the credit they are due. But I’m wondering who inspired you to start drumming.
Debbie: Well funny enough it was really more male inspirations. There weren’t a lot of female drummers around when I was young. I mean Karen Carpenter was an inspiration, Moe Tucker from Velvet Underground. But mostly it was males like Ringo Starr, Johnny Watts, Keith Moon – the classic 60s drummers.
MRC: Whats the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Debbie: Be positive. Whatever you want to do in life, go for it and don’t let anyone tell you not to.
Catch up with the latest on the Bangles at their official website, and watch for the band on tour this summer.