Named after a river in upstate New York, Susquehanna (Space Age Bachelor Pad Records) marks the return of Oregon’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Singer Steve Perry discusses some of the challenges in making the new album, what he did during the eclectic band’s hiatus and more.
Medleyville.us: A lot of artists would do just about anything to be known for at least one song. Some achieve their wish, only to hate having to play it for the rest of their careers. That said, are you comfortable with “Zoot Suit Riot” being what the masses know the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies for, and do you feel a responsibility to your fans to always perform it?
Steve Perry: “I am happy that we are vaguely familiar to people, and we always put ‘Zoot Suit Riot’ in any set, of course. The band also is known for its stylistic diversity that predates ‘Zoot Suit Riot’ by 10 years. I wish that more people had our back catalog, or at least were familiar with it, so that they would have the background to get where the band is coming from. So it’s a mixed blessing for us as well.”
Were you honored or horrified — or something else entirely — by Weird Al Yankovic’s “Grapefruit Diet,” his parody of “Zoot Suit Riot”?
Perry: “Honored, I guess. Why Weird Al is such an icon is a mystery to me though. But then again there is much about the universe that I will never understand.”
What year did the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies part ways with Mojo Records, and was that the first factor leading to the band’s hiatus or the final straw?
Perry: “I think around 2001 the guy who started the label decided to sell it. There was no real final straw. I thought Universal/Mojo did a good job on the first record and a bad job on the second. In their defense, I think they didn’t know what to do in a tough situation for the second album, so they did stuff like released the single without the bands name on it — you know, sad-sack buffoonery that would fit right in the pages of Mixerman.”
Talk about what you did during the band’s hiatus and the process of getting back together.
Perry: “I personally went back and finished my degree in molecular biology and other guys had families, started side projects and generally did their own things. I decided I wanted to write again and tried to get a consensus with the band, but there was some enthusiasm and some resistance. I just went ahead with the writing, and little by little, people got slightly more enthusiastic. When the record finally was finished, the transition to playing again was slow, but the adding of new material has helped to keep the freshness.”
What were some of the challenges — be it musical, lyrical or personnel-wise — that the band dealt with during the writing and recording of Susquehanna?
Perry: “The main challenges for me were musical/lyrical. I wanted to create a more narrative record, a record that told a story and gave a feeling of how it really felt to be alive in 2007. There is a lot of working through of disappointments and regrets, then finally resiliency in the face of loneliness. I guess I see the present as essentially a lonely time, where people are technologically, ideologically and spiritually isolated from one another. I think that the campaigns of this year, particularly the [Barack] Obama campaign to “bring together the nation” and “change Washington,” are an idealistic reaction to the dissatisfaction with the loneliness and isolation inherent in our present culture.
“People need each other andyet people have been taught that they are forever competing with each other for all those commercial goods and career glories that will supposedly make them happy. So currently, we are all enemies. So, in plotting the record, for me, distrust, selfishness and conflict lead to an aftermath of lonely reflection and finally quiet resolve to stoically go on because what you gonna do? To me, that was a story arc that was in sympathy with the current moment.
“So I wrote a bunch of songs in diverse number of styles and ordered them so they touched on many of these feelings and projected it through the personal struggles of a Nashville of characters . . . [like] a Robert Altman style of moviemaking.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior