Steve Perry of Cherry Poppin Daddies

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies formed in Eugene, Oregon in the late '80s, where their lead singer Steve Perry was a chemistry major. A mashup of Punk Rock and Jazz with a subversive streak (see the explanation of their band name), they built up a local following and released 3 independent albums that completely ignored the Grunge movement in the Pacific Northwest. When the trend shifted to Swing, they were right in the sweet spot with "Zoot Suit Riot," which got them a record deal, and as Steve explains, got them off government cheese.

Never content to stick to one format, they returned in 2009 with with 2 new albums: a rocker called Susquehanna and the Ska-influenced Skaboy JFK.
Is there a deeper meaning to the song "Zoot Suit Riot"? I'm wondering if there's any connection to the Zoot Suit Riots during WWII.
Yes, I wrote it inspired by the Zoot Suit Riots. I guess it seemed like a Pachuco rallying cry that could double as a dance anthem for those of us interested in swing music and culture at a time when nobody else was. It was an expression of a proud marginalism. That’s not that deep, but there you go. 
How has your background in chemisty and molecular biology (Steve has a degree from the University of Oregon) effected your music and songwriting?
They exist in separate lobes of my brain that mostly do not intersect. 
How did you decide on the name for the group, and did anyone try to talk you out of it?

We had to come up with a name for the poster for our first show and a friend of the band suggested it as a joke. We were into Viper Jive and Race music at the time pretty heavily so I had been listening to a lot of Depression era jazz that had sexual, racial and druggy overtones that were disguised in the lyrics. CPD fit that idea of what we were attempting. We also were members of the punk rock/alternative subculture that was very insular and had no connection to mainstream inputs; so we didn't name ourselves based on what anyone might think in the straight world. We were sort of poor Bohemian yucksters at the time with no interest in what the Bruce and Suzy Creamcheeses might think. There was no conception that we would be popular outside our little cultural bubble. After it pissed off a few normal people the impulse became to stand up for ourselves, but we found people willfully implacable in digging the spirit in which it was intended. Still do. :-) It gives outrage addicts another soapbox they can jump up on.  

What are your thoughts on the Swing music trend, and your part in it?

I wish that there had been more experimentation and "making it modern" as opposed to playing covers and scoobie dooing around like a freckle-faced Opie. It would have been cooler if it had retained some of the cartoonishness of, say, Psychobilly. Instead, I think for a lot of people, a faint whiff of conservatism emanates from it. It’s too bad, because I feel that swing music has a lot of the raw material for a future music that has the energy and sophistication of jazz, gender equality in the scene, the sex appeal of dance music, and an interest in the lost art of formal dress. I would hope that it would attract a type of people who reject the arrogance and the entitlement culture of today and who value humility, and toughness. I fantasize about folks working hard toward a new (less retarded) evolutionary line for pop music and youth culture. This will never happen, I'm afraid.

Was "Zoot Suit Riot" a blessing or a curse?
It was a blessing. I didn't have to go to get a box of food at the church poverty outreach anymore. No more blocks of government cheese. 

Please tell us about some of your songs that are very important to you, and why.

I am proud that we have attempted to make albums that come from an auteur-based perspective. We've attempted a détournement of utilizing various musical styles. We've questioned what a band’s mission actually ought to be, and what an album by a band is capable of artistically. We are interested in Godard, modernism, etc. “Susquehanna,” our last studio album, was an attempt to make an album that worked in the same way Pierrot le Fou does. Songs are a means to an end. Genres reflect off each other.
What would you like the world to know about The Cherry Poppin' Daddies?
That we have been gigantic failures, and that we will continue to fail until the mystery flows over the mountain and envelops the complacent.

This interview took place October 8, 2009
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Ezza from Australialove CPD, been a big fan 4 years. Zoot Suit Riot definately my fave. love you steve perry, one of the sexiest people and sexiest voice ive heard.
  • AnonymousI'll always like their tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.'s
    Come Back to Me
see more comments

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