Debbi Peterson is best known for her work providing the backbeat for one of music’s most loved and enduring all-girl groups, The Bangles. The group arrived on the scene in the early ‘80s and ruled the charts with such classic songs as “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like An Egyptian,” “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “Eternal Flame” that launched them into super-stardom with legions of fans worldwide. In the ‘90s, the band members went their separate ways and Susanna Hoffs took on a solo career where she released two critically praised albums. In the late ‘90s, Hoffs reached out to the other Bangles members to record the single “Get the Girl” for the second film in the Austin Powers franchise. It didn’t take long for the creative juices to flow and the band announced their decision to reunite full-time in 2000. Susanna Hoffs, Vicki and Debbi Peterson set out once more to create what became the band’s fourth album, “Doll Revolution,” which was released in 2003. With well over two decades behind them, The Bangles show no sign of fading away as they continue to tour and are back on the scene with their amazing fifth album, “Sweetheart of the Sun.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Debbi Peterson to discuss her past, her influences, the longevity of the band and what the future may hold.
How did music first come into your life?
Oh wow, it came in very early into my life. Actually, my older sister, Pam would get money for allowance, for doing chores and stuff, so the first thing she’d do is go buy records and she was … she bought a lot of Beatles records. So, that was playing constantly in the house. We always had a radio on and we would go on family trips and the radio would always be on. So, I suppose that pretty much got me started on it.
What made you take that big step to make music your career?
I think basically, I was like 12 or 13 and I really, really wanted to be in a band. I was a huge Beatles fanatic and I wanted to play bass or guitar. Actually, bass or guitar, but not even drums originally … funny. My sister had a band. Vicki had a band going with her friends in high school. She had a little high school band and they were sort of playing around and doing little church dates and school dates and stuff. At one point they were looking for a drummer, because they actually had a female drummer for a little bit and she didn’t work out, so they were looking for a replacement. Amanda, who was playing bass at the time with Vicki, suggested me and I’d never played drums before, because that wasn’t really the instrument I was planning on playing. That’s okay; I’ll give it a shot. I started playing and it must have been a natural thing because they all said, “Oh, you’re in the band. That’s great!”
It seems to be working out for you so far!
Yeah, so far so good!
The Bangles have a new album coming out, ‘Sweetheart of The Sun’. What can you tell us about it? What made this time right to get back together for this album?
Well, it was probably playing around for a while, probably doing some shows under the radar and working on songs. We had a bunch of old songs. You know songs from like … some of them from early 1990, some of them from the mid ‘90s, some from early 2000. We just thought, you know we thought let’s just get this together. Let’s make an album. Let’s do this again. We haven’t done one for so long and we’ve just sort of been playing shows and just playing casinos and under the radar shows. We just really wanted to get together and create something new. Actually, this has sort of been a while in the making. It actually started in 2009.
What can you tell us about the writing process of the album? Has that process evolved through the years or how does that work exactly for you guys?
Well, we actually disbanded in ’89 and then we got back together in 1999 and we started writing again. That was really what kind of brought us back together. Susanna and I started working on songs and then Vicki got involved and then Michael. A lot of it was some of the songs actually, from this record are songs that we wrote when we were not together in that sort of little break period in the ‘90s. But a lot of them are sort of early getting back together songs – writing songs like some of them like “Mesmerized” is one that Susanna and I started, I guess mid ‘90s. These songs are a collection of tunes that really help in going on for a while and I think it’s kind of cool, because it says so many different aspects and so many different time periods on this record.
Yeah, it’s really neat, because listening to it … it’s almost like discovering an old friend in a way. It has a familiar feel, but it is new. It’s really kind of an interesting record.
Yes, yes, yes, it’s great! It’s sort of comfortable and just like you get all the vocals and it’s a lot of older Bangles sound to it, but then there is also a lot of new elements put in.
What was the biggest challenge? Obviously, your time-frame here is kind of with the song writing as you just mentioned, what was the biggest challenge in putting this together?
Well, a lot of the challenges. We are a family, so just trying to balance the family and be able to do the work. It’s just trying to balance, that is already hard enough. I’m sure any working parent would understand that. But that and also we had some challenges actually recording it, because we were working in Matthew Sweet’s studio to do the … get the drum tracks down and some of the guitar tracks down, but things weren’t quite working out there. So we moved to, Vicki and Susanna both have Pro Tools setups, so we moved to their houses and kind of there was a lot of shuffling back and forth from place to place, so it was to get it all together, but we managed to do it and I think it sounds really good.
You mentioned Matthew Sweet. What do you think he brings to a project like this?
I think a really creative guy. He is very talented. He was actually … I enjoyed working with him. He was very much like a cheerleader, like egging me on – that’s great, that’s great! I’d sit there and say, “Well now, maybe we should do it again.” [laughs] Things like that. He was very positive, but it’s one of those things where we wanted to try doing things at a different place and he wasn’t willing to really move from his studio. So, he’s one of those guys that he’s kind of like stays put in his one place. He’s more comfortable with that. So, that’s why I think this is kind of working out after a while. But I think he’s a very talented guy and I really liked working with him.
You ladies are obviously known for so many iconic videos. Any plans on doing a video for this at all?
Oh, who knows? Do people do videos anymore? [laughs] We might do a YouTube video, who knows? I mean there are some funny ones out there, I’ll tell you. I don’t know yet. We were just … we’ll see how that goes. See how people react to the record and we’ll see what happens.
What do you attribute the longevity of the Bangles to? Obviously, you took a break there for a little bit, but you guys have been around for a long time and keep moving forward.
Yeah, that’s … I just think it’s because we’re all really good friends. We, I think in the ‘80s it just got so crazy and there was so much work and we were like on top of each other all the time and we had no break from each other. Then, when we took that break, I think it was the time for us to get to work with other artists and to mature and to have families. Now, I think the reason we’re still hashing it out and getting along is because we actually, if anybody has a problem or disagrees with something we talk it out and we try to resolve it and make sure that nobody is unhappy, because I think in the ‘80s we didn’t have enough communication, so we kind of learned from that. So, I think that’s what’s keeping us going – communication.
Looking back on your career, as you kind of mentioned it’s definitely a growing process. How do you feel you’ve evolved as a musician through the years?
I think just because I’ve been doing it for so long, I will or sort of I’m older and wiser. I have a more kind of broad outlook on music and I’ve been able to play some guitar too, which is nice to be able to do that, because I like doing drums, guitar, I like to play bass. I like to play different instruments. So, I don’t know, I guess the more you do it, the more you listen to other music, the more you pick up things is just something that you keep doing it long enough, you just get better and better.
The music industry has changed so drastically from when you guys started out.
Do you think it’s any easier for women in the industry today?
I don’t think so, no. I mean, I think it’s as far as like the diva lead signer type thing, yeah, or your Disney girl or something, but as far as a band with all female musicians it doesn’t seem to be any easier, which surprises all of us. Because we were thinking oh, us and the Go-Go’s and other people that maybe, there would be a breakthrough and women would finally get a chance to be accepted in rock for what they are as opposed to just being sex symbols and sex icons. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened like we thought it would anyway.
You definitely made an impact. I’ve talked to so many female groups and the majority of them do bring up the Bangles when asking about their influences.
Well, that’s great. That’s really great. Yeah and I know they’re out there and I just, I hoped more and more of them get to get heard because I know there is some out there that are truly amazing.
I’m sure you guys have seen a lot in your time over the years and probably have a tale or two to tell. I was curious if we ever might get some sort of autobiography out of the band, where you could share some of those stories?
Ah, that’s sweet. Actually, that’s something we keep talking about – the Bangle’s coffee table book with pictures and stories! [laughs] We’ve actually sat down and recorded some of our little tales, tall tales, that we have! [laughs] But yeah, that’s definitely something we’re working on!
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to someone looking to start out in the music industry and make it a career like you have?
Well, it’s getting so different than it was, because back in the old days you used to have to tour and tour and you sort of break … go from the ground up kind of thing and nowadays, there are so many different ways and some ways it’s good, because you got the Internet to get yourself out there with YouTube and whatever and Facebook. All I can say is do what you believe in. Stick to it and don’t give up, because sometimes some people will say stuff about your music or your, you know, personally about you and you just have to go for it. Just go for what you believe in and stick to it.
Do you have any tour plans in the works for this album? I know you’ve been doing some shows on the side.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! In October we’re going to go to the East Coast and do a little bit of the Midwest and come back to the West Coast in November.
How do you guys keep that interesting and exciting for yourself, as well as the fans? Is that something you even have to give any thought to?
Oh yeah, yeah, we’re always giving it thought. We’re always thinking okay, what else can we do to make this better? Usually a lot of times it’s switching songs around and trying to make it a better set – something that works better. Maybe if it’s more energetic or that finding out which song goes with which song, you know, just to make it more interesting. Sometimes we do write little medleys in the song, like “Walk Like an Egyptian” we’ll throw in a different song in the middle and make it more interesting. Things like that and we want to, for this next tour unfortunately, money wise we haven’t got a lot to do a major presentation, but we’re definitely going to get some kind of lighting so it looks a bit more interesting and exciting for all.
Is there something in your mind that pops out as a maybe a career defining moment for you?
Yeah, well this is one example. We were – it was 1986 or ’87 – it was ’87 and we, there was a BPI Awards in England that they had and they have at least one international artist who would win the Best International Artist and we got it that year. It was like Peter Gabriel was there, Kate Bush, Eric Clapton and all these people were there and we just felt like wow, we’ve been accepted with our … these amazing, amazing artists and that was quite a defining moment, I think.
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about The Bangles?
Yes, definitely. I don’t know about so much anymore, but it definitely in the early days or even in the mid ‘80s people – no one believed that we could play our instruments. They just thought yeah, oh look at those pretty little girls onstage and they don’t even play and it’s like yeah, we do. So yeah, that was a big misconception too.
What do you think the future holds for The Bangles? Obviously you have this album and the tour, but hopefully no plans on packing it in anytime soon.
No, no, no, no, we’re not planning that! We’ll keep going. We’re going to try to think of a way here. No, it’s who knows, but the way the music business is these days and the economy and everything who knows what’s going to happen, but we’re going to keep on doing it. I mean, we made this record, because we wanted to make a record and our fans want to hear new material. So, we just keep hoping that people will like what we are producing and we just keep going out there and doing shows, because we love to go out and play.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans before I let you go?
The only thing I can say is YAY! Finally you guys get to hear some new stuff and sorry it took so long, but enjoy!
It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate your time and like I said, we will be spreading the word. Thank you so much.
Great! I appreciate that, Jason. Thanks.
For all the latest news and tour dates for The Bangles, be sure to swing by their official site at www.thebangles.com. ‘Sweetheart of the Sun’ hits stores on September 27th, 2011!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.