Flagpole Magazine
THERE'S A ZOOT SUIT RIOT GOIN' ON

Or is there? Cherry Poppin' Daddies' frontman Steve Perry explains.

"I just don't understand," says Steve Perry, leader of Cherry Poppin' Daddies. "With regular rock bands, rock critics dig right in; they bother to listen to the record and put it in a context. Not with swing, though. You know, because 'we all sound the same,' and all that shit. Critics will just mention Louis Prima or whatever and that'll be it. They're just all pissed that alternative rock isn't still big, or still crying over Kurt [Cobain] taking his life."
It doesn't seem to take much to send the otherwise amiable bandleader of the neo-swing combo into a little rant on the state of the music industry. Maybe it's just an excess of testosterone, since his band just performed for Stone Cold Steve Austin and his wrestling buddies at the WWF Rage Party in Philadelphia prior to the interview. Or maybe it's having to make excuses for what some see as an unduly nostalgic repertoire. Either way, it's a repertoire the band started playing a decade ago, when Perry was in his mid-20s, long before the advent of the "swing craze."
"Some of these songs we play go back to '88 or '89," explains Perry, who is now 35. "There weren't as many people doing swing, and sure, I was more prone to write those sort of 'Hey, daddi-o' type lyrics. But we have songs like 'Drunk Daddy' or 'Master and Slave' that have little to do with nostalgia. We're a rock band who are influenced by swing, just like Roxy Music - and a lot of '70s glam rock - was influenced by '50s music. But the results sounded like nothing else."
Perry himself readily admits that - even with his adamant defense of the swing scene - the Daddies' most widely known album, Zoot Suit Riot, is not the best example of the band's scope. The group's previous releases, as well as their live set, cover all sorts of territory - country, punk, ska, and funk, as well as, says Perry, "the Small Faces, The Who, poorly played Bad Religion-type stuff and even my own version of Brian Wilson." Zoot Suit Riot, though, was a compendium of the Daddies' swing-oriented material that originated from audience response to the band's concerts.
"Our merch guy kept getting asked by fans which record all of our swing songs were on," says the singer/guitarist. "Because most of our live material was swing. Zoot Suit Riot isn't bad, but it doesn't represent the band that well."
Perry describes himself as a curmudgeonly sort who prefers chasing his own muse in the studio. Prior to hitting the road for a short tour, the songwriter has been holed up in the Daddies' hometown of Eugene, Ore., laying down tracks for the band's next album, which, according to Perry, should be available by autumn. He likens the new material to mid-'60s Motown and '70s glam, a la T. Rex and Roxy Music. Of course, his first love will always be swing. In 1997, he told Seattle music rag The Rocket that he had been "left standing... with my swing nuts in my hand" - that is, abandoned by his punk comrades when he progressed musically. Today, Perry sees no shame in the vast commercialization of swing in modern pop culture.
"To the smallest extent, I may feel vindicated," Perry says. "But mostly I'm just glad it's an option for people to listen to. The big thing is, if you see that Gap ad with the swing dancers in it, what you're really seeing is young men and young girls having fun with each other."
"So much of rock and roll is about bullshit and impressing people," he says. "It's too much worrying about looking cool and all that. With swing initially - and I'm not saying swing is completely free of all that stuff, either - people looked at it as 'I might have a life that will be fun,' and not just 'Do those people think I'm cool?'"
Not surprisingly, Perry insists that throughout his life he has felt out of touch with his generation and, even in his mid-30s, he still feels like an angry young man. And despite protestations - however correct they may be - that the Cherry Poppin' Daddies are grounded in a fun, danceable groove free from weighty, social histrionics, the resounding impression that Perry makes is that of a passionate, jaded, former idealist.
"I'm sick of irony-heavy alternative rock," he says. "And sure, to be a swing band in 1999 is ironic, too, right? But just that whole problem of not having the balls to confront ideas and issues, of saying, 'We suck, but we intentionally suck, wink, wink' is lame. Really, they're just losers. Of course, you can easily pull the wool over college kids' eyes. I just feel the way life turned out was just some pretentious high school hype-fest. And I can just see you rolling your eyes right now, but really, I can't believe people are taken in by alternative rock and bad swing music that isn't explorative and trying new stuff. If I made a swing record right now I'd hate myself. To make records that aren't stuck in one genre is revolutionary. I'd rather be an individual making songs than be this one band that is simply a commodity in the market place."

John Britt

WHO: Cherry Poppin' Daddies
WHEN: Thursday, April 8 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Classic Center Exhibit Hall
HOW MUCH: $10 UGA students; $18 non-students

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