Stifled No More

We know what you're thinking: the Bangles are playing shows again because they hopped on one of those horrific “best of” package tours—just another band from the past banking on their hits, playing it safe and cashing in. But you're wrong. That's not to say there weren't offers—lucrative ones, too.

“I didn't want to get back together and become this band that tours every summer to make the house payments,” says bassist and we-bet-you-didn't-know-she-was-the-original-singer-for-the-Runaways Michael Steele. “I'm happy that we have something new to offer the world.”

That something new is Doll Revolution, the Bangles' first album of new material since 1988's triple-platinum Everything. Already out in Europe and Japan, the 15-song disc was completely funded by the Bangles and will be available for audible consumption in the U.S. in September. Decidedly more mature music than what you might remember, Doll Revolution features a cover of Elvis Costello's “Tear Off Your Own Head” (he's a fan) and even some backup vocals from Dave Grohl (the first boy ever to sing on a Bangles album). The new CD is high on the quality-songwriting meter, and shimmers with that signature Bangles sound.

“There was an audible click when we all hooked up with each other,” says guitarist Vicki Peterson, calling from her Las Vegas hotel room. “There's an obvious sound. These four voices . . . it's biology, it's chemistry, it's physics . . . it works.” Guitarist Susanna Hoffs agrees. “It's nothing we really have to try to do. It just happens.”

The Bangles are today what they've always been: a hardworking rock group celebrating the sounds of the '60s, made up of four women who write, sing and play harmony-laden, jangly pop music.

Their first couple of records—including the tambourine-heavy and exceedingly authentic garage rock of their 1982 debut EP—were accurate, heartfelt nods to the music they themselves were fans of: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Mamas N the Papas, and a plethora of other grassroots nuggets.

“There was nothing big-time corporate about us,” Hoffs remembers fondly. “[The music] was all very underground.” And so was the LA scene they were part of—the Paisley Underground, which included bands like the Three O'Clock, the Long Ryders and Dream Syndicate. “We wanted to be '60s people,” continues Hoffs. “We thought, 'Teenagers in the '60s—how cool!' It was fun for us to honor that music.”

“Back then, it was all such a new thing,” says Vicki's sister, drummer Debbi Peterson. “It was all about the wonder of everything—'Wow! This is amazing! We get to go on the road and quit our day jobs!'”

But the Bangles weren't playing and touring endlessly without goals. “It needed to go to another level,” continues Debbi. “We wanted to conquer the world!”

With two No. 1 singles (surely you remember “Eternal Flame” and “Walk Like an Egyptian”), a couple of No. 2s (a “Hazy Shade of Winter” cover and the Prince-penned “Manic Monday”), millions of records sold and fans spanning the spectrum from George Harrison to Veruca Salt, it would seem that they'd met their original goal. Unfortunately for the band, success didn't come without some heartache.

“We got so into the Bangle world that we had no other lives,” states Debbi. “Things got a little bit stifling.” So much so that it ended up driving them all a bit crazy, and ultimately caused them to disband.

“Stifling” equals “bad,” and when you're interviewing the Bangles—the heroes of your youth, whom you'd never, ever, ever want to upset or even slightly perturb—and they use such an adjective, it sounds a lot like “please don't make us relive that again,” so you opt not to, figuring that anyone who's reading your Bangles article can just keep an eye out for a repeat of their VH1 Behind the Music special, where they delved into all their old, sordid matters. Instead, we'll look at where they are now: this time around, the Bangles have laid down a new set of rules to help keep them sane. Gone are the nonstop, 14-hour days filled with TV and radio appearances, interviews and photo shoots. And there'll be no more of that three-months-on-the-road thing, either. Both Hoffs and Debbi Peterson chatted with us early—like non-rock-star 8 a.m. early—because they have children (Peterson sweetly told her son in the middle of our interview not to be a “crabby face” 'cause mommy was doing a “phoner”). Steele is happy that she can now have pets, plants and a band, and Vicki Peterson (who, by the way, is bummed about that Kill Rock Stars band the Bangs purloining the original Bangles name) recently got engaged to John “Me and My Siblings Were the Original Partridge Family” Cowsill. So you see, things are better now, and everyone is happy. Hooray for new rules!

“Now I'm just looking forward to making music,” says Vicki. “I love the audiences that are coming to these shows, because they're multigenerational and digging it on a different level. We're going to put our music out and hope people respond to it, but it's not the end-all/be-all of our existence.” As for Steele, her goal was to make the best record they could, and now she gushes, “I really like this record a lot.”

So you see, all's well in Bangleland.

“It's just such a great job,” says Hoffs with a laugh. “For me, it's just loving being a Bangle and working with these other girls. We've earned this interesting place with people, where there's a little bit of nostalgia, but there's also a genuine kind of appreciation, and it's really nice for us to see that. If the music we've created helps or enhances someone's life in any way, that's what I'm most proud of.”

The Bangles perform at the Orange County Fair's Citizens Business Bank Arena, 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-3247. Thurs., July 17, 7 N 9 p.m. Free with $7 fair admission.

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