A revolutionary spirit has impelled Cherry Poppin’ Daddies forward for nigh on two decades. After touring hard behind 2009’s Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the band – including founding members Dan Schmid (bass) and Dana Heitman (trumpet) as well as the full touring compliment – convened at Eugene’s Gung Ho Studios and set to work. The always-prolific Steve Perry had something big in mind, a double album of songs penned as the Great Recession wreaked havoc upon the heartland, held together by swing’s timeless beat. Did we mention it features appearances by members of Captain Beefheart and Buckwheat Zydeco?
White Teeth, Black Thoughts dares to apply the form in an effort to scrutinize contemporary culture. Songs such as “Huffin’ Muggles,” an elegantly untamed tribute to Warholian transgression, adeptly carving out more detailed narratives and complex characterizations than usually found in popular music, let alone classic swing and jump blues. “The Babooch” – which bookends the two halves of White Teeth, Black Thoughts – is a Gatsby-esque tale of “the most American character, seduced by luxury but pricked by conscience.”
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies announced summer tour dates (below) in support of the album, which is out July 16 on Space Age Bachelor Pad Records. We caught up with vocalist Steve Perry while he prepared for the release and tour to discuss WT BT and this is what he said about it…
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent LP?
The record went through various stages of what it was going to be, but I would say I started thinking about it in 2008 right around the time of the financial crisis (Oct ‘08?). It started off to be a kind of split between the psychobilly type material and the swing stuff on a single disc but we ended up doing two discs; one swing and the other more guitar oriented and the whole thing is intended to be a kind of Americana examination of those Bush into Obama years and financial hard times.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing?
I would say “The Babooch” was the hardest song to strike the right tone on.
Why was it so troublesome?
Because I was trying to write a song about a one percenter, or a member of the American cultural elite, I figured that the lyrics should be kind of opaque just like the world that The Babooch character would inhabit. You and I would not be allowed to be admitted to the “club” that he is a member of and so I came up with the solution that the lyrics to be elusive. Ideally, I wanted to show the characters discomfort with his own good fortune in life as well as discomfort with the values of his Ivy league cohort. Not sure if I quite accomplished that or not. It was a lot to bite off in a 3’30” pop song that had to rhyme.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
The song “Brown Flight Jacket” started out a somewhat simple concept. The idea being that the grandson of a WW2 airman POW gives his grandson his prized flight jacket on his death bed. But as I wrote the song it became to me more about how this young man of today (the grandson) feels about himself in the shadow of the exploits of his forefathers. His anxiety and insecurity comes to the surface and there is a feeling of drowning in his own expectations and disappointment in himself. It’s about his fear of the littleness in his own soul.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
The record is available in two forms. First an all swing twelve-song CD and on our website only there is available a deluxe version with many of the more rockabilly/ western swing songs on it. That record is a little more “blue” in its content. On that record there are two guest musicians. On “Fat Butts and Beer Guts” we invited Zoot Horn Rollo of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band to make a guest appearance. He is a friend and it was awesome to finally be able to do something together. Also on the track “Tchoupitoulas Congregation” we played with Buckwheat Zydeco (Stanley Dural Jr.). That was a huge honor for us. We had done a bill together earlier in the year and I told him that I had written my first zydeco tune and sheepishly asked if he might play accordion on it. He was nice enough to do it. I think it turned out great.
Who produced the record?
This is yet another self-produced Daddies record. I have been doing it so long that the Daddies thing is basically an auteur kind of deal. Between myself and my good friend Bill Barnett at Gung Ho Studio in Eugene, everything gets done.
What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
Well I imagine that if we had had a producer that they might have been less invested in the ideas of the record and more invested in the getting of their money and getting on to their next victim. I like being a control freak, and I don’t write music in a fashion that most producers would be interested in I’m afraid.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Not every single song is focused on the final goal like a lot of our other recordings. But I would say that this is focused on an amalgam of issues that cropped up during the financial crisis and the first term of the presidency of Obama: Red State anxiety i.e. Tea Party/ Fox News phenomenon (“Ragged Ol’ Flag”, “The Subway Killer”), Growing Class warfare i. e. Wall Street and Hedge Fund (“The Babooch”, “Subway Kille”r), American Materialist/ capitalist values (“I Love American Music”) The pain of nostalgia (“American Music”, “Throwback Man”, “Brown Flight Jacket”, “Concrete Man Blues”). I guess I wanted little vignettes and character sketches that would freeze this time period in amber so to speak.
The albums art work also is important to hint at the author relationship to the material, to the creative process. This is something that adds to the total and I would love to flesh out more fully in later records, I think. It reminds me of the Fellini film “And the Ship Sails On” where at the end you see the studio and that this is a film, and it is in fact artificial and made by a specific person. All the curtains are drawn back. For me on WT, BT it was the suited man on the back cover taking off his glove to touch the piano, and thereby, however temporarily, closing the distance between himself and the listeners. The little symbols of death and dizzying distance also are critical to the tone.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Not yet playing them live, but a few fans have gotten through to say that they like “Jakes Frilly Panties” and “Huffin’ Muggles”. Live for us is a totally different animal. I think these songs will fit well with our other eight records of stuff.
(Watch the video for lead single “I Love American Music”
Catch the band on tour at these dates:
29 – Central City, CO – Reserve Casino & Hotel
17 – St. Helena, CA – Napa Rocks
20 – Ephrata, WA – Summer Basin Sounds Festival
23 – San Francisco, CA – Yoshi’s
24 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst
25 – Los Angeles, CA – Roxy Theatre
26 – Sacramento, CA – The Assembly
27 – Portland, OR – Alhambra Theatre
15 – New York, NY – City Winery
16 – Sellersville, PA – Sellersville Theatre
17 – Washington, DC – The Hamilton
18 – Boston, MA – Middle East Downstairs
24 – Palatine, IL – Palatine Street Festival
27 – Eugene, OR – W.O.W. Hall
28 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern)