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Facts and / or Fables About the Bangles : L.A. band doesn't like to play with stereotype of female rock 'n' rollers

April 09, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

Bangles mythology: Fact or fable? The real truth about Vicki Peterson, Susanna Hoffs, Michael Steele and Debbi Peterson-- exposed!

"I'm just not going to read articles anymore," claims Steele, the band's bass player and premiere wiseacre. "There's this hilarious review out where the person talks about 'In Your Room' and remarks on 'the obviously synthesized background vocals.' See, people are projecting all this incredible stuff on us. What can you do?"

"We didn't actually sing that song," adds a facetious Vicki Peterson, founding guitarist and runner-up for the wise-gal crown, during a break from rehearsal with her compadre in caustic self-defense.

"If there isn't any controversy, we make it up, because we've gotta have something to talk about in interviews," says Steele.

No need for that.

Innuendo and folk legend seem to gather around the Bangles like moths around an eternal flame. Success will do that for you, and the Bangles--four fine singers and four dandy songwriters--are nothing if not successful. The quartet's sophomore album ("Different Light" from 1985) produced three Top 10 singles, and the third effort (last fall's underrated "Everything") has produced two thus far, including the chart-topping smash "Eternal Flame." This brief history makes the Bangles one of the most popular bands ever to emerge from the stenches and trenches of the L.A. club scene, rivaled at this stage only by recent comers Guns N' Roses.

Even if these four weren't subject to the inevitable charges of selling out, the Bangles would still be easy targets because, in their delightedly distaff pop, they acquiesce neither to orthodox nor neo-feminist notions of what female rock should entail. This isn't Girlschool, or Joan Jett, or even Michelle Shocked, for that matter. This is a band that can warble "I'll do anything you want me to / I only want to be with you" and not apologize.

And now without further ado--the Top 10 fallacies about Mickey, Sue, Vic and Deb, authenticated or exploded!

1. The Bangles are a retro/'60s thing .. common Seeds worshipers.

Vicki Peterson: "We started the band because we did share a common love of a certain type of music that was a little before our time, and most of the people of our own age group weren't into it, so we found a camaraderie with these people who were in love with it. . . . When you listen to our first EP, you say: 'Oh, this is a band that worships the Seeds,' because it sounds like they're playing through a Fender Deluxe on 11 and a Rickenbacker. And we were, because that's all we had at the time. . . ."

Susanna Hoffs, rhythm guitar: "The whole concept of the band was just to be a band, people who write songs and play music together--not to be like an Elvis impersonator or something."

Debbi Peterson, drummer and sister to Vicki: "Seeds impersonators. What a concept!"

2. The Bangles are a Go-Go's rip-off.

Forerunner L.A. all-girl group the Go-Go's made three albums between 1981 and 1984. The Bangles have now made four records from 1983 to 1989. Longevity does take care of some of these things.

3. The Bangles don't play their own instruments.

Vicki: "We have always played our instruments. Anybody who knows us knows that. We've always had additional instrumentalists on the records, but so did the Rolling Stones, and nobody says, 'Oh, did Keith Richards play that solo?' "

4. The Bangles don't write their own hits.

Though the band has always written most of its songs, the first four Top 10 singles were penned by Prince, Jules Shear, Liam Sternberg and Paul Simon.

Vicki: "We've always been writing. Yes, we accepted outside material--big deal. They were good songs, we wanted to do them. We're not stupid, we hear a good song, we're gonna want to do it."

5. Though the Bangles do co-write all their songs now, they need help from famous professional hit songwriters.

"Oh, our hired guns, right," says Vicki. Some reviews have made snide remarks about the use on the latest LP of the likes of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly to come up with--take your pick--(a) pop gems or (b) bubble-gum romanticism like "Eternal Flame" and "In Your Room."

Hoffs: "From my experience, the songwriting situations that ended up getting on this record are songs written with people who are personal friends we socialize with, not people I met in some record company building somewhere and tried to write a song with just for the hell of it to see if it worked. Those songs didn't end up on the record."

6. The Bangles are too big, out of touch with the street.

Debbi: "I kind of miss the simplistic days. It does seem to get very complicated as you go on. I do miss playing in the clubs. I think that's natural for any band--they get successful and then they start going, 'Oh, remember the days when we used to play at such-and-such and it was so hot and sweaty and gross, but wasn't it fun?' I think we all miss that, but we're excited about the future too."

7. The Bangles are wimps.

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