Back in Full Swing

event CherryPoppinDaddiesCherry Poppin’ Daddies battle identity crisis and pigeonholing and come out on top

Steve Perry, the lead singer of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, never thought the band would make it as far as it has when the members first joined forces in 1989.

“Oh, hell no,” Perry laughs. “At our first show there was so much of an us-versus-them thing going on. We gave ourselves an ironic and off-putting name to keep people away. We didn’t want people to see our show, so we didn’t think there would be people who would like us.”

Fast forward to 1997 when their megahit album Zoot Suit Riot hit shelves, and everything changed overnight. Hits like the lively title track and its follow-up “Brown Derby Jump” catapulted the band into the spotlight. But that success came with some drawbacks—a few of which are still felt even today.

“When Zoot Suit Riot became a hit, people saw us as being a swing band, and not the way we wanted to be and not as what we had been for 10 years, which was a band that did whatever we wanted to do,” says Perry. “After that record came out, we tried to say ‘This is what we do. We’re a punk rock band with horns,’ but that was hard because so many people had already put us in this little box. We still get pigeonholed.”

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies has actually spent a large portion of its career not making swing music, but rather pumping out ska, punk rock, rockabilly and psychobilly tunes. In fact they haven’t made a full-on swing album since Zoot Suit Riot until now. The band’s newest effort, White Teeth, Black Thoughts, released this week, puts them right back in the swing game. But although the album is largely upbeat, the lyrics are just as subversively sinister as anything the band members have ever written.

“We started the writing process back in 2008 or 2009 when the economy was really cratering,” Perry says. “You started seeing more cardboard signs and the Occupy protests were everywhere. So it got me thinking about that whole, ‘Brother, can you spare a dime,’ 1930s kind of vibe.”

The lively track “Whiskey Jack” puts a dreary, modern-day spin on the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme by shining light on the sometimes down-and-out reality of life. And though the title track has a romantic, jazz lounge feel to it, the lyrics criticize gamesmanship and deceitfulness. Still, “The Babooch” is the album’s most stark commentary on the economic crisis.

“I think of The Babooch as being like Nick Carraway in ‘The Great Gatsby,’” Perry reflects. “He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he’s getting all the benefits of being one of the rich people—the Haves, the One Percent. So I wanted to write a song about his dilemma of being part of the One Percent, but not. I wanted to write about these people that are the winners and how that must feel.”

Perry says he is excited to share the new material on Wednesday at The Catalyst, but promises fans that they’ll hear old standbys as well.

“We don’t get out that much and there are so many songs people want us to play, so we’re not just going to play the new record when the fans don’t really know it yet,” Perry laughs. “So we’ll play some of the new stuff, but some of the old stuff as well, the ‘Zoot Suit Riot’s, ‘Brown Derby Jump’s and all that.” 

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies will perform at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at The Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $16/adv, $20/door. For more information, call 423-1338.

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