Cherry Poppin' Daddies gelled in our collective hearts and minds (and lower regions) during the mid-'90s swing-jazz revival, when the Eugene, Ore.-based group scored a huge hit with "Zoot Suit Riot." Since then, however, they've been anything but predictable, throwing out the swing-thing in favor of ska, soul, psychedelic rock, world music, rockabilly stomp, even country. Through the years, the band's one constant has been frontman Steve Perry, a Captain Beefheart fanatic with a punk-rock worldview who recently shepherded the Daddies through their most ambitious project to date, a double-album called "White Teeth, Black Thoughts," released last summer. This week, This Perry and company will play two Connecticut shows, first on Thursday, Jan. 9, at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne in Fairfield and again at Infinity Hall in Norfolk on Sunday, Jan. 12.
CTNow: You're reportedly a huge fan of American iconoclasts Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. Do you view CPD as an extension of that tradition?
Steve Perry: I would say that like Zappa we are interested in utilizing a lot of genres to put across different characters and ideas. We differ from zappa in that I have always felt a harshness and a lack of empathy in Zappa, whereas I get a lot of humanity from Beefheart albeit in a kind of cracked form. I think Beefheart is subtle/crazy and humane and ying and Zappa is prolific, cynical, and yang. I hope we channel both of these things at different times. I think the Daddies have taken a lot of chances, but in obviously different ways than these awesome legends. I'm not sure that has gotten through to the average music fan, but the middle of the bell curve has never been our focus, so we don't cry too much about not having been credited with what we have attempted.
CTNow: CPD has a great, big sound, almost like a small orchestra. You can get pretty much any tone color you want. Have you ever wanted to strip it down, or conversely, add other colors?
Steve Perry: Well, we have eight records that span a large spectrum of colors. I think people just have no idea about our history, and no interest in digging into what we have been attempting conceptually. We have added all sorts of colors for 24 years now. people are thrown off by a number of things: the name, the pop success, the pre rock 'n' roll influences, the horns, the false idea that we were a "ska," "punk rock" or a "swing" band. Many people bust their asses to marginalize us for some reason. People are funny.
CTNow: Veering off into new territory after the success of "Zoot Suit Riot" was kind of a punk-rock thing to do. What was behind the decision at the time?
Steve Perry: We just got back into doing what we had been doing before "ZSR", which is making conceptual records. I guess punk rock means not letting the public or the marketplace determine what it is you are going to write or say. We have made a few concessions toward what we felt was a cliched version of what the "general consensus" wanted over the years, but we did it in order to survive as an eight-piece band. I think our default state is to behave unpredictably then suffer the inevitable career consequences with largely an inscrutable silence... except right now ;-). we have come to the realization long ago that people are not going to get us.
CTNow: "White Teeth, Black Thoughts" came out last summer. What made you want to release a double album at that point?
Steve Perry: We had a lot of material and instead of making a record that defied genres again we figured we would make the long-awaited swing follow-up to ZSR and then tag the kind of psychobilly stuff on disc 2. it was all about experimenting with different swing feels ... some guitar-based like disc 2 and some horn-based like disc 1.
CTNow: Is your next project still going to be a tribute to the Rat Pack?
Steve Perry: Yes. it will be called "Please Return the Evening — the Cherry Poppin Daddies Salute the Music of the Rat Pack."
CTNow: What's the first record you remember buying with your own money?
Steve Perry: "Fingertips" by Stevie Wonder.
CTNow: What would you be doing today if you weren't a musician?
Steve Perry: I would be a molecular biologist.
CTNow: Beatles or Stones? Zeppelin or Sabbath? Nirvana or Pearl Jam?
Steve Perry: Stones, Sabbath, Nirvana.
Cherry Poppin' Daddies play two upcoming shows in Connecticut
Information: Thursday, Jan. 9, Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, (203) 319-1404, fairfieldtheatre.org
Sunday, Jan. 12, Infinity Hall, 20 Greenwoods Road W., Norfolk, (860) 542-5531, infinityhall.com
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