Covering the veteran artist from pop, rock, soul, country, folk and blues that influence today’s music world, this is the VVN Music Podcast.
Roger: Hi welcome to Episode 5 of the VVN Music Podcast brought to you by audiable.com . . . I’m Roger Wink and we’re doing something a little bit different this week. Over the last few years, I’ve been privileged to conduct interviews with the wide variety of veteran artists and the transcripts of those artists have been published on VVN.com. From time to time we’re going to take those original interview recordings and play them on the podcast. And while the projects being discussed might not current, the interviews regularly branch out onto talk of their careers and provide a window into the different artists. But, before we get to the interview, I have the rare privilege on Saturday night of seeing one of the greatest voices of the last 50 years perform in concert. Aretha Franklin only does a handful of shows . . . . .
Song: Fun To Lie clip
Roger: Last year I had the pleasure of talking to two women who had me entertained throughout our interview. One, Susan Cowsill, was a member of her family’s band, the Cowsills, and sang on such hits as “Indian Lake” and “Hair.” She has remained in music over the years and was a member of The Continental Drifters during the 1990’s, along with playing with her own, Susan Cowsill Band. The other, Vicki Peterson, was a founding member of The Bangles who had such hits like “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame.” She too was a member of The Continental Drifters, but that’s not the band we’re here to talk about. Cowsill and Peterson also played together as a duo under the name of The Psycho Sisters. For 20 years, they planned on putting out an album of their music, but it wasn’t until last year that the album, Up On The Chair Beatrice , was released by Rockbeat Records. It’s a great disc full of songs that easily fit into the Americana genre and includes both originals and a few covers. Plus, not only are the two pseudo related by their Psycho Sisters name, but they are also related in real life after Vicki married Susan’s brother John, who was also a member of the Cowsill’s family band. This interview was conducted by phone last year and a transcript published on VVN Music in November. Keep in mind that because this interview was done before the start of our podcasts, the sound is of a somewhat lesser quality that wasn’t originally meant for broadcast.
Congratulations on the new album. It seems like you guys were trying to rival the Beach Boys Pet Sounds as far as the album with the longest gestation period.
Vicki: (laughs) or Smiley, Smile
Susan: (laughs) Yes that’s what we were doing, huh Vicki?
Vicki: Yeah, yeah, yeah that was our plan. That was our plan all along actually.
Roger: What .. why did it take so long and why now?
Susan: Go on Vick, I’ll let you start this one.
Vicki: OK Why did it take so long? Because it did. It was one of those things that was always floating in the … somewhere near the backs of our minds throughout the 90’s when we weren’t performing as much as The Psycho Sisters, we were inside The Continental Drifters and sort of being Psycho Sisters inside a larger animal which was The Continental Drifters. Kind of a parasite as it were.
Susan: Right (laughs) The Psychosites The Psycho Parasites
Vicki: Psychosites (laughs) And it wasn’t until there was a moment when Susan was sort on in between her solo records and The Bangles were kind of winding down what we had just done and we sort of said, “Hey you know what, we, we could do the record.” THE RECORD meaning the Psycho Sisters record that we never made in the early ‘90s, and, and we just figured out how to do it and went and started a kickstarter campaign …
Susan: We figured it was now … I’d say it was now or never but that’s not really true. We just would have delayed it. We wanted to get it in between, like Vick said, our next whatever is coming. And everything happens in its own time and this was time for Beatrice.
Vicki: That’s right.
Roger: Did the songs change much between the way you envisioned them in the early 90’s and what you finally got down on record now?
Susan: Not to me. You know we only … this is Susan by the way … we had really only performed these songs with a couple of guitars. So, adding the instrumentation and full band was a new twist on the songs to begin with. So, in a way, we didn’t really know .., I mean they were embryos – even when we were performing them as the Psycho Sisters. They were totally flushed out umm recordings or arrangements or what have you. So, I don’t think … for me what I was expecting, who knows? It’s kinda like, you know, it’s like a drawing, you sit down … a painting you don’t really know how it’s going to come out because it’s _____
Vicki: I was going to say when Susan and I sat down to kind of go over the songs, to try and remember what we had done and we’re just kind of combing through to see what songs we might want to record it was kind of funny almost how reflective our memories were as far as the harmonies – who sang what/where – how that didn’t change much. That was like …
Susan: Yeah that was the nucleus of it.
Vicki: We arranged those vocals and that’s how they were in 1992. And that’s how they were.
Susan: The only thing that really changed about the songs was the instrumentation. The arrangements were basically the same too, wouldn’t you say?
Vicki: Uh huh absolutely.
Roger: I’ve … Obviously I’ve heard the album but I have not seen the liner notes on it. Who produced the album?
Vicki: We did
Susan: WEE did.
Vicki: The Susan and Vicki club, that’s right. The Psycho Sisters – produced by
Roger: What about as far your other musicians. Were they people you’d work with before or were they session players or …
Vicki: Well yes and yes. Only because yes there were all people we had worked with before and they’ve all done sessions. We lucked out in that Susan and I are both married to drummers and that came in handy. Although we had to figure out who was going to play on what and that was kind of fun. And then the bass player came from a combined Cowsills/Bangle world. His name is Derrick Anderson. He’s phenomenal and he was willing to fly in to Louisiana to do the sessions for a few days. He had a blast. And then Susan found the string players and our …
Susan: Keyboard player… they are all from the … the keyboard player and the cellist and violinist are from New Orleans and all guys that I have worked with in … the cellist and violinist are my auxiliary – Susan Cowsill Band. They are in my band and the keyboard player has been a dear friend and I’ve worked with him throughout the years too. So we had a really nice, nice combination.
Roger: Now my understanding is you met each other in the late ‘70s initially, correct?
Vicki: Correct. That was the initial, initial …
Susan: Initial siteing
Vicki: Yes it was
Roger: You worked together in various capacities until the early …. well late ‘80’s/early 90’s and that’s what the Continental Drifters came along?
Susan: Oh no. Well we actually hadn’t worked together, we had been friends, but we had not worked together per say. We’d started writing before the Continental Drifters. Vick, did we play … I guess we did play out a little bit before The Drifters.
Vicki: Oh we did, yeah, we did literally four times (chuckles)
Susan: Literally four times, yes, so we were … I think we started out as friends and the natural progression do to our various combined natures and businesses was to make it a musical friendship as well and that’s when we wrote those silly, wonderful songs. But got scooped up in to the Drifters rather quickly after we decided we were serious about being Psycho Sisters.
Roger: I have to ask is there any significance to the name of the album?
Vicki: The name of the album?
Susan: The album?
Roger: Well we can start with the name of the group. I’m kind of familiar with that story but …
Susan: Well you know what? It’s kind of one of those inside jobs
Susan: It’s one of those – you had to be there. If fact we were thinking about calling it You Had To Be There album. You had to be there. But instead we called it Up On The Chair Beatrice
Vicki: It has significance to us.
Susan: It does have significance
Roger: Personal signifance
Susan: We just didn’t think it would matter to anybody else. (laughs) It has … go ahead.
Roger: The harmonies on the album are beautiful. Is that something that came naturally to both of you or was it something you worked out over time or?
Susan: Yeah that’s a God, God given reality. Vicki obviously comes from a family band in that Debbie, her sister, is in it as well and I think they have been singing together, you know, and have that sibling harmony thing and obviously I come from a similar background and so our knowledge and sensibility and natural ability thankfully to sing harmony separately was in place and we, when we first sang together we were both a wee bit shocked at how seamless it was. And very much like a sibling harmony thing.
Susan: And as far as I know we’re not related physically, but I wouldn’t put it past my folks. Yeah you never know. But, no, it was a very natural – just one of those “Oh yea! Listen to how fun we sound” and it was startling really.
Roger: And it came to you quickly.
Susan: Really quickly and I mostly sang with my brothers. My mother was the only other woman that I had vocalized with so it was like how! It was pretty cool.
Roger: The album does cover a wide variety of genres, but – musical genres and yet it seems very cohesive to me.
Susan: Well we planned it that way.
Roger: I was just going to ask. Was that intentional or did it just fall together that way?
Susan: No, we don’t do anything intentionally (laughs)
Vicki: Very little was intentional
Susan: I think – I mean --- yeah – I mean did you do that on purpose, Vick, and not tell me?
Vicki: yeah, yeah It was intentional. It was intentional.
Susan: No, we lucked out. Honestly we really did. The songs are a collective of who we are and where we came from and seriously, I don’t know about you Vicki, but making a record certainly when I was a kid it was a really big deal to make sure nothing strayed. You know you didn’t want to get too eclectic. In fact it wasn’t allowed in the ‘60s.
Vicki: It wasn’t?
Susan: No remember back in the ‘60s when they’d get a guy to write the same song over and over again for you so you could have three hits.
Vicki: Yeah you’re talking about the mid ‘60s and the pop ….
Susan: Yeah where the … so the diversity of our music, I hadn’t really noticed that it was so until everybody started pointing it out and yet that it flows. So that’s pretty … That was a happy accident.
Song: Never, Never Boys clip
Roger: Even some of the songs, the one that kind of – that jumps to my mind is “Never, Never Boys” and it has this kind of jangly power pop sound but at the same time I could hear a country singer – like Martina McBride – singing that song.
Vicki: Can you arrange that?
Roger: (laughs) I wish I could.
Vicki: Can you call her for us? Can you call her? It’s true and I think both Susan and I veer into country completely accidentally. And that’s a very nice line to walk – jangle pop and country because that sort of fits nicely with a lot of places that I’ve been and music I like.
Susan: Same Sam (??????)
Vicki: Yeah so I think that’s not too far a field. The story I like to tell about “Never, Never Boys” is that it’s a song that I wrote with Bob Cowsill, yet another Cowsill contribution to this record. Um many, many years ago – 1991 I think – we wrote this song together and at the time I remember him saying “Oh well you can’t sing this song. You’re going to have to give it to ..” and oh I – this is how long ago it was – I think he said like Tiffany – it was that long ago.
Susan: Are you kidding me?
Vicki: I think he did but even though she wasn’t exactly contemporary. It was a couple years past Tiffany but yeah that’s what he was saying
Susan: I bet Debbie Boone
Vicki: yeah almost, right? And I heartedly disagreed with him. You know I said, “No, no, no, no, no. We’re singing this song. I don’t care that we’re 30 something. We’re singing the damn song.”
Susan: You know we were too old back then to …
Vicki: Yeah exactly. Which cracks me up because I look at it now and one of my favorite things about it is that Susan is singing the song on the record and it has this wonderful – to me – mixture of lyrical discussion about a man who will not grow up but sung by a woman who obviously has grown up. But maybe she hasn’t because she can’t say no to him. To me that one has matured nicely.
Roger: I was going to say, was Bob saying that somebody in their 40’s couldn’t find another guy in their 40’s who didn’t grow up? I mean really.
Vicki: Yeah, right, you know this is going to be a real long conversation with Bob if you really wanted to have that conversation. (laughing) Say excuse me.
Roger: Now you mentioned that you wrote that one with Bob, the majority of the songs on the album were co-written by the two of you, correct?
Roger: OK I know that the opener and the closer were exceptions. How did you come to decide to record “Heather Says” since it comes from an earlier time.
Song: Heather Says clip
Susan: Well I think, when we were first starting to get together, Vicki was a Cowsill fan, let’s just admit that right now.
Vicki: I was
Susan: Yes you was because she still is
Susan: And when we were psyching around back in the late ‘80s she was just, “God, wow wouldn’t it … that would be a fun song to do.” So we just started doing it in our shows, on all four of our shows. And it sounded so amazing and I loved that song because it was personally written for me upon request. And it was a big favorite of our audience when we would play it and it seemed clear, once we got around to Beatrice, that that was going to be a shining star. And I think it came out really amazing. And, you know, it was a cover so, you know, you always hope that you are not doing something as good as, better, or different then there’s no real purpose in it really but to record them in my opinion. I think we scored pretty big on that one.
Vicki: Me too We did claim that one even though The Cowsills version of it is absolutely Steller. Susan was 11 I think when they recorded it. But it’s the arrangement and everything is just fabulous and a little daunting. But we did make some changes, not so much in the chords structure but a couple of musical left turns but we kind of added a spookier quality I think to it but some of the background vocals that we put on literally that was so impromptu. Remember that Susan? We were just saying “More ….. oh just do this.” And it was very, we did it in one session, really fast and it kind of added this slightly darker color to this.
Susan: Yeah. Which I loved. It’s my favorite version.
Vicki: And John hears it and is going “You’re doing it wrong.” (laughs)
Susan: Right I know and do you tell him “Yes we know.” Exactly. It’s intentional, John
Roger: I need to ask kind of a side question here since you brought up here that you were somewhere around 11 when you recorded it. I read somewhere Susan that you were the youngest singer to sing on a Top Ten record when The Cowsills “Indian Lake” was a hit. And that made me think, did you not sing on “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things”
Susan: It’s true. …. No, I did not (TRTP&OT). I did not sing on …. I joined the band after that album was recorded. I joined right when it hit, of course that was my perfect timing. Don’t do the work, don’t bake the bread but go ahead and eat it with the gang. But, yeah, Indian Lake was my first album then it’s true and as far as I know I haven’t been schurped in my title yet so I think it’s the youngest female performing artist on a Top Ten rock and roll record, is my title.
Roger: I didn’t mean to get away from the new album but that just struck me because I could have sworn …
Vicki: Pretty cool
Song: Cuddly Toy clip
Roger: What made you decide to record the Neilson song “Cuddly Toy”
Vicki: It was another song that we had been doing in our four shows, our previous four shows. (both laughing) Sorry. And then Susan you pick it up from there.
Susan: OK That is the funniest thing ever. We’ve never said it quite like that before.
Vicki: But we’re going to from this point on. Our Career – four shows.
Susan: When we were recording in Maurice, Louisiana at Dockside. The week we started recording was the week Davy Jones passed away. And I’m a huge … he was my dream boy. I loved Davy Jones very much. I was THAT girl. I was in the 16 Magazine with him. I had that one extra edge on the rest of the United States.
Vicki: Yeah, none of the rest of us were on the cover with Davy.
Susan: Yeah, yeah but I was actually in love with him when I was a kid and knew him and that was really, really …. That was a tough one. And in honor of Mr. Jones and his passing and our devotion to him, we decided to cover it and we said we had been doing it during our vast career of four shows, so it was a natural thing to do.
Vicki: And we love Harry Neilson big time.
Susan: And we love Harry Neilson, yeah, that was just a bonus.
Song: This Painting clip
Roger: What was the background on the song “This Painting”? Was there really a painting?
Vicki: There was a painting. There was a painting. And the story is mainly fictional. But there was a kernel of truth which was – seems to occur in many songs I write – but this was my fiancé at the time was --- we were getting ready to take that big step and move in together and he had this painting that was done by a friend of his and it was in his house. And I was, “This is all great and I have a place for your recording gear and this is all going to be great. You’re not bring that are you? We’re not bringing that.” It was that classic … NO. And we had a little discussion, I won, and ….
Susan: That’s one of those things where you go, “That’s going in your office.”
Vicki: That’s going in the shed.
Roger: I have an honorary place in the garage.
Vicki: In your office, in the shed. So there a painting and it was hideous fat lady in a chair and a yeah …. And so I sort of constructed a fantasy about it. It wasn’t … the story itself was fictional, but the feeling about the art is the same.
Susan: Nicely done Vicki
Song: Danny clip
Roger: OK I want you to cop up now, who’s Danny?
Both: Uh oh
Susan: Who’s Danny?
Vicki: I’ll give you his name and address. Who’s Danny? Give it up on a platter, Susan. Come on.
Susan: Danny is a friend of our from New Orleans who had an illustrious career as a young rougue. And when we … God how many years ago was that. That was twenty something years ago and you know he was a ladies man and then things got a little confusing and convoluted and complicated. And we found it amusing. (Vicki says something) What?
Vicki: He didn’t keep track properly.
Susan: He didn’t keep track properly, but they did.
Roger: Now obviously you both have had long, very successful musical careers and you’ve seen all the changes that have been going on in the world of music. Is there a particular challenges to getting your music, your new music out there?
Susan: Go ahead Vick, I’ll let you take that one.
Vicki: OK The challenge of getting the music out there is actually easier than ever. To get your music out into the world. To have it heard above the din of everybody else and their dentist whose also making a record is the challenge. Because it’s just … because it is available to everybody and in one sense that’s a beautiful thing. Like art is available to everyone. In the other sense, it’s difficult for us to value things or to find a way to place value on what is actually worth your time. And our time is becoming very, very precious and crunched because of all these other things we are filling our days with these days. And so it is difficult for a band like ours who for all intense and purpose are independent. We are working with a label, in partnership with a label for this release, but really Susan and I have been, you know, as much involved with the working and promotions and mastacations of getting this record out to the world as anybody has. So you do a lot more business than you used to as an artist. An artist you used to be home and they’d hand you a list and here’s Press Day and who’s this and who’s this But because of how long we’ve been doing it and how many friends we have – Thank God! – the business, it’s been, we’ve been very involved in our own getting this record turned and it’s kind of …. on one hand I really like that because it feels like a moment of fruition. It’s like OK we are now taking that moment when I’m calling my best friend who writes for LA Weekly and I’m going to tell him that this, this and this are happening. And so it’s been very cool on that level. And yet it’s hard … you go “how’s the record selling?” and you go “I have no idea.”
Susan: Right and we’re working in a much gianter universe of record industry and record … and the world is so much bigger. When I was a kid putting out records there was a finite number of bands and labels. Literally a finite amount, you know what I mean. And there just isn’t anymore. It’s a whole different ballpark. Games the same. The basics. We have the bat, the ball but it’s a whole different …(Vicki says something I can’t understand) yeah lot more players and just a …
Vicki: And the rules keep changing. And the rules keep changing.
Roger: Do you like the ability to interact more with fans and so forth via social media?
Susan: It is a very handy tool that is for sure. And, you know, the social media is a kin to the fan club. It’s a friend to fan club. I enjoy it. I’m a people person and I enjoy, but always have, being able to connect to whomever is listening to our music. I find it rewarding to visually and physically and personally meet people who are moved by what you do. It’s very inspiring. Keeps … it’s like “Oh OK “ I’m actually not only expressing myself and taking care of a personal need, but there’s a service being performed here because it’s helping someone else, you know. The song I wrote that helped me feel better or got out some aggression situation you know also works vicariously for the listener. And that’s pretty cool so. Having more personal interaction with people and having that feedback ….
Roger: Any plans to tour behind the album?
Susan: Oh man we’re going.
Vicki: We have plans
Susan: I was going to say something … Oh yeah, we have lots of plans. We had a plan to make a record once, didn’t we Vick?
Vicki: Yeah we did. So we have a tour planned for 2023
Susan: Yeahhhh I think we’re kind of running out of that room, honey.
Roger: That leads to the next question, which is do we have to wait 20 years for the next album?
Vicki: Hold on, let me do the math. Neahhh I think it’s right now, Susan.
Vicki: Yes we are.
Susan: Yes, we’re going to make a final Psycho Record (both laughing)
Vicki: First and final.
Susan: We’re only making a debut and farewell record. That’s what you get from us.
Vicki: That’s the span of our career
Roger: Then there’s only on major farewell tour then
Vicki: There you go
Susan Too funny
Vicki: Well we’ll have a reunion tour after that.
Roger: Susan, now you still have you own band, correct?
Susan: I do, I do. I mean loosely put as Russ and I have been touring as a duo mostly recently because financially it’s the more beneficial thing to do. But I do have a great, great band based out of New Orleans that whenever we can put it together to make it feasible for everybody I use those guys. And I’m always writing and definitely actually going to be making a another record probably in this coming year.
Roger: If I remember correctly it was with that band, at one point you were doing monthly shows where you recreating classic albums.
Susan: Yeah well it wasn’t the actual band that I have now. I live in New Orleans. We’re one big giant band in New Orleans. That kind of plays with …. it’s the circle game. But yes I was doing a series for – oh God – almost 10 years, once a month doing them, classic vinyl record performance. And that was really awesome. We still do them. I just don’t put myself on the grind of having to do them once a month because that became crazy after about 9 years. But it’s fun. There will be – I think we’re going to be doing The Grateful Dead so I’ll be leaving home for that one. Just kidding. I’m going to become like Ringling Brothers “Susan Cowsill Presents” but I won’t be there.
Roger: I take it you’re not a Grateful Dead fan.
Susan: Oh you know, you know. My arm can be twisted. I can be twisted to be a Grateful Dead fan for an evening.
Roger: The old joke “What did a Grateful Dead fan say when he ran out of pot?” “Wow this music really sucks.”
Susan: Right, exactly.
Roger: Anyway I really want to thank both of you for taking the time to talk about this and the new album I really do think it’s a really, really good piece of music.
Susan: Well we really appreciate you taking the time and helping us get the word out about Miss Beatrice. It’s always good to talk to you.
Roger: Not only did Vicki and Susan put out their Psycho Sisters album last year but they are also have a brand new release Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond
by the Continental Drifters. The new two CD set collects music from throughout the Drifters history and across their various lineups.