Text by Marc Silver / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos © FFanzeen blog, 2017
Images from the Internet
Cheap Perfume were a rockin’, all-woman band that was underrated in the New York Scene, and deserved better. I had the opportunity to see them a couple of times in 1977-78, and was happy to give them their due by publishing this piece. They have reformed a number of times, sometimes with the lead singer who had moved to the other coast, other times with the rest of the band filling in vocally.
Please note that this has nothing to do with the Colorado-based band with the same name, which was formed in 2015.
This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August/September 1980. It was written/conducted by Marc Silver. I have lost track of Marc, so if anyone knows his whereabouts, please let him know about this!
Cheap Perfume occupies the niche of the top-drawing all-female band in New York. Their music is self-described as “power-pop with a rock’n’roll edge.” Performances are vibrant and chock-full of ass-kicking rock’n’roll. The majority of their material is original, but their unique covers range from the Beatles’ “Boys” to a version of the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” complete with choreographed dancing in the aisles.
Brenda, the drummer, had recently crushed her ankle and was partying the time away in the dismal dungeons of the Metropolitan Hospital. Also present for the interview at the hospital were L. and Nancy Street, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, respectively. Sue Sheen [Palermo], bassist, and Bunny LeDesma, lead guitarist, were AWOL.
Brenda [Martinez-White]: In the beginning I created the Earth and the heavenly bodies. No, at the start it was Zoey, Susan and me. But I didn’t consider that the band.
Nancy Street: I noticed an ad in The [Village] Voice for a female vocalist and I said to myself, “I know just the girl,” meaning L. She auditioned and I tagged along.
L [Lynn Odell]: It was a package deal.
FFanzeen: When did Bunny join?
Brenda: Eight months ago.
FFanzeen: After Zoey left?
FFanzeen: Did your material change much?
L: The material changed drastically. Most of the songs up to that point had been written by Zoey and her boyfriend, so we had to give those songs up.
FFanzeen: Who’s doing the writing now?
Nancy: Susan and I, and we’ve got friends who give us songs.
FFanzeen: How would you describe your music?
Brenda: It’s hard.
L: It’s pop. It’s definitely pop. It’s not punk. It’s not heavy metal. Pop pretty well rounds it off. It’s under the genre of New Wave, but certainly not punk.
Nancy: Power pop, with a standard rock’n’roll edge.
FFanzeen: Who are the major influences in your songwriting?
Brenda: Mostly guys.
FFanzeen: I’ll ask you about that later.
Nancy: I’m influenced by the Beatles and the Who. Susan is influenced by…God knows…Frank Zappa, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Southside Johnny, Greg Kihn…
L: Uncle Floyd.
FFanzeen: On stage, Bunny for example, is styled after Keith Richards.
Nancy: Very Stones.
Brenda: Very stoned!
FFanzeen: Do any of the rest of you ever mimic your rock heroes?
Nancy: I do try to do the Pete Townshend windmills.
L: And it looks ridiculous.
Nancy: But I try. I don’t do it very often and I’m not very good at it. But after a few vodkas…
FFanzeen: What would it take to get you to slide across the stage on your knees?
Nancy: I’d pass out before then. But really, I don’t try to emulate anyone.
Brenda: I have my own style.
L: Nobody plays like her.
Brenda: [to L.] And who do you try to sing like?
L: Well, my major influences are from acting. I’m very theatrical on stage. I move around a lot. I don’t just stand there and turn around in circles, like Debbie Harry.
Nancy: It particularly bothers me when you see a band who are obviously on a Who trip or a Beatles trip. There’s a band in the New York area where the lead singer is doing all the Roger Daltry moves, the lead guitarist is doing all the Pete Townsend moves, and the drummer thinks he’s Keith Moon. It’s disgusting. It’s stupid; I resent it. It’s one thing to have influences, but it’s another to have it completely take over your performance.
FFanzeen: This is the definition of a cover band. Have you played outside of New York?
L: We played DC twice; Upstate at Hamilton College [Clinton, NY].
FFanzeen: What were the audiences like?
L: In Washington, they’re pretty civil. They’re a little too civil. They’re boring.
Brenda: They don’t get into it heavily.
L: Upstate, forget it. We had to beat them back with hammers. It was like they had never heard music before.
Nancy: We played the Hot Club in Philly. They loved us. We beat them off with sticks.
L: They were all lesbians. We had to barricade the dressing room.
Brenda: We played a prison once, in Danbury, Connecticut.
L: They weren't wild about us. We were girls, and that they were into, not the music.
Nancy: It was a white collar prison; tax evaders.
L: Where Nixon should be.
FFanzeen: What makes you different from other all-girl bands?
L: Most of them don’t get any further than forming a band. There are a few that you hear about once or twice and then they’re gone.
Brenda: Do you know how hard it is to keep girls together?
FFanzeen: I know how hard it is to keep them apart.
Nancy: Cheap Perfume is very significant to each of us. It is the first and only band any of us have ever been in.
FFanzeen: On stage, it looks as though there’s no jealousy over the spotlight.
Brenda: We’re pretty good about that.
FFanzeen: But I have seen you run into each other on the way into the spotlight.
L: Well, Bunny needs a pair of glasses.
Brenda: We should hold a benefit for Bunny’s glasses.
L: She’s walked into my mic stand three times.
Brenda: But she never misses a cute guy.
FFanzeen: Being an all-girl band might be thought of as a gimmick, but it’s obvious that you’re serious about yourself as musicians. How do people seem to react to you?
Nancy: In the beginning it was a good gimmick and we never had any trouble getting gigs.
Brenda: People still come up to me and say, “You know, you’re pretty good for girls.”
L: At first they were right, because nobody had come anywhere near mastering their instruments. And now, although we don’t have it by the tail…
Brenda: – We have it by the asshole –
L: …We do pretty well.
Nancy: I’d like to think that the timing is right for an all-girl band. It’s more than accepted. Chrissie Hynde is the rhythm guitar player for the Pretenders. Girls are becoming more than just the lead singer.
Brenda: Nancy Wilson of Heart is a fuckin’ hot lead guitar player.
Nancy: I think that the lack of female musicians is a problem from our teen-age. It wasn’t accepted for little 13 year olds to be picking up an electric guitar.
FFanzeen: There were no role models.
Nancy: I think that now there will be a greater mix in the near future. There will be more groups like the Nervus Rex and Talking Heads.
FFanzeen: Unisex bands.
L: I’d like to think that we’re responsible for a lot of girls getting musically involved in the New York scene.
FFanzeen: Almost all of your songs are about guys and are sexually suggestive. Despite your musical social ability, it wouldn’t be outlandish to call this an exploitation or even a gimmick since you’re an all-girl band.
L: Most rock’n’roll songs are about guys, girls…
FFanzeen: Cars, money…
L: Sex, drugs. That’s all. They’re standard themes.
FFanzeen: I don’t buy that. All your songs are about guys, not any of those other subjects.
Nancy: They’re really not. Only one: “Tommy.”
FFanzeen: What about “Overnight Angel,” “Boys,” “Back Alley Lovin’,” “Todd’s Song,” and especially “Too Bad”?
L: “Too Bad”? No, you misinterpreted the song. It’s not about a guy, it's about missing a chance, about being in a situation where you know if you did it right, you could have it. Anything – a guy, a girl, money – anything. But you blow it for one reason or another.
* * *
Anyway, Cheap Perfume is a hot act with many surprises. They’re tight and fast and they’ll leave ya beggin’ for more. They’re avoiding recording until they get the right producer. Definitely a professional move.
As soon as Brenda is out of the hospital, Cheap Perfume will be gigging up and down the East Coast under the guidance of Spotlight Enterprise. I’m looking forward to it.