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Cherie Currie: Return of the Queen of Noise (Interview)
“Hello daddy, hello Mom, I’m your cherry bomb… Hello world I’m your wild girl….”
Carrying on in the grand tradition of groundbreaking female rockers, Goldie & the Gingerbreads, Fanny and Suzi Quatro, in the late ‘70s Southern California’s The Runaways made an indelible mark on the music scene.
Through Runaways signature classic like Cherry Bomb, American Nights and Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin, a feathered peroxide-haired teenager named Cherie Currie served as the voice of a generation of disenfranchised youth. Dressed in a skimpy corset for Cherry Bomb, the highlight of their live shows, looks were certainly deceiving in Cherie’s case.
No wallflower, like her band mates she was a bonafide badass who’d cut you to ribbons with a switchblade if you crossed her without a second thought. The best of the Runaways music, a crafty synthesis of glam, bubblegum, power pop and hard rock hot wired to tough, slashing riffs, channeled bratty adolescent rage and frustration and hit with the seismic force of a thousand power drills. Queens of Noise indeed.
Flash forward a few decades later and the original “cherry bomb” has mellowed and matured.
Witness Reverie, her first solo album in 35 years, which finds her reunited with Runaways mastermind Kim Fowley who co-wrote and produced a few tracks before his passing in January of 2015.
Former Runaways band mate Lita Ford also makes an appearance singing background vocals on new renditions of Runaways gems Is It Day Or Night and American Nights. However, it’s Cherie’s son, Jake Hays, who earns honors as the record’s MVP, co-penning many of the tracks and lending muscular instrumentation to the entire record.
The DNA of her former band is ever present, particularly on Queen of the Asphalt Jungle. Yet in both sound and songs, the record impresses in its stylistic versatility, stretching the boundaries far beyond her ‘70s roots; in essence creating a “reverie” of adventurous and more sophisticated music and deeper, thought-provoking lyrical content.
Rock Cellar Magazine: When did it first hit you that you were a bonafide rock star?
Cherie Currie: Oh my Gosh, you know, I have never felt that way and I still don’t. I feel so grateful that I’ve made a different in people’s lives. I was thrilled with the Runaways movie and people thought it was important to tell our story.
To me, I’m just a chainsaw carver from the San Fernando Valley. (laughs)
But come to think of it, I did feel like a rock star in 1977 when we went to Japan. We were greeted with overwhelming crowds and fans that were crying. It was incredible. We couldn’t walk don the street without being chased. That was a first for us as a band. And again, that my last tour with them. That was when I felt that way.
I also felt like a rock star when we came back from our first U.S. tour and we played the Santa Monica Civic in Los Angeles. We left playing small clubs like Wild Man Sam’s and came back with Cheap Trick opening for us at the Santa Monica Civic and that made me feel as well that we were definitely on the right track.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’re a lifelong fan of Suzi Quatro.
Cherie Currie: I also loved Suzi Quatro; I mean, holy cow! She’s a really talented gal. I hope she gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s hard to take the Hall seriously with her not in it.
People always ask me about my thoughts on the Runaways getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They ask, “Don’t you think the Runaways should get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” and I can’t even imagine it before Suzi Quatro.
No way! To me, it wouldn’t be reality and wouldn’t be deserved. There are just some people that should be in the Hall of Fame that aren’t and Suzi is definitely number one as far as I’m concerned.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Suzi Quatro was always much more popular outside of America, can you explain why?
Cherie Currie: Well, I think she broke here in the States. I remember hearing Can the Can and Your Mama Won’t Like Me on the radio. Before I was in the Runaways I would listen to her; also, playing the character of Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. I saw her open for Elton John at the Forum and I think she also opened for Alice Cooper but I think I could be wrong about that.
But I will tell you, she kicked ass! She was a person I looked up to and aspired to be like, “I she could do it, we could do it.” She kicked open the doors as far as I’m concerned for the Runaways. I was blessed to be at her wedding in Japan with Suzi. She and I are very friendly. I’m very lucky they asked me to participate in a documentary about Suzi.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You should tour with her; you could call it “The Queens of Noise” tour.
Cherie Currie: (Laughs) Lita and I contacted her to see if she’d be interested in doing some recording together but since she is in Europe, it never transpired. I’m hoping to tour Europe in October and maybe I’ll be able to meet up with her. I was looking at some of her videos the other day with my son, Jake, and my wonderful ex-husband, Robert Hays. We sat and watched some of Suzi’s old videos. She was just amazing!
Rock Cellar Magazine: It’s been a long 35 years between solo albums, why the protracted delay?
Cherie Currie: I wrote music for years and even during my marriage with Bob I wrote quite a few songs with a great writer named Tony Artino. We wrote music for soundtracks and movies and things like that. So I continued to write and to sing. But I did make a full album right after the Runaways movie came out with Joan (Jett).
I made that record with Matt Sorum. We made that for Blackheart Records. It’s a really good record. It’s got Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins; he wrote a duet for us to do. We have the Veronicas on the record, Brody Dale and even the actress Juliette Lewis who came and sang on a Runaways song.
We also had Matt Sorum, Duff (McKagan) and Slash playing on it as well. We do a song that was written by then. But the album was shelved, which was unfortunate.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Why was it shelved?
Cherie Currie: I’m not exactly sure. It took a back seat to everything for three years; I didn’t even get a record contract from Blackheart. After opening for Joan at the Pacific Amphitheater it just set everything off. I was offered a deal immediately.
But I went with Blackheart Records and my album never came out. When it finally came time for Blackheart to sign me to a record contract years later, I had sat around for almost three years not playing and they didn’t want me to play.
I just felt it was best that I part ways with them at that time.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In what ways is Reverie a different album from the one you recorded for Blackheart Records?
Cherie Currie: Matt Sorum is a great producer and of course he’s an incredible musician. Reverie was truly a labor of love. Kim (Fowley) called me and after making sure I had no paperwork with anyone else, he asked if I wanted to make a record. Of course, I had two reasons for wanting to work with Kim Fowley again.
First, I wanted to have a different experience than what I had had as a kid working with Kim in the Runaways. So the idea that it would come full circle and my son Jake would be involved and work with Kim, it was something I could just not say no to. I wanted Jake to experience it and I also wanted to walk away with good memories, no bad memories.
Second, he was just a brilliant songwriter.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Given your fractious relationship working together during the Runaways, this must have been a healing experience for you.
Cherie Currie: Yes it was. Kim did come and live at my house for about nine days and unfortunately that was cut short when he became very ill and had to go in the hospital. He had to continue to stay at place close to this cancer hospital so that ended his stay here even though I’d really expected him to stay through Christmas and then he passed away just two weeks before our record was finished.
Rock Cellar Magazine: It was wonderful to see the photo of you, Kim and Lita Ford together years later and you were now all in a good place and healing had taken place.
Cherie Currie: I suffered pain and resentment and anger for a lot of years. I’ve come to believe that only hurt me because people go on with their lives. Yeah, I was a kid but I wish a lot of people realized that and remembered that whenever they talk about the Runaways.
There’s still crazy fans out that deliver such hate and they spew this hate as if it happened yesterday but it was 40 years ago and we were kids. Trust me, when my kid turned 15 or 16 and I looked at him, I was flabbergasted with how the Runaways even happened. Our parents must have really loved us and trusted us and trusted Kim and everyone handling us to allow us to go our on the road.
I would never have let my son do it at that age.
Rock Cellar Magazine: With the clarity of time, while Kim’s methods of working with the Runaways and putting them through an emotionally abusive kind of boot camp may have been misguided, his intentions were good; he was the band’s protector and was trying to toughen you up for the road ahead.
Cherie Currie: I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. It took me to become a parent myself to really look back and think, Wow, Kim did not have really great childhood at all. He was not a father and he was not a parent. How does someone at 30 some odd years old turn around and prepare teenagers to go out into this very very tough business?
He was not gonna go with us, he didn’t go to on tour—so I guess he just wanted to toughen us up. And now I can kind of understand that. Kim was never one to sit around; I mean, he wanted it done yesterday. And that’s the way he handled not only our records but preparing us to tour.
He hired Kenny Ortega who’s just an amazing choreographer and he helped us with our shows. He tried to give us a fighting chance. Of course, I came from a very loving family so this was just day and night from what I was used to growing up.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Reverie is a family affair. Your son Jake plays a major part in the creation and recording of the record. Sharing music making, songwriting and recording with your son must be very rewarding.
Cherie Currie: You know what, Jake came onboard as a writer with Kim, the photo you reference of Lita, Kim and myself, that was the one day that we wrote songs for this record.
Lita didn’t participate in the songwriting but she was there and Jake and Cliff Retallick were writing the songs with Kim. Jake, Kim and I wrote the three other songs.
It was only three days later and Kim had us in the studio to record these songs and unfortunately by the fourth day Kim was too ill to come back to the studio.
He was on a walker and had a bladder bag and he was too exhausted so he told Jake that he was gonna turn over this record now to him.
So Jake started out as a player and songwriter on the record and then Kim passed the torch to finish it and produce this record.
He did a beautiful job. We moved form the studio where we had started to Jake’s studio in Malibu Lake. Jake was also writing for his band, Maudlin Strangers. Jake got a very lucrative record deal shortly after he had started my record. Poor kid, he was trying to balance doing his record and writing songs.
Jake writes the songs, he produces them and he plays all the instruments. That’s a lot for one person and then to also have to do my record and finish it…that’s why it took a year to finish. I’m so proud of him. Jake toured with me on four separate tours. He worked on the record with Matt Sorum and he played with me when I opened for Joan Jett in front of 9,000 people.
That was our very first show as a band with Nick Maybury, Grant Fitzpatrick and Matt Sorum on drums Jake’s been with me the whole time. Now that he’s got a record deal and he’s touring himself, I’m gonna have to replace him which is a sad thing. But this record was a true labor of love for Jake too. He and I wrote songs together.
Kim funded the record in the studio for the first four days and then after that I had to fund the record from then on. It was great to go to the studio and work with Jake and I wish we could have done it a little faster but he’s just one man. I think he just did a fantastic job.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell me about the song Queen of the Asphalt Jungle, which resonates with Runaways mojo.
Cherie Currie: That song was kind of an ode to the Runaways. It took Kim probably three minutes to write the lyrics and Jake and I a day to get the music together for it and we were in the studio two days later. So it was really cool to do a song that we thought the Runaways fans might like.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Your former Runaways band mate Lita Ford also has a role on your new solo CD.
Cherie Currie: I was on tour when she reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do a duet with her on a Christmas single she had written with Mitch Perry. Of course, not only did it take me by surprise but I as thrilled, just thrilled that she would ask me to sing on a song that she had written.
So I think flew in while I was on tour and drove directly to the studio from the airport. I heard this great song called Rock This Christmas Down and did with a duet with her on this Christmas single. So actually it was Lita who reached out to me first to work with her and it was terrific. It was so exciting. I’d never sang with Lita before; Lita never sang in the Runaways. So that was a blast.
Rock Cellar Magazine: And you connected as real friends as opposed decades back bickering teenagers stuck in a band together.
Cherie Currie: That was hard in the Runaways. We never really a mediator in the Runaways. Had we had somebody, some adult woman that would at least help us work out some of our differences; you know we wound up clamming up and we never spoke about things.
Kim would also pit us against each other. He thought it would give us an edge on stage not realizing that kind of stuff in the end causes great damage. Lita and I are really good friends now. It was great to be able to get to know her. She brought me out to do the M3 concert with her.
Anything she asks me to do, I’ll always say yes. Then when I asked her if she would sing with me on the two Runaways songs I do on the album, she was happy to come in. To me it would have been preposterous to not ask her. She was in the band with me; I just would have felt weird. We had a blast.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Why did you choose to cut those two Runaways songs on the album, Is It Day or Night and American Nights?
Well, American Nights is one of my favorite Runaways songs. Also, I had asked the fans on Facebook before I went out on tour what their favorite Runaways songs were and I was quite surprised to find that Is It Day or Night was really a standout for a lot of the fans so I put that into my show.
So that was really easy for us to record those tunes. Grant Fitzpatrick who played bass in my band, Nick Maybury who’s just an amazing guitar player and Jake played drums and we carved these songs out very very quickly. It was very easy and they sound great. When Lita came in, though she’d never sang those songs in the Runaways she just took to it and we got it down really fast. It was great.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Is there a song on Reverie that best represents Cherie Currie in 2015?
Cherie Currie: I’d choose the song Believe which I wrote 19 years ago. I wrote that song at a time in my life where I felt everything was possible. I almost call it kind of an ode to Glen Campbell in a way with the French horns on it. Every time I hear that song it gives me hope. We all need hope in life. We do. We have out ups and down, our peaks and our valleys, sometimes in our business those valleys can be dark. So Believe is the one song that I think truly represents who I am. It’s a song that I’ll always love and always be proud of.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Through the years you’ve been outspoken in your interest in a Runaways reunion but recently you’ve come to the acceptance that it’s never gonna happen. Knowing you remain friends with Joan Jett and Lita Ford, why would it be such impossibility?
Cherie Currie: For me I always saw it as a possibility. But seeing the dynamics with everything else I’ve just let it go at this point for one reason or another, one member didn’t want to do it, never me. It was either Joan or Lita who didn’t want to do it and the timing was just never right for it to come together.
At this point I just never see it happening and that’s kind of a blessing in a way. I will say I’m lucky because I’ve been able to stand on a stage with Joan and I recorded with Joan. She and I went into the studio and did the preliminary recordings for the Runaways movie and we got to sing together. Joan and I did Cherry Bomb for Guitar Hero. We recorded together for that; I got to stand on a stage with Lita and record with her.
I was blessed enough to do many many shows with Sandy West and I also did a couple of shows with Jackie Fox and Sandy West. So I’m the only one who’s been able to work with all the members of the band at one time or another. My heart has always been in the right place to work wit them.
I was hoping it would be together but you know, I think it will never happen and I’m okay with it now.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Away from music you do chainsaw art, tell us about that.
Cherie Currie: I’ve got a web site called Chainsaw Chick and I’ve been a chainsaw artist now for 15 years. It was a fluke; it kind of found me actually.
I was already a wood carver doing what you would call “relief carving,” which is two dimensional table tops, wall hangings, that kind of a thing. It’s carving out pictures into wood. I was heading to the beach one day 15 years ago and happened to pass a couple of guys chainsaw carving at the side of the road.
Even though I couldn’t stop I was like, “Woah what is that?!” They were doing these beautiful carvings outside of their gallery. Even though I didn’t stop I couldn’t get it out of my head. So every morning I got up and every night when I went to bed I heard that voice, you know that voice that we hear that we have to pay attention to?
That voice kept telling me I had to go back and I did a couple of weeks later and brought some of my artwork with me. I walked into their gallery and saw these beautiful mermaids and dolphins and all these other amazing carvings. They weren’t what I expected.
When you think of chainsaw art you think of these kind of crude lumberjack type carvings (laughs) but these were just delicate and beautiful and this voice in my head said, “You can do this.” And so I approached the owner of the gallery and he took me on. My third piece was accepted into the Malibu Art Expo; it was three sea turtles swimming around a piece of coral.
For more on Currie, visit her official site.
May 14, 2021