MUSIC | The Bangles’ Vicki Peterson on fame, fortune, pleasing Prince, and getting in people’s faces

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The Bangles have been around for nearly 30 years now, and the years have been good to them. They were one of the defining pop groups of the 80s, pulling a Gagaesque hat trick: popular success, critical acclaim, and unforgettable style. In the 90s the group experienced a tumultuous breakup (duly documented on Behind the Music), but they mended their differences for a 2000 reunion tour and have since been recording and playing together often. Their current tour stops at the Fine Line in Minneapolis next Thursday, April 29.

The band’s current lineup includes founding members Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, and Debbi Peterson (the latter two are sisters). I talked with Vicki Peterson by phone.

The Bangles’ most recent album, Doll Revolution, was released in 2003. What’s the scoop on a new disc? Also, why did you decide to go on the road this spring?
We like to, if we can, get out on the road every year—just stretch our legs and run around. We’re not promoting anything in particular; it’s just good for the soul. It keeps us alive, keeps us fresh and vibrant. There’s no release date for a new album, but we’re actively recording when we can fit it in. With kids to raise, it’s a bit of a protracted process—unlike the 20-hours-a-day approach. It’s been beneficial; we’ve had time to get a little perspective. All three of us are writing new material for the new album. We started recording last spring, but what we recorded then is different from what we’re doing now. We’ve had time to grow.

You came out of L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene. Where do you see the influence of that scene in today’s music?
Well, that scene was obviously influenced by the British Invasion of the 60s, and the folk rock scene of the 60s and 70s. The Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds—I still hear that sound in bands that are up and coming, which is satisfying, but it’s hard for me to gauge what was specifically our influence.

Thinking back to the height of your fame in the mid-80s, is there a moment that stands out to you as a time when you thought, “Wow, this is really getting crazy”?
We were never the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night—we were never being chased down the street. There were some crazy moments, though. I remember being with Duran Duran one night when they were being chased—our car was being rocked, people were screaming and scratching at it. We had access to this world that is magical if you’re a music fan. You’re at an event and you’re playing and down in the audience, there’s Eric Clapton and Sting and Bono watching you play, because they’re your peers. You see it on award shows, where people are up there freaking out because they’re looking at their heroes. It’s this amazing, striking moment.

Prince wrote “Manic Monday” for the Bangles. Did you have much of a relationship with him, or with the Minneapolis scene generally, in the 80s?
The Minneapolis scene in the 80s was something that we watched from L.A. It seemed like a vibrant scene, but we only came through town a couple of times. Prince is freakishly talented. We did, at the time, have run-ins. He would find us and we’d get word backstage: “Prince is here, and he might like to sit in with you.” I remember happily handing over my guitar for Prince to play. He came to a rehearsal just after we recorded “Manic Monday,” and I remember feeling like it was a strange circumstance. We didn’t have a keyboard to play the harpsichord part, and we were just kind of faking the part on guitar. He listened to us play the song, and then he just smiled and said, “It’s gonna go.” He meant, it’s going to be a hit. And it was.

What other projects are you personally working on these days?
My husband John Cowsill and I are putting the finishing touches on a recording studio in our home, and we’ve been talking about doing something together musically. It’s funny that we’ve never explored the musical side of our relationship, but we’re toying with that idea.

The Fine Line is a relatively small venue. Some established bands like R.E.M. have relished in throwing themselves into small venues at music festivals and elsewhere, thrashing it out like old times. Is that the spirit you’re approaching this tour in?
We like doing that—we go back and forth between smaller and larger venues. When the record comes out we’ll do a different kind of show, but it’s fun to book yourself into a small club or a town that you’ve never performed in. The only drawback used to be that the monitors used to be poor at smaller places, but we don’t have to worry about that any more, so I love playing smaller places. I love being in people’s faces, feeling that energy.