Interview: Cherie Currie from ‘The Runaways’
Cherie Currie was just 15 years-old when was she plucked out of a normal adolescence in 1970s Los Angeles by record producer extraordinaire Kim Fowley and emerging teenage rock n roll superstar Joan Jett. The only places she had ever sung and performed were in her bedroom and her school talent show. Despite merely lip-syncing a David Bowie tune, Currie won the talent show based on the merits of her riveting stage persona, foreshadowing her later success as the lead singer of the legendary all girl band The Runaways.
Jett and Currie went their separate ways in the late 70s but have remained on good terms with both women contributing to the making of the 2010 biography of their short, but exciting careers. Since the end of The Runaways Currie has kept busy, releasing a solo album in 1978, experimenting with acting and releasing her first studio album since the 80s with 2015’s Reverie. We talked to Currie earlier this week about her thoughts on women in the music industry, how she feels about David Bowie’s passing, and what we can expect from her upcoming Australian tour.
First of all, I’d just like to say thank-you for taking the time to speak to me today. I’ve been listening to your music since I was a teenage girl and both the sound and the ideal of The Runaways have not dated at all, as far as I’m concerned! How do you feel about the current status of women in the music industry today? Is there anybody you’re a particular fan off?
Well, I’m still a big fan of Suzi Quatro. Big fan of Melissa Etheridge. I’ve had shout-outs from Lady Ga Ga even, which I think is pretty cool. It’s just great to see that there’s nothing women can’t do. Women are getting absolutely everything that – not only they deserve – but are extraordinarily good at.
What’s your opinion on some of the women in the music industry today who have achieved both popular and critical acclaim, but perhaps have a more mainstream/over-produced sound as opposed to the Runaways. Do you have respect for the kind of music that they are making or do you think we need a revival of the raw, rock ‘n’ roll spirit that was The Runaways?
I appreciate anybody who makes it in this business, but I will agree that we do need a revival of something where perfection isn’t the goal. I think a lot of these stars and the TV shows that launched them have really put a damper on a lot of young, impressionable kids who just don’t think they’ll ever be able to match up to that. I think a lot of their dreams, which I truly believe were meant for them, they will not even attempt to accomplish. So I agree with you that it would be terrific for us to revive heartfelt, good rock ‘n’ roll that doesn’t need Mozart to write or doesn’t take Whitney Houston to sing.
That’s interesting that you mention the more down to earth, raw sound and image that you guys had. What aspects of The Runaways do you think were true to yourselves and what may have been manufactured by the influence of Kim Fowley? Or do you think he just brought out what was already in you to begin with?
He definitely brought out what was already in us. We were only 15 or 16. I know Joan and Lita and Sandy were already playing guitar, but they weren’t by any stretch of the imitation masters at it. And me, I had never sung in front of a live audience before. To me, we were learning together. I think Kim was masterful at song writing and being able to get those teenage words just right. He knew what kind of music kids could play, sing and relate to. And that’s what The Runaways were.
He definitely understood, I guess, the zeitgeist of the moment…
He did try to make another Runaways band that didn’t go anywhere. Just the five of us girls really were kind of magical. And I didn’t even realise that until I was watching videos and listening to music again about 20 years ago. It was too painful of an experience for me to listen to the music or any of those videos. But I finally started to and I was actually floored by how great we were together. I’m very very please and blessed to have been apart of the band.
I’d just like to ask for your thoughts now on David Bowie’s recent and unfortunate passing, because I know he was a major influence on you both musically and personally!
Oh man. I was seriously battling the flu when he passed away. I had a very high fever at the time. I’m almost grateful that I was in such physical pain and so ill because I think it would have just knocked me over. Still to this day, there is no one like him. We do a tribute to him – we always have – all my shows have. He was just a master. He had vision. He was a chameleon on every level. He was a true musician. If it wasn’t for him I would have never had the guts or even the idea of being a singer in a rock band. I emulated him like Joan did with Suzi Quatro. We didn’t know who we were when we were that young on stage so we pretended to be our heroes. That helped us get through that first tour and then we started realising who we were.
One of the interesting things I found when reading your book Neon Angel was that you referred to yourself as ‘the Cherie thing’, which is that sort of hybrid person you became when you performed on stage and adopted parts of Bowie’s persona. Did it ever become confusing during the height of your fame to differentiate between yourself as a teenage girl and this sort of elaborate Cherie persona you developed?
All kids do it. And I was a kid. We put up whatever walls we had to put up to survive. Being on tour and being picked on because a lot of guys didn’t appreciate what we were doing – they laughed at us, of course. It was very difficult. So we just sort of put our focus on not paying attention to any of it and forging down that path. Even though I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band and didn’t get to have the prom or anything like that. It was still a great experience for me.
A different kind of adolescence that’s for sure!
Well, it took a lot of guts. And then I went right into acting, which also took a lot of guts and I don’t know if I would have had any of that without the influence of the road.
Just one last thing on Bowie – now that you’re older and you’re back in the music business, although you did other music things after The Runaways, do you have any new idols or just people in the music industry who have had a big impact on how you’ve developed over the years as a musician?
Well David Bowie and Suzi Quatro were my two main heroes growing up. I was so blessed to have Suzi on stage with me in London for something I wrote for her new film about her extraordinary life. It was an unbelievable experience to stand on stage with her. Right now I am just trying to find out where I am as a performer because I don’t have David Bowie anymore. And I’m a mum of a 25-year-old son who is a fantastic showman himself; great songwriter and singer. I feel like everyday you experience a little bit more about yourself and you learn a little bit more about yourself, don’t you think? Everyday gets better. Even after this interview you’re going to be than you were before this interview. Like I’m going to be better. Tomorrow is always exciting for me. I’m a little less afraid of everything as each day goes by.
On that note, we should move on now to talk about what you’re working on in the present. Can you tell us what we can expect to hear when we see you perform live? Will we hear songs from The Runaways in addition to the new material from ‘Reverie’?
Definitely. I’m always very disappointed when I go to see bands who don’t want to play the hits because they think they’re too good for it or just moved on and we all have to move on with them. I don’t believe that. I’m always going to do the songs that people want to hear because that’s what I wanted to hear. So I’m going to do a lot of Runaways songs and I’ll do a couple of songs off ‘Reverie’ and some tributes. It’s just going to be a great show because I just appreciate everything so much now that I didn’t have an opportunity to appreciate in the Runaways. It’s just a whole different mind-set. I’m not that frightened little girl anymore. I’m really, really enjoying myself and I can’t wait to come down and see everyone in Australia.
For full information on Cherie’s 2016 Australian Tour click HERE