Interview: Guitarist Vicki Peterson Discusses Influences and The Bangles' Latest Album, 'Sweetheart of The Sun'
Bangles' guitarist Vicki Peterson is no stranger to royalty. The stunning beauty has rubbed elbows and played alongside some of the giants of rock and pop over the course of her career.
Her tasty guitar work, soulful vocals and songwriting prowess continue to be an inspiration to male and female musicians.
The Bangles’ latest album, 2011's Sweetheart of The Sun (Buy on iTunes), pays homage to their '60s-era music roots and proves they're still a force to be reckoned with.
With a catalog of hits, catchy guitar riffs and the crystalline harmonies of Vicki, sister Debbi Peterson and Susanna Hoff, the eternal flame The Bangles lit 30 years ago shows no indication of ever going out.
I had the chance to speak with Peterson and discuss the new Bangles album as well as her journey from garage to rock royalty; including the time the band performed at a castle opening up for Queen. She also gives words of advice to aspiring female guitarists and the story of how a Prince once told her "Manic Monday" was going to be a smash.
GUITAR WORLD: A lot of people may not know this, but The Bangles once opened for Queen back in 1986. What was that experience like?
That definitely remains one of the highlights of my career. It was a magical setting for a concert. At a castle and in a muddy, rainy meadow (It was in the afternoon and raining while we were on). From the stage, there were people for as far as the eye could see. After we played our set, which was so insane and surreal, we got to stand on the side of the stage and watch them do their thing. They were the ultimate band.
Your latest album, Sweetheart of The Sun, pays homage to the band's shared love of '60s-era music.
We really enjoyed the process of making that album. We worked with Matthew Sweet in his home studio and tracked most of the songs there. He is such a pure rock spirit, an enthusiast on so many levels.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Artists like Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and The Beatles all inspired me. I was really listening a lot to what George Harrison was doing. I wasn't the kid in the room learning the solos as much as I was just learning the song craft. In high school, I became a big fan of Joni Mitchell and still am to this day. She continues to amaze me on every level, especially with her tuning. It really gave me the sense that you can approach the guitar on many different levels creatively.
Did you find it difficult being a girl and growing up playing a sort-of "male dominated" instrument?
It didn't feel that way to me. To me, guitar was an accompaniment. My early days were more about writing; I learned how to play to write songs. That morphed into high school and being in a band. It was an easy call for me to be a musician and an easy call to be in an all-girl band because it just made sense to me. My idols were The Beatles; I knew I wanted that.
How did you get connected with Susanna?
Debbi and I were in a band back in high school and that year, our bass player went off to London to attend school and our lead guitar player just wasn't working out. So, it was basically just Debbi and me and through a crazy series of communications, I ended up "meeting" Susanna over the phone.
What was it like the first time you three got together?
I still remember the first time we went over to Susanna's house. We sat down in her parents' garage and played together, and I realized immediately how well Susanna's voice blended with Debbi and me. Susanna has such a beautiful tone, and she also played rhythm guitar. It was just the perfect fit.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female players?
I want to encourage girls who are thinking about playing to just do it. If you're apprehensive because the guitar feels big and scary, check out Daisy Rock guitars. We have a signature model that I play at every show. It speaks so nicely and has a great, pure tone. It's very playable. I didn't have that when I was nine and learning how to play. Also, don't get discouraged. Learning to play is a process, so enjoy it. Find others to play with because that makes it more fun too!
My hope is there will come a day when no girl ever has the issue of walking into a guitar store and the guy behind the counter looks at you strangely and says, "So, what kind of strings does your boyfriend use?" That's when you can say, "I don't know about him, but I use light tops and heavy bottoms!" [Laughs]
What’s next for The Bangles?
We have a few dates coming up in October and are planning something more expansive for next summer! In the meantime, I'm hoping to get started on writing another album. It's an exciting time.
Tell me a good Bangles rock and roll story.
We had several encounters with Prince. He sent over the song "Manic Monday" and after we had heard it, we decided to record it.
One day, shortly before the song was released, we were in rehearsals for the tour when all of a sudden, in walks Prince. He was with Wendy [Melvoin] and I remember they both just kind of walked in really quietly and sat down. We were all a bit in shock looking at each other and were like, "Oh God ... Prince is at our rehearsal!" [Laughs]
It was just the four of us and we didn't have our keyboard player with us at the time. The keyboard player plays the little harpsichord riff in the song, so what I did was emulate the riff on the guitar. We played the song for him and afterwards he just looked at us, put his finger up and said "It's a hit!" and then walked out as mysteriously as he came in. [Laughs]
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James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.
The Bangles (Photo: Rebecca Wilson)
Vicki Peterson (Photo: Rebecca Wilson)