(September 3rd, 2009) It was three of San Francisco’s very best bands from the notorious 80’s, coming together in 2009 to perform a special show at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. Translator, Wire Train, and with special guest Debora Iyall of Romeo Void. There was a sold out show to be played in San Francisco, but a stop in Tinseltown was first – and it was a night to remember for the ages. Right after Debora Iyall and band completed their wondrous set, we were escorted upstairs for a very post-show interview. Here were Ms. Iyall’s thoughts just moments after leaving the Knitting Factory stage…
How did this event come about, and why only play two shows?
I think the promoter got it together with Wire Train and Translator. And I’m Facebook friends with Steve Barton (of Translator). They posted the show for LA and for Slims – and I wrote on the one for Slims “could I come and sing a duet with you guys?” And the next thing I know, the promoter called me and said, “We want you on the bill!” And I was out in Arizona teaching art on the Navajo nation – and I didn’t know if I’d be out here or I’d be teaching school. I ended up coming back to California this summer and I’m not going back to Navajo nation. When I found that out, I called him back and said, “I could do it. I’ll get it together!” And why only two shows – you know, economics in our regular lives – we have families and pets and jobs.
How nervous were you to play all of the Romeo Void songs again and did you have to revisit any of the lyrics at all?
I have been nervous for about three days. And today – like usually I have one cup of coffee a day. Today I had half a cup of coffee and I was like wired for five hours – like jittery coffee wired. Cuz I was really excited – it was a happy excitement but slight nerves. It’s been a long time, and I did have to revisit lyrics for sure. And tonight, I totally spaced out on the second verse to Never Say Never. It just wasn’t even coming. And all I could think of was the bridge. It was like, “I’m going to the bridge and I hope you guys can follow me” (in the band). Oh well, it’s about the beat though, right? And everyone is waiting for the chorus anyway. Fuck the second verse. (Much laughter) Although it does have some of my favorite lyrics in it…
“Slumped by the courthouse with wind burnt skin,
That man could give a fuck bout the grin on your face
As he walks by Randy The Goat,
He’s sleepin’ on papers but he’d be warm in your coat…”
Why didn’t I think of it? It wasn’t coming!
When you wrote Never Say Never, did you think it would become such a huge hit for the guys?
You know, when I wrote the lyrics, I was just sitting on a fire escape on Larkin Street when I was house sitting. It just felt like it was coming out as a poem to me, but kind of edgy and cool – and I liked it. And then we were on tour after that – and the guys were working on the music during sound check. And then finally we were in this town back east, and we did it at the sound check then – and it felt bitchen! It felt like “Wow! This is really a good one!” But we went to Boston after that and recorded three songs with Ric Ocasek. We were going to put out a single or EP maybe – and we only had three songs. We tore down our equipment after we recorded and then we had a show at The Spit. So we went to play at The Spit and we decided if things were going well enough, that we would do it for the encore. So we did it for the encore and it must have been about 12 minutes long. We just kind of jammed on it and I jumped in whenever I felt like it to sing the chorus again. The engineer was there and he had been working on the record with us – Ian Taylor – who use to work with Roy Thomas Baker. And he said, “You guys had never played us that song.” And we’re like, “Well, it’s not finished.” And he was like, “Well you guys, we have to record that song. We really do! I want you to load all your gear back into the studio and I’ll call Ric and tell him that we’re going to record another song tomorrow.” So we did. And it was originally about 12 minutes long when we recorded it, and they cut it down to like 7 minutes. So the version that you hear – the good version – not the one on the compilation or the shortened one for the video – but that one is edited as well. So then we had to learn what we edited.
What was it like working with Ric Ocasek?
He’s really mellow and really smart and stays out of the way. But when he says something, it’s constructive and positive or a really good sort of left of center suggestion. I think he really respects the artists. He chose to work with us. He called us. He called our tour manager somehow because he knew we were playing The Spit and said, “I want to record with your band.” A roadie on his tour bus had played It’s A Condition for him and he really liked it. So he sought us out – which is really flattering. He’s a really nice guy. Really sweet. I haven’t kept in touch with him.
What’s the back-story behind the song A Girl In Trouble Is A Temporary Thing?
That’s short of two back-stories. I had a really good girlfriend Christine – we were talking on the phone. And she had a nickname – “Teen troublemaker.” In a sense it’s about her, but it was also a response to Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. Cuz I was offended by his attitude about that “The kid is not my son.” I thought, “Oh, what a nice guy you are! What a great thing to say.” So I decided to respond to it.
When you look back on your solo record Strange Language, what do you think of it now?
I still really like some of the songs on it. Strange Language I like. Glance, After A Party – those are still strong songs in my mind. I was trying to do my thing. You know, we toured a lot for five years. We toured the United States four times, Europe once, and Canada three times. And that’s a lot of together. I’ve said this before so it’s not a new thought – but it was kind of like being in a marriage where you got good sex – for me. And all the guys – you started to know what they were going to say before they opened their mouths. We all felt the same way about each other. We made Instincts and we were out on the road promoting it – and we found out that the record label was done with it. And so the very next show we went to, there was no press set up or anything – no radio shows, no interviews. After they made that decision, all of a sudden none of that shit was happening. And the road manager can only do so much when you’re out on the road. And this was before cell phones and it was almost before fax machines – but not quite. We were pre-CD just for those you – could you imagine the day it was all vinyl? Luckily, vinyl is coming back – it’s really strong and has great audio.
What’s it like teaching art to High School students?
I really like it. For one thing, they’re still growing and they’re all about change and they’re not really stuck in their ways – and they love Art Material and that it’s a great break from the rest of their day and they’re stressed. Also it’s something that I feel is a great subject. I’m interested in it. I have a lot of passion about it and I love Art Material. I don’t stress around chaos – I like to play music. I actually feel like – in a way – it’s a way to find a new kind of peer group for me in a sense. Turn them on to art and then you have somebody to talk to about it. And also, I want them to be the new culture creators. I want them to understand it’s important to keep making culture – not to just keep consuming it. We’re a pretty consumer society – always plugged into what somebody else is doing. In a way, it’s not really all that valued either. It’s just another free download – whatever.
Do any of your students – or their parents – recognize you as the lead singer of Romeo Void?
In San Bernardino it use to happen all of the time in the Latino schools. A lot of the Latino parents – and even some of the teachers I taught with – they would recognize me when I came into the staff lounge. And they’d be like, “What? Hello?” But I didn’t find that out on the Navajo nation. And I’m pretty new at being an art teacher – I’ve only been doing that for 2 ½ years.
Are there any bands today playing that you’re particularly fond of?
I shouldn’t be embarrassed to say anything, but I really like Chester French. I love that pop shit, man. It’s really good. I like all the sounds – I think it’s really inventive – I love the guy’s voice. I’m kind of more into that mellow tip in life than I use to with Wire and the old punk stuff. And I’ve been a big fan of Bjork for a long time.
Any chance we’ll see you doing any more shows?
It would be really nice. I would really enjoy it. I am not really a business person, but if there are shows out there, I would certainly be willing. It seems like I’ve definitely attracted some good musicians who are willing to work with me, so I anticipate that not being a big issue. So we’ll see…
Do you have any messages for long time Romeo Void fans who might be reading this?
Yeah, be a friend on Facebook. And spell my name D-E-B-O-R-A I-Y-A-L-L. I’m on Myspace too, but I don’t check it as often – somehow it’s not as user friendly to me.
(Interview and Photos by Kenneth Morton)
Debora Iyall on Facebook
Debora Iyall on Myspace