The Psycho Sisters, performing Saturday at McCabe’s, finally recorded an album after 22 years
By Bliss Bowen
The common descriptor for a full-length musical recording is “album,” though the old-school term “record” is regaining favor as it is, literally, a record of a moment or experience.
In the case of the Psycho Sisters, aka singer-songwriter Susan Cowsill and Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson, it’s tricky specifying precisely what “Up on the Chair, Beatrice” is a record of. Their first full-length recording after 22 years, the 10 songs on “Beatrice” date from the early 1990s, when Cowsill and Peterson began working together (and endearing themselves to fans with such antics as performing in their nightgowns).
Back then, they were touring with Giant Sand and Steve Wynn. The same sibling-like vocal blend that illuminates “Beatrice” got them hired as “celebrity background singers” for pop stars like Belinda Carlisle and Hootie & the Blowfish. Throughout the ’90s they were members of the Continental Drifters, and Peterson’s calendar filled up when she subbed for a pregnant Charlotte Caffey on a Go-Go’s tour and the Bangles reunited. Later, Cowsill — who started recording as a young child in the late 1960s with her family’s hit-making band, the Cowsills — released well-received solo albums, 2005’s “Just Believe It” and 2010’s “Lighthouse.” It wasn’t until 2012 that the longtime friends and sisters-in-law (Peterson married Cowsill’s drummer brother John in 2003) recorded “Beatrice” at a studio in Maurice, Louisiana.
“It’s like pictures you’re gonna put in a scrapbook one day but you never get to it,” Cowsill explains. “They deserve to be put in the book and put on the table. The second we started singing them live, I remembered exactly why we wrote those songs and exactly where. … We’d never recorded them, so they never fully grew into who they are.”
“We went in as grown women with a lot more experience under our belt in the studio,” Peterson adds. “We were able to really make it our own and steer it with confidence that we wouldn’t have had 20 years ago.”
Their smart, conversational jocularity shines through pop-rockers like “Fun to Lie,” in which they gleefully skewer silver-tongued exes. Peterson’s “Numb” rocks things up with roiling guitar and Cajun fiddle, while the harmonies and guitars ringing through their affectionate cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy” and Peterson and Bob Cowsill’s “Never Never Boys” incite flashbacks to pre-Nirvana FM pop.
As they get down to the gritty work of promoting “Beatrice” on indie artist budgets, they joke about Skyping a rehearsal ahead of Saturday’s concert at McCabe’s (Peterson’s a Los Angeles resident; Cowsill’s made her home in New Orleans for almost 22 years). “Beatrice” is a solid ear-pleaser, with a colorful backstory made richer by the fact that the Psycho Sisters are mature, creatively productive women in an industry notoriously preferential to miniskirted, Autotuned teens and twentysomethings.
“It’s a different adventure; the trappings are gone,” Cowsill acknowledges, shrugging off the industry. “We’re making it for music’s sake. If I was trying to keep up with the industry, I’d have gone back to school. It’s too much of a mess.
“When you’re young and beautiful and miniskirted — let’s not kid ourselves, that visual’s a huge part of a successful musical or acting career. [But] it’s absolutely bitchin’ to be 55 years old and be rocking. Any music is viable, no matter how old you are. There’s much more ease and grace for me now.”
“Rock music, in the giant sense of that word, is no spring chicken either,” Peterson points out. “Because of that, there’s still an audience that wants to listen to good storytelling told in a melodic way. People want to hear something that connects with them on an emotional level.”
“And there are still people who want to see us rocking miniskirts,” Cowsill wisecracks.
“Wait,” Peterson deadpans. “We’re not wearing nightgowns?”
“We will [make another album],” Cowsill promises. “We cannot wait another 20 years, because we won’t be rocking shit.”
Peterson laughs. “We’ll be rocking chairs.”
The Psycho Sisters perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. $20. Call (310) 828-4497. Follow the Psycho Sisters Social Club on Facebook.