Travis Ramin interviews Lori Lindsay (vocalist of The Prissteens and Purple Wizard). Travis has produced records for Nikki Corvette and Riff Randells, among others.
I first met the Prissteens out of sheer fandom. They were playing here in Minneapolis in the late 90s and I was playing the same night at another club unable to attend. But I was determined! Through a series of pre-internet and cellphone phone calls I was able to connect with my favourite band of the time! I really can’t remember how I did it, but I managed to reach Mighty Joe and extend an invitation to meet the Prissteens for breakfast at the Uptown diner in St. Paul.
The Prissteens journey was winding down, and it would be a few more years before the dynamic duo of Lori and Leslie would re-emerge with Purple Wizard, which was incredibly exciting to hear about! I collected all the 45s and the album, of course, and was blown away by the care that went into making such great sounding recordings – from the material choices to the vocal harmonies and tones, down to the mixing, and of course the humorous elements were very welcomed in my book!
I was able to see two great Purple Wizard shows, one at the legendary Lakeside Lounge, where everyone was on stage ready to play, just waiting for Bill to arrive… waiting, waiting… I had a seat by the window, where I saw Bill coming down the street from a distance, decked out in purple pants, purple shirt and purple shoes, with just a recorder (instrument) sticking out of his back pocket. He walked in and directly took the stage and the show began. The second time was an amazing bill with the Lyres, Real Kids, DMZ, and Downbeat 5 for New Years at the Ding Dong Lounge. I continued to be a fan and get the records until they stopped coming out! But now we get to re-live all of that listening excitement with these great releases!
Travis Ramin: You and Leslie made such a great vocal duo, how did you come together to initially start the Prissteens, and what was it like to find out you had such a great harmony?
Lori Lindsay: I met Leslie when I was 18 or 19, when I saw her band the Junior High playing. She was the coolest girl I had ever met. Singing with her was so fun. Playing in a band wasn’t anything I had ever even thought of doing, but the night I met Leslie she asked if I wanted to start a band with her.
I had never played any rock and roll instrument, although I had played classical violin my whole life, so when Leslie lent me her bass I went home and practiced every night until I could sing and play a few songs. We started off playing some Headcoatees songs, which I had always really loved. And as time went on, I imagined us becoming a modern, female version of the Everly Brothers.
Travis Ramin: What was going on in the NYC music scene at that time? Joe was with the Devil Dogs, was anyone else playing in bands pre-Prissteens? The Continental was happening, where else did you play?
Lori Lindsay: I can’t remember all of the clubs from those days, but from what I can remember there was the Mercury Lounge, the Lakeside Lounge – our band’s manager owned the Lakeside and Leslie bartended there, so that’s was our mai
n hangout. There was Irving Plaza for bigger shows and then Coney Island High, which was a really fun place. I know there were a few other cool places, but the Lakeside was kind of the last place where I spent a lot of time and my memory kind of ends there. Almost all of the places from those days have been gone for many years now, maybe all of them…
Travis Ramin: The music of both Prissteens and Purple Wizard are steeped deeply in the 60s. Who are your early influences and what records did you have growing up that inspired you to want to play that style?
Lori Lindsay: Somehow I always really loved older music, and I really have no idea why. My dad was into all kinds of music, my mom too, and I grew up playing classical violin. In fact, I only listened to classical music in the early years of my life.
Travis Ramin: Your voice lends itself so well to those styles, what ladies voices did you love the most?
Lori Lindsay: Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love, Wanda Jackson – lots of people. But I loved men’s voices more, like teenage boy voices. That was really what I was going for.
Travis Ramin: For Devil Dogs fans, like myself, it was exciting to hear there was a band with a Devil Dogs feel, but a 60s girl group! How did you come to play with Mighty Joe Vincent, of the world renowned Devil Dogs?
Lori Lindsay: I met Joe at a bar when I was 19, and we were together for years, pretty much from the night we met. I lived in the East Village and he lived in New Jersey, so he moved into my East Village apartment with me shortly after we met. Leslie and I were already friends at that point, so when we were ready to try playing music together Joe was conveniently there to join us on drums.
Travis Ramin: Your first single was the Hound. Was that a reference to the WFMU DJ? Was his show an influence on your music?
Lori Lindsay: Jim was one of my best friends from that time, like from around that same period in time, I was probably 19 when we met. We bonded over music from the start, and he was really a mentor to me.
He also really took care of me, always took me out for dinner and things during the days when I had no money. He was a great friend and a huge influence on everything I did at the time. And Jim was also the manager of The Prissteens, for better or for worse…
Travis Ramin: How did you come to make Scandal Controversy and Romance on a big label?
Lori Lindsay: Our A&R guy, Howard Thompson, used to come to the Lakeside and he was friends with Jim. He would come around and see us play, and he really liked what we were doing. After a while of seeing us play, he decided to give us a shot on the label he was at, at the time, Almo Sounds, which was like a new A&M.
Travis Ramin: What were your feelings going into working with someone like Richard Gotterher, during and after? You must have been a fan of the records he produced in the past – from all the 60s stuff, to the Go-Go’s, Blondie, and Holly and the Italians, etc… He seemed like the perfect producer for what you were doing.
Lori Lindsay: Embarrassingly I hadn’t heard of Richard before we met, but yeah after I learned about everything he did, I was a huge fan. And he became a great friend as well. We used to hang out a lot, go out to dinner and get drunk. We always thought we would have been perfect for each other had he been 40 years younger.
Travis Ramin: Were there big factors that led to the end of the Prissteens, or was it just time to move on???
Lori Lindsay: We really all stopped getting along. I feel like it’s a typical band story, drinking and drugs and fighting over dumb things. But I’ll leave it to the imagination, as to who had what problems and why. I’d love to spill the beans, but I guess it’s all so long ago it doesn’t really matter anymore. But it was pretty disappointing.
Travis Ramin: When it was time to regroup did you know that you wanted to do something with Leslie? What was going to be different with Purple Wizard, and what were the different influence and ideas going around?
Lori Lindsay: I loved singing and playing with Leslie, plus we had been inseparable for so many years it seemed natural to continue playing with her. Plus the act I really envisioned was that girl Everly Brothers thing, and that’s what I was sort of always trying to accomplish with her.
She just got it. I can’t imagine any other girl really getting that concept. And I really wanted to tone down the ‘rock’ and do something much simpler. I was so into groups like the Troggs at the time, I was obsessed with trying to write one part songs and music that was really lo-fi, but that had decent sound quality, not shitty lo-fi, if you know what I mean. And we didn’t want anyone telling
Travis Ramin: Please explain how the band name came to be.
Lori Lindsay: My brother had come to visit me at some point. He got drunk and went to some random tattoo shop on St. Mark’s Place and got a flash tattoo of a wizard wearing a purple robe. It was hilarious.
Leslie and I were so annoyed at the label experience and trying to do things that pleased people that we decided to have a band with the stupidest, worst, least commercial band name we could think of – and Purple Wizard it was.
Travis Ramin: Having Bill (RIP) in the band really gave it a nice lighthearted sense of humor. Was that intentional or did it just come out that way?
Lori Lindsay: Bill, Leslie, and I were always together, so it made sense for him to join us in playing music since he was always with us. And it kind of went along with the anti-commercial feeling we had.
Travis Ramin: Purple Wizard seems to have a heavy focus on vocals rather than the big rock sound of the Prissteens. Did you and Leslie practice a lot and work toward that or was it natural “just like old times” kind of thing?
Lori Lindsay: I hated the big rock sound of the Prissteens, to be honest, so I wanted to strip all of that away. I love how Dave plays drums, and actually all instruments, and I wish that all of the music I played had been more in line with that sound.
I really didn’t know much about how to shape the music we were playing when we started the Prissteens. I never really figured it out the way I would have wanted to, but I was happier with the Purple Wizard sound than the Prissteens.
Travis Ramin: As a producer, I was so pleased to hear you make all the right choices on recording, Purple Wizard. And there was a great respect for authenticity in the recorded sound and live, right down to using the proper organ on ‘Lets Dance’ even live, obviously. Can you expound on that?
Lori Lindsay: We simply recorded exactly the way we sounded live. We were recording in the house that Dave and I lived in, we were married at the time. We had very little money or time, so we just recorded whatever we could whenever we could.
It was really fun and that’s what we spent most of our free time doing. I guess not having much to work with except a little bit of talent was the way we kept it simple.
Travis Ramin: With the loss of Bill Pietch was it clear that the band wouldn’t go on?
Lori Lindsay: We had stopped long before Bill’s passing.
Travis Ramin: Can fans expect to hear more music from Lori Lindsay? Or will we just have to enjoy all the great records you have left for us??
Lori Lindsay: Probably no more music from me…