Bebe Buell is a rebellious rock icon, a curious cult figure, a mother, a daughter, a survivor and a former Portlander who’s coming home for a show at Port City Music Hall on Saturday. Her first record in 10 years is called “Sugar,” and she’s more than ready to pour some on us.

I caught up with Bebe a few weeks ago via phone from her New York home, and it was a meeting of two very excitable minds. 

What is happening with “Sugar?” Did I hear that you were recently signed to a label?

We put the record out digitally ourselves, up on iTunes and Amazon, and played a couple of very high-profile shows in New York. We got a couple of really positive reviews, and we started getting nibbles from various labels that wanted to give us distribution for the album. It is a finished master, so it wouldn’t be a traditional deal of getting signed and going in and recording; it would be more of a distribution deal of an already existing master that already has a little bit of a buzz. So that’s what happened.

We had four people that we were talking to, and we chose one. We signed the deal, and everybody will know who it is in June because it comes out on June 15. It will be my own label through another label. It’s exciting. I’m also going to have vinyl, and it’s gonna be pink. They’ll be live dates, and we’ve already confirmed Los Angeles. I’m playing the Roxy on June 22 and then we’re playing London, Amsterdam and Berlin, so I’m excited about it. You don’t always get another chance to do what you love to do, and I just feel very, very thankful to be given the chance to do all this again. It’s great. 

I rotate what my favorite songs are, but I’ll jump on the title-track bandwagon, ’cause how can you not love “Sugar?” Also “Love Is,” “I Will Wait” and “We Were Godhead.” I love the David Bowie references in that one.

That song feels like that era. That’s what I really tried to do with the record. I mean, it’s just three people on this record. I think working with such a scaled-down team yields very personal results. This was a really difficult record; I had to really reach deep inside. I’ve been known for singing my fun kind of Iggy Pop lyrics, and I wanted to sing about what was really going on. I really had to get raw, and it’s not always easy to lay your emotions out in front of other people. It was really healing. The record was my permanent goodbye to certain things about my past and my hello to what’s ahead of me. 

Who is your live band?

Jim Wallerstein on guitar, Pete Marshall (Iggy Pop, Danzig) on bass, Bobby Ray on drums, and then I have Zac Lasher on keyboards. It makes a lot of racket, and I can’t wait for you to hear it. 

So are we all gonna be walking around yelling at each other the next morning because we can’t hear anything?

You won’t be deaf; it’s not that kind of volume. It’s powerful, but you can listen. I’m not gonna kill everybody with three guitar players this time. 

Is anything happening in terms of radio, or does it even matter anymore? What about the music business overall? What’s your current take on things?

The old days when people used to really chase the radio, I just don’t think it’s required anymore to move your music.

People have the option now of buying a complete album, or they can just buy a couple of songs, and they’ll always be those people that want to have the actual physical CD, so that’s why I’m glad that we have a label now that’s helping us put out some records. Our digital numbers were strong, but they’re gonna be even stronger now with the actual physical release, and also it enables you to get reviewed in certain monthly publications that are important and certain weekly publications as well that will not review digital.

You’re limited how much touring you can do as well with a digital release, and if you really want to tour like I do, you need to put a record out. The climate of the industry is very different, and I’m not quite sure how many times a person can really have a comeback. I’ve never really been a huge multi-selling artist anyway. I’ve always been sort of a cult artist, so for me to all of a sudden be getting into numbers that you would get when you’re starting to become successful is very rare. 

What role has social media outlets played?

It really has helped me a lot. Facebook has been really amazing in opening a door to a whole new legion of fans for me that I didn’t even know existed. They didn’t know how to find me; they didn’t even know I played anymore. There’s people that travel now, they come and see my shows, they get in their car and they drive 200 miles, and that is just unbelievably rewarding to me. 

What can we expect from your upcoming homecoming show at Port City Music Hall?

I want everybody to know it’s not the same vibe. This live show, it’s a different journey that you’re gonna be going on with me. It’s not just total in-your-face rock. I used to get up there and it would be like a buzzsaw from the beginning to the end and now there’s pauses, there’s moments, there’s textures, there’s mood swings. 

You’ve said that there are many different reasons that people come to your shows. Some have been fans for a long time, some are just now hearing your music, some are curious because they’re fans of your daughter (Liv Tyler) or know about your past.

There’s different reasons why people come, and I get my share of gawkers. Not everybody is sophisticated, and you can’t make people have spiritual elevation in their consciousness. You can’t force people to be cool. 

But maybe they’ll have a really good time if they can just be present and dig the music.

Well, that’s kind of what I think I specialize in, is winning people over. If I don’t have you by the third song, then you should just go home. I’m not just there to rock out anymore; I’m there to share something with everybody, and people are really responding to this material almost more than with anything I’ve ever done even before. Maybe it’s because there’s something about the content that people can relate to, the themes of the songs. 

Aimsel Ponti is a Portland freelance writer. Contact her at:

[email protected]


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