INTERVIEW: Nikki Corvette is Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun

posted Monday Apr 15th, 2019

Despite the salty punk stares and indifferent attitudes in the band’s photos, Nikki & the Corvette’s sound is cheerful and infectious. Nikki & the Corvettes formed and recorded their self-titled and only studio album in the late ‘70s in Detroit. It was released in 1980 by Bomp! It includes 12 upbeat bangers that interlace powerpop and garage rock with vocal nods to girl groups of the early ‘60s. The subject matter ranges from a rambunctious beach party to teenage romance.

Nikki’s experience as a fan and creator of music is pure. A lifelong fan and concert-attendee of various music genres, what initially drew her to music as a youngster was both how much fun and the sense of authentic belonging it offers. Music and the relationships she formed around it bring her insatiable joy-- and that’s why she has kept making it. Her love of music and zest for life are exhilarating.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s she was inspiring and opening doors for some of the biggest names in music. The song “Gimme My Radio” written by the Donnas is about Nikki & the Corvettes breaking down gender barriers in the male-centric music scenes of the era. Another popular song of the ‘80s, “Little Red Corvette,” by Prince, is rumored to also be about Nikki.

On the surface, playing music can seem like all fun and parties, and mostly, it is, but gender roles have always added obstacles and annoyances to the experience of women playing music. Back in the day, bands made up of dudes sometimes refused to share the stage with Nikki & the Corvettes. Misogynistic attitudes came from both men and women; guys didn’t want to listen to girl’s ideas and often disrupted their performances at shows, while other girls looked at female musicians with an envious eye. One reason for her success is that Nikki was always able to look above and beyond the petty behaviors and stayed confident about her own work.
Nikki formed and took part in a number of bands over the years-- including a rockabilly version of Nikki & the Corvettes in the ‘80s-- and sang backing vocals for other musicians songs. Even when she took a 15 year hiatus from playing, she was involved in music. She authored a book about dead rock stars, how they died, and where they were buried called, "Rock n Roll Heaven," which was published in 1997.

When I met Nikki last summer, we casually spoke about a number of topics. At the end of the conversation, I asked her if I could interview her for Victim of Time. “Of course!” she said enthusiastically. I emailed her some questions and the following dialog arose.

VoT: It was really cool to get to see you play in Chicago for Bric-a-Brac's Scummer Slammer! You play in Japan a lot and said you don't play in the States often. What is it like for you playing in Japan?

Nikki: Playing in Japan in surreal. There's so much love and respect between me, the people at the shows, other bands and promoters. It's smaller club shows but they sell out and everybody is really into it and having fun. They know all the songs and bring me presents, there's huge after parties and some wild Karaoke battles. I've played with really amazing bands like The 5678s, Firestarter, Supersnazz and so many more including my own Japanese band, Coco, Cherry and Toyozo. If I mention someplace I'd like to see, someone offers to take me. The clubs treat you great, everything is very organized and absolutely professional. I have played all over, from the subtropical south to Sapporo up north, east to west, big cities, small towns and in SIX tours, I have not one complaint. I'm already planning my next tour and my 4th Japanese release, which includes a song about my love for Japan. I pretty much love everything about it and know how extremely lucky I am to have had so many opportunities there.

VoT: It seemed that there were a lot of people really excited to see you and I know Jen & Nick were stoked! Would you consider playing more in the states if the right gigs are offered? Any bands or venues you are dying to play at/with?

Nikki: I would love to play more in the US if there were good offers. It seems as though the European scene has a lot more clubs and festivals that want to book me. I really like playing festivals, I get to see and meet lots of bands and I don't always have time to tour so one offs work well. There are a couple places like Memphis and Atlanta I've never played and would like to. Things like Fest in Florida, We're Loud Fest in Puerto Rico, Gonerfest (hey guys, are you listening?) And anything Burger....if it's fun, cool bands, cool place, I want to do it, for now anyway. I've been pretty lucky to play with so many bands I want to play with and the list of everyone else is much too long. I've been able to do some great shows and would like to continue when possible. Guess we'll see what happens....

VoT: Anyone who has so much as read the Wikipedia page on you knows the story about you running away from home to see the MC5. How did your mom actually take that?

Nikki: I know it sounds totally made up but it actually happened. I was a real wild child, my mom had a lot to put up with. She thought 16 was too young to be running the streets, hanging with the MC5 and White Panthers and looking back, she.might have been right but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I'm sure she was worried sick about me but I was headstrong and music was life. I snuck out of the house to go see the MC5 at the Lincoln Park Theater then couldn't go home for a few days, I did let her know I was alright and it was beyond worth it for what they meant to me and the inspiration they gave me.

VoT: You also told me you were a big fan of Detroit garage rock and glam musicians of the '70s. What got you into that? How did that whole scene make you feel at the time?

Nikki: Growing up in Detroit, music was everywhere and I was obsessed with Rock'n'Roll, pop, Motown, Rockabilly and everything that came later. I went to every rock show that came to town even if I wasn't that into it. I had to see it all and absorb it but bands like The MC5 and The Stooges were different, I felt like them, angsty, radical, glammy. Even in high school in the early 70s, I bleached my hair blonde and dyed it crazy colors with food color because it was all I could find and wore glitter and super high platforms, scarfs as clothes. I didn't fit in anywhere but at these shows. I was a crazy rock'n'roll obsessed kid, outspoken, adventurous, dressed weird and didn't quite fit anywhere and garage/punk/glam was like finding my people.

VoT: I know that even now, there is a lot of misogyny in music, from both men and women. I can't even imagine how much harder that was to navigate in the '70s & '80s. What was your experience?

Nikki: There were some tough times, more in the 70s but still in the 80s. I never really cared what anyone said I could/should/couldn't do, I just went ahead and did it. We got thrown off some shows when people found out there were girls in the band, some guys refused to play with us, guys would stand in front yelling nasty, rude, obscene things at us and girls pretty much hated us. I got beat up by a bunch of punk girls because I wore super short skirts, makeup and heels and they got mad that their boyfriends were looking at me. Guys didn't want to listen to my ideas or what I had to say, so many different battles. It didn't matter though, we forged ahead, had fun, made fans, got better shows than the ones we were thrown off of. I ignored most of it, writing, touring, recording, taking care of band business, fighting to make my place in music. And I did, overcame it and became the 'cult hero(ine) I am. As a bonus, quite a few of those guys who were so disparaging and didn't want to work with me have come up to me offering their services, wanting to tour or record....

VoT: Wow, there are a lot of really popular songs supposedly named after you or that reference you! What's your take on all this?

Nikki: Seriously blows my mind! I will always be a fan, I tried to meet all of my faves and the fact that I mean enough to somebody, whether I know them or not is the ultimate. It makes me giddy, dancing around the room, total oh my God, they're talking about me moments

VoT: I saw you did some work with Amy Gore of Gore Gore Girls. What was that like?

Nikki: Working with Amy was really cool. I was living in LA and a friend invited me to a show they were on and I introduced myself. I was a little hesitant because when I left Detroit, the girls there intensely disliked me and I didn't think anything had changed. I was pleasantly surprised that she knew who I was and we got along great right from the start. We exchanged numbers and started to hang out when I moved back to Detroit. One day I mentioned I always wanted to have a punk cover band and she did too so we decided to just have a fun side project. Then we wrote some songs, then we recorded them then we did some shows with The Donna's then a Japanese tour then a tour opening for Blondie. Finally we were like our punk cover band is a real band. We had a lot of fun and even though the band broke up, we're still great friends and still write songs together. Maybe someday we'll have a punk cover band....

VoT: What type of music are digging lately?

Nikki: This is a really hard one to answer. I still listen to all the music I loved (way too many to try and name) and all of my bands other bands (the Peawees/The Fadeaways/The Let's Gos/Young Parisian/Prima Donna/ Devious Ones/Miss Chain), lots of Japanese bands (Jetboys/Firestarter/5678s/Guitar Wolf/Gorilla/and more...), cool current bands (Longshot/Shannon and The Clams/Mystery Lights) and some of the catchy current hits that are inescapable and guilty pleasures. I don't care what's cool, if it makes me feel something or makes me happy and dance around or whatever, if I like it, i listen.

VoT: Outside of music, what do you like to do?

Nikki: I have quite a variety of interests but sadly, not a lot of time and sometimes my free time needs to be down time or taking care of everything else in life time. I'm kind of all over the place, I read constantly (I've been on a real rock biography binge), love to bake (my mom used to call me Betty Rocker), travel and see as much of the world as I can, movies (kind if a superhero/fantasy nerd), anything to do with animals, the list is endless...

VoT: What's next for Nikki Corvette?

Nikki: My life is always a little hectic but my next show is Burger Boogaloo July 6-7 in Oakland, CA. I'm playing with the awesome band Prima Donnas. I've done several shows with them and we recorded a version of 'It Don't Come Easy' for a WFMU fundraiser. It was a modern day Sounds Of The Seventies with a lot of really great bands. Then a cool festival in London, also in July, more recording and hopefully album release with The Romeos (my Italian band) then some touring in Europe, a few other random releases, another Japan tour and then who knows, I'm ready for anything!

Stream the Nikki Corvette discography right here!