December , 1984
By Dennis Hunt
Patty Smythe a Street Girl Named Desire
Patty Smythe, the lead singer of the promising rock band Scandal, likes to talk about the old days, when she was a tough kid growing up in the wilds of New York.
"You had to be tough to survive in my neighborhood," recalled Smythe, who was headquartered in a West Hollywood hotel during a brief visit. "I've lived most of my life in Manhattan, but I lived in Brooklyn for a while as a kid. I went to junior high school there. The girls in Brooklyn had to be tough, I mean real tough, to get by. It's life in the combat zone. I wasn't there for that many years, but it seemed an eternity."
Smyth, 27, has a feisty, cocky manner. Though lean and not very tall, she looks intimidating, and her deep raspy voice makes her even sound tough. If you were in a brawl, she's someone you'd want on your side.
"Yeah, I was a tough chick," Smyth said with pride. "But I was smart too. I didn't ever have to fight. I didn't really want to fight. I never had to come to blows because I had a good rap. I could intimidate people with my rap. I had something else going for me too. I hung out with some serious hoodlums. I'm talking about first class degenerates. When you hang out with degenerates, nobody wants to mess with you. That's the intelligent approach to survival. If people are intimidated and too scared to mess with you, then that is all that counts."
But, Smyth conceded, the values that are essential to survival on the mean streets of New York aren't particularly applicable elsewhere.
"It took me a couple of years to figure out that it really didn't matter if you could stomp somebody. In the big scheme of life, it doesn't matter how tough you are. Being tough doesn't make any difference in business. It doesn't help you get a job. Being tough doesn't even help if you're a singer."
In one sense, Smythe's toughness is a plus for her. It's a distinguishing feature on her vocals. You can't be meek and angelic and sing something like, "The Warrior," Scandal's first Top Ten single. This power-pop single, with its tawdry vision of romance as a form of combat, calls for all-out primal-scream singing. It's a perfect vehicle for her voice, which is full of gutsiness and ferocity.
Though this is only Scandal's first album, their first record was a five-song EP. Smythe seems ready to challenge Pat Benatar as rock's reigning queen.
"I'm not a Pat Benatar clone," said Smythe in an exasperated voice. "I wish people would forget about that comparison. Fortunately, they don't mention it as much anymore. I never understood it anyway. The big similarity is that we're female rock singers. I don't sound like her. She has a much higher voice and it's clear as a bell."
Her aggravation with the Benatar comparison almost prompted her to pass on Mike Chapman, one of the best pop producers in the business. He's worked with Benatar as well as Blondie’s Deborah Harry.
"My first reaction was that I didn't want to work with him," she said. "He'd worked with these female artists that I was tired of being compared to. I thought people would say, `Aw, Chapman's got another Benatar / Blondie clone,' and they'd just write me off.
"Chapman approached us. He had seen us on MTV and wanted to produce the band. The thing is that he's great with female singers and that really helped changed my mind. I might not like being compared to girl singers he's worked with, but I can't say he didn't do a good job with them."
Smythe says that she is still somewhat surprised that she turned out to be a rock singer. When she was struggling in New York's club scene, she was singing R&B. She grew up loving the music.
"As a kid in the '60's,” She offered, “all I listened to was Motown. In the '70's it was Al Green, the O'Jays and Gladys Knight. I thought all that other music was wimpy. Even now when I sing, I incorporate R&B into my vocals as much as possible. It's been a serious influence on my style."
She reluctantly gave up R&B for practical reasons. "I had to get into rock and roll because there's not a big market for white chick R&B singers. But those are the songs that I would love to sing. Those are the ones I like to sing the best. But I gotta be real, I gotta earn a living."
On their debut EP in 1982, the band was simply called Scandal. But for the current album, the name has been changed to Scandal featuring Patty Smythe. Initially, many assumed the name was a Smythe ego trip.
"Me ego-tripping?" exclaimed Smythe. "You gotta be kidding? The only reason for the name change is that there have been personnel changes in the band and I wanted people to know I'm still in the band." The big change was the exit of Zack Smith, the founder of Scandal. Smith met Smythe in 1982 when he was in the market for a female singer and she was in the market for a singing job.
"I had put this band together, a trio called Smythe," she recalled. "We were singing songs I was writing. We were pretty bad, so I disbanded the band. Then Zack called looking for a girl singer. He was putting a band together. I sang on his demos and a few months later we had a contract with Columbia Records."
According to Smythe, Smith dropped out last March to devote more time to jingles, producing and his family. The rumors of a power struggle, she insists, were untrue.
"Zack just didn't want to be on the road anymore. There was nothing nasty or bitter about the split. He and I are still writing songs together. But it's strange not having him in the band. Without him to share the responsibility, most of it has fallen on my shoulders.
"It’s no problem, I can handle it, but I guess I gotta grow up some more. I'm more grown up now than I ever was, but let's face it. I'm still not really there. In a way, I'll always be a kid. When I was a young, those were carefree days without much pressure. In some ways, my head is still back there when I was a tough chick, just havin' fun."