06 Apr Vicki F Brings the Spirit of Her CBGB’s Heyday to New Music
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
In the 1980s, hundreds of bands sent in demo tapes to CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, in the hopes of landing a coveted Saturday night gig at the legendary NYC rock n’ roll nightclub. Only a few got a callback, including Troupe DiCoupe — an indie punk/new wave supergroup fronted by singer-songwriter Vicki F — who immediately impressed tough guy Kristal. Soon they were regulars at legendary Manhattan venues like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.
Yet Vicki F gave it all up to be a wife and ’90s mom and nurture her other career as a lawyer specializing in family formation. And in the process, she pushed music to the back burner for a couple of decades.
To be clear, Vicki has zero regrets over putting family first: her wife, Michelle, and their two sons, who are now adults.
But 12 years ago, when her friend Teresa died in 2010, something shifted. Creative inspiration started pouring into her, and she picked up her guitar again. The spark had returned, and this time, Vicki wasn’t willing to put the instrument down.
“I honestly feel like when she died, her spirit came into me,” Vicki F tells Rockmommy. “I swear I’m not even kidding. And then right after that, it was not planned, I didn’t think about it, but I just picked up my guitar and I was like, ‘I gotta write some songs.’”
We recently caught up to talk to Vicki F about the songs that have emerged since that cathartic period, raising kids, and ignoring your inner artist critic — or, as Vicki F would say, putting that critic “in a coffin.”
Rockmommy: Hi Vicki! Can you tell us a little bit about how you grew up and how you made your way to the New York City music scene?
Vicki F: I grew up in Long Island — I’ve been playing the guitar since a really young age. I took piano lessons for many years, and then I played guitar at the folk masses at church when I was a kid, then getting into more rock and roll when I moved to Connecticut for college.
When I moved here, I met up with some guys in a band called The Hormones here in Fairfield, Connecticut. And me and a friend of mine merged with them, and we became Troupe DiCoupe. I went to Fairfield University in Connecticut. We were basically the “bridge and tunnel” crowd — we did not live in New York City, but we had a little van and we loaded up our equipment and we’d go play in the clubs in New York. We practiced in Bridgeport, and then at a loft in Stamford.
Rockmommy: Nice. Okay, so what about singing? Did you always sing in church in addition to playing guitar?
Vicki F: I always wanted to be a singer. I used to play the piano and play Barbra Streisand songs and try to sing like her but I was definitely not singing like Barbra Streisand. So I think punk rock served me well because I didn’t have to be a great singer.
Rockmommy: So let’s talk about how it was to be in a band in the late 1970s, early 1980s. You don’t have the Internet; you can’t go on Craigslist. It’s really about who you sort of meet and whether you mesh well.
Vicki F: We were just a group of friends. And we happened to have this in common that we liked what was happening in punk rock, and we liked those initial bands like Television, and Talking Heads and Blondie and we would go see them. We went to see Lou Reed. And then we saw Patti Smith play at the Westport Country Playhouse. I was in the first row.
Because I played the guitar and my friends liked to sing and one of the guys was very creative and wrote some songs and I wrote songs, we just really started playing songs together, and then we got some electric guitars and we started playing more rock music. We got a bass player and a drummer. And then before we knew it, we were playing locally at bars.
Like I don’t know if you know what The Sea Grape is now in Fairfield. Well it used to be the Nautilus and we played there. And then there was this old bar in Fairfield. You might remember it … Al’s Place. It’s now Shu Restaurant and we played there. And there was a bar on the beach down by Pine Creek beach called The Sandbar and we played there. We also played at Ron’s Place in New Haven, a lot of times. That was one of the main punk clubs in Connecticut. And then we were like, ‘what the hell, let’s go audition at CBGB’s!’
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about that?
Vicki F: We had a demo, and after we sent that, they told us to come and play on a weekday night. We hoped that if they liked us, they would book us more. So we played there in the middle of the night on a weekday night and you know, Hilly Kristal was just, like, a kind of a tough guy that you couldn’t really read. And then, you know, he liked us! He gave us a Saturday gig after we played that one time.
Rockmommy: Wow, that’s awesome. That’s so awesome that they tried you out, and it’s such big honor to be chosen by this person. It’s competitive! There were bands like Blondie in the scene.
Vicki F: We had sort of a different kind of a band. I would say that we were leaning toward the B-52s. We had two women singers and there was a guy lead singer so we kind of alternated singing. We also had a sax player and a trombone player. So we had a kind of a different vibe and it was unusual enough that it set us apart from some of the other bands that were playing at the time.
Rockmommy: You mention your spouse, Michelle, at shows a lot and how lucky you are to have a 30-year marriage with two beautiful children. Can you tell me a little bit about how you met her and how that’s sort of tied into your careers?
Vicki F: We met here in Connecticut. We were in the same social circle of gay women, and we just started to be friends and then we got together. That’s kind of how it started. I didn’t really get together with Michelle until my 30s, after Troupe DiCoupe — I was playing a little bit, but not a lot like I did in my 20s with Troupe DiCoupe — but I always wanted to have kids. Even though I was gay, I was going to figure out how I could have kids and when I met Michelle I found some stability in my life.
Before that, I was in and out of relationships and drinking a lot, but then when I got together with her there was more stability. And I wanted kids and she thought I was crazy because we were gay. But she went with it and we had our family and we stayed in Connecticut to bring the kids up here. Other than missing music, it was really good. Everything was good.
The family life of having two little boys! I love seeing the pictures of your little guys because it reminds me of when mine were little! I would say I sacrificed my music to have my family. I couldn’t do it all … maybe I could have but I didn’t. I am also actually a family formation lawyer so I help people have babies through surrogacy.
I saw a documentary on Stevie Nicks and she didn’t have any kids and she says she sacrificed family life or trying to have kids for her music, to follow her heart in her music and I didn’t do that. I did the opposite, I guess.
Rockmommy: Was there a moment you remember around 2010, when you decided you needed to return to music and follow your passion once again?
Vicki F: There’s a definite moment and something that happened in my life, which was that my very good friend Teresa passed away. I was at her bedside when she passed away and I was actually singing to her as she died. And, honestly, I swear to God, when she died, I honestly feel like … her spirit came into me. I swear, I’m not even kidding. And then right after that, it was not planned, I didn’t think about it, but I just picked up my guitar and I was like, “I gotta write some songs.”
So I started writing some songs again, and I started to really enjoy playing the guitar again. I went to the Acoustic Cafe [in Bridgeport] and started playing there at open mic nights.
Rockmommy: Was there any fear, knowing you’re not in your 20s or 30s anymore?
Vicki F: It’s crazy. You know, there’s so often I think to myself, ‘what am I doing, you know, why am I doing this?’ But then, something else takes over, a feeling like, ‘who cares?’ I just want to do this. This is what makes me tick. This is what moves me and I’m just gonna do it. I’m just gonna keep doing it. And I’m gonna keep recording and releasing my songs. So, yeah, so that’s it. It’s my trip right now. It’s definitely my trip right now, the music. And I’m just gonna keep doing it until I can’t.
Rockmommy: I have that same voice in my head. And I think that voice comes from societal expectations of when a woman should stop doing certain things. But everyone knows Mick Jagger is going to do this until he dies or Anthony Kiedis or Flea. So why wouldn’t I do this at 60?
Vicki F: I don’t see too many women like me, but I’ve opened like I opened for Wishbone Ash and I opened for The Queers. And, like, they’re all old! So I’m in my element. If they can do it, I can do it. What’s the difference?
My latest song is called “You Got This God.” It’s a prayer for the Earth. And I’m just gonna write about what’s moving me and what’s concerning to me now, and I think people will probably relate to what I am writing about. I’m not trying to compete with the young bands. I’m not trying to write commercial songs. If I do happen to write a commercial song, great, but I’m just trying to write from my heart and my soul and what’s moving me at the time, which I think is probably somewhat germane to people in my world.
Rockmommy: Let’s talk your reemergence with your record ‘Definitely Yes.’ How did that happen?
Vicki F: I had written a whole bunch of songs, you know, after Teresa died. I looked for a studio where I could record and produce the songs. I ended up working with Factory Underground in Norwalk. I wanted a producer, someone to help me with sound, and intro, and singing and endings and musicians. And so I talked to Ethan Isaac, one of the producers there and the owner, and I just clicked with him. He was interested in my music and my back story as a punk rocker and he made me feel good about what I was doing. I hesitated a little, after those initial conversations, thinking, ‘Oh no, this is crazy. I shouldn’t do this. Forget it.’ And then he reached out to me again, like, “hey, do you want to meet up and start working on your project?” So then I thought the universe was speaking. Ethan heard me play a lot of my songs, and it was really good working with him and with Tom [Stewart]. They made me feel really comfortable and they were really supportive, and it was really a good experience. And then the record came out and I was totally thrilled. I have recorded another EP and a bunch of singles and we have made some videos.
Rockmommy: What are your biggest hopes for the next generation? My kids in years?
Vicki F: There are three: preservation of the earth, safe use of artificial intelligence, and no more guns.
Rockmommy: What’s your secret to balancing it all?
Vicki F: There have to be sacrifices made. I think acceptance of sacrifices is really important, and I think you need to set your priorities right. I’m sober, so sobriety has to come first, along with my relationship with Michelle and then if those two things are intact, I think I can happily and successfully do my music.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.