Debora Iyall
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Debora Iyall

Sacramento, California, United States | SELF

Sacramento, California, United States | SELF
Band Rock Adult Contemporary


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"Debora Iyall returns from the Romeo Void"

By Carla Meyer
Published: Friday, Jun. 17, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 30TICKET

Debora Iyall and Romeo Void represented the artiest arm of new wave, with smart, tartly delivered lyrics, in songs such as "Never Say Never" ("I might like you better if we slept together") suggesting Iyall was not to be messed with.

So it's a bit of a surprise that Iyall comes off as so immediately affable during an interview at her art-filled Sacramento home. Youthful looking despite a streak of gray framing her face, Iyall, 57, is exuberant and quick to laugh.

"I think I am a little more positive (now)," Iyall said. "I used to be a lot more cynical."

Iyall, who headlines tonight's free Concert in the Park at Cesar Chavez Plaza, has spent the decades since Romeo Void's mid-1980s breakup as a freelance art teacher – in San Francisco, San Bernardino County and on Navajo land in Arizona.

"My reality is that I turn to what is working – I am like a plant with the light," said Iyall, a American Indian from the Cowlitz tribe who a few years ago earned a master's degree in art at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., through a tribal educators grant.

"Music was costing me money, and a lot of time organizing and asking for attention. … I like the role of an art teacher, as an older person. I know the kids can tell I am not the average bear."

When Iyall's husband, audio engineer Patrick Haight, 39, got a job in Sacramento, Iyall sought a full-time teaching gig. But a bad economy rendered such jobs scarce.

Instead, she's teaching freelance again, through the Very Special Arts program for people with disabilities, and this summer, at the Crocker Art Museum and a camp run by Capital Area Indian Resources.

The freelance gigs have kept her close to art and young people, but left space for a return to music. Judging by the Romeo Void bumper sticker on the same aging Honda in which she carts around art supplies, it never was too far from her mind.

Iyall collaborated with guitarist and fellow songwriter Peter Dunne, formerly of Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, on the 2010 album "Stay Strong."

"Doing music again … sort of reignited my passion to do the very unique thing I do, which is to write songs, and sing the way I sing," Iyall said. "I am taking the advice I always gave my students, which is emphasize the most unique thing you do, and go with that. So I guess I can thank the economy for helping give me the courageousness (to try music again)."

Such positive thinking underscored the Romeo Void hit "Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)," in which the female protagonist knows, Iyall's lyrics tell us, "There's a way to walk that says, 'stay away!'/And a time to go round the long way."

"Girl in Trouble" brings to mind a woman walking the sidewalks of a big city like San Francisco, where Iyall co-founded Romeo Void as a student at the Art Institute. The song "99," on "Stay Strong," reflects more recent geographical observations.

Iyall's lyrical references to "pumpkins plowed under" and a "ghost mall" allude to the agricultural legacy and economic strife evident on the route Iyall drives to Fresno, where she grew up.

"It is so evocative – I felt it really deserved a song," she said of Highway 99.

A mix of danceable new wave elements, and acoustic and distorted rock guitar, "Stay Strong" makes more overt the subtler empowerment messages of "Girl in Trouble."

On "Bring It," Iyall sings "You may not think too much of me, just to look at me/All I can say is just you wait and see."

The lyrics were inspired by a quote from "Precious" actress Gabourey Sidibe: "People look at me and don't expect much. I expect a lot."

"I felt for her getting all the attention she did in the press for her performance and her physicality," Iyall said. "Certainly people have noticed that I am not a teen waif."

During her time in the spotlight, there likely was talk at the label about her appearance, she said, "but I didn't have to hear about those things."

Always unconventional (she quit high school but earned two college degrees), Iyall never set out to be a pop star, anyhow.

"Her concerns are really those of an artist, but she is really quite accessible at the same time," collaborator Dunne said. "She's also sort of fun-loving, which are not words often associated with artists. No one says, 'Tolstoy was so fun-loving!' "

Concerts in the Park booker Jerry Perry was impressed by Iyall when she was a judge at the youth-oriented Jammies music awards.

"She is the sweetest thing in the world, and very nurturing of new bands," Perry said.

Yet Perry remains a bit star-struck.

"Debora and Romeo Void were kind of a cool, big deal for me as a teenager growing up in Rancho Cordova" with an awareness of the hot San Francisco bands, Perry said. "Punk and new wave were still so new at the time."

It has been a while since Iyall, whose band is composed of Bay Area musicians, has faced a crowd as large as a Concerts in the Park audience. But she still knows how to work a crowd. Her set will mix new material, some of which she has recorded with her band for a fall EP release to coincide with a September Palms Playhouse appearance, with Romeo Void songs.

"If you hear a couple of songs in a row you don't know, don't worry," Iyall said with a smile. "We will play something familiar after that."

Read more:
- The Sacramento Bee

"Debora Iyall - Stay Strong (album review)"

Debora Iyall – Stay Strong (Dottie Records) Album review As the frontwoman for the Eighties alternative band Romeo Void, Debora Iyall helped create some of the most challenging music ever broadcast on MTV. Because the fledgling network was in need of videos to fill programming, they took chances with bands like Romeo Void, turning their danceably abrasive single “Never Say Never” into a surprise hit. But, Iyall., with her husky voice and full figure, was the antithesis of the Hollywood supermodel mentality the cable channel would eventually champion.

The band’s biggest hit, “A Girl in Trouble (is a Temporary Thing)” seemed to sum up their problems – it hit the Top 40 in 1984, but their record label insisted on including a model as the “love interest” in the music video. Soon after, the band called it quits, and Iyall left the music business completely to concentrate on her art and teaching. Now, she’s returned with a fresh batch of songs, Stay Strong. For this new record, she’s enlisted the help of Peter Dunne, who was a member of Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, a band that came from the same California scene as Romeo Void in the early 80’s. Dunne handles all the backing music – guitars, keyboards and harmony vocals, and he certainly deserves some credit for giving Iyall’s lyrics a diverse setting to reside. They range from acoustic numbers like “Creative Engine” to the distorted guitar in “99.” Iyall seems at her best when recalling the dancier side of her former band, as in the Eighties-retro “Be My Last,” or the echoed surf guitar on “Tell Me Why.” The opening track, “Bring It,” contains the line “I’ve worked hard to come within spitting distance of my dreams,” which seems to accurately sum up her journey. Some of the songs deal with loss, as in the eerie “Fine Black Dust” or regret, as in the voyeuristic “One Saturday Night.” And, despite taking a great deal of time off, her voice still has that deep resonating quality of her earlier work. With Stay Strong, Debora Iyall proves that she's still capable of creating challenging music – it’s good to have her back. –Tony Peters - ICON Fetch

"Debora Iyall from Romeo Void is back with ‘Stay Strong’ Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:"

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Debora Iyall from Romeo Void is back with ‘Stay Strong’
By: Tom Lanham | 06/10/11 1:30 PM

Thanks to lessons learned with her old combo Romeo Void, Debora Iyall is now a wise, lived-to-tell veteran of the ’70s/’80s San Francisco punk scene. So as the music business began to crumble around her in the new digital age, she had no trouble applying her past DIY knowledge to the iTunes times.

To release her new comeback set “Stay Strong,” she simply formed her own imprint, named it after her Australian shepherd Dottie, and used Dottie’s bright-eyed visage as the company logo. And she’ll be playing material from it — plus Romeo Void classics like “Never Say Never” and “A Girl In Trouble” — at the Make-Out Room in The City next Wednesday.

“Stay Strong” was co-written with (and produced by) Iyall’s longtime musical partner Peter Dunne. It also credits him with all tracks, guitars and background vocals — the punk rock ethic pared down to its barest two-member essentials.

Iyall has a great backstory, as well.

Born in Washington, the Cowlitz-tribe member wound up studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she met future Romeo Void bassist Frank Zincavage in 1979. After seeing the Avengers play, they decided to form their band, and signed with local impresario Howie Klein’s great 415 Records.

By 1985, after four records, the band had splintered, and Iyall began teaching art in 1995, and got her master’s degree in 2007. By 2009, she was ready to perform again. Which is great for us, because she’s sounding stronger than ever, like she never left the scene.

Listen to “Stay Strong” and see if you don’t agree at

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:
- SF Examiner

"Fine Tunings: Debora Iyall's Native Tongue"

As the lead singer of ‘80s group, Romeo Void, Debora Iyall had the honor of performing one of the very best lyrics of all time. “I might like you better if we slept together,” Debora cooed while dissonant guitars in the background added to the sonic tension. She was a woman clearly in control.

The members of Romeo Void met in art school and their sexy first single, “Never Say Never” was released in 1982. In 1984 Romeo Void followed up with “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing),” which was equally controversial.

After Romeo Void’s demise, Debora released a solo album, Strange Language, and fronted 2 other bands, KnifeInWater and Lower East Venus, before leaving San Francisco for Joshua Tree, California; Portland, Oregon and now Sacramento, California. At one point she returned to school to get a master’s degree in teaching. A Cowlitz Native American, she now teaches art to high schoolers — another of her passions— and also works with the Native American community. But it took VH1 and their hit show, Bands Reunited, to get her back in touch with her former Romeo Void band mates.

Debora’s current partner in musical crime is Peter Dunne (aka Peter Bilt) formerly of fellow ‘80s San Fran New Wavers, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. I caught up with the artistic, articulate and inspiring Debora to find out what’s been going on.

CD: Romeo Void came up as part of a label (415 Records) and regional scene. What was that like?

DI: There were bands playing venues such as the Mabuhay Gardens, warehouse parties and halls. I had been hanging around seeing bands 5 nights a week for a couple years while I was going to art school. When I saw singers like Penelope Houston of the Avengers and Patti Smith I thought to myself, “I can do that. I have something to say.” Peter Woods (guitarist) and I had been in an arty party band called the Mummers and Poppers. We wanted people to dance again and not just stand back against the wall all cool. Frank Zincavage, the bassist, and I started Romeo Void after collaborating on a couple of performance pieces. He had a cool transparent bass and a drum machine.

CD: I love that you are now working with Peter Dunne from Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. How did that happen?

DI: Peter and I have known each other a long time. We wrote an album together in the early ‘90s and called ourselves KnifeInWater. The album we did was called Dialog and it’s still available at CD Baby. Peter keeps me in what teachers call the “zone of proximal development.” It’s doing what you’re capable of doing with help. His compositional tools are expansive and he has a tooled-out home studio. His guitar playing and creative process are very enjoyable and workable, surprisingly so. I got lucky when we discovered our compatibility.

CD: I understand you teach art. Can you tell me what type of art you teach?

DI: I teach visual art and sometimes incorporate a little shadow play. Right now I’m working freelance with special education students in middle and high schools. I also work with elders at a community center and at the Sacramento Native American Health Center. Everybody can benefit from and be competent in art making if you approach it with the right attitude and tools. I like to feel a class full of people engaged creatively with art materials. It gives me your basic make-something-from-nothing sense of accomplishment. It’s not a good time for art in the schools right now.

CD: You were living in Joshua Tree for a spell. Did you do music while you were there also?

DI: Yeah. I worked with some local and semi-local musicians and we played three dates with Dramarama and The English Beat in Southern California as well as forming to play Joshua Tree’s Coyote Festival. Music wasn’t the main thing I was doing but I did pick it up and have some fun with it like I always do when I can.

CD: What were you doing at the time Romeo Void was chosen for a VH1 Bands Reunited episode? And what was filming that show like for you?

DI: When Bands Reunited came around I was teaching at the 29 Palms Creative Center and Gallery as well as traveling 400+ miles a week doing artist residencies throughout the high desert. I also worked for the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum leading hikes for school kids in the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs. Unfortunately, all my running around wasn’t really providing a living. I applied for and took the opportunity to go to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon to get my master’s degree in teaching. It was totally wild to get surprised by a film crew. They called and said they were sending a writer to interview me for a story. An entire film crew descended on me instead. It was really fun though. I loved getting reunited with my Romeo Void pals.

CD: On the VH1 show, you spoke about your weight and how you were treated as a woman. Can you discuss that a bit?

DI: Women and especially women performers can be subject to intense scrutiny for their physical appearance. Much of what I experienced was ugly bigotry and the fear of fat. I steeled myself against it, knowing that my fans cared about and responded to me for reasons beyond the physical. I like to think my innate self-worth was inspiring to others who face the scorn of the “creepy masses.” Patti Smith coined that term years ago. And though it’s dismissive, it is sometimes an appropriate way to refer to people who conform to limited and limiting dominant culture ideas. I guess my attitude can also be summed up by another female musician as well: Poly Styrene, “Oh bondage, up yours!”

CD: Do you ever feel like you paved the way for an artist like Beth Ditto of the Gossip?

DI: It’s my dream to someday share a stage with Beth Ditto. Anybody out there but me want to see that co-bill? It could happen. Nvr say Nvr.

CD: You were in a couple of other bands after Romeo Void. How did you decide to this time create a solo project?

DI: People still recognize me and my name after all these years. If we made up a band name we would have to be billed as something like: AbandonDemand with Debora Iyall of Romeo Void to get my fans to clue in. So why not just make it easier? I kept floating by Peter that we should add his name into the mix since he’s so integral to my work as a composer, producer and co-writer but he resisted. He wants to keep it simple.

CD: Your songs have always had an ethereal quality to them and have spoken word elements too. Do you write poetry or use poetry for lyrics?

DI: I wrote poetry long before I wrote song lyrics. My first public reading of my poems was when I was about 14 at an anti-war rally in Fresno. Joan Baez was there too. I’m not sure how I managed to take the mic but I did. Patti Smith inspired me to meld my poems with music.

CD: Tell me about your new band and their San Francisco band pedigrees.

DI: Peter Dunne (guitar): former Pearl Harbor and the Explosions guitarist, also had the band Peterbilt and a long history of rockin’ in the free world (see his Facebook photos of his misspent youth.) Karl Sevareid (bass): in Robert Cray’s band the past 8years, Dawn Richardson (drums): One of the Four Non-Blondes and recently on tour with Tracy Chapman, Dakota Iyall (sax and keys): with New Future. He is also my nephew.

CD: Are you back in the Bay Area now?

DI: Sacramento may be as close to SF as I can get. It feels good to be back in Cali. I am enjoying the city of trees and I’m two blocks from the river. My husband, Patrick, is the Education Director and Chief Instructor at Pinnacle College, an awesome college for audio engineering.

CD: Is there still a cohesive scene in the Bay Area?

DI: You’re gonna have to tell me. I am just back in the area after 10 years away.

CD: What sort of music do you like to listen to?

DI: Everything from Chester French to Robbie Robertson to Etta James to Kelly Clarkson to Wire to Jeepster (a local Sacramento band) to Marvin Gaye to Emmy-Lou Harris to Nashville Ramblers to Laura Nyro to Nina Rota to Neil Young to the Explorers Club to Gossip to Tom Petty to Pretenders to Persephone’s Bees to whatever Patrick is currently mastering. I get to hear a lot of the bands being put out by Burger Records from Anaheim including Black Lips, Harlem, Jaill and the Resonars.

CD: What do you know now that you wish you’d known in the ’80s?

DI: It could pay to work things out. You can do whatever it takes. Cocaine is addicting. - Published by Carla DeSantis on April 7, 2010 in Fine Tunings, Editorial, Artist News

"Debora Iyall's New CD "Stay Strong""

A first impression on listening to Debora Iyall's new CD "Stay Strong" is that she has such a distinctive voice, and isn't it great to hear her again 25 or 30 years after Romeo Void. A second impression is that the new songs sound more mellow, even though some of the music by collaborator, guitarist/producer Peter Dunne, is quite upbeat. Debora now seems to sing with a sense of longing, of reflecting back on 30 years of life but owning her past and now settling in to a place of comfort. This is my impression of her most personal, inward looking songs; in songs looking outward at today's world, she still sees work to be done.

Notable songs include the CD-opening "Bring It," a potential dance hit with an optimistic lyric of self-empowerment. The title cut "Stay Strong" encourages one to stay the course. "One Saturday Night" feels especially poignant, reflecting on love that could have been. "Be My Last" confesses previous loves and the comfort of finally settling down with THE one.

"99" is Iyall's observations of California's Highway 99, running North-South thru mostly agricultural land. She grew up at the south end of the highway, and now lives in a more urban spot at it's north. This might be my favorite song on the album as it conjures so many intriguing images of desolation and ruin, and its feel is somewhat David Lynchian; a kind of "Twin Peaks" theme song that would have been, had Twin Peaks been located in California's Central Valley. Iyall might agree, as on her website she calls this song a "cinematic musical vision." I happen to live very near Highway 99 in a city I often think I'd love to leave, so I see some of the lyrics as a temptation toward adventure and change:?

99 exits between here and LA

99 reasons not to stay

99 miles to the edge of the sea

99 reasons to leave

"When I Go Blue," written entirely by Peter Dunne, gives a sense of something both pleasant and painful that visits a person in unpredictable cycles. It could easily be love, alcohol, or depression (and the drugs to combat it). "Tell Me Why" is full of complex contrasts: bliss in ignorance of social devastation; finding light in our darkness; offering others help when it's you who needs it. "We are so full of emptiness."

These are songs looking at life with the perspective of age. Debora is no longer 25 and looking ahead with ideals of what should be; nearly 30 years have past and now she's looking back on her experience of what has been, her emotions and life's ups and downs. But in the end it's a satisfying experience - including for we who are also of about the same age - to hear her confess that one comes through it all to a place of comfort in one's self-knowledge and acceptance. And the beauty of her voice isn't just in her distinctive tone; as well, her life-story and her poetry make Debora Iyall an iconic American voice in the broader sense of the word. - Capital Public Radio

"Friday April 16th, Debora Iyall"

Debora Iyall’s voice will forever be paired with the line, “I might like you better if we slept together.” Not much has changed since Romeo Void’s 1982 release of “Never Say Never,” including ’80s fashions. The former frontwoman hasn’t lost her touch, either. Iyall is working on a new album, slated for a summer 2010 release. Her new sound maintains some of the post-punk angst of Romeo Void, but it’s less aggressive, less upbeat. “Ninety Nine” has more of a passive aggressive darkness molded with wisdom from life’s experiences. Time does that. Iyall will perform new songs as well as Romeo Void favorites. - Sacramento News and Review


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Studio albums

* It's a Condition, March 1981 (issued on CD in July 2007 with one bonus track – a cover of the 1960s instrumental "Apache" – as part of a two-fer with Debora Iyall's solo album Strange Language, 1986. "Apache" was the B-side of Romeo Void's first single , "White Sweater".) #46 NZ
* Benefactor, November 1982 (issued on CD in 2006 with the Never Say Never EP as bonus tracks)
* Instincts, October 1984 (issued on CD in 2003 with one bonus track)
*Strange Language, June 1986 (issued on CD in July 2007 with It's a Condition as part of a two-fer with bonus track "Apache" the B-side of Romeo Void's first single, "White Sweater."
*Stay Strong, August 2010 on Dottie Records


*Singing Until Sunrise, scheduled for release January, 2012.

* Never Say Never, January 1982 EP co-produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars (issued on CD in 2006 as bonus tracks to Benefactor).

Compilations/Live albums

* Warm, in Your Coat (compilation), 1992


1. White Sweater b/w Apache, 7” single, 415 Records S-0012 – February 1981
2. Never Say Never, b/w Guards, 7” Single, Columbia Records # 38-03378 – November 1982; #18 NZ
3. Never Say Never, b/w Undercover Kept; Wrap It Up, 12” Single, Columbia Records # 32-08558
4. A Girl In Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing), b/w Going To Neon, 7” Single, Columbia Records # 38-04534 (#35 US, #27 NZ)
5. A Girl In Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing) (DJ edit), b/w A Girl In Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing) (Dance & Album versions), 12” Radio Promotional Single, Columbia Records # AS-1886
6. A Girl In Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing) - (Dance Mix - 6:12), b/w Six Days and One, 12” Single, Columbia Records # 44-05103
7. Say No, b/w Six Days & One, 7” Single, Columbia Records # 38-04660
8. Say No, b/w Out on My Own (Dance Mix- 5:06), 12” Single, Columbia Records # 44-05135



Debora Iyall is best known as the lead singer and lyricist of Romeo Void, a San Francisco band that mined the sexy veins of new wave music. Iyall is a fearless performer, a good time party girl one moment, a woman bravely baring the most intimate details of her soul the next. Her newest release scheduled for January 2012 is a 12” purple vinyl EP titled, “Singing Until Sunrise” which features a new take on Romeo Void’s “A Girl in Trouble (is a temporary thing)”, which is also set to be the first single.

The newly recorded version of “A Girl In Trouble (is a temporary thing)” takes off with an engagingly upbeat feel and lands on a new third verse. “I’ve expanded my message of encouragement from across my added years of life experience.” Debora explains. Other tracks include live band versions of "Wait Out The Storm" and "99"; both compositions were released last year on an album of new material recorded titled “Stay Strong”. “Letting Go” is dedicated to respected live sound engineer Louie Beeson (Nick Cave, X and Chris Isaac) that turns out to be a surprising and heartening electronica collaboration with Romeo Void bassist Frank Zincavage.

The excellent live band on “Singing Until Sunrise” includes: Stev Ohanis on guitar, Dakota Iyall on keyboards, David Wenger on bass, Robert Tucker on drums and Debora Iyall on vocals. The “Singing Until Sunrise” cover has a decidedly painterly look with Debora’s original monotype landscapes used as both front and back cover art. The artwork reflects the mood shifts from one side of the EP to another. The decision to make a colored vinyl release “comes from the wishes and hopes of a lot of fans” Debora explains. “My desire is to put out a truly quality recording that can be appreciated not only my new musical output but also for my original artwork.” Iyall is currently a part-time art teacher at a rural continuation school near Sacramento.

The recording session was done with a new band composed of talented and energetic Bay Area musicians that Debora assembled this year and was produced by renowned engineer and producer Francis Buckley. It was her energized performances with her new band playing clubs and concerts around the Bay Area and Sacramento in support of her 2010 cd album release, “Stay Strong” on her own Dottie Records which brought her into the studio for
the new vinyl 12 inch EP “Singing Until Sunrise”


Debora Iyall was born in 1954 in Soap Lake, Washington and grew up in Fresno, California. She’s a member of the Cowlitz tribe of Washington State. She grew up loving music and poetry. “I had an older sister who always dated rock’n’roll boys. We were into the 60s San Francisco psychedelic bands and loved AM radio, which played a real mix of music - Motown, soul, girl groups and the British invasion. I knew the words to all the hits and used to sing while I was riding my bike or my horse.”

Iyall moved north after high school to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. She’d already been doing poetry readings when Patti Smith burst on the scene. “I thought about setting my poetry to music, then I saw The Avengers, one of the early punk bands. I thought: I can do that. I have something to say.” “I wanted to be part of what was going on. That meant speaking the truth, jumping on the stage, and having fun. Living in the 80s meant being in a band.” Peter Dunne was an important part of the scene as lead guitarist and songwriter for Pearl Harbor and the Explosions and Peterbilt.

Iyall started Romeo Void with fellow Art Institute student, bass player Frank Zincavage in 1979. Howie Klein, the future head of Reprise Records, signed them to his indie label, 415 Records. Rolling Stone lauded the band’s unique combination of pop, punk and dance beats and Iyall’s forceful singing style.

Romeo Void was the most successful band on 415 Records. They made three albums – It’s a Condition (1981), Benefactor (1982) and Instincts (1984) – and the Never Say Never EP (1982,) produced by the cars’ Ric Ocasek and Ian Taylor. They had hits with “Never Say Never” and “A Girl In Trouble,” which got played on Top 40 radio, bringing Iyall’s voice to the masses. In his Real Life Rock column in New West magazine, Greil Marcus praised Iyall as one of the most exceptional artists to emerge from California’s new wave scene.

Despite their rave reviews and chart success, the constant touring took its toll; Romeo Void splintered in 1985. Iyall made one solo album for Columbia, Strange Language, in 1986. She’s assembled numerous bands through the years and played venues on the West Coast in San Francisco, Joshua Tree, Los Angeles, and Portland.

She also earned her Master’s Degree in teaching in 2007 and has supported herself teaching art since the mid-90s. “Working with students and encouraging them to use their most unique aspects, I realized I should listen to my own advice, take a leap of faith, write songs and perform again. Using the DIY model o