New York singer-guitarist Palmyra Delran epitomizes the East Coast underground rock ’n’ roll ethic. The tenured princess of trash-pop, who makes a rare California appearance at South Pasadena’s the Barkley on Friday, has been banging out her primitive, stomping brand of big beat malfeasance since the early 1990s, and has developed a distinctive, glittering sound that mixes elements of vintage 1960s girl group and garage rock with the buzz-saw audacity of classic punk.
“I grew up listening to the Stones, the Kinks and, later, Neil Diamond and Lesley Gore. I stole a lot of production stuff from them,” Delran said. “It was kind of embarrassing when people caught me listening to Neil Diamond, but I really soaked up a lot from the sound of those records. And then along came the Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie, and I loved that. And when you combine all that you get this great sound, so I coined the phrase ‘trash pop’ in the early ’90s.”
Delran, who adopted her stage name from a New Jersey turnpike exit sign, began her career in the late 1980s as drummer for Philadelphia’s Pink Slips, but soon graduated to form all-girl shock troupe the Friggs circa 1991. “It was crazy,” she said. “Most of us really learned how to play our instruments onstage.”
The band quickly gained traction among the East Coast rock ‘n’ roll cognoscenti. “The Friggs started in Philly, my hometown, and was the beginning of my starting to write songs,” she said. “But one by one they started moving to New York — I commuted for five years, and finally gave in. There was such a great scene in New York — the Botswanas, the Devil Dogs, all these bands that seemed like cousins of ours, and it was fantastic. There was always something to do every second.”
The Friggs graduated to near nonstop gigging, opened shows for the Ramones and toured with UK Two Tone sensations the Selector, but eventually disbanded. “I wanted to start a revolution,” she said. “But it didn’t happen.”
Nonetheless, her solo career brought even greater acclaim: The song “Baby Should’ve Known Better,” from her debut solo album release, “She Digs the Ride,” was named “Coolest Song in the World” in 2008 by no less an authority than Sirius radio Underground Garage show DJ (and longtime Bruce Springsteen ax man) Little Steven Van Zandt. A banging, bittersweet Good Girl Gone Bad lament, the song was subsequently voted “Coolest Song of 2008” by the program’s listeners and included on the compilation CD “The Coolest Songs in the World Vol. 8.”
Delran’s vocals combine icy-hot authority, a salty, sassy (yet never cynical) bite and a gleeful relish for the fast-moving, offbeat “trash pop” in which she excels. Her latest album “You Are What You Absorb” celebrates back-alley culture and romantic folly with equal measures of well-crafted musicality and celebratory rock ‘n’ roll abandon. It’s a potent recipe, and Delran clearly thrives on it.
“I was never propelled by the money thing. I still love the music. I’ve got songs that I still want to write — I don’t know what they are, but I do want to find out,” she said. “As long as you’re having fun, keep doing it; and if it stops being fun, you should pack it in. But for me, every show is just a blast.”
Who: Palmyra Delran, also the Volcanics, Casino 66, Angel Town Combo
Where: The Barkley Restaurant & Bar, 1400 Huntington Dr., South Pasadena
When: Friday, Jan. 10, 9 p.m.
More info: (626) 799-0758
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin’ Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”