Debora Iyall and Frank Zincavage met at San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1970s, and soon after formed the post-punk band Romeo Void, whose edgy lyrics and sax-driven sound quickly made new wave noise throughout the Bay area. After the success of their EP “Nvr Say Nvr”, the group signed with Columbia Records, and the band recorded three albums and scored two top 40 singles. Both songs, “Never Say Never” and “A Girl in Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing)”, were accompanied by music videos with imagery straight out of French New Wave and art-school experimentation. Although they ascended quickly, the band broke up in 1985 when lack of record company support hamstrung the band’s momentum. We spoke with Debora about the band’s hits, videos, and her current solo album, Stay Strong.

With a great lyric like “I might like you better if we slept together” in “Never Say Never”, one might think you came up with that line first.

No. I came from a poetry tradition. My process is to write everything down and then edit when you are done. I came home from a little tour of L.A. with the band where I saw some behavior of the band that was really appalling to me (laugh), so I went out on the fire escape in and just started writing. When it came time to turn it into a song, I knew that line would be the chorus. “There’s something in your eyes that says never” came from the rewrite later, but most of it came from that first stream of consciousness. Years later I auctioned off that first piece of paper to benefit KUSF, the University of San Francisco radio station.

Where did the “slept together” line come from?

It was how I felt about one of the band members. There was tension. I didn’t even tell him I wrote the song about him until I had to go in for major surgery in 2000. The doctors gave me that talk where they say “get your house in order”, just in case, we have to warn you. I really took that to heart. I had only told a friend of his a few years earlier, Peter Dunne. I thought, you know, it just wouldn’t be right if anything happened and Frank [Zincavage] didn’t know I wrote it about him. Then later I did an interview with Mojo magazine and let the cat out of the bag, so then I had to call Frank and tell him I’d told the world (laugh).

How did he react when you told him?

When I originally told him, he’s not a person who is really demonstrative, so he was fairly unemotional. He said, “well, I knew you’d taken a lot of your inspiration from your life and things that happened in the band, but I guess I never realized that.” (laugh) He was surprised, but not totally surprised.

When you went to shoot the music video for “Never Say Never”, how did that come together? It’s got a very edgy, independent feel.

We had a manager who managed Blue Oyster Cult. The video was directed by Richard Casey of Casey Movies, who had done Blue Oyster Cult videos. He definitely wanted it to be in black and white, which we were all for, and there are some definite references in there to Godard. We filmed some of it in my flat on Nob Hill, and in a café down the street, and some was filmed in a place where we used to rehearse in the basement.

What do you recall from the shooting the video for “Never Say Never”?

I treated it like another art project because Frank and I, who started Romeo Void, met in art school. We were very into all his ideas. I don’t remember having any reservations, and in my mind, we were one of the earliest bands doing videos out there. We wanted to be one of the early ones.

What do you think of Queens of the Stone Age’s cover of “Never Say Never”?

You know, it totally cracks me up, because he didn’t do my phrasing as good as I would have liked him to, but I was really happy that a band of that caliber wanted to do it. Queens of the Stone Age isn’t a band I usually reach for, but I appreciate what they’ve done. And I love good guitars! I was kind of honored that a younger band at that level would take it on. Originally it was on an English-only import as a b-side for “Feel Good Hit of Summer”, a song I love. I know because they sent me a copy. Then last year they put it as an extra track on the re-release of one of their albums.

The next video you shot was for “A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing)”. What was different about shooting that one from “Never Say Never”?

Frank and I chose the director, Julia Heyward, who had done a lot of stuff for Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House”, and had come and lectured at the San Francisco Art Institute. I loved her work and had befriended her and her boyfriend, who was Pat Irwin of the Raybeats. So we chose her to direct, which was pretty cool, and shot it at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

I can see the similarities between “Burning Down The House” and “A Girl In Trouble” with the projections in the set pieces.

Right. Pretty much, Julia had a strong idea of what she wanted. And really, we were the kind of people who thought that if we don’t hate it, let’s see what you see in it. There was that feeling that we didn’t need to control it – she was the director. We want to be in this great cool thing you are going to do. And Frank painted all the splatter suits in it. I don’t remember whose idea that was.

How much did the video reflect the lyrics?

It’s pretty abstract (laugh). The girl we used as the dancer figure remains triumphant – the underwater scene, and her walking away and being okay. The quote-unquote “violent imagery” actually got the video banned by MTV at first. They were not happy about the rifle pointing at the camera. We stood behind it, and we said that in our world, there is violence. A girl in trouble, you know? And he’s dressed like a hunter. There’s the connection with women being meat in our world, you know? So we just stood behind it.

What is that song really about?

It’s a tough talk for girls. I had a very good best friend, and I wrote it with her in mind, she is the “she” in the first verse. And I was also reacting to Michael Jackson singing “the kid is not my son.”


I thought, what a jerk! He doesn’t say he wasn’t with her, he says, “the kid is not my son”, and I thought, what a horrible thing to say to a woman in that situation. That’s not very supportive, I didn’t like it, you know, so I decided that I’m going to tell the girl that a girl in trouble is a temporary thing. Like the song says, there’s a way to walk that says “Stay away,” and a time to go around the long way. You know, I just recorded a new take on “A Girl In Trouble” and we’re getting it ready for release. We didn’t want to do just a remake. Interestingly, my nephew now plays sax in my band, but there’s no sax on the new version, he just plays keyboards. That’s a big change, as is the tempo and beat. And I thought, these guys are doing things to make it sound new, but what am I doing? So I wrote a third verse to the song rather than repeating the first verse like the old version does. [Debora then gives me a sneak peek at the verse, which tells about the “she” in the song transcending a long road of experiences, good and bad]. Certainly I’ve earned my scars in my life. It doesn’t happen overnight, you have to live through this. The trouble passed, and she’s not shut down or f*cked up, she’s gotten over whatever it was. And that’s reflective of me, a person who has never chosen anything for material gain. I’m bohemian and still on the fringe, but I am rich in so many ways, and grateful for it, and I wanted to put that on this new version for the people, like me, who survived. The 80s, drugs, you name it.

That’s quite an evolution in one song. It’s advice over the course of a lifetime.

And I’m lucky to be here to do it. I didn’t go away, and I won’t go away. I tell my husband I’m going to live till I’m 99.

You’ve said in previous interviews that in the Romeo Void days, the record company also expressed concern about your weight.

Yes, I’ve said this before, but there were a lot of conversations that I’m lucky I didn’t have to hear.

If you didn’t have to hear it, how did you find out?

Through management, through Howie, they kind of let me know. The word came down that I was not to be the only girl in the “Girl In Trouble” video. We needed to get another woman as a lead, preferably attractive.


Yeah, and well, you know, I just had to accept that, but I haven’t lived my whole life in this body without knowing that I’m on the edge, I’m outside the norm. It’s made me who I am, I’ve know that my whole life, and I’m grateful. When you don’t fit in like “them,” a lot of good stuff happens. You can develop a lot of talents and you grow up in ways “they” will never understand.

I understand Ann Wilson had similar issues to deal with when it came to record companies.

But why not Meat Loaf? (laugh) And why not John Popper of Blues Traveler? It’s a double standard.

While we’re on the subject of singers of a certain physical type, Adele won three MTV Video Music Awards this year. Do you have any advice for her at this moment?

I have no idea, except hold your own. Stay strong, girl. She’s got the talent and people love to listen to her.

She reminds me a little of Alison Moyet.

Absolutely! She needs a little “Love Resurrection”. (laughs) I love that Alison Moyet song.

Let’s talk about the last video, “Say No”, which was Romeo Void’s last.

Again, Julia Heyward. We did them together. It just killed us that after we shot the second video, after we’d spent all the money, that the record company wasn’t even going to release “Say No” as a single.

Was this the moment when they just dropped the band in mid-tour?

Yes. All of a sudden, there was no one in the next town to promote us, no one setting up interviews or anything. We still had two months of tour, so our road manager was trying. Howie Klein, who had promoted the hell out of us from the beginning at 415 Records, he wasn’t in the picture anymore. And the “A Girl In Trouble” single had broken the top 40. We really felt this huge betrayal because we had so much pride in our instincts, you know, suffering through switching drummers, suffering through being on the road nine or ten months a year, doing what we felt was strong work, and to get just dropped like that after we’d cracked the top 40? Which wasn’t the point though – I never wanted to grow up to be a rock star. I’m a cultural creator just by compulsion, not with the aim of fame and glory in the end, just compelled in the doing of it. The excitement of collaboration of all of it too.

On YouTube, I saw your performance of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” with Berlin’s Terri Nunn and the Motels’ Martha Davis at the LA Pride event. How great was that?

Oh my God. It was so fun! I had never really met them. We had played with the Motels in Santa Barbara in 1982, when they were huge and we were not. We didn’t really interact with them, and their sound guy had been really mean to our guy and said “here, you get four channels” (laugh). That kind of thing! Anyway, we met that afternoon for the Pride event, and they were great, and I had been an admirer of both of those ladies as singers and especially Martha as a songwriter. Terri was really gracious. There was this great affection among the three of us, and we said, “Yeah! We’re going to tear the roof off the sucker!”

The new album, “Stay Strong,” is currently available. What is it about this set of songs that gets you really excited?

The eclectic nature of the songs. There’s a breadth of color and emotion on the songs, that as an artist, makes me really happy. Also, we’re being contemporary. One thing I’ve never been attracted to is being Americana, which is something a lot of artists my age are attracted to doing. It’s never been my thing. I still like to rock, I still like dance rock, I still like garage. There’s plenty of great guitar on it. I also just wanted to be in the mix again. I got together with Peter Dunne and wrote a bunch of songs, and we said, let’s get it out there. I’ve got a lot of simpatico with him, and we collaborate well. We both have experiences that the other one doesn’t.

What are the themes you are exploring in these songs? You still seem to have a very strong identity that emerges in the work, and “Stay Strong” seems to be the linchpin idea here.

Yes. I really like “99”, “One Saturday Night”, “Crocodiles.” I haven’t learned to do “Tell Me Why” live yet but I will. I got a band together in January, and we’ve had about ten gigs, mostly just around San Francisco, East Bay and Sacramento.

Do you still play the Romeo Void songs when you play live?

Oh absolutely. That’s about half my set. And one of the songs that really resonates with me as much as when I wrote it because it talks about economic disparity and equality is “Not Safe”, and when I do it now, I’m even more pissed that we’re not safe. And we do “Just Too Easy” also, which is a lot of fun.

You can keep up with Debora Iyall’s records and touring at her website.


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