Life Happens, But All-Girl Band Betty Keeps Rocking Host Scott Simon once described Betty as the Marx Brothers and the Andrews Sisters having three daughters who form a rock band. Simon catches up with Amy and Elizabeth Ziff and Alison Palmer, who have a new CD called Bright and Dark. It was recorded while singer and guitarist Elizabeth was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
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Life Happens, But All-Girl Band Betty Keeps Rocking

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Life Happens, But All-Girl Band Betty Keeps Rocking

Life Happens, But All-Girl Band Betty Keeps Rocking

Life Happens, But All-Girl Band Betty Keeps Rocking

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/121119811/121119825" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Host Scott Simon once described Betty as the Marx Brothers and the Andrews Sisters having three daughters who form a rock band. Simon catches up with Amy and Elizabeth Ziff and Alison Palmer, who have a new CD called Bright and Dark. It was recorded while singer and guitarist Elizabeth was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

You know what? It's been too long since we've had our old gal pals Betty on the show. Lots happened to them - an off-Broadway show, the theme song to that TV show, "The L Word," appearances on that program, on "Ugly Betty," babies and albums, music videos, European tours. I once said that Betty was what would happen if the Marx Brothers and the Andrews Sisters had three daughters who form a rock band. I never write anything that endures as long as that phrase.

So without further delay, the three women who are Betty - Elizabeth and Amy Ziff and Alison Palmer - join us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. ALISON PALMER (Musician, Betty): Hi, Scott.

Ms. AMY ZIFF (Musician, Betty): Yay. Great to be talking to you again.

SIMON: Great to be talking to you again. Before we - well, we want to talk about this new CD. And I have to ask you about the theme song to "The L Word"�

Ms. A. ZIFF: Okay.

SIMON: �because I think this is one of the great theme songs of all time.

Ms. ELIZABETH ZIFF (Vocalist, Betty): Oh, Scott, thank you.

Ms. A. ZIFF: We agree.

Ms. PALMER: So much�

SIMON: But there's a part we can't play on the air, I think it's safe to say. You guys got a little grief for that, didn't you?

Ms. A. ZIFF: We did, actually.

Ms. PALMER: We did.

Ms. A. ZIFF: It's funny. It was maybe a little bit too strident.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Well, it's the first time the F word has ever been used in a theme song.

SIMON: I mean, we'll explain, that this is a word that Tony Soprano used to floss his teeth with.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Exactly. I mean, I don't know what the big deal was.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Well, three women are saying it in an empowered way. I think maybe it rubs people the wrong way, I think.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Either that or it, you know, excites them.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Yeah.

Ms. E. ZIFF: You know, one thing is clear, is that it was not ignored. So that's always good. If you elicit some sort of response from your work, then it's great.

SIMON: Tell me about "Bright and Dark."

Ms. E. ZIFF: There were two sides to the album, this collection of music. That's why the title "Bright and Dark" came up, was because there were a lot of things that we wanted to say that were joyous and celebratory but then there were a lot of dark periods that happened, you know, in the creation of this album - one in particular that was very big and very dark. And so it's sort of the process through that.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Well, what was happening, actually?

Ms. E. ZIFF: Well, I had cancer.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Right.

Ms. E. ZIFF: (Unintelligible) cancer for about two-and-a-half years. And while we made the CD I was doing chemo. So they sort of just propped me up and I sang. I don't really remember it, but I think it was fun.

Ms. A. ZIFF: I think it was fun too and I think that the honesty that Elizabeth got out of her vocals, just coming from a different place, when you're pretty compromised, actually, physically, is amazing.

Ms. PALMER: And one of the songs that I think I'm most moved by on the album is a song called "A Fix of You," that Elizabeth was really and probably her deepest and darkest in the whole period when she had to go in and do that vocal.

(Soundbite of song, "A Fix of You")

Ms. E. ZIFF: (Singing) Not a day goes by, that I think (unintelligible) not a day goes by, that I feel the same, about being through, not a day without you. Not a tear falls down, from my desperate (unintelligible) not a tear goes down, and I find (unintelligible) from the emptiness of seeing but not being with you�

Ms. PALMER: And there is something - there is something authentic and sad in the original, in the beginning vocals. But by the end, when the coda comes around that everything's going to be all right, I think it really resonates.

Ms. A. ZIFF: 'Cause you start believing it.

(Soundbite of song, "A Fix of You")

Ms. E. ZIFF (Singing): Everything, everything goes, everything, everything goes, everything's gonna be all right. Everything's gonna be all right.

SIMON: That's a great song.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Thank you so much.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Thanks.

SIMON: By the way, we're talking with Betty - Elizabeth and Amy Ziff and Alison Palmer.

I have to ask you about the cover art. This picture on the front of the CD, the powerful sexy women that you are. Elizabeth, you're in a bikini.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Oh yeah.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Oh, isn't that incredible?

SIMON: Yeah, it's incredible.

Ms. A. ZIFF: We actually were not able to do a photo shoot because Elizabeth was really too weak and she wasn't�

Ms. E. ZIFF: I was too ill and I wasn't looking my best, you know what I'm saying?

Ms. A. ZIFF: So we asked Dan if he would like to do the cover for us.

Ms. PALMER: His name's Dan Schaffer and he's an incredible artist.

Ms. A. ZIFF: He's a filmmaker and he's also an artist and he's known for his great graphic novels, "Dogwitch: The Series," among other things. And when he drew Elizabeth like an, you know, an Amazon�

Ms. E. ZIFF: He drew me without - with one breast, which I thought was really cool.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Really cool.

Ms. E. ZIFF: And it was beautiful, it was a beautiful situation, because I've always felt pretty good about my body. And then you go under all this, you know, you lose your hair and you lose your breast and you have to think about -you sort of - one rethinks what beauty is and what you are as a woman.

SIMON: How do you think you're different after what you've been through - as a group? I mean, this was a seize(ph) for all three of you - mostly for you, obviously, Elizabeth.

Ms. E. ZIFF: I don't know if it was for me, to tell you the truth, Scott. I think the people that are the caretakers of people that are really ill, I think they're the ones who go through more because they don't have the attention and they don't have the wherewithal or the support system that I did, you know. And so I think it's been really difficult, especially for family members, which Alison is a family member, obviously, after all this time.

Ms. A. ZIFF: I think what she's saying, Scott, that it was the hardest for me. That's Amy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. A. ZIFF: I had to be really, really nice to her for a very, very long time.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Yeah, she really did. And she couldn't stand it.

Ms. A. ZIFF: She stayed at my apartment.

Ms. E. ZIFF: It was really hard on you because she had to be nice to me. I mean, really.

Ms. A. ZIFF: Elizabeth, you're lucky to have me in your life and you don't dare forget it.

Ms. E. ZIFF: I'm totally lucky.

Ms. A. ZIFF: See? There you go. When it comes right down to it, you're a pain in the ass when it comes right down to it.

Ms. E. ZIFF: I'm a good sister, a very, very good sister. You're all I got, kid.

Ms. A. ZIFF: No kidding.

SIMON: Aw. Tell me about the song, "King Kong."

Ms. A. ZIFF: My idea is that even if the person does not want you or love you or need you, you can capture them in a way that they will be yours anyway.

(Soundbite of song, "King Kong")

Ms. E. ZIFF: (Singing) King Kong don't have nothing over me, King Kong. King Kong don't have nothing over me. King Kong don't have nothing over me, King Kong. King Kong don't have nothing over me. King Kong, King Kong, King Kong.

Ms. A. ZIFF: So I think that one line in it is great, the one that you say at least you will be mine, you know? And if you still don't love me and if you still don't want me and if you still don't need me�

Ms. E. ZIFF: At least you will be mine. I love that.

Ms. A. ZIFF: King Kong really doesn't have anything over me.

(Soundbite of song, "King Kong")

Ms. E. ZIFF: (Singing) I will break through chains and cages, just to swing you from my vine. And if you still can't love me, at least you will be mine.

SIMON: Well, I feel honored to speak with you again.

Ms. PALMER: Well, Scott, it's always such a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for having us on.

SIMON: Well, wonderful talking�

Ms. A. ZIFF: Thank you so much for your friendship over the years, Scott.

Ms. E. ZIFF: Thank you for your brilliant, brilliant show.

SIMON: Betty - Alison Palmer, Amy and Elizabeth Ziff. Their new album, "Bright and Dark."

(Soundbite of song, "King Kong")

SIMON: So nice to talk to them. WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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