Home > Who Knew? > Who Knew #4: Romeo Void

Who Knew #4: Romeo Void

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments


by Mari Stauffer

Recently I heard a song that was an obvious tribute to Romeo Void‘s “Never Say Never.” If that song title doesn’t ring a bell, surely you’d remember the catchy lyrical hook “I might like you better if we slept together.” I was reminded how much I liked Romeo Void in their heyday (yes, those glorious 1980s) and wondered what their story was, and what happened to them.

Romeo Void formed in San Francisco in 1979, on Valentines Day. Vocalist Deborah Iyall, a Cowlitz Native American, was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, and while there, she met bassist Frank Zincavage. In a matter of weeks they had formed a band with guitarist Peter Woods and drummer Jay Derrah. Iyall and her bandmates were influenced by the punk and post-punk scene at the time, including bands such as Joy Division and those she had seen at the nightclub, Mabuhay Gardens, such as the Nuns, Crime, the Mutants, and the Avengers.

The story goes that after seeing a headline in a local S.F. magazine that declared “Why Single Women Can’t Get Laid in San Francisco,” the band was inspired to name themselves Romeo Void in reference to this lack of romance in the dating scene at the time. In a famous interview by Dick Clark on American Bandstand, Deborah Iyall remarks, “The ’80s single thing is romeo void.”

IyallIyall and her band became well-known in the new wave circuit even though they associated with the punk mentality. She stated that “Romeo Void was a reaction against the regimentation of everyone having to be bleach blond and everything being about despair and no future, when I thought the do-it-yourself thing should encompass all the different kinds of emotions and all the different colors…. I was proud of being American Indian,” she continued, “so I purposely never bleached my hair blond.”

Iyall was a role model for those who didn’t necessarily fit into the cultural norms at the time. She was a proud woman of color who was also at a more realistic and healthy weight and size than the current models gracing the entertainment magazine covers. Using her unusual, partially-spoken vocal style, she catered to subjects such as female sexuality and the reality of being a sort of cultural/social outcast.

In 1985 Romeo Void disbanded. Iyall’s first solo album, Strange Language was released the following year. In the next decade, she returned to her love of visual art and made a living teaching art at 29 Palms Cultural Center and for the Arts Council for San Bernadino. In 2010 she released her second solo album, Stay Strong followed by the EP Singing Until Sunrise which debuted in January of 2012. She currently resides in Sacramento with her husband, an audio engineer and instructor.

Romeo Void on American Bandstand, including an interview with Dick Clark:

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