Bob Bert was the drummer for two of the most notable bands from the American Underground: Sonic Youth (playing on the albums Confusion Is Sex, Sonic Death, and Bad Moon Rising) and Pussy Galore (playing on their recordings from Exile on Main St onwards). He has also drummed with Bewitched, Knoxville Girls, and The Chrome Cranks, the latter of which just released a cool new swamp/noise/punk/blues album called Ain’t No Lies In Blood. Bert answered the following questions by email, with answers received on 3/20/12. (Carlos Van Hijfte photo, 1982)
Jeff Moehlis: First of all, my huge condolences for your wife’s recent passing. It’s inspiring, and sadly not so common, to hear about someone in the music business being married for 30 years.
Bob Bert: Thank you, yes Linda and I were married in 1984, the same year as Kim [Gordon] and Thurston [Moore], and Lee [Renaldo] and his first wife Amanda. The last few years have been really hard dealing with Linda’s declining health, but now I am ready to rock.
BB: When the band ended in the late 90’s, Peter [Aaron] moved upstate and I didn’t speak to him for 12 years or so. Jerry Teel and I along with Jack Martin, Kid Congo Powers, and Barry London formed the Knoxville Girls who recorded 2 albums for In The Red Records and did some touring here and in Europe. In early 2009, I got a email from the Chrome Cranks biggest fan Skeleton Boy about The Chrome Cranks double CD on Atavistic called Diabolical Boogie (singles, demos & Rarities: 1992 B.C.- 1998 A.D.) which I knew nothing about. I decided to track down Peter Aaron, make amends about differences we had in the past and get some copies of Diabolical Boogie.
Instead of being pissed off that something I play on was released without my knowledge, I was happy that all those recordings were documented including 4 or 5 new songs that were recorded right before we fell apart. We all started communicating through the internet and decided to get back together and play a few shows. In 2009 we got together and it felt better and was more fun than the first time around. We played NYC, Brooklyn, and a big festival in Lyon, France. In 2010, we regrouped again, played NYC and Brooklyn again, whipped together this batch of tunes and recorded the Ain’t No Lies In Blood album.
JM: How would you compare the new album to the previous Chrome Cranks albums?
BB: No comparison, this one blows away all the others in spades. This is the Chrome Cranks album I always wanted to make and hear.
JM: In addition to the smoking originals, the new album has some great covers. How were these chosen?
BB: They were all chosen by Peter Aaron. “Lover of The Bayou” was the only one I was familiar with and always dug.
JM: Are there any plans to tour in support of the new album?
BB: We all live in different states and have different lives. We hope to play some shows sometime this year. As far as touring for long periods of time like we did in the 90’s, probably not. We are trying to be wiser this time around.
JM: If it’s OK, I have some questions about previous bands you were in, starting with Sonic Youth. How did you get that gig?
BB: I bought Sonic Youth’s self titled first EP right when it came out and loved it. I went to see them play a few times with their first drummer Richard Edson. A few months later I saw a flyer in a downtown record store saying Sonic Youth needs a drummer so I took it off the wall and called them.
BB: Sonic Youth didn’t make music at that point trying to achieve anything but doing what we did. When the songs were completed we linked them together to form one long composition and performed them live the same way. It took the band a long time to get someone to put it out. I think that the fact that you are asking me about it 27 years later and say it is regarded as one of their best that we were successful.
JM: You were part of (at least) two big Sonic Youth tours – the Savage Blunder tour in the US, and a tour of Europe. What was it like touring in those days?
BB: The Savage Blunder Tour was the very first tour of both Swans and Sonic Youth in 1983. 10 people on the floor of a van with a U-Haul, heading into the South. I was the only one at the time who didn’t smoke cigarettes so it was like traveling in a cloud. Both bands just had their first EPs out at the time and no one knew who these freaks from NYC were in their nice little towns and we blew whoever was there heads off. I have lots of photos from this tour which I will include in my book that I will start working on soon.
I toured Europe with SY 3 times. The first one- We played this Speed Trials fest at a gallery in NYC on a bill with The Fall and the very young hardcore band Beastie Boys. The next day Lee & Thurston left to tour Europe with Glenn Branca while setting up the first Euro SY tour. I flew over there on my Birthday June 11 in 83, traveled 24 hours to get right on a stage in Lausanne, Switzerland. When we finished the set, a riot broke out with small fires, it was nuts and things got crazier. We did that first tour carrying 13 beat up guitars and traveled with Euro passes. Sonic Youth definitely paved the way for indie US bands touring Europe.
JM: Are you still in touch with any members of Sonic Youth?
JM: How did being in Pussy Galore compare with being in Sonic Youth?
BB: Apples and oranges. When I hooked up with the Pussy kids, I was 10 years older than them and coming from totally different influences, but it all worked out and I’m very proud of my work with both bands.
JM: Neil Hagerty told me that Pussy Galore’s recording of the Exile on Main Street album was a response to Sonic Youth talking about covering The White Album, which never happened. Was that idea floating around while
you were in Sonic Youth?
BB: Yes, they were talking about it and I remember one SY rehearsal where we got through “Back In The USSR” but that was it. When I first joined Pussy Galore, Jon mentioned the idea to me and I thought it was brilliant. This was my first recording experience with Pussy Galore, Neil had just arrived in NYC and we whipped it out in a few days recording on to a beat up 8 track cassette player. We ran off 500 cassettes and when Jon was bringing them up to Caroline to distribute, we got signed.
JM: How do you view the legacy of Pussy Galore?
BB: As the coolest most rocking band on the planet.
JM: The Pussy Galore reunion show in December seemed to take everyone by surprise. Any chance of this being more than a one-off?
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
BB: Keep your day job and be original. Don’t be a dick.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
BB: Writing and putting together my photos for a book, rocking with the Chrome Cranks and working with my idol and good friend Lydia Lunch later in the year. Living life to it’s fullest.
JM: Where are you responding from?
BB: My home in Hoboken, New Jersey, home of Frank Sinatra and Steve Shelley.
The Chrome Cranks (L to R) Jerry Teel, Bob Bert, Peter Aaron, William G. Weber