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Batusis - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 4 / 2010

Batusis - Interview


Batusis is the new punk supergroup of Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls and Cheetah Chrome from Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys.John Clarkson chats to Chrome about the recording of the band's recently released debut EP.

Batusis is the new punk supergroup of Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls and Cheetah Chrome from Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys. While the pair have been friends for 25 years and first met in New York in 1975, it has taken them until now to form a group, with ironically the suggestion to do coming from someone else. It also comes at a particularly busy time in both guitarists' careers. Since the New York Dolls reformed after a nearly twenty absence in 2004, Sylvain has been almost permanently out on the road with them and they have recorded two new albums, 'One Day It Will Please Us to Even Remember This' (2006) and 'Cause I Sez So'(2009). Chrome will publish in September his autobiography, 'From the Lines of Punk Rock', which describes with with brutal, honest account his formative years as a musician in Cleveland with both Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys, and the Dead Boys' drug and alcohol-induced sharp decline and fall after they moved to New York in the mid 70s. While both have long since moved away from New York, Sylvain to Atlanta and Chrome to Nashville, the two met up in Nashville last year to record Batusis' self-titled debut EP , which has been released by Smog Veil Records on 7" vinyl and as a download. As might have been expected from both Sylvain and Chrome's backgrounds, and from a group which takes its name from the bat dance Adam West used to do in the original 1960's 'Batman' series, it is an exuberant, loud and sometimes hilarious rock 'n' roll record. Two garage rock instrumentals, 'Blues' Theme' and 'Big Cat Stomp', the latter a cover of a track by 60's act Davie Allan and the Allans, book end each side of the fifteen minute EP. Sylvian takes the main vocal on one of the other two tracks, 'What You Lack in Brains', a piano-laced glam rock number and a tongue-in-cheek, delightfully politically incorrect homage to a groupie. Chrome, his gravelly voice like of an old-time hellfire preacher, has the lead on the other, the dark and more serious 'Bury you Alive', a furious attack on his government's role in Afghanistan. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Chrome a few days before Batusis was due to begin its first-full length tour in the United Kingdom. The tour was subsequently postponed as a result of the Icelandic volcanic ash and will be rescheduled for later this year. PB: You and Sylvain Sylvain have been friends since the mid 70s. The idea of this collaboration, however, came out not from the pair of you, but from both Sylvain’s manager and Frank Mauceri, the co-owner of Smog Veil Records. Had you ever talked about collaborating on your own before this? CC: Oh yeah, but in New York we were both usually up to something else. It slips your mind. It’s a very distracting place! Then we both moved, Syl to Atlanta, me to Nashville ; we’d jam at each other’s shows when we’d pass through town. When Frank suggested it, I didn’t even have to think about. It was a done deal. PB: The EP includes a cover of a garage rock instrumental,‘Blues Theme’, by Davie Allan and the Arrows. It is something of an obscurity and appeared in the Roger Corman biker film ‘The Wild Angels’. Was it there that you came across it? Why did you decide to open the EP with that? CC: I’d had it on a Davie Allan greatest hits compilation, but hadn’t thought of it in years. Always loved it, though. Then when Syl got to Nashville for the sessions, he had that one in mind and I was all for it. It’s a great song! PB: You have described yourself and Sylvain as a “pair of loose cannons” and said that you needed your rhythm section, which considted of Enzo Penizzotto and Thommy Price who also play with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, to balance you both out in the studio. The two songs that you each sing on, ‘What You Lack in Brains’ and ‘Bury You Alive’, are lyrically very different from each other. What do you think you and Sylvain each brought musically to the project? CC: Well, the funny thing is, we didn’t know the lyrics to each other’s songs really until we did the vocals, so we worked almost strictly on the music the first couple of days. We did rough scratch vocals to get the rhythm tracks done, but weren’t paying much attention, and stopped using them almost immediately. The first thing that we noticed was what a natural feel we had for each other's song, how we each brought something to them that hadn’t been there before. And Thommy and Enzo – whew! They just nailed it every time, it was beautiful! PB: There is a real natural energy to the four songs on the EP. How much pre-planning went into it and how much of it was written and recorded in the studio? CC: Hardly any of it was preplanned. I had played 'Bury You' and 'Big Cat' with Thommy and Enzo before, at a couple of live shows, but it all changed when we hooked up with Sylvain. I’d say 'What You Lack' was the least finished, but it came together so quick. Syl just hollered out the changes and we followed him. Syl has great instincts musically. Following him is a good way to go. PB: On the subject of Enzo and Thommy, neither of them are going to be touring the UK with you. Who have you got to replace them? CC: We have Lez Warner, formerly of the Cult on drums, and another former Blackheart, Sean Koos on bass; I don’t think anyone will be disappointed! PB: Batusis played its first gig at SXSW in March. You are now coming to the UK to play your next set of dates. As you’re both pretty well known back home, why have you decided to come to the UK first rather than to play dates in America ? CC: Just to do something different, really. We both like playing in Europe, and I haven’t done a show in the UK since 1977. We figured since we’re both known there as well as the States, why not hit Britain first? PB: The whole EP lasts just over fifteen minutes. You are either going to be playing very short sets when you tour the UK or looking at ways of expanding things out. Have other Batusis songs been written, but not recorded? Are you going to be playing songs from both your back catalogues or are you also going to be concentrating instead on playing other covers along the lines of ‘Blues Thme’? CC: A bit of all three, really; I mean, we can’t ignore the past entirely, can we? There’s new, there’s old, there’s ours, and there’s theirs. The set is still evolving. We’re still trying things. I think you’ll find it pretty entertaining. And loud. PB: The New York Dolls perhaps particularly, but also Rocket From the Tombs with Peter Laughner and the Dead Boys in Stiv Bators have all lost principal members. Pennyblackmusic interviewed Sylvain last year. He obviously is still saddened and still misses his former band members, but at the time said that he wouldn’t have changed things because what his band had was unique. Do you feel the same way about Rocket from the Tombs and the Dead Boys, both of whom while relatively short-lived in their initial incarnations, have been influential? In light of that though is it refreshing playing in a band such as Batusis without those tragic connotations? CC: Oh yeah, I feel exactly the same, wouldn’t change a thing, wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It really sank in when the remaining Dead Boys played the two nights at the 'Save CBGB' shows how much we missed Stiv. I mean it really wasn’t the same band. There was some talk of doing more shows, but that was the main reason they didn’t happen. It was painful for us. We turned down some pretty nice offers, too. But it is very nice playing in an outfit with no really heavy baggage, guys who have learned form experience. At SXSW there was a point in the show where we did a little homage to Johnny Thunders, since he was close to both of us; my guess is it might make it’s way to the UK as well. PB: Do you see, given that the New York Dolls are very busy, and you’ve also got your autobiography coming out in September, Batusis as being a short-lived or more permanent project. Will you be recording other material? CC: That is the plan so far, as soon as we get a chance to work it all out. I can’t wait to get back in the studio with Syl and Ken again. PB: There have been a lot of books of punk autobiography and history published in recent years, and American histories such as Legs McNeill’s ‘Please Don’t Kill Me’ and Clinton Heylin’s ‘From the Velvet to the Voidods’ have both examined Cleveland’s influence. There have been very few books on American punk autobiography, however, and nothing at all otherwise about Cleveland. Was that one of the prime reasons for writing your book? CC: No, the prime reason is I’ve been lucky enough to have had a pretty interesting life, which almost ended prematurely several times. Growing up in Cleveland had a lot to do with who I am, but it’s only part of the story. I lived in NYC longer than I did in Cleveland, and Nashville almost as long; that has a lot to do with who I am as well. Another prime reason for doing the book is to share my experiences with alcohol and drugs. Hopefully some people will learn from my mistakes and save themselves them time and pain. I’m very honest about it in the book, and it isn’t pretty. But I grew up in a time when Cleveland was a major rock and roll town, at least audience–wise, and I got to see a lot of great bands at their prime, got to meet a lot of cool people , and that’s in there as well. PB: Thank you. The photographs that accompany this aricle were taken by Sandy Carson.

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Batusis - Interview

Batusis - Interview

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