Bob Bert | Interview | Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, Chrome Cranks

Uncategorized February 13, 2023

Bob Bert | Interview | Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, Chrome Cranks

Bob Bert is a very versatile artist originally coming from the art world becoming a fine art silkscreen printer, although he soon crossed his path and became drummer in legendary New York’s Sonic Youth.


In 2019, Bert released I’m Just the Drummer: My Time Behind Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Chrome Cranks & BB Gun Magazine, a book compiling his photographs and interviews he did with artists he collaborated with or that influenced him. Bert announced in our interview the 3rd edition which will come out later in 2023 and will include some added material and photos that were not in the first two editions.

Bert is still very active with Wolfmanhattan Project, releasing a new album, ‘Summer Forever And Ever’ via In The Red Recordings and so much more.

“I became a fine art silkscreen printer for a living and ended up printing Warhol’s print editions and paintings in the 80’s while I was in Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore”

It’s great to have you. Let’s talk about some of your recent recordings first. How did you get involved with Jon Spencer & The Hitmakers, I guess the initial connection was Pussy Galore?

Bob Bert: Yes, Pussy Galore pretty much ended in 1990, Jon Spencer and I went our separate ways musically. He had a nice long run through the 90’s and 2000’s with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash et cetera. In 2017 or so he recorded his first solo album ‘Spencer’s Got The Hits’. He overdubbed a bunch of metal percussion and asked me to join the live band. I had been playing and touring the world with Lydia Lunch Retrovirus and occasionally playing and recording with the Wolfmanhattan Project with Kid Congo Powers and Mick Collins. So I said yes to Jon and since then we’ve played over 200 shows around the world. We recorded an album called ‘Spencer Got It Lit’ in 2021, released in 2022 which like the first one included Sam Coomes (Quasi, Elliott Smith) on synths and vocals and M. Sord on drums.

Jon Spencer & The Hitmakers in France November 2022 | Photo by Wilfried Lamotte

A recent favourite of mine is the latest album by Wolfmanhattan Project, what was the original idea behind this band? Back to the roots? Do you feel it’s a continuation of Knoxville Girls?

No, the only thing Wolfmanhattan Project has in common with the Knoxville Girls is me and Kid Congo. Wolfmanhattan Project just happened to fall together. I saw Mick Collins and Kid Congo play a song together at some event in Brooklyn. Larry Hardy of In The Red Records mentioned something about getting them to record together and I jumped on it. We recorded our first 7-inch single ‘Smells Like You’ in 2012. We played a show or two then went back in the studio and recorded our first album ‘Blue Gene Stew’.

Wolfmanhattan Project | Photo by Ian Svevonius

Everyone had other bands going on, me with Lydia Lunch and Jon Spencer. Kid Congo has his band Kid Congo Powers & the Pink Monkey Birds and Mick Collins was doing occasional shows with his band the Gories. Kid Congo also lives in Tucson which makes it more difficult to get together as much as we’d like to. Our second album was just released on In The Red entitled ‘Summer Forever and Ever’. The plan is to finally get out there and play shows in 2023.

Speaking about early influences, what kind of records and fanzines would we find in your teenage room? Do you feel that influences changed during the years of being an active musician?

I was a teenager in the 60’s and was way into the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, MC5, Jefferson Airplane, garage rock like ‘Psychotic Reaction’ by the Count Five et cetera. As the 70’s started, I got more into glam like New York Dolls, Wayne County & the Backstreet Boys, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, T. Rex, et cetera. The zines that had a big influence on me that I always got as soon as they came out were Rock Scene, Creem, NY Rocker (where I first read about Sonic Youth), Village Voice, Soho News, East Village Eye.

What made you play drums? Was there a certain moment when you knew that you wanted to play for the rest of your life?

Like most old musicians will tell you, seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 was a life changing experience. I took drum lessons for a year when I was 12. Messed around in the basement with other neighborhood kids a bit jamming on Cream songs and ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells. When I moved out of my house at 18 I never thought about being a musician. I was a fan and went to a lot of concerts and clubs. Growing up outside of NYC was a big benefit for a music fan. I was more into art. I was really into Warhol, I ended up going to SVA [School of Visual Arts] and among other things learning how to silkscreen print. I became a fine art silkscreen printer for a living and ended up printing Warhol’s print editions and paintings in the 80’s while I was in Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. I got into a band accidentally when I moved to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1981. Then in 1982 I joined Sonic Youth. Playing drums for the rest of my life was never a plan! But here I am still rocking as a senior citizen.

Pussy Galore | L-R: Julie Cafritz, Jon Spencer, Kurt Wolf and Bob Bert | Photo by Chris Buck

“I was trying to combine the no wave style of Ikue Mori with the rock of Jerry Nolan”

What are some of the most important players that influenced your own style and what in particular did they employ in their playing that you liked?

So many, from the 60’s; Charlie Watts, Keith Moon, Dino Danelli who just died at 78 yesterday [Editor’s note: the interview was conducted December 16, 2022], Gene Krupa, Mitch Mitchell, Scott Asheton, Moe Tucker, et cetera. From the 70’s Jerry Nolan, Clem Burke, Ikue Mori, Nancy Arlen, Jay Dee Daugherty et cetera. I’m not saying I’m half as good as anyone I mentioned. I think if anything I was trying to combine the no wave style of Ikue Mori with the rock of Jerry Nolan to create my own style. Also was really influenced by the post punk drumming of Dee Pop, Hugo Burnham, ESG and Liquid Liquid.

How did you get involved with Lydia Lunch Retrovirus? Did you know about her from the early days? What was the process like for you in this band?

I was a huge fan of Lydia Lunch from the moment I set eyes on her and heard Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in 1978. I met her in 1982 at the very first show I played with Sonic Youth at CBGB. Been good friends ever since. Check out the documentary Lydia Lunch “The War Is Never Over” by Beth B. In 1983 Sonic Youth recorded the 7-inch version of ‘Death Valley 69’ with Lydia on guest vocals and then again in 1984 for the album ‘Bad Moon Rising.’

In 2012, Lydia Lunch was living in Barcelona. My wife had just died, Lydia called me up and said she was putting together a band to perform a retrospective of her musical career which there was no one better qualified to drum for than me. The main lineup ended up being me on drums, Tim Dahl on bass and Weasel Walter on guitar and music director. Lydia Lunch Retrovirus has been the best, most fun musical experience of my life. Took me to so many places where I’ve never been like Moscow, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Columbia.

Lydia Lunch Retrovirus | Photo by Jasmine Hirst

Your fantastic book released in 2019, compiling photographs and interviews you did with artists you collaborated with or that influenced you is currently out of print, can we expect a new edition soon?

Yes, the 3rd edition will come out in 2023 and will include some added material and photos that were not in the first two editions.

Would you like to discuss how Chrome Cranks got together?

The Chrome Cranks started in Cincinnati. Peter Aaron booked shows there by all the cool indie bands touring the US. The very first Chrome Cranks show was opening for Pussy Galore in Cincinnati. A few years later they relocated to NYC and recruited Jerry Teel from the Honeymoon Killers to play bass. I joined them probably around 1993, and stayed with them for a good chunk of the 90’s recording a bunch of records at our clubhouse Funhouse Studios on positively 4th Street and doing a shitload of touring!

You played on early Sonic Youth records such as ‘Confusion Is Sex,’ ‘Sonic Death,’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’. There were many good and probably bad moments in the group for you, would you like to recall some of the good ones from working on the before mentioned records?

There were no bad moments, it was an experience of a lifetime. Okay sleeping on some freezing floors could be a drag but otherwise nothing but good memories and making lifelong friends. Going on their first tour down south with Swans and going on their first tours of Europe lugging around 13 beat up guitars and touring without a van using Europasses. Opening for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on their first tour of England with Roland S. Howard in the band.

The departure from the band was led by the formation of Bewitched and Pussy Galore. Do you feel that you finally have complete freedom to do your own thing?

Bewitched was complete freedom since it was my project and it was a learning experience. We made two albums, a few singles and opened for Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard, Mekons. Pussy Galore was Jon Spencer’s trip but we were a cool fucking band with a good share of youngster drama.

What about Action Swingers?

Closest I’ve ever come to playing fast punky rock! Kind of a crazy experience. A lot of members came and went and I wasn’t involved for that long. Touring England in 92 with Howie Pyro (RIP) on bass was cool for the reason of becoming good friends with him for life. Miss him tons.

Would it be possible for you to choose a few collaborations that still warm your heart?

Definitely Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, and Kid Congo and of course Larry Hardy.

“It doesn’t get much cooler than playing in the desert with a full moon and a few bus loads of freaks tripping their asses off”

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

Well who knows where I would be at if I was never in Sonic Youth. ‘Bad Moon Rising’ is the first full album I played on. People still tell me it’s their favourite, it’s still in print and I still get royalties from it. Most memorable gig was the Gila Monster Jamboree in the Desert in January 1985 with Redd Kross, the Meat Puppets and Psi Com (Perry Farrell) put on by Desolation Center. It doesn’t get much cooler than playing in the desert with a full moon and a few bus loads of freaks tripping their asses off.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Thanks kids and stay psychedelic baby!

Klemen Breznikar


Headline photo: Naomi Petersen

Bob Bert Facebook / Instagram

2 Comments
  1. The Triumph of the Thrill says:

    Nice interview and what a storied career he’s had.

  2. Peterchen's Mondfahrt says:

    I wish they would write new music with Pussy Galore with the Right Now! line-up. This incarnation of the band had the finest chemistry of people I have ever seen & heard in a band. Well, the earlier incarnations where also great, no doubt. Coming from a long way myself I just recently came back to put the record on. I didn’t recognize earlier so much, but Right Now! is probably the best and most influential record of all time. It had some of the greatest and wildest raging riffs ever done in rock music. And those juicy riffs just work even more perfect with the crazy rhythms and artifacts from Bob Bert and Julie Cafritz. Watched again the Get Out performance on TV. “Teenage Riot” … ah, the music biz and all that shit. Contempt. Watch Julie’s fingers. And you could hear the fingers pickin’. If there is one, this ought to be the eternal formular of how rock music should be. Now bury me and die.

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