Nashville Cream: You guys just got back from the UK, correct?
Cheetah Chrome: No. That got canceled because of that volcano.
NC: Oh wow, that must have been disappointing.
CC: Yeah we were pretty bummed but I actually would have been arriving in Glasgow the day we got a flood here. So it was a good thing I was here, actually.
NC: Did you make it through the flood alright?
CC: Yeah. We had some rising waters. There was groundwater comin’ in, but nothin’ major — got a couple rugs wet and that’s about it. It was a mess to clean up but there was no damage, really.
NC: So that would make the Nashville shows the kickoff of the whole tour?
CC: Yeah this is the first gig of the tour.
NC: And have you guys done any gigs yet?
CC: We did South by Southwest and then we did a record store appearance.
NC: And you’re doing a record store thing here too, aren’t you guys doing an in-store at Grimey’s?
CC: Yeah, we’re just gonna do a couple of songs acoustic.
NC: Do you shop at Grimey’s?
CC: I go there once in a while. To tell you the truth, most of the stuff I buy I get online just because it’s obscure, but I go over there and browse around once in a while.
NC: When you say obscure, what kind of stuff do you mean?
CC: Oh, I listen to, you know, like Alex Harvey, all stuff [from] like 1975 and earlier. I don’t really listen to much new stuff. Most of the time I’m so busy working on things, I’m more working on music than I am really listening to it. I listen to the radio in the car, that’s about it. I listen to more music on road trips than I ever do [anywhere else].
NC: What brought you to Nashville?
CC: I had an old bass player that lived here, and we were looking to do some demos. He told me that there were some good studios that he knew, so I came down to do the demos and I ended up liking the place and decided to stick around for a couple of weeks, then I ended up meeting my wife and I’ve been here since 1996 now.
NC: How did people first react to your presence here?
CC: I had a lot of friends here, believe it or not, that I knew from New York that had moved here, so I got accepted right away by people. I knew a lot of people, they introduced me to people, and you know, the whole town’s full of musicians, so it’s very friendly and nice, and I like it. New York people were like, “Nashville?!” You know, because it’s got this reputation for being like, you know, this country-music backward place. In reality, it’s up there with New York or L.A. as far as restaurants or stuff to do. But I think that’s different now, I think people realize that Nashville is a pretty cool town. It’s changed a lot in 15 years.
NC: How has it changed since you first found yourself here?
CC: Oh, God … well, Cool Springs wasn’t there yet [laughs]. It’s gotten built up a lot, you know, it really has doubled in size probably. If anything, it’s gotten a bit better. It’s one of the few places that’s actually improved all the time. The new stadium is great, downtown has changed a lot, so you know, it’s definitely been growing, but we still don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood.
NC: What about culturally though? In terms of what the culture is for musicians here?
CC: I don’t see that much difference, I mean, it seems to me that the music part has always been pretty consistent. I guess there’s more rock ’n’ roll bands now. You know, when I first got here there was Lucy’s Record Store, and the Exit/In. The End wasn’t even there yet. There wasn’t that many places to play, and you know, everybody was in six bands (laughs) but I guess that’s still true. And you know, all of a sudden you’ve got bands like Kings of Leon and Paramore coming out of here. And guys like Jack White living here, and Kid Rock. But I guess it’s got kind of more of a rock ’n’ roll scene [now], but I never play here.
NC: Why is that? Why do you never play here?
CC: Well, it went through a period in 2000-2001 where you’d either draw 100 people or no people. It was very inconsistent and very frustrating to get psyched up for a gig that had nobody coming for no good reason. Then the next time you’d play you’d have the place packed and the next time you’d have nobody, it just became a very frustrating place to play, you know? And the market here for what I do isn’t really all that big — at least it wasn’t then.
NC: Why do you think that is?
CC: I don’t know, I guess maybe because it’s just one of those towns like New York where everybody’s too cool to go see other people play. … It could just be because everybody’s got gigs on the same night. It could be for any number of reasons, but it happened often enough that it was like, you know, it’s good enough to play here with Rocket [From the Tombs], or with Batusis — major stuff I’m doing and not just frustrating myself with trying to play a couple of times a month.
NC: What kind of anticipation do you have for these gigs this week, in terms of playing for the local audience?
CC: I don’t know what to expect from Nashville ever. Rocket’s had a pretty fair turnout, but that was at Exit/In, we’re playing at the Rutledge, which is a newer club, at least for a band like us. I’m not sure how well-known [it is] — it seems to do pretty well with the singer-songwriter crowd — I don’t know how it’s gonna go with the rock thing, but my old drummer Johnny Silver that owns the place, so we’re gonna play there. [Also], Frank Sass is the best sound guy in town, so why would we play anywhere else? I’m hoping people will break out of the Springwater, End, Basement thing and give the Rutledge a try.
NC: Do you kind of keep to your ear to the ground at all in terms of the active punk scene that’s around town now?
CC: I wish I could — I went out to see a couple bands play a couple years ago when Richard Lloyd came to town. I don’t even know who they were but it was pretty dismal. You know what I mean? It was almost like there were guys up there playing and they know how to play, but they would try to play like they didn’t know how to play, just for the sake of making noise or something. I couldn’t understand it, because it was pretty obvious that they could play. But they were like trying to act like they couldn’t or something, you know? That’s just kind of pretentious to me. So that part of it was kind of like, “Well I don’t even really see the point in this.” There probably are some really good punk bands out there. I don’t go out that much, you know, I quit drinking, and I’ve got a 5-year-old son, so I spend most of my time either doing music or spending time with my family. I spend enough time in bars on the road.
NC: How do you feel about the country music? How do you take it to being surrounded by it?
CC: I never really see it that much. I made that remark in the Gibson [interview] about being able to get away from country music which is a relief I guess, Which was taken kind of out of context. It’s not that I don’t like country music, I just don’t like the cookie cutter crap. Country music is definitely good and got its place, it ain’t necessarily my cup of tea, but there is stuff that I do like. Johnny Cash, I love. Things like that. A lot of the older stuff I like a lot. But the new stuff — Toby Keith — please.
NC: Have you ever been approached about doing any of those kind of gigs?
CC: No. Never. Which is good, I mean it would be almost tempting just to get in there and stir shit up. But you’ve gotta be grandfathered in for that crap here, you know? And, uh, my grandfather’s been dead for about 100 years. But yeah, the country music thing, it’s great that it’s here — it makes for a great vibe for the city. The history is great. My house used to be a recording studio. Garth Brooks did his demos in my basement. So yeah, it’s part of the vibe and all that, obviously, but I don’t play country music and I don’t listen to country music.
NC: So the bug hasn’t gotten you?
CC: No, no. If I hear anything, the stuff I like — the last thing I liked was countrified American recordings of Johnny Cash. Then I see Lady Antebellum on TV, and it turns me off about every six months. I wish the Dixie Chicks were back, I loved them. They were genuinely good. And I guess Trace Adkins ain’t too bad.
NC: You were in New York to witness the birth of punk. What would you say are some of the misconceptions people have of that time and place, and of that genre?
CC: To tell you the truth, the New York scene is pretty accurately covered. It was a very exciting time. There was a lot going on — at least by the time I got there. I think the biggest misconceptions are more of the early days in Cleveland — that it was this breeding ground, and it wasn’t. It was like three boring bands playing in their basements [and] never did gigs. It was not an exciting scene. And once I got to New York it was great. And you know, 20 years later the Rocket from the Tombs stuff all of a sudden is huge, but at the time we couldn’t get a gig with it. So it was playing for ourselves and our friends, it wasn’t the scene.
NC: So people didn’t really have any foresight that this would last for decades and decades?
CC: No. I never thought I’d be touring with Rocket from the Tombs in 30 years. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be recording with them in 30 years. We’re doing a new record next month.
NC: How’s that going?
CC: So far, so good, I guess. A lot of the rhythm tracks have been done. We’re doing it in shifts this time because of my schedule. David and Steve and Craig are doing the bass, drums and some scratch vocals, and me and Richard are coming in in August to do guitars.
NC: Why do you think that the punk and proto-punk stuff is something that’s still so popular and continues to have a resurgence every few years?
CC: Well, the good stuff is always gonna last. Any kind of music that’s good — it’ll find a way to stick around. Although the punk thing, I wouldn’t doubt that there’s a resurgence of bands, because there were so many good bands. And a lot of them have just been — because they’re not touring lately or haven’t gotten any press lately —forgotten. Kind of like Chuck Berry did, you know? I’m just appalled by the way kids don’t know who the hell Chuck Berry is. You have to explain it to them. To me, there’s a logical line between Chuck Berry and punk. I guess probably because, in the early ’70s, all of the bands covered Chuck Berry songs, so none of the punks wanted to do it. He stopped being cool for 10 years, and that’s all it takes in the music business. But bands like The Stranglers and The Damned and all that, could make a real resurgence any time because they’re so good. But there’s a lot of bands that fell by the wayside that weren’t that good [laughs].
NC: Who would you say, in your opinion, is the most underrated punk band from that era?
CC: Most of them were so overrated [laughs]. That’s a tough one. Probably The Dead Boys. We were underrated back then. Very. There were a lot of [bands] that didn’t get the push they should have, and if the press didn’t like you back then, forget it. They could kill you. That’s what they did with us.
NC: So tell me about the Batusis project. How did it come about?
CC: Well, Syl [Sylvain] and I have been friends for years. He’d jam with me if he was passing through town, and I’d jam with him if I was passing through Atlanta. Frank Mauceri from Smog Veil Records and Bill, Syl’s manager, got to talking one day, and were saying, “Cheetah’s on the road, Syl’s on the road, we should get them to do something.” We weren’t planning on getting together that quickly, but they brought it up to me and they brought it up to Phil and we were like, “Hell yeah, let’s do it.” … It took about six months to get the whole thing together to do it.
NC: Just to get everyone like in the same place working, and all that?
CC: Well yeah, ’cause we wanted to do it right. At first we were like, “Should we do it in New York? Should we do it in Atlanta? Should we do it in Nashville?” Nashville’s got everything, whereas Atlanta and New York don’t. Once that got planned, I called Ken Coomer to get a recommendation on a studio, and he was like, “Man, I wanna produce this.” So I said, "OK, let’s do it." So that took time. But it just snowballed from there. Once I got Tommy [Price] and Enzo [Penizzotto] from the Blackhearts in, everybody’s schedule was clear, and we had the week to do it, we went into the studio and it kind of exploded, it was great.
NC: Had you played with them as a rhythm section before?
CC: Oh yeah, yeah. I’d been doing gigs with the Blackhearts backing me up in New York for the last three years. They know all my songs and we’ve done 20 gigs together, at least, up there, and we’re a tight unit on our own, so to get those guys in with me and Syl was really fun.
NC: Are you guys doing any of those songs at these shows coming up?
CC: Yeah, me and Syl are both doing a little bit of our [solo material]. We’re working on a couple of new things, a couple Dead Boys things, couple Dolls things, kind of mixing it up, you know. We’re recording the rest of the [Batusis] record in November. We want to make sure it’s good. And we’re also doing some live shows in there. We’re doing this leg, and then another batch in October on the west coast and Texas and all that.
NC: You’ve known Syl for a while. How many times have you worked creatively with him?
CC: The only time we worked creatively was probably around 1987 and 1988. We had a very loose blues jam going, like, weekly, that was me, him, John Spacely and a couple of friends. We’d get together and just play for like two to three hours a couple times a week. I think we might have done one show. We were doing Yardbirds songs and stuff like that. Just for fun — for shits and giggles. It sounded great. I wish we had a tape of it. But that was for fun, this is the first time we’ve ever collaborated [professionally]. We fly by the seat of our pants as much as we can. It’s very similar, the way we work — it’s real easy. We just both love to play and we’ll go in and do it, y’know?
NC: How far into the future are you looking with this band? How long term is it gonna be?
CC: As long as it’s fun. We’re not putting any limits on it or projecting anything on it, it’s just what it is. We’re doing it now and Syl’s still doing Dolls and I’m still doing Rocket. No reason not to do both. I’m not with any band that’s constantly working, and I enjoy doing both, so why not do both?
NC: The EP has a real live feel to it. Did you guys write by getting together to rock out and jam? What was the writing process?
CC: It was pick some songs that you haven’t recorded, everybody bring two songs, and I had “Big Cat Stomp” and “Bury You Alive,” which I’d been doing with the Blackhearts. So they knew the songs, but Syl had never heard them. And then Syl had, “What You Lack in Brains,” the bare bones of it, and “Blues Theme” was one that he had covered that he wanted to do. He thought it’d be really fun and we’re both big Davie Allan fans, so that was a no-brainer right there. So we got into the studio, and it was basically show Syl my stuff and do ‘em, and then “What You Lack in Brains” we just kind of fleshed out there while we were playing it. And it was great because Syl was just calling, “chorus, verse” and we were just following him. It worked great because it really kept the feel spontaneous, and that one just kept building you know, it came together very quick and really had a great feel right off the bat. And next thing we’re doing hand claps and cowbell and all kinds of fun stuff.
NC: Are you going about this any differently than you would have any record in the 70s, since it has kind of that straight ahead guitar, bass, drums kind of thing?
CC: No, not really. We know more what we want now I guess. We’re all a little bit more experienced in the studio. But as far as the way we did it, it was very organic, just a bunch of friends getting together and playing. It wasn’t like any tension or any high expectations or anything negative about it at all, we just walked in and had a great time.
NC: What was it like working with Ken Coomer?
CC: Oh, great. Being a drummer himself, when he heard Thommy was coming, he got us this room in Westwood Studio. It’s a big kind of a barn room, and him and Thommy play the exact same kit, so he had that thing just wired up to a T. You’d hit that thing and it sounded like a rocket taking off. So when we started playing, the sound is so good that it was just a blast.
NC: Is it mainly live, though?
CC: All the rhythm tracks are live. I had to do a few guitar overdubs, but yeah, a good part of it was live.
NC: How long did the whole thing take?
CC: We did two days recording, and two days doing overdubs and vocals and mixing.
NC: Did you already have a history with Ken?
CC: Well, I worked with him once on a Tammy Faye Starlight session one time. That was about five years ago, and I really liked the way he worked and I liked working with him. We’d bump into each other once in a while, but this is the first time we ever did a full on project.
NC: Is the world ever gonna get to see the release of your still-vaulted solo record of the mid-‘90s?
CC: Oh, is that still remembered [laughs]? Yeah, you know, I’m thinking about it. Since Hilly Kristal had the masters, and he passed away a couple years ago, we’ve actually been talking finding them. They still have to be finished. But yeah I’d be real happy to do that. Maybe next year I’ll be able to talk about doing that. It’s not dead yet.