We have a ‘Rock In Peace’ feature on the Dead Boys’ much missed frontman Stiv Bators in the current issue of Vive Le Rock. VLR scribe Hugh Gulland recently did an exclusive web interview with Dead Boys’ legendary guitarist Cheetah Chrome too…
Sylvain Sylvain and Cheetah Chrome, two founding fathers of punk rock, have formed Batusis. The project marks the first-ever collaboration of two longtime friends, both of whom happen to have profoundly influenced the direction of punk rock and its aftermath: Cheetah Chrome, hard-charging guitarist of Cleveland icons Rocket From The Tombs and Dead Boys and celebrated solo rocker, and Sylvain Sylvain, wildly charismatic New York Dolls axeman and adventurous solo artist.
You and Syl have presumably known each other since back in the day, what prompted the pair of you to finally work together on Batusis?
"It was suggested to us by Syl’s manager Bill Moriarty and Frank Mauceri from Smog Veil Records. They knew we were friends, and saw we had some time on our hands, so why not do a project together? It really is long overdue, and the results have been amazing; working in the studio and doing shows with Syl and the guys is the best."
Is the project on an ‘all-new’ basis or will you be digging up a few nuggets from your respective back catalogues at shows?
"I think we’d get lynched if we didn’t do at least a couple of the old songs; we do put our own spin on each others’ hits."
The name references the Adam West ‘bat-dance’ and there’s a biker-flick theme on the EP – there appears to be a strong B-movie trash sort of aesthetic at work – does this indicate a common cultural thread you and Syl share?
"Yeah, but only one of many. We never sat down and planned to be a 60’s themed band; I think you’ll see a lot more diversity as we progress. We’ve both been rock and roll sponges for a number of years, we’ve absorbed a lot of styles."
Are you going to follow the EP with a full album?
"That is the plan, we’ll probably record sometime in late summer."
You were originally in Rocket From The Tombs, who seem to represent two divergent strands of US punk, ie one part of the band goes off to form Pere Ubu who tend to be perceived as part of the ‘arty’ or experimental punk set along with Patti, Television etc, while the Dead Boys tend to be pegged as the more straightforward rock’n’roll types more in line with the Heartbreakers etc etc. Was there a tension within RFTT along these lines? Did audiences know what to make of Rocket when you first formed? How did the reunion tours go?
"Actually, I’m still a member of Rocket – we just put out our first new single in 35 years a couple of weeks ago! The tension was definitely there in the beginning, which was one thing that made the music so dark; we weren’t comfortable, we were very edgy around one another. At first that carried over into the reunions, but things have mellowed considerably in the past few years. We can still explode on short notice though, trust me! As for the audience back then, you never saw so many jaws on the floor; we scared people."
The Dead Boys, as happened with many of your contemporaries, seemed to hit a wall as far as what was going to be commercial outside of the confines of the NY scene, ie ‘New Wave’ was going to be palatable to a mass audience whereas Bowery Punk was not – do you think it could have panned out differently career-wise, say if the label or record producers had handled it differently?
"I think the label definitely had their heads up their asses when it came to the Dead Boys, and Punk in general. They saw every one of our strengths as a weakness. They were using 1950’s thinking to sell something new and untried, which has lasted far longer than they ever anticipated. And far longer than most of their labels and careers, I might add…"
A flick through Legs and Gillian’s Please Kill Me would indicate that historically, you seem to have been pretty deep in some of the darker corners of the punk scene – hanging out with Sid and Nancy etc etc. Given the level of casualties that have added up over the years, for yourself to still be healthy and creating music, I’m imagining you’d have had to take a conscious step back from that level of craziness? What has been your coping mechanism?
"Well, in 1995 some very good friends, Hilly Kristal and Genya Ravan, talked me into going into rehab, which nobody had been able to do . I got off of hard drugs, but still drank and smoked for the next 12 years. In 2007, after my mother’s death, I had a relapse, which luckily lasted only a couple of months. I gave up everything then. Since then, my family and music are my coping mechanism, though I find that without the drink and drugs I really don’t need one. That was the cause of most of the stress in my life!"
What’s going to happen with the tour, are you going to reschedule the dates?
"Oh yeah, we will definitely reschedule some UK shows, even if I have to swim!"