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- Posted on Oct 7th 2011 4:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Kathy Ward Thompson
Over time, the band's legend grew, and after reuniting in the 2000s for a series of tours, the Tombs crew got together in Cleveland in August 2010 to record their first proper album, 'Barfly,' due out Oct. 11. Despite lineup changes -- most notably the addition of Television guitar god Richard Lloyd, who subs for the late Peter Laughner -- Rocket still explode much as they did in their proto-punk heyday.
In an interview with Spinner, guitarist Cheetah Chrome -- a member of the Dead Boys post-Rocket faction -- discussed recording the album, making peace with his band mates and coming to terms with what might have been.
After 36 years, what prompted you guys to make a proper album?
We kind of convened in Cleveland. We're scattered all over the place; we always meet up in Cleveland. We just decided to sit down and see if we can write. We got in a friend of ours' house that he was fixing up. It was a place he bought and wasn't moved into yet. It might have just been an investment property. There was nothing in the house. We just had tiny amps and sat down in a circle and stared at each other and said, "What do you got?" Everyone brought in riffs, and Dave called it "the butcher house," because if you brought in this riff, it would end up sounding nothing like it.
In two or three days, we wrote like 10 songs. One of the best ones was when we had nothing. Everyone was like, "I have nothing left, no more ideas." And we started playing, and next thing you know we have another song.
Was that how it was back in the '70s?
[Back then], Dave was starting to write lyrics. He really was just starting. I was just starting to write music for songs. Pete was writing things. We just happened to be all of us coming into a wealth of ideas all at once. All three of us had material. [Dave's] lyrics fit my songs. My music would fit a set of his lyrics. We were able to finish each other's songs. It was much different. We didn't sit down and try to write. It just came together. It was very organic. It was how a band should be.
With this record, did you worry at all about tarnishing your legend?
Nah, if we felt that way about it, we wouldn't have done it. We were very much in the now, and having [drummer] Steve [Mehlman] and Richard as members now -- both of those guys now have been in Rocket longer than anyone but me and Dave and [bassist] Craig [Bell]. To have that lineup and work together, it was a different inspiration. Luckily, it still sounds like the same band.
As far as we were concerned, it was much more about this band than the old band. Maybe the first week of touring, back in 2003, we might have been trying to live up to a legacy, to the reputation or whatever, but I think we've proved ourselves pretty well on those last couple of tours. We were more into the creative process than the legacy process, or any of that.
There have been a lot of stories about you guys not getting along. Is that still the case?
That part is pretty well behind us, I think. I can still flare up at a moment's notice. We're all volatile people with tempers, but as far as deep-seated grudges, that s--- is out of the way. We get along. That 2006 tour -- that week of gigs -- we kind of gelled on that one. There was no unpleasantness, band-wise, that week at all. There have been a couple of blow-ups, but it's not a big part of us.
It seems like a few blow-ups would be helpful to the band's chemistry.
Oh yeah, it has an edge to it. We're very honest with each other. Sometimes we're not the most polite people. You put that along with being egotistical musicians ...
Back in the day, Dave's lyrics were pretty dark and nihilistic. How do you think his point of view has changed since then?
It's the same. I'm surprised how much it's the same. It's, like, very little Pere Ubu influence in there. It sounds like Rocket From the Tombs lyrics. He sang gibberish at the rehearsals, and then we worked up all the stuff, and we recorded the album in shifts, where literally the bass and drums went in first, and then Dave did the vocals, and then Richard and I added the guitars.
People have described Rocket as a combination of the bands it spawned: The Dead Boys and Pere Ubu. Can you hear both in there?
Oh yeah. I always could. It was pretty obvious that me and [drummer Johnny] Blitz had the rock 'n' roll side to us. We didn't care. We wanted to be Aerosmith, but we were at a Stooges level. Peter was kind of in the middle. He was kind of the guy that held it together. Dave had the more artistic thing. He liked rock 'n' roll but kind of thought it was pedestrian. So when we would rehearse, Peter was the guy in the middle that made it all fit together.
If this group of people we have now were to all come from different directions and meet up in a room back in the '70s, I'm not sure if it would have come out sounding like Rocket From the Tombs or not. Because of the first band, we sound the way we do. We tried to recreate that sound, and after that we learned to play together, that's how this album came about. But I don't see two bands coming out of this band. It's like almost a reverse process. You have all these people from different bands coming together.
After Rocket split up and you were in the Dead Boys, did you listen to Pere Ubu? They were so different from the Dead Boys.
Rocket had such an acrimonious blow-up and break-up that, no, I didn't listen to Pere Ubu for years. Probably about 10 years. Then I'd hear a couple things [and think], "That's pretty good." Then I'd realize, "Oh, s---." Then I heard Dave sing. "F---. I know who that is." I'm sure he didn't listen to the Dead Boys.
Do you figure you guys will record additional albums?
I don't know. We never think that far ahead. It took us from 2006 until now to get this one done. We might be having to bring mobile units into the nursing home.
Do you ever wonder what might have happened if Rocket didn't break up the first time around?
My main thing is, I think, "What if we went in a van and played New York in 1975." If we'd played CBGB, things could have been very much different. What broke us up originally was frustration, being in Cleveland and not getting anywhere. We couldn't even get any place in Cleveland whereas in New York, we would have been accepted, like the Dead Boys were and Pere Ubu was. So there's always the "what if," but it didn't happen, so there's not much point now wasting too much thought on it.