Interview with Cheetah Chrome of the Batusis: Dancing To Their Own Beat

Rock and roll team-ups are nothing new, but every once in a while you find one that has that special chemistry that just blows everything else out of the water. The pairing of New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and Cheetah Chrome, guitarist with The Dead Boys and Rocket From The Tombs, is way cooler than anything I can think of in the specific genre.

Mixing a turbo charged twin guitar attack with pounding backbeats and monster bass, this foursome roars back from a time where gritty rock and roll ruled the planet and dominated the airwaves long before the term “punk” was even a thought. And with their years of experience, the group plays raw, energetic music while favoring a no bullshit style that sidesteps previous Chrome and Sylvain territory.

The new self titled EP is out and available and shows that these rock and rollers still have so much to offer the music world. I spoke with Cheetah, who was at home in Nashville, Tennessee, about the band, the music, and the brand new experience of dancing to their own beat.

Are you guys Batman fans or just big dance fans?

I say we’re just a couple of goofy old rock and rollers (laughs) and you know, we’re acting silly in the studio. You know, it wasn’t anything in particular that had to do with loving Batman per se. We were listening to a playback of ‘Blues Theme’ (On the new self titled EP) and the instrumental was just so ‘60s and we just started laughing and doing that crazy dance. We said, ‘What’s the name of that dance again? The Batusi? And we said, ‘Aw shit! That’s the name of the band!’ (Laughs) And it just kind of snowballed from there. Of course some people take it literally. Next thing you know they have us riding around in the Batmobile and all that stuff! But, it’s not like we sit around all day watching Batman reruns, trust me! My son is the big Batman fan! (Laughs)

You and Sylvain have been lifelong friends, what kept such a great band idea from happening sooner?

Well, there were various things. It was never a convenient time; we both had other projects and stuff. Sometimes I was too busy having a drug habit and Sylvain was moving around, playing, you know, just various life things. We got to see each other occasionally and just hang out. We got to jam periodically, but ugh, as far as putting a band together, it takes a lot of planning and effort. We’ve managed to keep tabs on each other and check in, but it’s not like if you grow it together from the start.

Is it fun going into the studio with your own thing after years of other people’s expectations for other things like The Dead Boys and The NY Dolls?

This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in the recording studio. Nashville Producer Ken Coomer (Formerly of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo) knew Thommy was coming in and he pretty much wired the room for sound. And of course Ken has worked with Steve Earle, Tim Finn, and Will Hoge. He had that room set up for drummers and bass players the minute we walked in. And then we got the guitars sounds and man, it just exploded. It sounded so big. It went really fast, it was fun and no pressure with a ‘lets just see what happens with this.’ Working with Sylvain is great because he likes to get right into it. You know, he’s shouting out changes and we’re like (laughs) following along by the seat of our pants and it gets chaotic, but we really loved it and we really work well. And the other great producer we had was Charlie Brocco, who has worked with George Harrison and ELO.

Who are the touring guys in—is it Batusis or The Batusis?

It’s The Batusis. I don’t know who keeps coming up with Batusis, but I like The in front of it. Without the The everybody calls us Batoosis and that sounds like some sort of disease you get—you know like, ‘Man, he died from Batoosis!’ (Laughs) I mean The Dead Boys was originally just Dead Boys back in the day, but even I call it The Dead Boys now. I’m still fighting to keep that ‘the’ in there. But yea, besides Sylvain and myself, we have Sean Koos (ex-Blackhearts) on bass and Lez Warner (of the Cult) on drums. Keeping the Joan Jett/Billy Idol connections there. (Laughs)

You played guitar on Ronnie Spector’s debut solo album, Siren, right? Who else have you played with?

Yeah, that’s right, with Thommy Price. That was the first time we played together. We did two songs together and he did the album. I did the single ‘Darlin’’ and then we did the Ramones cover ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.’ Also, the one that nobody really knows about is that I played guitar on a Ramones song. I did ‘Come Back, Baby,’ I play acoustic guitar on it—never got credit of course but nobody ever did back then.

I picture you more at home in NYC than in Nashville; do you get involved in the Nashville scene?

Well, I got married in 2000 and then of course in 2001 9/11 happened, and I just wanted to get away from the hustle, kind of just disappear. As far as the scene, I did a bit when I first moved here. The rock and roll scene in Nashville was kind of stagnant. A lot of kids trying to be different (laughs) and it was kind of like the old CBGBS thing, you know? Except on a smaller scale and not as good. But then at some point bands like Kings Of Leon snuck in there and next thing you know all these bands are huge and I missed the boat on all that. (Laughs) Honestly, I don’t go out much anymore. I’ve got a son and I spend enough time in bars on the road with the band, you know? And I’m usually playing or doing something, so when I have the time off I just hang out with my family.

I heard Mother Nature literally blew The Batusis off the European tour?

Well yea, in a couple different ways. First there was that volcano thing—which for us was strictly an ass-covering move because when you have something happen like that, you see people missing gigs at the last-minute disasters. There’s a period where if you pull out, you only lose a bit of money, but if you keep going you’re gonna lose a lot of money (laughs) and that’s why it looked like a crapshoot. We would have been stuck over there anyhow with the way it turned out with flight restrictions. Actually it turned out to be a good thing for me because secondly, flood here (Nashville) hit the day I would have been in Glasgow, so I was able to be home with my family. We were very lucky, as we didn’t have too much water damage. I have a creek in my yard but it’s not connected to any major waterway. If it had been, I would have been underwater as well. Places literally a quarter mile away were just taken out, you know? Anyhow, we’re going to reschedule things and get back over there as soon as we can.

What kind of guitars are you and Sylvain playing now?

Sylvain still has his Gretch’s and he’s been using Les Pauls and he has this little Les Paul copy that he found and just really loves. I’m using my SG Gothic and BFG Les Paul and a John Lennon acoustic, which I love for in-store appearances. We don’t use acoustics when playing the shows.

I heard that Sylvain Sylvain gave Stiv Bators some solid advice before The Dead Boys inked their first deal.What was it?

Well we were getting all these offers, and, we had that indecision and we didn’t know who to sign with or how to proceed forward. We had the guy from Max’s (Max’s Kansas City) offering and we had Hilly (CBGB’s) and all these other record people, but Hilly was the one who was putting his money where his mouth was, and Stiv called Sylvain saying, ‘Im confused, what should we do, what should we do? The only one that’s coming through is Hilly and we’re not sure we want to sign with him.’ And Sylvain just shouted into the phone, ‘Sign it!’ (Laughs) And the rest, well, you can take it from there.

The Batusis’ new EP is out on Smog Veil Records,, and The Batusis will be performing an early 9:30 p.m. show Friday, July 23 at Europa,, in Brooklyn, NY, before heading over to Generation Records for an in-store appearance, and then on Saturday, July 24, the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ.