Editor's Note: Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost will release Born There this Sunday at Off Broadway. For this week's Riverfront Times, Josh Levi talked to Reuter, but the man cannot be confined to our limited print space. What follows is the rest of the interview, complete with old music and new music to listen to.
Josh Levi: Your friend, Jessica Douglass, mentioned that she was talking to you the other night about...
Bob Reuter: About the rock & roll lifestyle...being fucking idiotic? Yeah. Something like that? It was horrible, you know? It's like a Wednesday show with like four bands, and it started out with - I don't know, it looked like a couple of hundred people, and when the time went by it started dwindling and dwindling and it was an out of town band so we couldn't let them just go last and play for nobody. So we had to play for the smaller crowd, and I was just walking back and forth out in front going, "This is fucking stupid!"
Well it sounds like you've got your work cut out for you. How long have you been doing your radio show?
I think it started in 2002. I used to just go there and use the computer because I knew the guy Tony Renner who was the music director. And I would come in everyday to check my e-mail and stuff like that, and it got to be like I was working there only I wasn't doing anything. Next they're trying to talk me into doing a radio show, and I was like "No, I can't do that. I can't do that." and finally they talked me into it. Now they can't get me to stop.
So they kind of motivated you into it?
Yeah, I mean I did not want to do it. I said I don't know enough to do that.
I wanted to talk about the recording of Born There and how that got together - you had Mario Viele (of the Pubes/Sex Robots) - he came down [from New York] for that?
We had already done one album and that was extremely lo-fi. We did it in my kitchen at the time with just four microphones. Chris [Baricevic] was playing drums. He had a snare drum and cooking utensils on the stove and he was banging on that. Then there was a big shift. Chris temporarily left the band and then we got a real drummer with a bass drum and everything, Bass Amp, and that sort of sent it into a rock & roll direction. I think that was an extra tie to Mario. He plays with Mario in the Sex Robots so it was pretty exciting. Everyone in the band is a little expert at what they do, you know? So everybody is adding their little bits, and it's really cool.
Do you play strictly vinyl?
It's about 90% vinyl.
You said Alley Ghost came together four years ago or so? I remember getting the first CD that Chris handed me a while ago. How did Alley Ghost start?
It started with me going into the hospital to get heart surgery and Mat who was a big fan of the radio show... He's a weird guy. He just started visiting me in the hospital. I had met him very briefly and he told me he loved my radio show, but he showed up and I'm laying in a hospital all morphine'd up and shit and he comes in.
It's really like if you're just meeting him for the first time - he's a weird looking cat - he's got a shaved head and he just started telling me about his history and I'm laying there all drugged up and I'm thinking "Now why do I care about this kid's history?" And he started just telling me his whole story about how he played in this group Nineteen when he was fourteen and I started getting into it, you know? Especially with the drugs.
And then came that crowning moment where, all drugged up I turned to him and said, "Can you empty my pee bottle?" On the first album, there's a little thing: "I've had this man's pee on my hands."
You've got a lot of energy in these Alley Ghost songs.
Yeah. It's really strange because I'm not physically where I used to be so a lot of the times I'm still seated when I play like some old blues guy and then Mat and Chris - they're practically leaping around the stage. And everybody says it's a great band to watch because there are so many things to look at.
So you wanna hear an exciting part about the story? Yeah!
Okay, so you know Chris Powers [bassist of Alley Ghost]? So the guy who was doing the recording out there at Firebrand, he's like "Make yourself at home" and Chris was like, "You mind if I make a few changes here?" So he goes out to his car, and he does this all one thing at a time. "You mind if I bring in a couple of colored clothes?" and he puts these down. "Mind if I light some candles" and he turns off the light in his little section, and he's got candles going then he's burning incense, and he's got four bowls. One of them has almonds in it and one of them has three different types of grapes: purprle grapes, green grapes and red grapes. And I'm back in this little isolation booth and I just barely saw that going on and later on, were mixing the stuff down and Bass Amp was like looking out the window to where we're playing and he goes "Aww man, there's a fire out there."
And one of the candles had fallen over in this plastic cup. It was a rainbow colored cup with little balloons that spelled out Christopher. It was like, "This plastic is melting in this really expensive studio!"
Later on at the very end, we're mixing it down and Chris Powers has already left. So we're talking and Bass Amp goes, "You know it was kind of weird the other night, you know? I look at Chris and everything's normal and I look back a few minutes later and he's got his pants off." And I was like "What?" Because I was back in the isolation room. And he goes, "Yeah. I look over and he's in his underpants with his shirt and he's just playing away on his standup bass."
Then Chris Baricevic goes "Yeah, but it's not as weird as you think" - becacuse he explained it to me. He was kind of humping the bass, and it was uncomfortable because he had all this stuff in his pockets so he just took his pants off and played. I mean who am I to question Chris Powers? He's the one guy in the band... he could come into a gig without having been to practice and play along on songs he's never heard before. He's amazing. He came up with all these little ideas - "I've got an idea for a little melody for the background singing here" And it'd be amazing! It'd be like something off of Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper's thrown in on this garage rock stuff, you know?
There was also a fight between me and Mat - a near fight. I'm more in the folk tradition in that I don't always play things exactly the same. And Mat likes to be real professional and at one point he just yelled, "You never play it the same way twice!!" and I'm like "Yeah, what's your point?!"
Is it like these young guys are practically dragging you on tour?
Yeah. Okay, I don't know exactly how long I've been playing, but I do know that I had one of my first band practices on Super Bowl Sunday, the very first one. So I think there's been like 48 Super Bowls, in which case, that's how long I've been playing. But I've never really toured more than two nights in a row all that time because you never used to do that in the old days. This is a recent thing where young guys are going out touring other cities when you're fifteen and they've been doing it. They are sort of taking me along and I'm like "Is this going to be one of them deals where we have to sleep on people's floors?" and they go "Uh, we will, but you won't" and so far that's been true every place we've played out of town. They made sure that I had a bed, and that's pretty cool.
Are you anticipating it? Ready to tour behind this record?
Yeah, we did our first couple of days. We played Carbondale and Chattanooga and that was pretty cool. And I assume you've done the road before?
It can drive you crazy!
How many people in the van?
Five. And I found myself, to fill up the time, I found myself reading the minds of the other people in the van. And then I would get mad at what I thought they were thinking.
You've already gone on tour?
Just a two-day thing just to warm up. Then were doing three days at the end of this month, and were going to try to build it up. I think this next time we're playing Oklahoma City and Tulsa and some place in Texas. What's interesting is when Chris [Baricevic] talks to people out of town and he tells them what's going on and how they're backing me up and I'm 60 years old, and I started playing garage rock in 1966 and I've been doing all this stuff - they go, "I'm intrigued. Send me your recordings." and I think it's hilarious because I've lived this relatively painful life and then all of a sudden I hit a certain age and it turns into this great back story to sell what I'm doing and it's like, "Who would've thought." Speaking of your musical past, Chris recently released the Dinosaurs material on Bandcamp. It's kind of garage rock, but it has proto-punk elements, punk energy.
You know what's strange about that? When it was out, this was 1978. This was when the radio was playing the hell out of Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac, and everyone just thought we sucked shit. And I was like, "OK, we suck shit, but I like what we're doing." I just acknowledged that human beings didn't like it, and now I've waited long enough, and I find this generation who likes stuff that sucks shit.
Do you find the change in the attitude towards that type of music now...
I find it befuddling. King Khan and the BBQ Show were supposed to play here and they didn't show up. It turned out they were arrested or something. When Steve, the owner of Off Broadway, came out and told everybody, "Okay, they're not going to be here." Everybody just went, "Aww...well okay." and I just thought, "What's wrong with you kids? In the old days we would've rioted! We would've busted this place up! What's wrong with you?!"
You're out a lot - Are there any bands in Saint Louis that you feel strongly towards?
There's a bunch of them. I've been kind of looking for rock & roll bands. There aren't a lot of them that are regular rock n roll or like the Vultures were before they broke up.
One of my favorite episodes of your radio show, you had them in the studio. There's something missing - that type of rock & roll.
Ashley [Hohman of The Vultures/Doom Town/Tone Rodent], after she was on my show, she was like fifteen or sixteen years old and the next time I saw her she goes, "We just wrote a song thanking you because after I was on your show, due to you I decided to drop out of high school." And I was like "Oh my god, what?" She was like, "Let's face it, if I want to be a rock & roller, what do I need high school for?" and I couldn't think of any reason. Now she's a rock & roller. And if that fails she can always become a prostitute or sell drugs.
You feel like there's some missing rock & roll element?
I've noticed that when I go to El Lenador, a lot of times you can tell... You just walk in and you can tell if it's a St. Louis band or not. If they've got sort of a polish to them and you can stretch your imagination and imagine them getting air play, you go, "You're not from St. Louis, are you?" There was a group that played here not too long ago [Bloody Knives], and they came out... Normally if you just put it on paper, that they had one guy who played synthesizers and they had another guy who played guitar - that would not make for something I'd be interested in. But they just attacked it so murderously. I went up to them afterwards and I went, "You guys are good enough to be from here!" You get that feeling when it's a local band...you can tell. They've got their whole soul into it. That's true though, don't you think?
What's is the stupidest thing about rock & roll?
Where do I begin? In this town, most players range from about... I'm just throwing this out there, seventeen or eighteen on up through about 35. So a lot of these are like ostensibly, kind of grown people. The idea that they would be out on a Wednesday night playing in some little dump of a club with nobody there. Turned up to ear bleed level. Getting drunk on their butts... The other night, I was really tired, and I was like, "You know, I just want to be home in a hot bath, watching an old movie or something. Why are we here?" But you know, we've got to now, I can't just go home. When I stopped playing with those guys who were my age and started playing with these younger guys our very first gig together was at CBGBs on a Monday night and we didn't start playing until 11 o'clock. And I thought, "If I was playing for 'grown-ups' there would be nobody there on a Monday night, starting at 11 o'clock." Chris had gotten our CDs around enough, that there was like a bunch of young kids, and I just know half the crowd wasn't even 21 and it's a bar. And they're all singing along to these songs that I wrote 30 years ago when I was fucked up. And I felt all of a sudden - I felt like I was in a movie and all my dead friends that used to play with me... I just wanted to go, "Hey, Frankie - You checking this out? This is pretty cool!" It felt like I was at the end of a movie.
That must feel great.
It does. And if you could've talked to the sixteen-year-old Bob and showed him what was going on now, and say, "Well, that's your future. What do you think?" I think he'd probably go, "Well, I had hoped I wouldn't lose my hair, but other than that this looks pretty cool!"
Lastly, what's the coolest thing about rock & roll?
My very first reaction is "What's not cool about rock & roll? Just like when I've talked to non-believer, who don't really get it. I just don't understand how a slamming back beat doesn't touch everybody, because it does me, you know? I remember reading this one interview with Keith Richards. He's doing this interview. He's got a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other and he's explaining to the person that's interviewing him, "You know, they put a microphone in a woman's womb when she's carrying a baby, and you know what that baby hears when that baby's in the womb? He hears a god damn Gary Glitter drum beat! And that soothes the baby." And why wouldn't that soothe us? There's something so primal about that. I don't know. That could just take me to Nirvana on a good night.
Do you remember the group the Electric? I remember seeing them at CBGBs one time and I thought they were so cool. I wish there was a band like that around right now. And we were in that room and they were up against that sheet glass window and the people were just pressing, in the audience. We were all just pressing forward, and I thought, "It's conceivable, if there were a fire in here, people would just start pushing, and right in the middle of this Electric concert, we would just go through that plate glass window." And I thought, "Wouldn't that be a fucking cool way to die."
I mean to survive the heart thing and to survive all that and to have fantasies about being pushed through a glass plate window at a rock & roll show...