Now that they're back and with new songs to boot, Bush Tetras guitarist Pat Place is blaming the early-1980s band's short-lived career on the speed of the times and lack of experience.
But this a different era and Bush Tetras, though made up of the same members, is something of a different band.
"This is the right moment for us," Place said about the group's reforming to support its new album Beauty Lies, the band's first release in more than a decade. "The first time we had a few gigs under our belt and then we had two years of constant touring and recording. We just didn't take care of ourselves, we didn't know how to balance everything, how to organize our time. Basically, we were young and stupid."
Rising out of the fertile "no wave" scene in New York in the late '70s, early '80s, which included acts such as Lydia Lunch, and James Chance & the Contortions (with whom Place once played), Bush Tetras blazed their own path with a fierce sound that mixed punk energy with African rhythms and a tribal dance beat. By the time they disbanded, the quartet had released a string of singles and EPs (its first single, "Too Many Creeps," climbed to #57 on the Billboard dance chart), but never a full-length album.
"By 1983, (bassist) Laura (Kennedy) and Dee (Pop, drummer) left the band, and we were just living unmanageable lives," Place said about the three-year crash-and-burn cycle of the group. "It just fell apart because everything happened so fast for the band and we were just burned out."
In many ways, their recently-released full-length effort makes it seem like the group never left. The album is a 13-track barrage of aggressive singing, spiked guitar, nakedly harsh and slightly-off drumming and post-punk angst that still sounds as darkly odd and powerful as it did more than a decade ago.
Place said she took several years off after the breakup to pursue her visual arts interests, even as those around her kept bugging her to get out and play. She began to emerge again and even joined her former bandmates for a series of one-off reunion gigs in the late '80s, gigs that ended up being the catalyst for the reunion. "It was the right moment for all of us," said Place about the recording that really set the whole thing in motion, a single produced by avowed fan and tattooed punk rocker Henry Rollins. "We had all settled down a bit and we started writing songs and jamming and we liked it. We have our wits about us more now and I think we're all more accomplished musicians."
Rollins caught one of the band's shows last June, and, afterward, approached the members about putting out some old, unreleased material on his 2-13-61 label. That single, which featured "Page 18" and "Find a Lie," both on the new album, made the musicians realize something had happened while they were on hiatus, said Place. "It was interesting to use what we've learned in the meantime and bring it into the group. But what seemed sort of arty and experimental then doesn't really seem that way now," said Place, "it seems poppier."
The album, produced by former Labelle member Nona Hendryx, is bursting with dark, not particularly pop material. From the lurching slide bass tune "Dirty Little Secret" and thudding, funky rap/sung rocker "Satan is a Bummer," to the industrial-leaning gutter blues of "Color Green," Lies is hardly top-40 material.
"We never released an album before because no one really offered," said Place about the mystery surrounding Bush Tetra's slight output. "In those days not every band had a record deal or an album. It was much harder to get one if you weren't a mainstream band."
Ironically, Place said the group is eager to get back into the studio to record a batch of new songs, since many of the Lies songs had been sitting around for more than a year before they were put to vinyl. "We thought we'd never see each other again, so this whole thing is a fluke anyway. Now we can't wait to record these new songs... And then we'll do a really big tour."