Flash back to summer 2012. A simpler time. En route to Cudahy, Wisconsin, for the Days of the Doomed II fest, I swing north early off Route 80 in Toledo to hit up Lansing, Michigan, and visit my good friend Postman Dan. A couple beers after my arrival, I wind up over at BerT‘s practice space — a garage in the back of somebody‘s house. The three dudes in the band — brothers Rael Jordan (drums) and Ryan Andrews (guitar/vocals), as well as bassist Phil Clark — are done jamming and are sitting in the open garage with a few beverages and other indulgences, but sure enough, when we roll up, they plug in and do another song, just for the hell of it. And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. Thick-toned, powerful, volume at unholy levels, and the space where they play is the kind of narrow that gives the noise nowhere to go but into your skull. Before they finish, I can feel my hair vibrating.
Last week I put up a Nice Package post honoring their Monster Book split CD/LP/’zine/whathaveyou with Triangle and Rhino, and for a band who takes themselves as seriously as BerT doesn’t, it’s an awful lot of effort for them to put into something like that and then self-release it through their own Madlantis Records, taking it out on tour and playing along the East Coast before circling back to the Midwest. But BerT did just that, and barely stopped to mark the occasion with a trip to Niagara Falls before moving on to the next recording, the next album, the next Madlantis release, a taco party, a show, and so on. Adventures abound.
Formed after solidifying their lineup 2006, BerT ply their trade in the kind of self-driven creativity that’s exhausting just to watch. A slew of albums already under their belt, they’re just beginning a year-long series of live cassettes (they’ve got two that I know of already, with more to follow), and are working on a new full-length, to be titled Shit Hawk (because what else?), which will mark their first non-self-recorded studio outing, while still helming Madlantis and defying genre in a range of projects and allegiances.
I guess what it comes down to is I find BerT as admirable in concept as in practice, so if a quickie interview gets a couple more people to check them out, I figure it’s worth it. The band seemed to answer as a collective (“The royal we. You know, the editorial?”), which works for me, since they’re nothing if not solidified as a unit, which I learned in that garage in Michigan. Amazing how many life lessons one can take in around the smell of motor oil.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on the band. How did you three get together, and is there a specific Bert the band is named after? Did you know when you started out that you wanted the band to have such a varied sound?
We are all from a small town in Michigan called Bath which is just outside of the capital city Lansing. Brothers Ryan and Rael have been friends with Phil since we were knee high to a grasshopper. In about 2001, the three of us had a ridiculous noisy punk band called Spanish Ghost. The band was short-lived but opened up recording to us. After the demise of Spanish Ghost, Ryan and Phil started a recording project called Bugdum Toe. We did a lot of recording in Ryan‘s bedroom and his parents’ living room, a lot of the time with Rael playing drums or contributing in some way. These recordings were ambient noise drones, crazy experimental metal and kraut rock-esque punk, mostly, just a lot of god awful ear-piercing racket. We are rather proud that this is the one band that Ry and Rael‘s mom would not let rehearse/record while she was in the house. These recordings of said horrid noise is what would later become BerT.
In the winter of 2006, Phil moved into a trailer park, back in Bath and started jamming with Ryan at an unheated storage unit we lovingly referred to as “The Meat Locker.” We wrote one, maybe two songs with Ry on guitar, Phil on bass and random people filling in on drums as we fleshed out the songs. We did this for a few months until one day some cop came and fucked that all up, giving us a ticket and effectively ending all the -12.3 degree jam sessions at The Meat Locker.
For a while we went back to just recording due to lack of a drummer until finally, we said fuck it and decided to MAKE a drummer. We found some samples of various Dale Crover drum hits and used those to program drums and started playing shows. This worked until around 2009, when we started jamming with Ryan on drums and Phil on guitar. The song “Trample the Dead” that’s the last track on our EP Stoner Boner is the only recording of this formation of BerT. Shortly after that we asked Rael to come play bass and recorded the album Shit Hawk. Yet again in 2010 we rotated to the left and into our current lineup putting Rael on drums, Ryan on guitar and Phil on bass.
The variance in sound was half planned out because we just like to create and experiment, but we have also been reaching for a certain idea the whole time. We like to keep it heavy, thick, and slow, but also we don’t want to box ourselves into a corner. We believe that we are antennas transmitting the songs that the universe has written. We ride with the wave, we don’t fight against it.
We aren’t named after a specific Bert, but feel we are more the embodiment of every Bert that has ever been and ever will be.
2. How much does having your own studio factor into making a band like BerT possible? It seems like when you guys put something out, you have a clear idea of the kind of sound you want that specific release to have. I’m thinking of the differences between the Grown Long split with Hordes and the Monster Book project with Triangle and Rhino. Do you know going into an album, split, etc., that you want it to have a specific sound, and is putting that together a matter of assembling recordings you’ve done?
Having a studio/jam/overall hangout area makes everything we do in BerT possible. We have all experienced shitty situations in the past with bad neighbors or just no room to play. Having the ability to be loud and do shit when we want makes everything possible.
We spend a lot of time thinking about our releases. They always evolve and change as circumstances happen but we usually start with a specific idea. Each project gets a fresh slate, its own identity with its own group of songs. The Monster Book for instance was an attempt at our full-length that we decided to make into an EP about monsters… a concept that carried through into the split it ended up becoming. As where Grown Long is a project we have worked on since the Bugdum Toe days. When we started working with HORDES, we thought it was a fitting piece of music to complement their style. We view every release as one piece of music, not individual songs crammed into a compilation. Each release has its own concept or underlying themes however strict or loose those ideas may be.
3. How did the Monster Book project come about, and what went into making that ‘zine? Have you ever put anything like that together before? Who drew the poster and where did that design come from?
Monster Book is the third and final collaboration with our friends Triangle and Rhino. T&R guitarist Jake is moving out of the country and wanted to do a record with us before he left. We had just finished recording Wall of Bees, so it was perfect timing. For the ‘zine, Ry sent out a bunch of questions and we asked our friends to contribute art and writings. We actually ended up with way too much material and couldn’t fit it all in. We did the page layout ourselves and had the pages printed, then we cut, folded and stapled about 40 billion pieces of paper… It was a marathon of suck. The cutting, folding and stapling kind of suck.
The poster was done by our friend Craig Horky, he does a lot of sweet fliers.
The idea for the poster came from a t-shirt Phil got off eBay that featured a wizard on a mountain with a hot chick and lighting and all that jazz. We thought up a stoned reinterpretation adding the luck dragon and some unicorns farting out our bands names and gave all that to Craig. We half-expected him to take a few of the ideas and run with it, but he drew what we said exactly from top to bottom… it was legendary.
4. Tell me about the tour that brought you out east? How were the shows and how was the response? Apart from the accommodations in Jersey, how did it go and will you be back on the road anytime soon?
The tour was great, our first time on the road for an extended period of time like that. Jersey was the best night of sleep we had on the whole tour. The response we got was great, we sold quite a few records and had a rad time seeing a ton of cool places and meeting a lot of cool new friends. Most of the shows were well attended, and even the ones that weren’t, we felt well received. Everyone was very accommodating and helped us out a lot. We’ll be out again as soon as we can.
Also… Boston: Great dope and killer fried clams.
5. What other new releases are in the works? Maybe Stoner Boner Vol. 2 or anything else coming up?
Our one-sided LP called Shit Hawk is supposed to be out this fall on Hydro-Phonic Records.
We’ll be continuing our live cassette series throughout next year as well as contributing to a 7″ that the guys in the group Foot and Mouth Disease from Rochester, NY, are putting together with bands all doing 15-second tracks. We’re also putting out a song this October for the 3 Way Singles Club on It Takes A Village To Make Records and we’re in the midst of finishing our new full-length, Return to the Electric Church. This is our first time in a “real” studio – as in, one where we pay somebody else to know exactly what they’re doing. Our goal is a spring release for the album.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention? What’s next on Madlantis Records?
Next on Madlantis Records we’re going to release a full-length CD from HORDES (ambient drone doom with Ryan from BerT on drums) and the new Ghoulie (grimy funk/soul) EP called Mango Juice, both due out any day now.
We would like to say thanks to the fans and musicians that support the underground music scene. Nowadays the playing field is leveled and you have to do it yourself. We appreciate those that do. We’re all one community no matter the genre of music. Go to shows, buy underground music, have fun, and think freely!
Tags: Bath, BerT, Lansing, Madlantis Records, Michigan