My favorite thing about BerT (aka The Legend of BerT) continues to be that I have no idea what to expect from them. That and they’re super goddamn heavy. The year may be more than half over, but before the end of it, the Lansing, Michigan-based heavy rock quirk purveyors will reportedly have two records out, the first of which is dubbed Trample the Dead. The trio (interview here) aren’t strangers to self-releasing unique packages, but this time around, they’ve teamed with fellow Michigan outfit Hydro-Phonic Records to release the album on vinyl, while continuing to handle the CD and tape through their own Madlantis imprint.
Expect more on this one to come as we get closer to the release, which as I heard it is “soon,” but in the meantime, BerT give a solid teaser for Trample the Dead in the new video below for the title-track, exploring a meld of crushing, droning tonality and melodic shouting, hypnotic repetitions emerging to find satisfying payoff in their plodding course. I’d speculate as to whether or not it represents the rest of the album, but when it comes to these guys — Ryan Andrews (guitar/vocals), Phillip Clark (bass) and Rael Jordan (drums) — one has to immediately shelve one’s own assumptions.
Michigan-based trio BerT don’t fuck around. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. They fuck around quite a bit. But when they do, it rocks, and that’s what’s important.
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 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!
Apart from the reality of the thing itself, I think what I find most admirable about the total package for the Monster Booksplit between Michigan’s BerT and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Triangle and Rhino is the fact that it’s basically self-released. Sure, it’s two bands contributing, but it’s put out through BerT‘s Madlantis Records imprint, self-financed and self-realized. Pretty fucking impressive.
Monster Book(review here) was released in August. Limited to 300 copies in a green swirl 12″ vinyl (seen above), it also includes a CD compilation of this and past BerT/Triangle and Rhino jointreleases, a full-size poster, and the titular book itself, a 40-page mini-‘zine with interviews, bizarre art, tiny, tiny text and much more.
Let’s take a closer look (click any image to enlarge):
The Vinyl Covers
From the start, it’s obviously a homemade job. The cover for BerT’s side (top) has the name of their side’s EP — Wall of Bees — and the Monster Book title itself, and the back has Triangle and Rhino‘s cover for In the Company of Creeps the hand-numbering for the vinyl. Mine’s either #154 or #159. Hard to tell. Both covers are dark, but textured as well, so right away, the physical presence of the release is important as well as the music.
Monster Book marks BerT‘s debut on vinyl. The picture there doesn’t really capture it, but the record itself is gorgeous with a deep green splatter running through it. They say your first time should be special, so there you go.
Poster artist Craig Horky managed to capture all the charm of stoner rock in one poster. I mean think about it: farting unicorns, crappy movie references, skull mountains, band names, a wizard (who in himself kind of looks like John Cleese in Monty Python and theHolyGrail; bonus points) and a nudie lady with junk in the trunk. If you could actually draw the riff to “Sweet Leaf,” this is what you’d come out with.
From what I can gather from my copy and the image at the top of this post, the images airbrushed onto the CD sleeves vary, but mine is a bird in relief and I dig it a lot. It stands out from the rest of the release, but since I seem to be the last person on the planet who gives a hairy fuck about the CD format, it’s cool to see them extend the effort and attention to detail.
None of these pictures are to scale with each other, but I still wanted to give some sense of the size of the ‘zine included with Monster Book, so taking my best middle school science class reasoning, I put a quarter next to it. Above is the front cover. Here’s a look inside:
BerT, who hail from Bath, in Michigan, interviewed a bunch of bands from the local scene in around Lansing — Cavalcade, Hordes, Liquified Guts, Elk Nebula, Icicles and many more — and included their Q&As in the 40 pages of this ‘zine, interspersing hijacked images with original art:
The whole affect is bizarre and more than a little deranged, but also thoroughly awesome. While listening to the array of fucked sonics on the split itself, thumbing through the ‘zine (thumb carefully, papercuts are a looming threat no less sinister than Triangle and Rhino‘s noise), it makes the experience even more complete. Who doesn’t like to read with a record on?
Here’s the back cover:
One last bit of charm before they leave off. I guess the back cover sums up a good portion of what Monster Bookis all about — despite the massive amount of effort that went into making it, nobody here is taking themselves too seriously — but really, it’s the whole thing that’s worth celebrating, not just one aspect or another.
If you want to check out more on the Monster Booksplit between BerT and Triangle and Rhino, hit up the Madlantis Records website.
And in case you need more visual evidence, here’s BerT‘s video for “Heart Shaped McBubba”:
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2012 by JJ Koczan
Foremost, it’s a hell of a package. The whole release is billed, somewhat appropriately, as Monster Book. Released through Madlantis Records, the core of the thing is a limited-to-300 green-splatter 12” vinyl split between Lansing, Michigan, weirdo rockers BerT and abrasive Pittsburgh noisemakers Triangle and Rhino. That’s part of it. Monster Book, however, is not the first time these two bands have come together. Triangle and Rhino titled their side of the vinyl In the Company of Creeps and BerT gave theirs the name Wall of Bees, but all of the material on either vinyl side can also be found on an included CDR, as well as songs culled from prior BerT/Triangle and Rhino splits (there’ve been two that I can find, perhaps more are out there), and Monster Book also includes a killer foldout poster (image above; click the picture for the full thing) and an actual ‘zine. It’s small and hard to read and pretty clearly a homemade job, but it’s got interviews with Elk Nebula, Lord Vapid, Hordes, Switchblade Cheetah and others, as well as full questionnaires from both BerT and Triangle and Rhino and a section right in the middle where everyone who appears elsewhere in the 40-page ‘zine answers the age-old question of who would win if Godzilla fought King Kong – wait for it – in space. The ‘zine itself is no less harshly laid out than the jagged noise Triangle and Rhino get down with or the thickened garage riffing of BerT, and so it makes an excellent companion for its total fuckedness, and the two-sided cover the LP is textured and foreboding of the massive amount of information Monster Book contains. The occasion of the release was a just-ended tour that brought both bands eastward (much to my regret, I failed to see them both in Philly and Boston, though in the interest of full disclosure, BerT did crash at my house on their way north after the former; the LP/CD/’zine had long since arrived), and it seems a fitting occasion for a project of such a frankly intimidating scope.
Because my format preferences lend me to do so anyway and because I feel compelled to at least provide some focus to this review other than to say, “Gosh, look at all this BerT and Triangle and Rhino stuff,” I’m going to stick to the CD in terms of referencing the actual tracks. The reason I mention it is because while the LP has three cuts from Triangle and Rhino on In the Company of Creeps and six from BerT on Wall of Bees, the CD nearly doubles that, with a total of six from Triangle and Rhino and 10 from BerT, resulting in a total runtime of nearly 77 minutes. Tracks are taken from the current and past splits between the two bands and what BerT calls “some other extra jazz as well.” On its own, the CD is a lot to take in, especially with the leadoff Triangle and Rhino give it for the first six cuts, beginning with the three from the LP, “Limb Lopper,” “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths.” Their sound is a punishing sort of noise, with guitarist J. Lexso and drummer M. Rappa both contributing various sorts of synth, oscillations and programming, resulting in periods of near-unlistenable high-pitched audio knives. The moody rumble and electronic-sounding drums of “Limb Lopper” are dark enough, but it’s not long before Triangle and Rhino unveil just how challenging they want to be, in that song, the more frenetically rhythmic “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths,” the first half of which is hard to get through before the early Genghis Tron-style dance pop synth line kicks in and guest vocalist J. White gives new wave accompaniment. “Glowing Sphere” is basically a blown-out drum rhythm with noise behind, and that’s all well and good, but both “Planet Collider” and “Five Words in Broken English” are more abrasive, the latter playing at free jazz without committing to that more than it commits to anything else and the former stabbing with high-pitched chirps. It’s obviously Triangle and Rhino’s intent, but that doesn’t lessen the relief any when it’s over and I realize I’ve been clenching my jaw the whole time.
Begun in 2001 in some nebulous form as the project Bugdum Toe, Lansing, Michigan-based trio BerT really began to pick up momentum in 2009. The period between 2010 and 2012 has seen no fewer than seven BerT releases through their own Madlantis Records imprint (also home to Ghoulie, Elk Nebula and other oddities), the latest of which is Stoner Boner. Actually, if you want to be technical about it, the full title seems to be Burt: The Not Self-Titled Album/The Lost Bertos: Cutting a Hot Demo/Spring Fever Stoner Boner, but I’m pretty sure a band with BerT’s penchant for irreverence won’t begrudge an abbreviation. Stoner Boner, then, is a five-track, 21-minute demo that, if the liner is to be believed, previews songs to come on the next three BerT outings. I only cast doubt on the veracity of that claim because said liner, which comes with the limited, home-screenprinted disc in a sleeve, also contains a band bio that I’d be willing to believe was culled from back and forth Facebook comments on the part of PhillipClark (who here plays bass on the first four tracks and guitar on the fifth, which was recorded earlier), Ryan Andrews (who here plays guitar and sings on the first four tracks and drums on the last) and Rael Jordan (who isn’t on the last song at all but drums and sings on the rest). Whether it’s true or not that BerT have an album on the way called Wall of Bees or that two of these tracks will be on Return to the Electric Church, or that 12-minute drone-riff closer “Trample the Dead Including – A. Bunnywurm B. Mars on Fire C. Heart Shaped Mc Bubba D. Big Yon” is to be re-recorded for a record called Shithawk, I have no idea and wouldn’t dare speculate, since BerT seem to fly on impulse anyway. That, however, is half the fun, and if you have your appreciation for the absurd in good working order and you don’t mind a rough production, Stoner Boner’s as entertaining musically as it is in everything else BerT do, right down to the logos on the faces of the band members on the cover art.
They chiefly traffic in riffs and charm, and the experimental sensibility seems to be driven more by laissez-faire creativity than by some pretense at genius. That is, Clark, Jordan and Andrews aren’t cloying at the “experimental” tag, they just wind up with it because they’re weirdos and do things like throw broken-sounding electric drums on the end of Stoner Boner opener “Winds of Neptune.” All the same, it’s the sense of melody in the vocals of Andrews and Jordan that helps make the early cuts standout, showing that BerT are well familiar with the rules of songwriting they’re willfully ignoring if not outright defying. The first three songs, “Winds of Neptune,” “Samsquanch” and “Human Bone Xylophone” are over in five and a half minutes, but it’s not like BerT are blasting out grindcore tracks or anything like that – they just don’t repeat parts. A riff cycles through once or twice and is replaced by another, verses work themselves out, and a rough but fascinating aesthetic emerges. I don’t want to call the verse of “Samsquanch” a hook, because it’s not, but the post-grunge vibe in the melody is engaging whether it aims to be or not. Once more, they end with what sounds like electronics or otherwise distorted noise, and “Human Bone Xylophone” reminds of the simplicity of earliest EyeHateGod without ever really being completely sludge. The guitar leads and the bass and drums stop in tandem, affecting a rudimentary groove that falls apart with about 20 seconds left in the song to make room for some recorded clowning around that crashes headfirst into “Persuaded,” a cover of fellow Lansing outfit Tahquamenon Falls. Allegedly. At three minutes, it’s the longest song BerT have so far presented (that closer is still to come) and it does seem to follow a more verse/chorus based approach, but of course, it also has more time to do so. Its plodding pace and sleepy vocal delivery come through well as a transition into the mega-stomp of “Trample the Dead.”