By Brad Cohan
Present day LES is a bottomless pit of bombed bridge ‘n’ tunnel scenester wannabees, ex-Upper East side yuppie scum jogging past the John Varvatos store where punk was birthed at CBGB and trust fund frat kids living off their rich-assed parent’s dime, drunkenly soiling the newly sprouted luxury condo-lined streets. But remnants of the once-vibrant, crusty downtown music scene of the late 1980’s and 90’s glory years are seemingly back on the upswing.
Noise-rock icons Unsane, still prowling the grimy Chinatown landscape, returned with the sonic bawling masterpiece Wreck (Ipecac) earlier this year, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion just celebrated the release of Meat and Bone (Boombox / Mom + Pop) and ex-Railroad Jerk-ster Marcellus Hall is still lugging around the battered acoustic, bringing his troubadour racket about town.
Then there are The Chrome Cranks–the brainchild of transplanted Ohioans guitarist/singer Peter Aaron and fellow ax-grinder William Weber–arguably the sleaziest, noise-blooziest punkazoid outfit, who descended upon downtown in 1992 hauling an indelible underground cred of playing with and booking the filthiest of yesteryear’s iconoclastic groups.
In his native Ohio, Aaron booked gigs for the likes of Pussy Galore and Weber did time in GG Allin’s Murder Junkies. When the twosome relocated to New York City in 1992, they tabbed Honeymoon Killers buddy Jerry Teel as their bass-man and, ultimately, clink-clank drums legend Bob Bert (Pussy Galore, Sonic Youth, Bewitched, Knoxville Girls) joined the fray. Chrome Cranks have not only endured the apocalyptic transformation of downtown, but survived an acrimonious breakup back in 1998 that lasted 15 years. “We ended it in a way that a lot of bands break up,” singer/guitarist Peter Aaron explains over the phone. “We were going at it really hard for almost six years. We had a couple of different drummers before Bob joined the band. So, we were really working hard, touring a lot, trying to make records and we never really took a break. It just really caught up with us. Basically, everyone was not getting along and crap just kinda blew up.”
Prior to its implosion in 1998, Chrome Cranks emerged in 1994 with its self-titled debut via PCP Records. Fittingly, PCP had previously unleashed records by Unsane, Foetus and Railroad Jerk and The Cranks’ beast–epic lo-fi slide-blues garage-skronk guitar action and appetizingly skank-hole bass groovage topped by Aaron’s Iggy-cum-Elvis-cum-Cramps gyrating histrionics–gloriously reeked of a similar Bowery and Alphabet City drug-addled, vagrant-ridden muck.
“William and I moved the band to New York right as The Honeymoon Killers was breaking up,” Aaron explains. “I had known Jerry from booking them when they played in the Midwest. In some ways, Chrome Cranks was a continuation of the Honeymoon Killers and Pussy Galore. Certainly, those bands were very inspiring to William and I as far as getting serious about doing Chrome Cranks. But both those bands were pivotal. Obviously, there was guilt by association with them but I thought we were very different from those bands.”
Ultimately, that dirt-blues lineage ingrained in Teel was the catalyst for fully realizing the Cranks’ aesthetic through its 90’s output. In its late 80’s Cincinnati-era incarnation, Aaron and Weber’s Cranks leaned towards noise-poppy fare. “Getting (the bluesy sound) was part of it when Jerry joined the band and maybe it was an epiphany (we had) where we were always loved the Stooges, the Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Birthday Party and Suicide,” Aaron says. “All those bands had a fractured blues element to what they were doing.” Aaron perks up when reminiscing about the beloved 90’s period when the East Village and the LES still permeated with gritty squalor, rents were cheap as fuck and fellow musicians toiled about. “It was an amazing time,” says Aaron. “I was one of those people where Max Fish was my living room. I was there almost every night, which was a little unusual, not being a drinker. But that’s where the exchange of ideas was happening. For me, it’s colored by what I’ve been through since then and what I went through before. If you interviewed someone that was part of the LES scene a few years earlier, they’d probably say that it wasn’t as good in the period we were out there.” Many years later, Aaron is still feeling the lingering effects of living downtown. “I was at Suffolk and Houston for a few years, living in a loft and sleeping on a futon on the fucking floor in a not very well-heated loft–which my back is still paying for it,” he says laughing.
Chrome Cranks also took part in one of New York’s more famously volatile shows. “One of the crazy things that come to mind as far as New York shows was we opened for The Fall at Brownies, which was this legendary Fall show, Aaron recalls. “They used some of our gear, although I’d never let them use my amp. They used our mic stands, bass rig and our drums. Mark E. Smith threw a fit after a couple of songs. He was really fucked up. Things weren’t going right and he wound up picking up Jerry’s amp head and smashing it into the wall and getting into a fist fight with the drummer (on stage).”
A killer final show with PacWest garage slayers Dead Moon at the long-defunct and legendary St. Marks shit-pad Coney Island High in 1998 signaled the end of The Cranks; each member splintered across the States and lost touch. Aaron retired his guitar and morphed from musician to music journalism, even writing for the Voice. That is, until 2007 when Aaron and Weber convened; a spark ensued. “We put out this double CD called Diabolical Boogie: Singles, Demos and Rarities that came out in 2007,” Aaron says. “William and I compiled it and re-mastered the music and it was stuff we had recorded before we broke up–rare tracks. William and I then got back in touch with Jerry and Bob, whom I hadn’t spoken for all that time. We had all moved on and became different people. We were able to kind of laugh at what happened. So I put it out there like “What do you guys think about doing some gigs just for fun and not to make a career out of it or anything?”
Fifteen years after its breakup, the quartet has returned with renewed vigor, dripping furious bloozy scum with a sex-stained swagger while oozing vintage New York City vomit stench in the form of comeback album Ain’t No Lies in Blood (Bang!), complete with artwork by Swans’ mastermind and Aaron’s neighbor Michael Gira. Aaron is pumped by ex-Pussy Galore slasher Kurt Wolf sitting in for Weber (he’s recovering from surgery) at this weekend’s Mercury Lounge gig and is psyched for his band’s future prospects. “Everyone was into it and we did it and everything felt not only as good as far as all the good things that were there the first time around but better. It was still there, we get along great and we love being around each other.”
Chrome Cranks + Star and Dagger play Mercury Lounge Saturday, October 13th