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An interview with New York’s post punk icons Bush Tetras

Interview by Lola Pistola, illustration by Ava East.

Pat Place, Cynthia Sley and Dee Pop are still making the rounds. Yesterday New York City’s no wave outfit Bush Tetras released their new EP Take The Fall, their first release in 10 years, on Wharf Cat Records.

The band has been sporadically releasing music since becoming the face of post punk since the 1970’s and is now back with a roaring 5-track EP—energetic and fueled by the band’s trailblazing noise.

With Val Opielski as the newest addition to the group on bass, the Tetras are set to support the release of Take The Fall with various live shows across the country. Their first stop is tonight at Le Poisson Rouge on with support from PILL and Palberta.

With the change of Bush Tetras lineup, has this shifted or affected the writing process? Was it a challenging experience to write Take The Fall?

Dee Pop: The band remains 3 out of 4 original members. Laura, our original bass player sadly passed away. Julia, who had replaced her and played with us for over a decade, left for her own reasons. The addition of Val has been invaluable and has restored the organic equality in our song making process. She brings spirit and positive energy to the table and she is funky. I don’t mean in traditional musical terminology—she just thinks outside the box.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: We lost our original bassist, Laura Kennedy, tragically. We wrote democratically always, even with our second bassist, Julia Murphy. We wrote all of Happy with her in the 90s. There are some great songs on that we still perform. We lucked out with Val in 2015 and it all just gelled. The songs came together just like the old days.

Val Opielski: I love to play with these wonderful musicians. I love Laura’s and Julia’s basslines.  I’m happy that Bush Tetras accepted me into their awesome posse and that we’re writing new music together.

There’s an outstanding and very particular noisey element attached to Bush Tetras—primarily grooves that come from the guitar riffs, a very rudimentary/repetitive almost code notes from the bass and drums that still sound pretty relevant and timeless. Is there a conscious commitment to create its distinctive sound or is it more organic?

Dee Pop: Pat plays only like Pat. Cynthia sings like Cynthia. I play like me. Our abilities have developed over the years but we still don’t sound like other people nor do we try to. We are influenced by others, sometimes, of course but ultimately we can only sound like us. Why would we want it any other way anyway? Val also has her own original and unique voice and skills which is why she is such a perfect fit.

What does the upcoming EP represent for Bush Tetras? Since the first Bush Tetras release was also an EP, could it be a connection or relation into continuing a musical reflection on New York’s and/or the world’s current reality? Almost like a forced hand wave in the middle of the street with a nod that says “Things haven’t changed, but we’re still the same and still loud.”

Dee Pop: Everything is different and yet still the same. We are who we are. A little bit older and hopefully a little wiser but still a bit naively wondrous of the possibilities.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: Our first release was a three-song single, with “Too Many Creeps”, “Snakes Crawl” and “You Taste Like the Tropics.” That was personal politics and continues to be personal politics, and yes, we are still loud.

Val Opielski: Still loud!

Who is Bush Tetras singing to now? (Hopefully to us freaks!) What does the band identify with—musically and politically?

Dee Pop: Intelligent concerned outsiders with a need to feel a little love.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: Definitely, to you freaks because it takes one to know one!

Bush Tetras recently played a full house at The Bell House in downtown Brooklyn. The energy that surrounded those who were present there, including me, was vibrant and full of expectation. How does it feel to play shows to New York crowds, and to tour on-and-off for the past 39 years?

Dee Pop: A privilege and a gift.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: It feels great. We really enjoy it now, with nothing to prove… just connecting with the crowd. We love the give and take energy from the crowd.

What makes the members of Bush Tetras come back to write and create music together after all this time? Do you consider the current music scene is as adventurous and provocative as it was when you first started in the late 70’s?

Dee Pop: We get together still because ultimately it is still rewarding and satisfying. And we still kick it out. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be doing it. As for the second part of this question, I don’t feel like we belong to any current music scene.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: Sure, there will always be adventurous and provocative music around. Thank God.

Val Opielski: Bush Tetras have always had their own voice within any music scene. Unfortunately the music scene has been scattered into people’s homes and phones. It’s really difficult for new bands in New York. It won’t stop that many people are making awesome music and new venues, especially in Brooklyn, but it’s hard to make a scene!

You’re playing soon at Cafe Nine. Cafe Nine is pretty cool. I recently played there too with my band and I was mystified by the stories. Over whiskey shots, the bartender shared that the best rock n’ roll bands either started or return, at a certain point in their careers, to Cafe Nine. They’ve been open since 1972. I think that’s pretty special environment, borderline nostalgic. Being active and almost in the middle of rock n’ roll history. Do you wish of any place/venue you guys started out—performing and also frequenting—were still open and running today? 

Dee Pop: You can’t go back in time. You can’t hope to recreate the past. I have fond memories about a lot of old haunts but that was then and this is now.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: New York has changed so much. The real estate prices wouldn’t allow it in Manhattan but there is a healthy scene in Brooklyn that has replaced some of the spirit. We particularly miss CBGB’s and Hilly Crystal—it was a clubhouse.

What are you looking forward to after the release of Take The Fall and going on tour? I personally love loading into a venue in an adrenalized-induced state and making handmade setlists, also doing vocal warm ups.

Dee Pop: The next step is a full length album. We have never had long range goals. It’s always been one day and one gig at a time.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: We are looking forward to playing these new songs out. Very exciting!

Val Opielski: I can’t agree about loving the load-in.  But playing the new songs and the old songs: very exciting!

“Don’t Stop It” and “Mouse” are songs that, although accompanied by a very tepid but also authoritarian vocal, are loud and catchy. Are these songs complicit to each other? Is it a reflection of one’s own path in life?

Dee Pop: All our songs are loud and catchy. Is that our path in life? Sure!

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: Cynthia wrote “Mouse” while killing the mouse in her house and “Don’t Stop It” is about being able to continue to enjoy making music and art as you age. The two songs are not complicit but the EP we think has continuity and a Fuck-It-All-I’ll-Just-Be-Myself attitude.

Last but not least, what do you like doing on your days off or your “free time”, keywords: off and free.

Dee Pop: I like to take long romantic walks on the beach [laughs] I read a lot, I go to the movies, I play music in other projects. Val and I have a project called 1000 Yard Stare and are about to release an album.

Cynthia Sley and Pat Place: Pat and I like to swim in the ocean and commune with nature. We both try to keep up with contemporary art in the city, also.

Val Opielski: Other than music, anything to do with being outside and especially by the ocean is the greatest pleasure for me.


Take The Fall is out on Wharf Cat Records. Order the EP here.

Check out Bush Tetras tour dates below:

4/14 New York City @ Le Poisson Rouge w/ PILL & Palberta
4/21 Boston @ The Middle East
4/22 New Haven @ Cafe Nine
5/5 Miami @ Gramps
5/12 Oakland @ The Elbo Room
5/13 San Francisco @ The Elbo Room
5/19 Toronto @ Rivoli
7/7 Detroit @ PJ’s Lager House

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