The Oral History of Rat At Rat R: The NYC-via-Philly Noise-Rock Heroes Celebrate the Re-issue of Their 1985 Debut, Amer$ide
Chris Egan Rat At Rat R: Somewhere beneath the dregs of downtown
"In my way of thinking, first there is Sonic Youth then comes Rat At Rat R then after that comes Swans -- that order was kind of their appearance in the New York scene. But Rat At Rat R just stumbled -- there was just a lot of bad luck. They'd get going and something would happen." Ron Anderson, punk-jazz purveyor of Brooklyn's PAK, is waxing historical about the band he co-founded with vocalist/singer Victor Poison-Tete and bassist Sonda Andersson in early 1980's-period Philadelphia: the apocalyptically bleak, dissonance-dripping art-rock colossus, Rat At Rat R.
Amer$ide, Rock and Roll is Dead, Long Live Rat At Rat R is available via Ektro Records; Ron Anderson curates two weeks at The Stone 11/1-11/14 and plays with The Molecules this Friday at 8pm and PAK Saturday at 10pm
In 1982, Poison-Tete and Anderson moved to the LES, guitarist John Myers followed suit (Anderson ultimately relocated to NYC but left the band to pursue other projects) and thus -- with its monumental move -- Rat At Rat R's singular vision bore the glorious dregs of downtown. Nearly three decades after its original release on Glenn Branca's Neutral imprint, Amer$ide, Rock and Roll is Dead, Long Live Rat At Rat R, its 1985 debut, finally receives the reissue/remastered treatment, courtesy of Finnish label Ektro and spearheaded by music scribe (and erstwhile Voice contributor) Jordan Mamone.
Amer$ide bleeds yesteryear's decrepit East Village grime; its music an epic prog-experimental dystopia reeking of desperation and darkness. From the terse, blackened song titles ("Plague;" "Assassin;" "Asshole;" "Rape;") to its grim-as-hell cover art showing an obscured-faced, disheveled and ostensibly pummeled Poison-Tete sprawled on the floor, it offers a graphic snapshot of 80's-era downtown. To this day, the image still spooks Anderson. "The photo was taken in Victor and Sonda's loft at 110 Suffolk Street," he recalls. "That is Victor in the photo, on the floor. I used to live upstairs on the fifth floor Victor was on the second floor. It does have that dark Lower East Side vibe that existed there at that time."
The Stainless Steel EP followed in 1988 before their self-titled record in 1991 and the subsequent, untimely collapse of distributor Rough Trade portended the nail in Rat At Rat R's coffin. With that, Poison-Tete reached his tipping point. "I got fed up with the whole thing around '92 -- the business," he explains. "I don't like the business. It's just junk, ya know? The thing that really bugged me was the last record ("the Dragon Fly"), we were so excited because Purge/Sound League was finally a legitimate label and we had gotten Rough Trade and I love the Rough Trade thing. They were doing the Fall and the Smiths and they had worldwide distribution."
Sound of the City tracked down the elusive Poison-Tete living a quiet existence in Long Island (and who recently played one of Anderson's curated gigs at the Stone), Myers, who is currently in China studying an ancient Chinese instrument called the guqin (gu-Cheen) with musician Pei Jin Bao and local avant whiz Anderson to talk Rat At Rat R reissue (drummer David Rat, somewhere in South America, was inaccessible, as was Andersson). Read on for some Amer$ide reminiscing.