Bert Susanka

posted by / Sounds / September 4, 2007

”I light my cigarette and I think
How Bert Susanka made me drink.
Load the box, and I pump that shit.
It’s the Ziggens greatest hits….”

–Sublime, “Greatest Hits,” Robbin’ the Hood, 1994

It feels slightly dishonest to hype up the Sublime/Ziggens/Susanka connection. Sure, Bert and Brad met in college, creating separate bands that became the foundation for Skunk Records. Sure, America’s “garage hall” heroes claimed the Ziggens as an influence, dubbed certain soundbites, occasionally covered their songs (“Big Salty Tears”) and borrowed the chords to “Bad Fish.” But, otherwise, as much as the groups shared a musical era, they never shared a whole lot musically.

Sublime pulled inspiration from the city’s seedy, drug-induced dark side with a live reputation for loose energy that could make shows either transcendent or downright trainwrecks. The Ziggens were more weirdly sweet – sometimes corny and even Christian — mixing lazy surf instrumentals and punk aggression, syrupy county ballads with Judas Priest covers. And when it comes to concerts, no band was as tight or entertaining in the whole damn O.C. But if there was one common element, it was this: straight-up song-writing chops. And that’s where Bert comes in.

Since recording the first Skunk tape in 1992, Susanka’s been the frontman on stage and penned the majority of tunes behind the scenes. Which make every Ziggens fan wonder: does a solo effort mean the Long Beach lunatics are “Calling it Quits?” Nope. Just taking a break. In the meantime, Onward Christian Slater picks up the slack – and the whack — with sincerity, originality and outright strangeness, resulting in what’s the best studio release since 1998’s Pomona Lisa. Now, Bert finds himself busier than ever as the project’s spawned a whole new band to fill the void in his first act’s limited road schedule. But don’t worry, as Susanka says: “There will never not be a Ziggens.”

SURFING MAGAZINE: Why go solo now?

BERT SUSANKA: The Ziggens are still together but they’re all doing side projects. Poutney’s on tour managing a boy band. Brad’s back in Wisconsin with his new bride. And Dickie’s quite busy writing songs and just being Dickie. So I’m not as busy as I was. I’ve wanted to do a solo project for sometime and Cornestone RAS gave the thumbs up.

OCS obviously still has a Ziggens feel. But it’s also more polished than a lot of past efforts.

Well, this record took a year and a half to make, even though [producer] Rob Perez and I only got together once a week. Rob — who we’ve worked with forever – brings a lot of that polish though. He’s a great production engineer and musician. He was like, “Let’s make it sound as big and full as possible without going overboard and putting100 guitars on each song.” So we worked hard. And we had some really nice musicians. Dave Owens [percussions/drums] worked with Thomas Dolby in the past. Erich Wood [upright bass] did stuff with Mike Ness. And various other friends from the past. It’s all new music though.

You got Skunk founder Mike Happoldt back, too.

I got Michael to do read the narrative over a surf instrumental “The Trip That Needed to Be Took” — I think he did a great job on that song — and he put some solo guitar on the last track. Way back in the day, Mike was in the Ziggens. During his tenure he met up with Sublime and got busy doing the Skunk thing, so it was fun to drag him back into the studio.

Is there a greater sense of freedom doing a solo project after so many years in a band?

I didn’t have many limitations with the Ziggens. There’s a little more freedom just because it was two people as opposed to four, but I’ve always been lucky enough to what I wanted. Just like this record. I’ve always wanted to do it, I just never had the time. And we’re so happy with the final product that we said, “Let’s do a band.” So now we’re the Bert Susanka Band. Tours are in the works.

Well, the cool thing about waiting so long is you’ve built a reputation, so you can be the Bert Susanka Band instead of, say, Bert {{{Cougar}}} or Bert {{{Jaguar}}}…

It would probably be more like Bert Humminbird.

How ‘bout Bert Huntington? You do sing about the pier a lot.

[laughs] I don’t think I have the tattoos for that.

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