In Conversation: Moe Tucker’s Velvet Mornings
The former Velvet Underground drummer reflects on the band's legacy.
Moe Tucker is a woman of few words. Despite speaking up during Mitt Romney’s 2012 run at the presidency and voicing her far-right politics, the one-time Velvet Underground drummer, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and working grandmother is pretty chilled out. That’s something of a surprise, too, as Rhino has released a forty-fifth anniversary box set edition of Loaded, the last (and most commercial) VU album to include contributions from Lou Reed (who famously declared the record to be “loaded with hits”). If ever an occasion called for verbosity, this should be it.
But that’s not her style. Tucker, who was pregnant at the time, didn’t appear on Loaded, but she was behind the kit for the group’s 1969 residency at San Francisco’s legendary underground live spot when the tape that would eventually become the new four-CD set Live at the Matrix was recorded. Now, she’s perfectly comfortable taking care of her grandson. FLOOD sat down with Tucker as she weighed in on all things Velvet.
It’s been two years since Lou Reed’s passing. I mention this because now it feels like the knives are coming out. There are authors who seem more interested in Reed’s harsh personal side than any good he did as an artist. You readily acknowledged that edge of his in interviews and in your eulogy to Reed in The Guardian. What is your reaction to writers looking to grave rob?
Moe Tucker: Speaking only of the Howard Sounes book, I haven’t read it yet. I did see a few articles about it. I don’t think Mr. Sounes would just make things up, but I personally never, never saw a violent/semi-violent/tiny violent side of Lou. I can’t vouch for or against what others say. I’ve seen him get damn angry toward someone being incompetent, but never violent.
You cataloged many things that you missed about Reed when he first passed. Is there anything left to settle on that score?
I miss knowing he’s in the world.
Do you, John Cale, and Doug Yule maintain much contact outside of Velvet Underground decisions?
We live so far apart that we don’t get to see each other, but we haven’t lost touch entirely.
You’ve committed yourself to working with other artists, including The Raveonettes, and recorded several solo albums—all up until 2005. Why the musical shut down? I do understand that you take care of a family member and that is to be commended.
I used to book our tours myself. What a chore that was—a chore I dreaded—and as time went on, I would just keep putting it off: tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. That and my taking care of my grandson, which made it impossible for me to go away. I miss it; I had a lot of fun, but I don’t regret having to stop. I thank God I’m ready, willing, and able to take care of my grandson.
“I had a lot of fun, but I don’t regret having to stop.”
You mentioned in your Reed eulogy that Lou and original VU member Sterling Morrison got together through your brother and found you drumming through that same sibling. What’s your brother’s story? Was he a musician, a literary guy like Reed? What type of friends was he with Reed and Morrison?
I don’t know how often my brother might have seen Lou after Syracuse, since Lou moved to New York City. After school, I do know that Sterl and my brother remained friends and saw each other very often. My brother and Sterl were friends since they were twelve, [and when my brother] went to Syracuse U., [he] met Lou and became friends with him. Sterl went to visit my brother at Syracuse and met Lou during that visit. When the Velvets needed a drummer, Sterl suggested me. It was supposed to be just for one show in New Jersey, but…
Let me ask about Loaded. Before it was recorded, how would you describe the band’s collective state of mind?
State of mind was the usual, I suppose.
What did you think of the material that Reed was writing? Now, songs such as “Rock & Roll” are classics, but then, not so much. Critics seemed to damn him for not going dark after they had damned him for not being lighter.
I honestly can’t think of any song I actively didn’t like. I liked some better than others. Some like “Heroin” and “Sister Ray” were lots of fun to play. I didn’t care what critics had to say and I don’t think Lou, John, Sterl, or Doug did, either. Then again, I don’t know that, since I’m not a mind reader.
What about Doug Yule—what was your read on him, as a person and as an artist?
Doug was and is a very sweet, nice guy. I always thought he was a good musician, had a good voice, and he could cook.
I know you sat out the actual studio sessions that yielded Loaded because you were pregnant. How disappointed were you about not working on that record?
Very. And I was happy to discover only lately that Doug, Lou, and Sterl all said on separate occasions during various interviews that they should’ve waited for me. That made me happy.
Let’s talk about the Matrix box and San Francisco. Famously, The Velvets had this hate/hate relationship with the West Coast—the hippie enclaves of Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular. What was your view of the West Coast and the possible feud?
We all really disliked the hippie crap. Flowers, peace, and love will not change the world. Nothing will change the world since people are people. Plus, I think the vast majority of hippies were just jumping on the bandwagon and really just liked the idea of laying around doing nothing and thinking they were stunningly cool. Hippies on the East Coast, hippies on the West Coast: they were all the same.
With that feeling then, how did the eighteen-night, two-club mini-residency at Family Dog and The Matrix feel? How different or daring was it considering your relationship to say, Max’s Kansas City in New York City, where you held your own weird brand of residency that yielded another live album?
Eighteen nights? Holy shit. I don’t remember that! At any rate, it wasn’t any different than any other clubs we played.
“Flowers, peace, and love will not change the world.”
Being that The Matrix was a place where you guys worked out as-yet-to-be-recorded songs like “Sweet Jane,” “New Age,” and “Rock & Roll,” could you feel the tides changing?
No, not really. We were also playing “Heroin,” so these were just new songs. Period.
Do you feel as if this version of the Velvets—the latter-day, Yule-driven VU—were more driven to find commercial success than the Cale version?
Speaking for myself, no.
The live versions of “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together” and “Sister Ray” are longer and more experimental. What was it like drumming for those songs?
I was best at keeping a beat without any flourishes, which I couldn’t do anyway. When we first were together, we did a lot of improvisation, and my role was to keep something steady so that they’d have a beat and tempo to come back to.
What do you recall about working with the Yules after Reed left? Were the brothers cool to work with without Reed being around? Do you know how Reed felt about you sticking with The Velvets?
After Lou left, it was Sterl, Doug, Walter, and I. Billy Yule wasn’t with us until Sterl left. When Sterl left, it was Doug, Walter, Willie, and I. No Billy. I doubt if Lou gave it much thought.
What say you to young Velvet fans who never caught the energy and weirdness of the band in any of its primes?
You win some, you lose some. FL