By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of CUTTERS.
Nearly 40 years since its inception, punk is becoming—once again—a diverse and refreshing genre. Thanks to a new generation of explorers entertaining new approaches, rather than one, uniform ‘Rock N’ Roll High School’ of thought, power chords and four-counts have taken a back seat to ingenuity and nuance. CUTTERS of Brooklyn, NY is finding out that, much like the weirdo punk kid in high school, they don’t perfectly fit in anywhere except among their friends.
The strange part is that, like the cliques we all sought to avoid in adolescence, modern punk can at times reinforce stagnation and bands find themselves hopping on bills they never would have dreamed of.
Not to say that this is inherently bad, though. In fact for CUTTERS, it’s giving them the battle cry to stake their own ground on their debut LP, We Are The Quarry, a scant 8-songs released by the band proving most of everything they have to offer at the beginning. BTR was able carve out some time to speak with CUTTERS’ vocalist Pierce Lydon and guitarist Brian Deodat about resisting genre conformity and how this latest album sums up everything about living the bandless post-grad life.
Speaking of the reception of We Are The Quarry, Lydon remarked that “I was kind of worried that people wouldn’t like it.” However with CUTTERS, the self-consciousness of the reception doesn’t quite have as much to do with their perceived quality of the music but rather the fact that they don’t feel they fit so neatly with what’s happening with New York music.
He says that “sometimes we get put on weird bills because nobody really knows where to put us.” Which on the surface, sounds like a problem and a reflection of the oversaturation of bands but if you reflect on it, it can really be a net positive for the band.
In one way, it forces the band to create their own “scene” as it were because they can’t already fall back on one and so they have the autonomy to play with their friends and start something on their own. In another way, the band isn’t consciously trying to avoid becoming derivative in their sound.
“[Bands with easily definable sounds] get booked easier; it’s when you have such a clear genre that you’re picking up these nuances from genres and using them very, very distinctly. It’s easier to get booked, it’s easier to get categorized. We sort of just sat down and started playing stuff that we wanted to play,” says Deodat.
Which brings us to how CUTTERS formed. It’s really just the union of a few old friendships between Pierce and Brian, who have known each other for six years; Brian and John Luther (drummer), who have known each other since Brian was 12; and Brian and Mike Strianese, also from his high school who Deodat says is a “phenomenal bass player for no reason.”
Brian used to drum for Pierce’s “college experience,” a band called Ghost Mall, and so after he graduated he was left without a band and nothing musical to really tend to, save for a “pop songwriting thing.” Then when the two of them found themselves in Brooklyn, Brian called up Pierce and “cobbled” CUTTERS together.
Their beginnings were a little haphazard as their vision wasn’t completely clear. Lydon calls the first year of creative output “funny,” while Deodat laments he originally “wanted to be a post-rock band.” Though their latest record has a few too many ties to that ambition, one of the spacier songs from We Are The Quarry called “Excitable Liefield” comes from Deodat’s original intent.
As you may or may not know, their name comes from Lydon’s favorite film, Breaking Away—a 1970s picture about the locals of Bloomington, Ind. who are disparagingly referred to as the “cutters,” in reference to their rejection of the college culture that also inhabits the town. For if you didn’t choose college then you were destined to become a marble stonecutter. The film also features bicycle racing and opera, but the main takeaway is that the “cutters” were the underdogs of Bloomington society, and for all intents and purposes, the punks.
“Definitely, especially since we exist a little bit outside a lot of things that are going on as far as the music that we make and trying to carve out a niche in the areas that we try to play in. I’ve played in bands that sounded like whatever was sort of popular on Pitchfork and blogs and shit before, and that was really easy. It’s weird to not do that and it’s harder but a lot more fulfilling, I think,” says Lydon.
One of the trademarks of CUTTERS is their sing-along style, which is not altogether so unique in punk, but somehow they turn the trope into a unique musical hallmark. The aforementioned Ghost Mall project utilized the gimmick heavily, and it seems the communal ferocity that sing-alongs encourage was what Lydon wanted to bring into his new band most.
“It’s just like an immediate connection with an audience. If there’s a line, it means something to every single person in that whatever the sing-along it means something to one person, it means something different to another person. If they’re all singing it back to you or everyone’s going along at the same time, there’s nothing better than that,” says Deodat.
Lydon chimes in that it’s really easy to use sing-alongs as a “crutch” though, and when people are screaming something back in your face they can seem “very real” thus making it “very easy to lie to yourself about things.” Deodat also concedes that the sing-along must have an end, that “having it go on endlessly just gets kind of tiresome.”
We Are The Quarry is a collection of their favorite older songs from their first EP Trying Not To Die “as well as a bunch of new songs too.” The record was originally supposed to have a concept based around Breaking Away, but they decided against it. Whatever thematic cohesion they finally decided to go with ended up becoming much more substantial and personal than a record about some Midwestern townies, at least in intent. Lydon explains:
“A quarry is a big-ass hole in the ground that you remove things from; you take rock out of it and it’s like a mine. It gets refilled with things. I think it’s kind of how I felt about music a little bit. I got burned out being in bands because it’s the constant cycle of ‘being in a band, doing some things, people liking it, band breaking up’ before you do anything significant. When I wasn’t in a band for two years after Ghost Mall I was just like, ‘Alright, I guess I’ll never do this again. I guess that’s it, that’s all I got.’ But then CUTTERS came along then Brian came into my life again [laughs] and you get filled up again.
“In the same way that a quarry eventually fills up with water and it serves another purpose,” he muses. “Even if it’s kind of the same, it’s something different.”
Break away with CUTTERS by clicking here.
Check out CUTTERS’ music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.