"If I could make enough with this band to buy a house, some beer and a dog, I'd be happy," says Jake Webster, drummer of the Cut*Off, Cowtown's fascinatingly languid conglomeration of '60s garage/psychedelia and '90s grunge leftovers.
The quartet, together since 2002, got their name from the fact that, in school, each member always did just enough work to make the cut-off point for a passing grade. It's exactly this offhanded attitude toward their music that defines the band. They self-released their debut, Polarity, in 2003, but the members are quick to distance themselves from the effort.
"Those were the first 13 songs we ever wrote," says singer/guitarist Kyle Barnhill. "I have a hard time even playing those songs now."
And while such revisionist history is usually so much "promote the new stuff" ballyhoo, the group's new EP, Rorschach, is such an emotional leap forward that it's easy to ask what caused such a stirring progression. The answer is anticlimactic.
"We just took our time," says lead guitarist Jayson Hamilton, whose prickly tones and well-versed hooks add much to the two- and three-chord workouts on the EP. Hamilton's fine work is quickly apparent on "Adults We Know," a measured and menacing elegy to juvenilia, equal part Sky Saxon and Frank Black.
Claiming the Pixies as their Holy Grail, the four 20-somethings in the Cut*Off are all students or working stiffs, guys who see Black Francis as the embodiment of the nerd who became cool, the unattractive lout who got the last laugh in song.
"Like Black Francis," says bassist Chad Sones, "we're half-assed professionals."
The sound the band conjures up on Rorschach, however, is more indebted to Pacific Northwest grunge icons Mudhoney than to the punky pop of the Pixies. Barnhill's casually sinister vocals on cuts such as "Magdalene" and "The Basement Theory" work well against a rhythm section that barely hangs together, over which Hamilton adds his inventive lead work.
The EP, produced by local mainstay Salim Nourallah, is a compelling tribute to amateurism, the kind of sloth that made the Replacements and early Soul Asylum so relevant and likable. Hitting the road March 2, the band hopes to spread some of that charm heading north on Interstate 35 to Milwaukee and Chicago.
"My dad has a friend who owns a rental car company, and I think we got someone to pay for the gas," says Webster, expressing more of that offhanded, seat-of-the-pants slacker mentality that suits the band so very well. By balancing a commitment to their craft with a blasé attitude about the results, the Cut*Off appears poised for a break that they, thankfully, could either embrace or continue contently without.
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