At a time when Bay Area musicians are slamming down punk and blowing pop bubbles, Oakland’s Cuts seem to be hovering in a different world of rock ‘n’ roll. With their laid-back keyboard-driven melodies, jangling guitars, and Tom Verlaine vocals, the Cuts are a seamless mix of late-’70 NYC art rock and early-’60s AM pop (with a bit of the Who thrown in as well). The band layers different genres of music, amping psychedelic rock on one verse and tightening the jams the next, veering into a sonic richness lacking in many current rock acts. The group attributes its sound to an unlikely mentor: “Dollar records are the most influential thing in my life,” says frontman/guitarist Andy Jordan as bassist Carlos Palacious grins in agreement. “Well, dollar records and weed,” Jordan adds with a laugh. Record-store graveyards and garage sales are goldmines for the Cuts, who plunder the castaways to find nuggets of their own. The most recent example of a good find, says Palacious, is some “funny-ass LA rock dude” named “Nick something-or-other” who plays mostly power pop, but the band members collect music as varied as Appalachian folk, low-rider soul, country-western, and R&B — an array that keeps their music moving between multiple genres.
On a recent rainy afternoon, the Cuts were assembled at Wally’s Sound Studio near the Oakland DMV, laying down tracks for a song tentatively called “How Can I Get Through” for an Eric Davidson (New Bomb Turks) compilation called God’s Own Methane. They were excited to finally be back in a studio — a step forward for a group that’s unfortunately been riddled with complications from the beginning, but will hopefully rise to the top of the Bay Area rock pile.
Palacious formed the Cuts in late 1997. In the beginning, everything came together quickly. He met Jordan over a good night of drinking — after which Jordan woke up in Palacious’ shower, surrounded by vomit — and the two went on to start a music fanatic’s friendship over a breakfast of filet mignon and Wild Turkey. He introduced Jordan to old-school punk and garage bands like the Lyres, and the seeds of the band began to germinate. The first incarnation of the Cuts played Pagans and Dicks covers at an Oakland party, where they ran into drummer Garett Goddard. “I thought they were an obviously terrible punk band, and I really enjoyed it,” says Goddard, and he brought pal Elizabeth Dotzler in to play organ as well. Carson Bell — who now plays bass in the Pattern — was another early Cuts member, playing drums and guitar in the band from ’98 to ’99.
“Lookout wanted to put out a single right away,” says Goddard. “This was in like ’98. Then they sent us on tour with the Donnas and we played five shows with them.” Pairing the Cuts with a bubblegum punk act was an odd move for the label, but Goddard says Lookout made it clear at the time that they were trying to expand their roster by releasing singles from different kinds of bands. But things started getting difficult after the Cuts recorded the 7-inch “Heartattack” and did a couple other tours. Although Lookout added the Cuts to their SXSW showcase in 1999 and again this year, phone calls from Cuts to the label about supporting a full-length went unreturned after the music convention. “There was all this nonsense about, ‘We’re gonna put out your record — oh wait, we’re not,'” says Jordan. “It was a lot of bullshit.”
“Our friends stopped working there,” adds Goddard, “and it was pretty clear that they didn’t want anything to do with us…. I’m not really sure what happened.”
According to Chris Appelgren, owner/ president of Lookout Records, the label is a fan of the band’s music but had reservations about the Cuts’ live track record. “I heard the recording [for the full-length] that they did, kind of an early mix of it, and I really liked it,” says Appelgren. “We had a lot of questions about what they were going to be doing as a band aside from that, though — like how active they would be and how the live shows would be.” According to Lookout’s Web site, all their bands have to be playing regular shows with stable lineups. “There was a time when they had this great recording but they weren’t very organized as a band,” says Appelgren. “They had a track record of canceling shows and had canceled a tour. We were really concerned about doing something where the band would break up when the record came out.”
Since the fallout over releasing a record, Appelgren says the band seems to have pulled together, and when asked if he would consider working with the Cuts again, he says, “I certainly don’t feel like there’s a closed door on that subject. I definitely feel like they’re one of the most fresh, exciting, and innovative rock ‘n’ roll bands happening.”
Post-Lookout, things have been moving slower than they should for the Cuts. Without the label’s support, the group has to pay for recording sessions themselves. The Cuts did get lucky, though, when Maximum Rocknroll columnist Mark Murmann took an interest in their music and released the group’s excellent eponymous debut earlier this year on vinyl through his Rocknroll Blitzkrieg label. The Cuts also solidified their lineup for (it is hoped) the last time by swapping out Dotzler and bringing Dan Aaberg in on keyboards. But now, as the future of Rocknroll Blitzkrieg looks uncertain, the four-piece is hoping to find another label willing to support the next record — even though they admit they’re totally not up on what labels are even out there. “All of us are immersed in records from long ago, so we don’t know much about new music,” laughs Palacious. For now, though, luckily there still are plenty of faithful fans who know a good thing like the Cuts when they hear it. “Record nerds dig us because we’ve covered like the Huns and shit like that,” says Jordan. “And that’s cool with us.”