Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing The Kut, a basement rock trio from London, England. The band’s energy shines through in the distinctive, melodic tracks on their EP Make Up. You can find more information about The Kut at thekut.co.uk and thekut.bandcamp.com. In our interview, the band discussed the meaning of “basement rock,” the influence of grunge and alternative bands on their sound, their thoughts on sexism in the music industry, and their experience performing at the London 2012 Paralympics and Olympics.
Please describe your path to becoming musicians.
Hey, thanks for the interview. For me personally I’ve always been pretty interested in music and singing. I started the piano at age 4 but mainly played it to sing along too. By the time I was about 7 I used to write songs and my dad would always have me on the karaoke at the hotel where I grew up. By the time I was not too old I would sing to full bars of guests, either acapella or with a beat. It was something that was part of my everyday life and that I loved. I think my dad always wanted me to be a singer. By the time I was about 13 I’d been through quite a few instruments and none of them really seemed to suit me or interest me enough to keep up with practicing every day. When I found my sister’s guitar in the other side of the hotel I actually fell in love, though. I used to play for hours and hours a day until my fingers would bleed and then some, eventually learning to strengthen them up using surgical spirit or super glue just to keep on playing. I don’t have a music theory background, though. When I first started with the piano I did follow that, but soon I decided it was better in some ways to make my own way without theory. Even when it came to scales I didn’t want to know them then. Initially I’d use it to write music around songs I’d written the lyrics and melody for, but it soon helped me to write even more songs as I’d be able to use new riffs to inspire me to sing. At 14 I formed my first ever real band. I always knew I wanted to be a performing musician even if I didn’t know how to get there or where it would lead.
You have identified several grunge and alternative bands who have been influential including Hole, L7, The Deftones, Placebo, Nirvana and Faith No More. How does your style reflect these feminine and masculine influences?
We really love these bands and they’ve been really influential in our lives. Like Ali always says in this context, you can’t be what you can’t see. Female bands and, for me, female rock vocalists have always been a really heavy inspiration because of that. But I never really grew up with that whole sexist vibe about oh this is a man’s game, or believing that you can’t play rock because of your gender. That’s only something that’s come up recently because so many people including past band members have had issues with the gender being a key part of what we do. Deftones, Nirvana and Faith No More are all amazing bands too, though. I guess we probably take on some of the grunge sound just as a result of what we’ve listened to, although it’s never a case of that when it comes to writing. The things that inspire me to write a song are very much about the real world – someone that says something profound in passing, an experience, whether social or perceptual, or just the moment when a new melody comes into my head. The longer we’ve been together the more you can see our influences coming out, though, which I have to say I like. Just a few years ago we’d read a ton of great demo reviews that all referred to different acts and no one really knew where to put us in terms of our influences. Now we’ve tried to work on putting out material that’s a bit more cohesive genre-wise and in that way we’ve been through our own development process. Sure it would have been nice to have a major label development deal and a funded block of time in a rehearsal studio to figure that stuff out, but it didn’t come, so we fought through and are now beginning to find our identity as a band. I think it’s an important aspect of where we are now and it’s something we did off our own backs because we love the band and making music.
Underneath This agrees with Maha’s perspective that “it’s a shame that being an all-girl band is still seen as a gimmick.” Why and how do you think that sexism persists, and has there been any progress from your perspective?
There’s definitely positive progress with sexism in the music industry. I don’t personally find it offensive when someone says we are an all female band, because we are, but then when that’s the only focus and it’s not the music, then that’s a problem. It should be about the music first, although our gender does often get picked up on because of the riot grrrl genre too. I guess there are a few stereotypes about females playing music – probably some of the same ones that you’d see on an anti discrimination campaign. Also as Courtney Love says, there only ever seems to be space for one female in rock at any one time. Its a sad state of affairs because it should be about the music and sure if we can empower other females to get together and pick up instruments then that has to be a good thing too. I guess that we’d never want to be known for just being an all female band, we want to be known for our music first and then because we are female too.
In what ways is your music feminist?
The thing is that our music isn’t feminist…Sure we are pro-equality but our music is about other things, about life and experiences.
Maha has also said, “We love female fronted acts, but for us the focus has always been the music.” Please say more about this.
In terms of the acts we love we are always getting compared to other bands because they are female fronted or all female bands, and while we do love female fronted bands, we are more in love with just writing songs, playing gigs etc. We see each other all the time, it’s not new for us that we are an all female band if you know what I mean, so it’s something we feel is really natural and normal to us. When we step into the outside world, i.e. out of the rehearsals and gigs, we get a lot of comments on it which are great. But then when we get compared to other bands based on their look and genre it doesn’t seem to make sense. We do have a lot of influences in our songs so for a music fan they are there to pick up on.
How does being in England influence the music that you make?
The UK has a great music scene as far as we’ve experienced. In some ways because we are a small country we can travel easier and now get around to a few cities repeatedly across the year. It’s a great thing for us. That said, we listen to a lot of American bands, and the grunge scene is a big influence on us and the music we play. We’d love to get out and tour abroad though. It’s something we haven’t done yet and it’s now a case of finding the right agent to help us to do that.
You have described your style as “basement rock.” What does this designation mean?
I think it was something that stuck with us from a while back where we were reviewed as a basement rock band, probably because we used to rehearse in a basement in a party place over in New Cross in South East London. We were always the band in the basement mixing it up with a load of styles. Although we’ve definitely locked down our sound more now, at the time we used to genre hop a lot more. Some of the tracks in the set were ska influenced or with breakbeats – some of that we’ve still managed to get in the set in tracks like DMA with the ska riff in the chorus and Mario with the breakbeats in the verses. Basement rock for us was a way of combining those elements in rock without being straight up rock and without not being rock. It was just the ability to experiment with our sound within the rock genre.
What were you up to in the nearly four year span between recording music?
Haha yeah I know…I’m hearing you! It was a big gap, we’d just released the Closure video and it was on NME TV (RIP) – it was a great channel. We’d been given our own one hour show and it was going to be really exciting to put it all together. Things were really kicking off for us. We started to speak with Dennis Ryder, who managed Ugly Kid Joe and Evanescence and he’d got us in touch with the head A&R at Warner. We were told they loved the tracks, feeling they were really strong songs, and that they wanted to see us live. It was like a big weight lifted but suddenly we weren’t recording. Sure we were doing a lot of demos, but there wasn’t any real movement on taking them and getting them professionally recorded. We’d also had some bad experiences with producers in the past, and I will tell you, there are a lot of sharks out there when it comes to the industry and money! We just couldn’t afford to work with someone who wasn’t going to do our tracks justice. We focused on gigs, rehearsing and a lot of frustration came into play. It was really a tough time because what we really needed to be doing was recording and releasing more songs! It became a long stint of nothing and something I’m only just getting over now. We were back in the studio yesterday though, so that’s got to be positive. We won’t be letting it happen again!
I am really enjoying your new EP, “Make Up.” How did you develop the title?
Hey thanks a lot. We really wanted to put a collection out that showed a few of the new tracks, but also had some of the older stuff on there. Make Up is an emotional track for me personally. It’s not particularly the lead track – in my opinion that is No Trace, but No Trace wasn’t even a song when we decided to record an EP. Make Up was one of the tracks that says a lot about the frustration and hiding your emotions, to not let the world know how bad things are. It was a cover up story. When we saw the cover, someone had sent a portfolio of art to Criminal Records. When we saw that it looked like it was the perfect cover for us, and the designer, Echobeatstudios added all our info to it and made the art.
One of my favorite tracks on that album is “Mario.” What is the story behind that song?
That’s great! We love playing that song. It’s probably our most Jane’s Addiction track we have on the record. We were having a mess about in rehearsals and I was playing the Super Mario theme song on the guitar. One thing led to another and we were in the midst of a full blown jam. It had a great energy and after we got the sound down it was where it was. The lyrics were about the frustration and the feeling of fighting back against it. We can’t be the only people who were made a lot of promises and felt fed up at the system and everything in it. It was the realisation we were on the verge of a personal and culture based revolution.
What are some of your favorite songs to cover?
Hm, we haven’t really done many covers, but we have played Love Buzz and the Distillers once or twice. Oh and of course L7’s Pretend We’re Dead : )
How was performing at the London 2012 Paralympics and Olympics?
The London Olympics was a great experience for us. Initially we were selected to play at a pitch at the London Olympics by the Teenage Rampage Foundation. It was a lot of fun, and after we played we were invited back by the stage bookers to play on one of the main stages in the Paralympics. It was a great thrill for us! It was a shame we couldn’t invite our friends, though, because it was all sold out, but the stage was awesome! We had no idea it would be such a big one, and as we approached it was like a huge pod. It wasn’t until I saw the pictures after that I realised how awesome and futuristic it looked. We had a great show and it’s something we would have never had the opportunity to do if it wasn’t for the Teenage Rampage Foundation.
What have been some other highlights of performing?
I guess it goes in circles, but at the moment we are getting to travel a lot and hang out. We are best mates, so if we can just go out to different places, hang out, meet new people and go away with a few pounds in our pockets, it’s all a highlight really. I love playing live and the heckles from within the band. We all believe in each other as musicians and performers. There’s something very special about being proud of your band mates and rocking out together.
So far, what insights do you have for aspiring musicians?
Right now I’d say, it’s a tough long slog if you want to make music your career – but don’t let the world hold you back and if you believe in something, just go for it, fight for it. Don’t give up! But also, listen to what people around you say…don’t be blinkered, and take on everything, even your critics – not to the point that it breaks you down, but just so you know the difference between reality and ideals. Music is a path for people who can’t live any other way. It’s not something you choose.
What is next for your creatively?
We were back in the studio with our producer James LeRock Loughrey. He produced the three new tracks on our EP and we are really excited about how these new ones are going to sounds. We will go in next week to work on these and put down bass and vocals and see how it shapes up. We managed to record four new songs we’ve added in the set in the last four months. One of which we just did yesterday and never even played out or in a rehearsal. It’s going to be exciting and good to be going out there with some brand new ones plus Hollywood Rock n Roll which is one we’ve been playing out for a while now. After that we are working on getting out more videos and a new EP for the new year. In the meantime I guess we will just keep our heads down and get as many gigs in as we can.
-Sem and Strike