Featured Music: Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Part punk, part indie, and all rock ’n’ roll, the cut*off sounds more like itself with every disc.
Tried and Tested

Rorschach signifies a new era for young indie rockers the cut*off.


For a lot of bands — maybe all of them — “making it” means playing in front of enormous audiences at corporate amphitheaters and having a single in constant Clear Channel-approved rotation as groupies line up outside the luxurious tour bus. For some local bands, success simply means playing a lot of good, quality gigs and not having to self-release albums. Enter: the cut*off. The Fort Worth indie-rockers have just signed to indie label Summer Break, and the Dallas-based imprint is releasing the band’s new e.p., Rorschach, later this month and, in the near future, an as-yet-unnamed full-length.

The band’s first e.p., Polarity, was completely DIY. “We put out the first album all on our own, recorded it ourselves, and sold it at shows,” said drummer Jake Webster. “People said we had buzz, but nothing came of it, so we just played a lot of shows to pay for it. So, being on Summer Break is a damn big deal.”

The new e.p. represents a big step forward, artistically. Rorschach’s five songs pack more unadulterated rock than most major acts’ full-lengths. With droning melodies and fuzzed guitars, the band evokes everything from the Doors to Nirvana — guitarist and singer Kyle Barnhill’s snarl can be a dead ringer for Kurt’s — to the Pixies, which band members, all in their mid-20s, claim to adore. Rorschach makes it plain that these guys can write some intense rock songs.

The disc, said guitarist Jayson Hamilton, was recorded live with few overdubs. “We wanted the songs to have the energy of a live show,” he said. “It’s not as overproduced as our first album.”

The e.p.’s opener, “Adults We Know,” starts with clean acoustic guitars and Barnhill’s smoky whisper, then slowly gathers steam before exploding just past the minute mark. The tune sets the tone for what ultimately proves to be a quietly introspective record from a maturing and loud band.

Following a show at the Wreck Room on Feb. 17 to celebrate the release of Rorschach, the cut*off will embark in March on its first tour outside of Texas. The band will be back in time to perform at the Summer Break Records showcase at SXSW. “We’ve played around 50 shows since we started in 2002, and we’re starting to get shows outside of North Texas and Austin,” said bassist Chad Sones. “We’re playing better shows now.”

Like most musicians, the guys in the cut*off occasionally regurgitate in song what they take in from the world of pop-culture. The revved-up, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion-ish twang-punk of “Hold Me Down” is a paean to the partying life, and “Magdalene” was inspired by The DaVinci Code. “I try to draw from religion in my songwriting,” said chief songwriter Barnhill. “I was watching the Discovery Channel, and there was a show about a religious group that thinks we were put here by aliens. I thought, ‘That’s fucking cool. That would make for a good song.’ ”

What little the cut*off has, it has worked hard for. By promoting themselves more actively through MySpace and hanging out in local clubs, the cut*off guys have managed to get a firmer grasp on their future. Back when it formed a couple of years ago, the band used to get stuck on bills with heavy metal acts. But now that Barnhill and company have endeavored to expose their music to more club owners and other bands, orchestrating more artistically rewarding shows has become easier.

“We were too soft for the metal guys and too hard for the shoegazers,” said Barnhill. “Not everybody’s going to love us, because we don’t have a very defined sound, but we’re trying to find our niche.”

Hamilton said the band is committed and plans to be around for a while. “As a local band, you have to go over a hump,” he said. “A lot of them fade out after one c.d. If you can get through that and you can form your own sound, you can succeed. I wanted to play guitar because of the Toadies. They were from Fort Worth, and they made it on their own terms.”

The members of cut*off are “just normal guys,” Barnhill said. “We’re not heroin addicts. We wouldn’t put out another record if we didn’t think we could succeed and weren’t enjoying it.”

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