Dru Cutler Interview with RARA’s Farm at FMF 2016
At this year’s Florida Music Festival, I met a slew of talented new bands, most of them from the Sunshine State, but my favorite new discovery was Dru Cutler, a hard-working talent from Brooklyn, NY.
Cutler, who was raised in Tampa, is a passionate performer who exudes charisma. He boasts an impressive song selection, a strong stage presence, and he’s a hell of a nice guy.
On the night we saw him, he drew a rough time slot and played to a sparse crowd at Cheyenne Saloon, but this week, his fans in The Big Apple will get to see him take the stage at the revered Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan.
Cretin: When I first listened to your music, I was torn as to whether you were more of a singer-songwriter or a progressive rocker. Then tonight I saw a little bit of both, but in between you were a straight forward rocker. How would you describe your sound?
Dru Cutler: That’s tricky. I am a singer songwriter… and I play in a rock band. I think if someone likes Ryan Adams or more classic rock, like Pink Floyd, or The Beatles they’d like my music; straight-forward songwriting with a bit of outside influences.
Cretin: That’s cool, I actually thought of Floyd when I heard a few of your songs, and Ryan Adams is a great comparison, too.
Dru Cutler: At the core of it, I really care about the depth of the songs; the lyrics and messages of the songs; which I might share with him a little bit.
Cretin: I sensed a common nostalgic feel to many of your songs. Is that a vibe you strive for?
Dru Cutler: I’m very fascinated by memories, nostalgia and dreams. I think nostalgia is something that we can’t escape, so we have to embrace it. As an artist I’m always looking for what sparks it and why. What I’ve found is that when I write a song about everyone’s past, it just resonates with folks and ultimately that’s my job. No one wants to see me up there bleeding on stage and complaining about my life. They want me sing something that also helps them think about their life.
Cretin: When you played “Hometown” tonight you said that it was for the audience, and listening to the lyrics, it’s a tune that could appeal to anyone.
Dru Cutler: It’s designed to do that. It’s a pop song, and it actually reminds me of Bruce Springsteen a little bit. I grew up in Tampa, I’ve been in New York a long time and things happen where you’re walking down the street and you see an old restaurant that you went on a date one time, or it used to be a pizza place, or used to be a music venue, or used to be a record store.
Cretin: We can all relate to that.
Dru Cutler: And you’re brought back. It’s not that you wish it was a record store again. You kind of wish you could go back to that day when you were there. The brain has a way of shedding the negativity associated with the memory.
Cretin: We have a tendency to romanticize those memories.
Dru Cutler: There’s something romantic and warm and dreamy about that, and I’m fascinated about it, so I write about it a lot.
Cretin: You mentioned you are from Tampa, and with us being a Florida-based music blog, I’m interested to know if you played around there?
Dru Cutler: I had a band in Florida that was reasonably successful. We were nominated for Best Music Video by Creative Loafing. We were called Lush Progress, and it wasn’t that different than what we’re doing today. In fact; the backing band tonight were all from Lush Progress.
Cretin: And since then?
Dru Cutler: About eight years ago, I moved to Brooklyn, where I’ve worked really hard. I met some cats, moved into a warehouse and in three years converted this giant warehouse into a work live space where we host live shows and record them, and we also actually started a record label. (The Unit J label launch party is June 9th at House of Yes).
Dru Cutler: It’s a place where artists can come and develop, and live and learn and collaborate, and it’s really a powerful place. And, it’s in the heart of the scene in Brooklyn.
Cretin: And you live there?
Dru Cutler: Yes, I’m one of the six people. And I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not all roses living with six people. There have been some nightmares. There was this one guy who came for a party in November and never left. He didn’t leave for six months.
Dru Cutler: But those were the dark days, we’re in a fantastic place now, and we host shows twice a month.
Cretin: What genres?
Dru Cutler: It’s a small space with four concrete walls, so we can’t play metal. We play folk-infused rock. We have a piano, an organ and a drum kit. It’s definitely folk-influenced singer-songwriter kind of stuff. It’s called Unit J (http://www.unitjbushwick.com/). Frankly, we got tired of trying to breakthrough the scene here, so we created our own scene. People come through the doors and say it’s awesome because they’re literally in someone’s living room. It feels welcoming, you can have a glass of wine and relax and we even have a dog running around.
Cretin: That’s a great idea, and it sounds like a place with a killer vibe. It seems to me that Brooklyn has a fantastically vibrant rock scene these days and it sounds like Unit J taps into that.
Dru Cutler: We want to tap into that. We definitely do. The four folks on our label are all fantastic songwriters. When I lived in Tampa there were fantastic musicians but you had to sift through just like anywhere else, but the musicians I meet in Brooklyn are of another caliber. I’m pretty good, but these people are amazing.
Cretin: It’s been awhile since I saw a rock band with a cellist. Not all that common, but it worked great today.
Dru Cutler: It usually doesn’t work. It’s tough. Tom Kersey and I were in Lush Progress for almost eight years. He’s one of my best friends and he and I went to college together and studied music composition. We speak a language far beyond most musicians and we communicate visually and he’s just fantastic.
Cretin: You went to school at USF, right? What about the other three guys on stage with you today?
Dru Cutler: We are all from Tampa and we all went to the University of South Florida, graduating with degrees in music.
Cretin: Are they all up in Brooklyn with you now?
Dru Cutler: No. I have an awesome band in New York, but frankly I can’t afford to bring my New York band down here. So, I have a little band down here I tour with, and another one up there.
Cretin: Is there a cellist in the New York band, too?
Dru Cutler: No, each band has its own shtick. With the New York band, I play more piano heavy tunes because I have a fantastic pianist.
Cretin: I noticed you playing piano in a few of your videos. Is that how you typically create your music?
Dru Cutler: It depends on the tune. On “Familiar,” the video that went to the Palm Beach Film Festival, that’s a piano song that was written on piano. When I play it on guitar like tonight, I feel like I’m doing it justice, but it’s translated. This goes back to great songwriting. If the message is clear, the lyrics are clear and the melodies are good, I think a good song can work on a ukulele, a banjo, a cello, a piano or any instrument.
Cretin: Changing gears, when I walked into the industry event, you were really trying to put on a great show even though lots of folks were more concerned with the open bar. Then at Cheyenne Saloon, the crowd was still pretty thin when you came on, but you poured everything into the show.
Dru Cutler: Yeah, I tried. Look, ultimately artists write songs for their audience and they want to be involved and I have some tunes that directly do that. Sometimes I push it, and sometimes I don’t. Anytime you do that with audience participation there are only two ways it can go. It either works really well, or falls flat. And there, it felt flat, but I get that.
Cretin: Yeah, it was a different environment for sure.
Dru Cutler: It was a weird crowd. It is what it is. The tune where I do that is “I Want The Moon, But That’s Not All,” and I’ve played that in New York and it slays, with 100 people screaming, and it’s awesome. Another shtick I do is take an audience member’s cell phone and read their text messages, then turn them into a song. I’ve done it some times where people are gut-laughing because it’s working so well, but I also did it once where everyone in the bar refused to give me their cell phone. I felt like an idiot.
Cretin: Sounds like a great idea, though.
Dru Cutler: Once you involve the crowd at that level, they are in the palm of your hand.
Cretin: It’s a great way to get your audience involved in the show.
Dru Cutler: There are a million people who look good and play music, but that’s not enough. There has to be that extra little sprinkling where someone understands how to accept that energy of the crowd and give it back to them and really pull them in and keep them there entertained. That’s the icing on the cake that makes them stand out.
Cretin: I think you’ve got it, and hopefully next time I see you, it will be in front of a large crowd.
His fans in New York will get their chance to check out this dynamic performer when he takes the stage at Rockwood Music Hall on Thursday, May 19th. Get show information HERE.
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