There aren’t many bands, in Savannah, the Lowcountry or otherwise, who can create such a mighty wallop using just three people.
With the release this week of their self–titled debut album, Cusses — Bryan, Brian and Angel — deliver on the promise they made to one another back in the early days of 2010, when they first got together: No compromise.
Cusses (Ha! Records) includes 10 tracks, all written collectively by the band members, each one a blistering amalgam of heavy riffing, punk energy and tough–but–sweet pop–style vocals. Think Black Flag - or even Rush - fronted by the Go–Gos’ Belinda Carlisle.
“A typical band is four dudes playing music together,” observes guitarist Bryan Harder. “The singer sounds a lot like Kurt Cobain. They all have the belts with the chains, and they’re all knocking out alternative Top 40 music.
“So anything that strays from that is, I think, a bonus to a band.”
Harder and drummer Brian Lackey had been in a couple of Savannah bands together, and had developed a musical synergy of experimental, echo–laden guitar and explosive percussion. They knew how to work together.
When Angel Bond came in on vocals, everything suddenly made sense.
“The reality is, Angel makes up a lot of notches in the key,” Harder says. “Having someone like Angel, who sounds great, looks great, moves great and writes great music, kinda just puts you over the top. So there’s a formula to it all, not just the music but the members.
“And that kinda just happened. We didn’t really think of it, we’re just making music. And I’m sure that’s what other people say, too.”
Lackey, for one, believes that Cusses was always laying in wait ... waiting for Angel.
“Bryan and I played together for years,” he says, “and knowing what that could sound like, this band was 15 years in the making, in my book.”
Recording an album that’s true to their particular vision “was really about trying to make a mark or something — not make a mark in the music industry, but make a mark personally, for yourself,” Lackey adds.
“Like, I really want to hear myself on a record that I would actually play more than twice.”
Cusses celebrate the album’s arrival — on CD, vinyl and digital download — with a record release show Friday, Jan. 27 at the Jinx.
The basic tracks were cut in July at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville; Bond recorded most of her vocals afterwards in Atlanta.
Getting away from home, she says, was crucial to successful recording.
“It was a good process. Because we’ve all got pretty busy lives here, it would have been pretty hard to have a 12–hour session without getting interrupted by something.”
Photographer Bob Jones documented the recording sessions on video; his documentary on the making of Cusses is forthcoming.
The record is sonically dense and captures the exciting live interplay between Harder’s heavy prog guitar and Lackey’s eight–armed power drumming.
“Not having a bass player forces me to play a certain way,” Harder says. “It forces me to play simply, and with hard–hitting notes and octaves as opposed to chords.
“Obviously, without a bass player I have the freedom to go wherever I want to. And it doesn’t sound muddy, it sounds good, because it’s just me. I can decide to change key, or change a note, or go somewhere else and not have to worry about it. There’s a lot of freedom there.”
Harder’s an obsessive experimenter, both with composition and guitar–distorting gizmos. “I’d love to go into some odd timing and all that, but that’s not what we are,” he says. “We’re more straightforward. I’ll just save that for a rainy day.”
Recording the album, Bond was able to stretch and experiment vocally, both by using heavy reverb and delay, and adding background choruses and occasional harmony. That’s the only change from the way she sings onstage.
Despite her spitfire presence in front of a microphone, Bond says she’s still terrified in the hours and minutes leading up to a Cusses show.
“As soon as we’re into the first song I do this little thing where I just don’t care what anybody thinks,” she says, “and I black out into this other person. Once the first song’s up I’m good to go, and I’m in another world.”
It was Lackey and Harder, in the band’s earliest days, who coaxed her out of her stage–fright shell. “I’m so grateful because they’ve pushed out this part of me that I’d been dying to get out of me but never had the confidence to do it,” Bond says.
“Before, they intimidated the shit out of me, and I couldn’t say anything for about three months. And they’ll vouch for that.
“Just like Brian says, it’s the cheapest and best therapy ever. I feel more at peace with myself and my past than I ever have. Just because I have this outlet.”
Lately, the three Cusses have been using their practice space, a converted art studio on East 40th Street, for house shows featuring local and out–of–town bands (house shows in the literal sense — until recently, Bond and Lackey lived in the building).
They call it No Control, and the shows are always age–friendly (young kids too) and begin at a relatively early hour.
There’ll be a No Control-sponsored festival Feb. 18 at Southern Pine Company, with Cusses and a half-dozen of their buddy bands. It’ll go on all day, open to all ages.
The idea behind No Control, Lackey explains, was a no–brainer. “Music in Savannah is happening in bars,” he says. “And there are kids that are 18 to 21 that are like ‘Huh?’”
Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress
When: At 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27
The first 100 guests receive a free digital download of the new album