Live punk/garage rock shows are a rarity here on the Big Island, so, when one happens, it’s kind of a big deal. Last month the legendary punk band D.O.A. performed at the Hilo Town Tavern with openers El Sancho, and The Cutthroat Brothers. After interviewing members from D.O.A. and El Sancho, I learned that The Cutthroat Brothers had a connection to the Big Island, well, half of them do.
The Cutthroat Brothers feature Donny Paycheck on drums and Jason Cutthroat on guitar. Besides being musicians, they’re real-life barbers too – Donny has a shop in Tacoma, and Jason is in Kona. When they perform, both wear traditional lily-white barber jackets that have the appearance of being blood-spattered – think modern-day Sweeney Todds. Paycheck shoots out rapid-fire drum fills, while Jason’s razor-cut slide-work and haunting vocals complete their ear-piercing sound.
After Jason and I had some back-and-forth chatter on Facebook, I was “dying” to sit down and interview him about The Cutthroat Brothers’ new tour, new music video (“Out of Control”), and upcoming releases. Sitting at an outdoor coffee shop, we talked about the past and future directions for this duo.
Can you give me an overview of your musical background and how you met Donny Paycheck?
I’m from Idaho originally. My dad’s a preacher, and I was playing bass as a kid. Donny and I both started out playing music in family bands. I had a family group that would tour around to various churches in Idaho performing country-western and gospel music, like Carter Family tunes.
I met Donny in Seattle. He grew up playing drums, and his family entertained as well. Donny formed this grunge/punk band called Zeke about twenty-five years ago, and we knew each other from the Seattle scene in the 90s, you know, crossing paths. We became really good friends about eight years ago and found out we’re both barbers. He mentioned he came to the Big Island a lot, where I live, and loves it. We’d sit on the beach complaining about how being in bands is terrible and how much we hate it. He had quit Zeke, and I asked him if wanted to do some recording with producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden) in Seattle, which led to our debut album.
How did those first sessions go?
When we showed up for the session with Jack, we hadn’t done any rehearsals. I’d sent Donny some phone notes, so he kind of knew what we were doing. Jack asked if we had all of our songs tightened up and were ready to go, and we confessed that we’d never played a note of music together. You should’ve seen these death-ray laser beams coming out his eyes. [laughs] Three days later we came out of the studio with a finished record.
It’s really come together quite quickly for the band.
Yeah! We’d never played a show together before that debut record. The music video, and the photoshoot with us in the barbershop, was all done before we’d ever played any music together. It eventually all came together, but not in the traditional order.
We then went back into the studio and recorded another record really fast. That one got picked up by this Berlin label called Hound Gawd Records. They’ve got all these great Garage Rock bands.
We finished our first headlining tour of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands last November, and the reception was amazing! Through the Internet, people now know your songs through the videos. So, when we play live, they’re singing along and jumping on stage, dancing, and going crazy. The audience kept screaming and cheering and wouldn’t let us go – they made us do every song we knew!
Where did your slide guitar influence come from?
When I was writing the songs, I stumbled across this open-slide tuning playing. It’s pretty swampy and bluesy. The influence came from Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club and The Cramps. It also ties in with Joe Kaipo, a native Hawaiian steel-player who worked with Jimmie Rodgers. It’s interesting how this style traveled around the country with bluegrass, blues players, and the punkers like Jeffrey Lee got a hold of it, and now it’s come back around to what The Cutthroat Brothers are doing.
Tell me about your song composition process… themes, influences?
The usual stuff: Satan, death, drugs, bad relationships… My dad and being raised in a pretty religious household, there’s no end of the wealth of horrific imagery to draw from! [laughs]
What are holiday dinners like with the family?
Oh, they’re great! [laughs]I don’t think they listen to my band though. I had this theory that if your parents are listening to the music you’re listening to, then you’re doing it wrong. But when we are together, my dad and I will harmonize on a Willie Nelson song.
You recently were on a bill in Hilo with D.O.A. Have you done any other Big Island shows?
That was the only time that The Cutthroat Brothers ever played here. As you know, there’s not a huge punk scene here. Donny’s band, Zeke had toured with D.O.A. before, so there was a relationship. A friend of ours from here, Natalie, helped with getting us on the bill too. And coincidently, Allen from El Sancho [also on the bill], well, I cut his hair, and I got them on the bill. That’s kind of how punk rock works with friends. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the crowd was into it.
Are you working on a new studio project or tours?
We got this great tour lined up in late May. We’re going back over to Europe, the lower part of Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and might even dip down into Spain.
We also have an EP [The King is Dead] with bassist Mike Watt on it coming out in early March. He’s played with rock bands like Minutemen, Dos, and Firehose. Raymond Pettibon, who designed the Black Flag logo, is doing the artwork for it. The EP will be available on vinyl, CD, streaming, everything.
The other big news is that we’re going back to the studio in March with producer Jack Endino and do record three. I got inspired after the last tour to write a whole new bunch of songs. We’ll try to put that out on Halloween because it goes with our theme. For a two-man band, with one on the Big Island, and the other in Tacoma, we’re not doing too shabby.
Photos by Anna Pacheco Photography.
Keep up with the latest Cutthroat Brothers tour dates and music on their website.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.