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Cutters is a Brooklyn-based, self-described “survival punk” outfit formed in 2012 by lead vocalist Pierce Lightning. We recently had a chance to chat with Pierce about the band’s latest 7-inch, both//neither, and the singer’s choice to address gender identity through music.
You describe your band as “survival punk.” Can you explain what you mean by that? Is it a stylistic/genre term, or a more literal term?
So many people use music as a coping mechanism, but I think we wanted to put that idea front and center. There’s a certain level of desperation involved in punk rock and CUTTERS was really born out of that. So it’s a little stylistic and a bit literal but I think it gets the point across.
Could you walk us through your creative process a bit? What does songwriting look like to you? How do you approach the studio?
Our creative process is a bit all over the place. Usually, I’ll have some lyrics written and then Brian [Deodat, guitarist] will send me a bunch of videos of him playing guitar. I’ll make terrible demos with GarageBand then we’ll get together and try to flesh them out in his living room. Then we bring them to Mike [Strianese, bass] and John [Luther, drums] at practice and they help with the arrangements and writing their parts. I don’t play anything so I act more as a director in the songwriting process. “More of this, less of that, etc.” And usually it comes together.
The studio is a nightmare, though. We track everything individually so it can take a long time. I hate recording.
You identify as non-binary/genderqueer. To those who may be unfamiliar, can you describe what that means to you personally, and do you prefer non-descript pronouns like “them/they, etc.”?
I do prefer gender neutral pronouns. Basically, I don’t identify as any specific gender so I take the parts that I like and kind of mash them up into something else.
I was assigned male at birth and that never really sat well with me.
The past couple of years have lead to me embracing the small ways that I can subvert the traditional gender paradigm in ways that are, not really radical, but definitely challenging common perceptions.
Your new 7-inch is titled “both//neither.” Can one assume that is a reference to your gender identity?
Yep, totally. I felt it was important to be direct this time around. I’ve always included references to gender in songs and bands I’ve been in but I’ve never been so overt about it. Art is pretty subjective and I think that the broader themes of alienation and loneliness are still present on this 7”, but for me, and how those themes are related to me, gender identity is at the center of it.
Have you had any genderqueer musical role models to look up to as you started your career?
I don’t know. I’ve been in bands since I was 15 and I was always drawn to Bowie, The New York Dolls, Jayne County and the like. But I don’t know if I saw them as role models. It always seemed like something I couldn’t do. I think that if I have any queer musical role models, they’re much more current. Bands like Adult Mom, PWR BTTM and G.L.O.S.S. being out and unafraid to be themselves are really powerful.
As an independent musician, can you comment on how you feel our industry treats genderqueer artists?
I think that a lot of people aren’t really equipped to understand the nuances that surround gender identity.
And that’s not their fault. We’re definitely going through a bit of a mass cultural awakening with regards to how and why we define ourselves the way we do, but sometimes there’s a lot of base knowledge that’s needed to actually actively participate in a discussion. And thirty seconds in between loud guitar songs isn’t exactly the best place to have those discussions, either. I think that gender nonconforming artists still exist as outsiders in outsider art forms, but hopefully not always.
Has this treatment changed (for better or worse) since you first got involved in music?
I think it’s gotten better. I’m really lucky in the sense that I’ve never experienced any violence directly related to my gender identity or presentation. But I’m an exception. I know so many people who go through so much shit every day, which just piles on to all of the self-inflicted negativity that they feel. It’s not easy. But I think that finding a queer community to be safe in is really important and the more those spaces grow, the better off everyone is.
Has your identity every posed challenges to your career? Do you face any issues with new audiences, press, getting booked, even walking into a music store to buy instruments?
I don’t think it has. We try to be very conscious about the bands we’re playing with, the promoters that we’re playing for and the spaces that we play in. Do I get some weird looks at a show if I’m presenting more femme when people expect me to be more masculine because of my voice? Sure. But no one has ever (to my knowledge) stopped listening to us because of it.
How does your identity influence your music? Or is that an irrelevant question in 2016?
It might be irrelevant in any year, because a musician’s identity always influences their music. Our lyrics and subject matter are usually filtered through me, so my experiences are always going to be a factor.
Do you think you’re a role model?
I don’t try to be but if I’m helping someone else, I’m fine being called one.
Do you have any advice for fellow musicians who may face discrimination or feel unsure about how to present their gender/sexual identities to the public?
First of all, make sure that your collaborators understand you. I am blessed to be in a band where my identity is not an issue with my band mates. And even though I didn’t sit them down and talk about it, they just got it and moved on. It was a no stress kind of thing and it allowed me to be more public, because I knew they had my back.
But more importantly, remember that your own journey in understanding your identity goes at whatever pace you want it to. It’s not a race.
No one is doing it better than you because they’ve made more obvious changes to their appearance or are going by a new name. You owe it to yourself to be kind to yourself.
How do you see our industry evolving over the next 5-10 years as it relates to gender, race and other equality issues?
I think there’s still a lot of work to do. I mean, we still live in a world where female astronauts were asked how they would survive in space without men or make-up. That’s ludicrous. And the music industry is really no better. There’s a struggle to understand that there isn’t just one trans narrative and the one that is bandied about in the media is one of transition from something to something else. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for people who might never transition and don’t have the financial means to be Caitlyn Jenner. There’s a still a really long road ahead. So many people still feel unsafe, even at shows and within music communities. But I hope that if we keep having these discussions that we are making these space more inclusive.
Follow on Twitter @Cutters_NY
Photography by Vee Hertel
Standout Track: “List of People Buried at Arlington National Cemetery”
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