We live in a city rife with creativity. Creativity takes many forms: from your cousin’s girlfriend selling her homemade succulent necklaces at Rock n Shop, to your friend’s theatre company doing a minimalist production of Macbeth in a shipping container, to all kinds of music. If you want to put your own music out there, it can be daunting to even think about starting to play out, whether you are an experienced guitar player or you played the autoharp at Pete’s Candy Store’s open mic that one time.
So we at Brokelyn decided that we’d start doing this thing where we sit down with a real, live, New York City musician and ask them how they got started, to prove that it’s not so scary out there. And, because we’re Brokelyn, how much it cost to “make it.” So, for this inaugural round of Musicians Talk Making It, we sat down with Pierce Lightning, lead singer of Brooklyn-based band CUTTERS, who call themselves “survival punk” because they use music as a coping mechanism.
How long ago did you start playing music?
I started my first band when I was 15. But CUTTERS started up in 2012.
What made you decide to start?
I think when you’re younger it just seems like something cool to do. By the time you’re an adult, you either stop or it feels like something more necessary. For me, it was necessary.
What does a person need to start playing music? How much would you say it cost you to start playing?
Mostly what you need is really good friends. Cost wise, that’s hard to say. Instruments help, and there are equipment costs for the rest of the band and stuff, plus transportation money, of course. But it’s hard to put a number on it. I’m a vocalist, though, so I got to start playing for the low, low cost of free.99.
What’s your favorite CUTTERS song and why?
My favorite song of ours is definitely “List of People Buried at Arlington National Cemetery” and it happens to also be the first song on our new EP. All of our songs are pretty personal and this one is the anxiety of coming out to family and friends and how you think it’ll be received. “The personal is political” as the old saying goes, and we’ve definitely put ourselves in a position of being something of a voice for some people in the queer community. If I can give some people the words that I didn’t have then that’s pretty cool.
When/where was your first gig in Brooklyn? Did it cost you anything?
I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure it was free.
Have you ever paid to play?
How do you book your gigs?
We get asked to play quite a bit but I send out emails and Facebook messages to try to get on some bills.
What’s the best perk you’ve ever gotten for playing a gig?
Anytime we are fed and given enough money to get home, that’s the best perk.
Best/worst gig story?
Worst show recently was definitely a Monday night show a few months back that just no one came to. The touring bands were small. We had just come off a small string of shows. Kind of exhausted our draw and the weather was bad, too, so nobody really came. I think only the sound person watched us. The best shows always run together. Lots of familiar faces and as few equipment failures as possible. We’ve been lucky enough to have a good run of those in Brooklyn and beyond.
Where are your favorite places to play in Brooklyn?
I guess we mostly play in Bushwick, so that’s our favorite neighborhood. Favorite places to play are definitely Palisades and Silent Barn. First of all, it’s the people that work at and run both venues. I’ve never had a bad experience with them and they always seem genuinely happy to be there. Ariel from Palisades even sent us an e-mail while we were playing once to book us again. And secondly, it’s the sound. I’ve never had an issue at either spot when it comes to wandering off stage or fixing a broken mic or anything. And that goes hand in hand with the people being nice.
Have you dealt with naysayers? How did you cope with them?
I don’t think we have had to deal with any naysayers. I mean, I’m sure there are people that don’t like our band but I don’t have to interact with them. I’ve had friends be like “Hey, your band isn’t really my thing.” That’s totally cool. Nobody likes everything all the time.
What’s your advice for newbies on booking gigs?
When looking for shows, the best advice is to just ask. Pay attention to the local music scene, and if there’s a band you want to play with, just ask. The worst you’ll get is a “no” or a no response. And sometimes, you might get a yes!
What about writing new material?
When it comes to writing, just go at your own pace and try not to compare yourself to others. It’s not a competition after all.
What’s something you wish you would have known when you were starting out?
I wish I would’ve known that trying to start a band is way easier if you already know how to play guitar. But seriously, that there is an audience for everything and that if you keep doing something you’ll get better at it and eventually it’ll get into someone’s ears. It’s easy to get discouraged but some things just take time.
Do you have a favorite Brooklyn band?
This is really a hard one because there are so many! Hiccup, Jesse Cooper Levy, Katie Ellen, Twiga, Nonsense, Told Slant, Freya Wilcox and the Howl, Eli Whitney & the Sound Machine and Tingles all spring to mind. But I think that Bellows might be the last band I was truly, truly floored by. We played with them at Shea Stadium and I was absolutely stunned by how good they were. Their new record is definitely one I’m really looking forward to. I really like all the bands that are part of The Epoch collective.
Queens born, Bushwick based singer Pierce Lightning, who goes by the non-gender specific pronoun “they,” enjoys comic books and listening to the one Life Without Buildings full length that exists in hopes that it will make them a better musician. Check out CUTTERS’ newest album here, and catch them tomorrow, Jan. 14, at Silent Barn. CUTTERS is recommended for fans of: the futility of the human condition, Against Me! and Star Wars.