Cut Off Your Hands - Guitars And Amputees
Indie scenesters Cut Off Your Hands have been in London hurriedly adding the final touches to their debut full-length. Frontman Nick Johnston chats to 3D’s Carlisle Rogers.
New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands have stormed the United States, hijacked the United Kingdom and kicked ass at SXSW, all while recording and releasing two acclaimed EPs. The band’s debut long player You & I drops this week. Lush and melodic, the album sounds like the Beatles wrapped in a delicate cacoon of noise and youth. “We feel like we are doing something, not just following a trend,” Nick Johnston says of their brand new album. “We’ve made a record full of songs we feel - it’s us not trying to be another band. That’s the confidence you get from being over here and realising that you can foot it with some of the bands who, when you’re back in Auckland, you kind of idolise.
“[We wore] some of those influences strongly on our sleeves. Bloc Party was our favourite band when we were making that first record. Gang of Four, Wires and Joy Division were obvious influences during the first record. Lately I think we’ve managed to progress to a point where there are influences, but feel this album is more representative of something that is unique to us.”
After hitting SXSW last year (Nick says one of the reasons they even started the band in the first place was to get out of New Zealand), they played in New York and London, where they met Bernard Butler who went on to produce their second EP and debut album. “We started getting a lot more attention out of the UK and from a few labels - one of them was 679 who we are now signed to. The ball started rolling in terms of media interest with NME and Pitchfork. It started to feel like a possibility that was worth pursuing, particularly over in that area of the world. In this last year, we’ve been over there working on a record with Bernard and mainly being based out of London.”
Cut Off Your Hands’ debut EP was made for a paltry $1500 in parents’ living rooms. Their second EP followed a similar method of conception - cheap rates, quick recording, and even quicker mixing.
“You & I [was recorded] on a proper budget over a good amount of time. We had six weeks to relax and do things in a fashion we thought suited us the best. It was great because we were able to relax and try some things we hadn’t done before, rather than just documenting our live show. Now we’re finding that it’s tricky, but a much more fulfilling way [to record]. It’s helped us become a more mature band.”
You & I’s producer Bernard Butler brings a lot to the table. With a resume detailing his involvement as guitarist for the Mercury Prize-wining Suede, and production credits on the likes of Neneh Cherry’s, Bert Jansch’s, Tricky’s most well received albums, the troupe couldn’t ask for a more revered engineer. “We originally contacted Bernard and had him to come down to a show. Based on [our] demos, he didn’t want to work with us. He eventually saw us live and decided that he was keen to work with us. He felt we had a potential for a really great pop sensibility. He felt like he could get a lot more out of the songs than we were allowing. A lot of the other bands he works with seem to be much more towards the centre in terms of pop. He saw us as a little more rugged, as something he could create and bring a melody out of. He did it really well and I’m really stoked to have the songs turn out the way they have. I’m really interested to see what we could do with another producer now that we have had that experience.”
The additional instrumentation present on the album has forced the band to deal with either playing several instruments at a time or introducing samples. “I’m kind of reluctant to do that,” he says of introducing sampling to their live show. “I still want everything to be live, partly because of ethic, and it’s such a pain to have to rely on sound systems all the time. I’d rather be able to just plug in and play and rely on the four of us. It’s going to be an interesting challenge to work out the songs. We’ve got some big ballads, but there is less of a need for a really ferociously energetic live show. I’m enjoying not having to climb everything that I. We don’t want to be viewed as a gimmick band that has a singer who climbs things. I think we’ve grown up a bit and prefer to be known for our songs.
“I think Bernard has a big part to play in that. Before working with him, we would just go into a studio and belt out songs not thinking about how it was going to sound as a complete piece. With this [album] Bernard was keen to make it a complete album - we were as well. There are more mellow songs on there than we’ve done previously - not every song is as instant as the previous material. My favourite records are the ones that do take a lot of time to sink in. The problem with power-pop or punk records is that after a week or two you’ve gotten all you can squeeze out of that record. I’d hate for that to happen to You & I. There are a couple of songs that we had written really late which sound nothing like anything else we’ve done, so we threw them on there and took the risk. I’m really happy that we did that. I think it will resonate.”
WHO: Cut Off Your Hands
WHAT: You & I through Speak N Spell / Inertia
WHEN: Out now