Post-Slawjaw, D.O.A. encounters and club battles/hockey games
Interview by Jack Partain, Part 4
By the mid-1990's, Bob Cutler's life was at a crossroads. The Outhouse, the legendary Lawrence, Kansas punk rock venue he had been working at for nearly a decade was in decline and would soon close its doors to live music forever (it is now a strip-club). The hardcore band he had built, Slackjaw, had risen above the fold in the alternative rock scene in the Midwest before dying a premature death on the road to South By Southwest. But he was still a young man, and had well-over a dozen years' experience as a sound man. Like so many lives in the music industry, his fortunes would change with just one call.
See previous editions of the Bob Cutler interview:
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
PSF: So after Slackjaw breaks up, you're still doing sound around Lawrence and Kansas City, but you're kinda floundering, right?
BC: The Klusterfux were still together. We played a few gigs but everyone sort of had other things going on and the idea of rebuilding Slackjaw wasn't going to happen. The whole time I was in Slackjaw I had been getting offers from other bands to go on tour with them as a sound guy or roadie because they'd seen me at The Outhouse doing sound. People saw that I was adept at working in a chaotic environment with sub-standard equipment. I'd always turned everything down because I was committed to Slackjaw. During this time, I'd been seeing Chi Pig and he had been flying into town to hang out.
PSF: You are talking about Mr Chi Pig, otherwise known as Ken Chin, the singer for SNFU, the Vancouver band, yes?
PSF: And by "seeing," you mean seeing romantically, correct? Just to be clear.
BC: Yes. Apparently he liked me.
PSF: He's a pretty interesting guy, one of the most electric performers I've ever seen. How did you guys meet?
BC: We met at The Outhouse the first time SNFU came through, I don't remember what year. He was pretty stand-offish then. Because he was so active and wild on-stage, he had this elaborate pre-show ritual that involved a lot of stretches and weird calisthenics and that's what he spent most of his time doing before shows. You know, someone once said that with an SNFU show, half of the show occurs four feet in the air, so his pre-show thing was quite elaborate. Little did I know, as he was doing it, he was also staring at my ass the whole time. And I was staring at his. It is weird how he aged. He stayed eighteen forever. In his thirties, he had the body of a twenty year old. I read once that after Abraham Lincoln died, the doctors who did the autopsy said that even though his face had become rough and leathery he had the body of a very young man. That was probably true of Chi, as well.
I didn't really talk to him until the second time they played The Outhouse. And a couple of years after that he read an interview I'd done in Maximum Rock n' Roll about Slackjaw. Chi told his manager to put me on the guest list for a show SNFU was doing in Kansas City at this small coffee shop that did all-ages shows called The Daily Grind. We kinda hooked up there. When the tour was over, he immediately took a flight back to Kansas and got a hotel room and we hung out for a couple of weeks. And I would visit him in Vancouver where he lived and, of course, I already knew the guys in D.O.A., so I sort of fit right in.
PSF: What was he like?
BC: He never made a big deal about being gay publicly. His physical attraction to me was a big part of our relationship. He was into big, beefy, hairy, trucker-like guys and it felt good to be objectified. He had a very different outlook on life. I'm a Kansas cornfield boy. We are the children of the scorn here. I'd been around the block, of course, but it was different with someone who was more worldly. He was from another planet. He was an incredible artist. Always working on three or four different things at once, fliers for shows or album covers. He used to carry composition notebooks, you know, like the ones you used to use in school, and he'd take them on tour with him. I've got three composition books that he sent to me that are full of love letters and drawings. They are also full of journals and souvenirs from his tours, stickers and tour passes, stuff like that. I thought they were amazing. I never really did anything like that because when you're younger and gay, you never really want to leave a great deal of evidence.
Living with him in Vancouver a lot of the time it was just a stream of consciousness of his ideas constantly. He was always creating. He would buy toys at thrift stores, bring them home, and rearrange them, draw tattoos on them, stuff like that. And those would end up in art shows. One of our favorite things to do was watch the Teletubbies and other kids shows and we would make up conspiracy theories about them, try to dissect them to see how they are brainwashing kids, which they do. We both chain-smoked at the time, and the walls were covered with this incredible sap.
PSF: And this is when you got hooked up with D.O.A.?
BC: Yeah, D.O.A. was looking for a new sound guy. And Chi reminds Joe Keithley about me and tells him that I'm not really doing anything right now. In reality, I was actually at a pretty low point. Not suicidal or anything but just down. The band I'd been living and breathing for five years had fallen to shit. And former band members were running around town trying to destroy me professionally. I was just in a low place.
One night, I'm standing in the Replay Lounge, a longtime punk bar in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, and the bartender walks up to me and tells me that there is someone on the phone for me. The bar phone. And I'm like, "uh, someone is calling me here?" Whatever. So, I go answer the phone and this voice "Hey, Bob. It's Joe Shithead from D.O.A.." And I'm like, who is this really, you know? And he goes "No Bob, it's me. I called your house and they said we don't know where he is, he's probably at the Replay."
Anyway, it really is Joe Shithead and he tells me that they're looking for a sound guy for a tour for two months. He says we can meet in Texas at a gig with Nomeansno. And he says if it works out there's a European tour after that. He's like, you wanna do it? I very meekly utter "yes." I was just amazed that they would think of me. I mean, out of all of the punk rock sound guys in North America they call old hillbilly Bob up in Kansas. Who knows if it would have happened without Chi Pig?
One thing about Joe, and all of the truly great ones, is that he remembers people and he remembers names. The great ones remember everyone. It is one of their super powers. When we would travel around, everywhere we'd go, he'd know people. We'd end up in Bumfuck, Idaho and he'd know ten people from when D.O.A. passed through ten years ago. So and so did a fanzine, another guy let them crash at his house, etc., etc. It really was amazing and I'm sure it helped me too.
PSF: So you got the D.O.A. gig. What happens next?
BC: I took a red eye flight from Kansas City to Dallas. For some reason, I'd been awake for like forty eight hours or more. I think it was the timing and excitement, a mix of things. I take a taxi over to the venue, and by this point, I'm exhausted and hungry and just wiped out when I get to the venue. And I'm early.
PSF: Looks like it was the Orbit Room in Dallas, Texas according to what I could find online. April 26, 1996.
BC: That sounds right. Anyway, they let me into the venue when I told them who I was and I go backstage and fall asleep. Eventually, the band shows up and Joe Keithley wakes me up, asking me if I'm alright. I guess I was all pale and sweaty and disoriented from the trip but later they told me that I looked so bad that they were worried I was a junkie. So I didn't make the best first impression.
That night was D.O.A. with Nomeansno and a local opener. D.O.A. played second. They and Nomeansno traded off headlining. Before the show, Jello Biafra showed up, as he would from time to time. Sometimes when Jello showed, he and D.O.A. would get together and do a jam session, which they did that night in the form of a twenty-seven-minute version of "Full Metal Jackoff" off of Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors, the record that Jello and D.O.A. did together. It's this huge wall of sound. There's like five guitarists and four bass players. It is wild. So my first day, I end up doing sound for D.O.A., Nomeansno, and Jello Biafra all at the same time. And the place is going crazy. It was a trial by fire.
We continued eastward, played some pretty memorable places. Emo's in Austin and the Butthole Surfers were in attendance. I recognized them from their legendary Halloween 1985 show at the VFW in Kansas City, which was wild. At the White Rabbit in San Antonio, a bunch of Oprah skins showed up and started a bunch of shit, cars getting tires slashed.
PSF: Oprah skins?
BC: Yeah, Oprah skins were kids that saw the Oprah and Geraldo shows on skinheads and immediately went into the bathroom and shaved their heads.
PSF: Ok, makes sense.
BC: Anyway, we do the two-month tour through the East coast. We did not play CBGB this time. We played Tramps. But the tour ends and I joined up to roadie for my brother John Cutler's band Tenderloin, who were from Lawrence/Kansas City. They were touring with Reverend Horton Heat. I ended up being the driver and merch guy. So I started going back through a lot of the venues I'd just gone through and I'd kinda get recognized. There were a lot of guys like that that you'd see playing in a band one month and then humping gear for another band the next month and then two months later, you'd see them again filling some other role with some other band. That was the gig.
PSF: Merch guy, huh? Sounds simple, but that's actually a pretty important part of the tour.
BC: Yeah, it's how the band makes extra money. I was fully capable of doing sound for Tenderloin but they needed someone they could trust to sell the stuff.
PSF: Merch sales have become a hot button issue lately with bands arguing about venues charging a percentage of merch sales at gigs. Did you guys ever run into that stuff?
BC: Some places did it at the time, especially with the headliners. I see it from both sides. You know bands say "without us, you wouldn't have had a crowd." Promoters say "without the venue, you wouldn't have a place to play." It's a big circular argument and it sucks.
I didn't charge anyone to sell merch at shows. Not at The Outhouse or anywhere else. I did co-promote a Rollins Band show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence once and the other guy charged them 30 percent on merch without me knowing. Another promoter came up to me a day or two later and told me about it. It pissed me off and I confronted him but there really wasn't anything I could do about it. I confronted the dude a week or two later but what was I going to do, pick him up, turn him upside down and shake the coins out of his pocket? It wasn't worth it.
PSF: What goes into doing sound for a band like D.O.A.? And why would a band want to bring their own sound guy as opposed to just using the house guys?
BC: At that level and with those kind of bands, a lot of it is how quick can you think on your feet amid chaos. I mean if the band is playing and you see something get kicked over or something going wrong, can you dive into that crowd, which is usually a big pit, without disturbing anything? Or exacerbating a potentially chaotic situation. Of course, it is important to have a guy with you that knows all of your gear and your instruments. And a guy who knows all of your records and knows how you want to sound live, which is not always how you sound on record.
You gotta be able to get along with territorial house sound guys too. I did that too, sometimes, got territorial about everything. It's my gear, my equipment. I learned pretty quickly to try and get along with these guys as much as possible. A lot of guys never learn that lesson. I always went in with a big smile and tried to be as respectful as possible so that by the time sound check arrived, they'd let me in and we'd be fine. I've been on both sides and was able to recognize things about my behavior that I could correct. I know I pissed some people off on both sides, it is unavoidable. Like when a band tells you they want to turn the house speakers around and point them at the band and you have to tell them "no, that's stupid, we're not doing that." That's part of the gig. There's always gonna be some weird thing going on and you have to keep an open mind and you do learn that you can learn things along the way.
PSF: I did want to ask about the D.O.A. Street Hockey Team.
BC: We called it Sockey. D.O.A. always toured with hockey gear in the back of the truck. This was for a couple of different reasons. I mean, sometimes you'd get into a heavy situation and they would come in handy. But also, being on tour is not all glitz and glamour. Sometimes, you roll into town at one and the venue doesn't open until six. So D.O.A. are Canadian and it's just in their blood. They just naturally throw something on the ground and start chasing it with sticks. When we did the Social Chaos Tour in 1999 there were like nineteen bands and most of them formed teams and we all played against each other. I remember Bad Religion had a team, SNFU had a team.
On another tour, we did a club in Austin and it had a huge dance floor area, I think it was an old country music bar. Some of the fans brought roller skates to the show and a hockey game broke out during the set. D.O.A. even stopped playing and joined in.
PSF: You ended up going to Europe with D.O.A. in, like, 1996, right?
BC: Yes I toured with D.O.A. for seven years. We went to Europe numerous times.
PSF: OK, tell me about the first time.
BC: It was in 1996, I think. Joe called me up and said something like "things went really well on that tour do you want to go to Europe with us?" I said yes, of course. My first job was to go out ahead of everyone else, get a van, and pick them up from the airport in London. But I flew into Hamburg, Germany. I met this guy named Goliath. Pronounced Go-Lee-Ath. And the name does not do him justice. He's this huge, seven foot tall, pierced up, tatted up, 400 pound guy... that is the nicest guy in the world. His job is he rents out vans to bands and has a warehouse full of gear for bands to rent while touring the old country. D.O.A. owned some equipment that was stored there for when they would tour and to rent out to other bands when they went to Europe.
Anyway, I fly in and I don't speak a bit of German. I speak redneck Kansan, that's it. I speak a little Texan and a little Canadian, but nothing else. And I am supposed to pick up this van and drive from Hamburg to Amsterdam to Calais, France, take a ferry over the English channel, and drive to Heathrow airport in London. What could go wrong, right?
Goliath picks me up in this big van, drives me to the Autobahn, gives me the keys, and tells me: "Take Autobahn to Amsterdam and turn left." Then he gets on a bicycle and pedals away. The Kansas idiot in me gets in the van, immediately pops a cassette of Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster" in the stereo, and pulls right into the passing lane of the Autobahn where I continue to drive for several miles while getting bombarded with insults and whatever the German version of flipping someone off is.
Eventually, I pick up two hitchhikers, two Polish university kids on holiday headed to Amsterdam. They don't speak great English but ask me if I mind if they smoke pot in the van. I say "No, I don't have a problem," but they take it as me saying "no, they can't." So it was uncomfortable. When we get to Amsterdam, I'm looking for the address to where I am supposed to connect, where I'm supposed to stay for the night. I go into this place to find a phone, make some calls, figure everything out, and when I come out, the van is gone. Of course. The police tell me more than likely the van has been stolen but that I should make sure that it hasn't been towed by the parking police. They give me the address to the parking police and me and the hitchhikers spend four hours trying to find the place. When we get there, they claim not to have the van but I see it in their lot on the security cameras. I have to pay five hundred gilders to get the van out. D.O.A. had given me money to pay for things. Later Joe forgave the debt and told me that he had given me extra cash because he knew I was going to fuck something up.
PSF: But you did eventually make it to London, right?
BC: Yes, and I fucked it up there too. I drove for hours in London and couldn't find the place. I was supposed to meet Jon Active, who was squatting in Hackney Downs, these towers in London that were closed down public housing. I call him on the phone and he tells me to call a cab and follow it to where he is. So I do that. I get there, park the van, get my stuff, and go to meet Jon. I have a bottle of Coca Cola with me. I get to his part of the place, knock on the door, and he opens it and immediately says "what is that?" pointing to the Coke bottle in my hand. I'm like "it's a Coke, sorry I didn't bring extra." But he makes me go outside of the building and throw it away. I think he held a grudge about it.
PSF: What happens next?
BC: I pick up the band in London and then I have to drive them to Poznan, Poland for the first show. We get there and the show is in the courtyard of this historic building where Hitler had given a speech. The PA was wired together in a way that I really didn't understand but the Polish sound guys, the local guys spoke a little English so we were able to communicate a bit. The talk-back mic was wired in a way that every time I touch it, I got a shock. I told them something is wrong and they kept insisting nothing is wrong. So I picked up the mic and showed them that I was being shocked. And the guy said, "oh, don't worry, I can hold it for you." So he picks up the mic and holds it while getting shocked and he looks at me like "I can take it, what kind of pussy are you?"
Now, there were all of these fourteen year old, thirteen year old kids that had showed up early and they are standing around, sitting on the steps of the stage drinking huge bottles of vodka. We get done with the soundcheck and they run all of these kids out so they can bring them back in and charge them to get in. I'm walking from the board to the stage for some reason and something catches my eye under the stage and it is a billy club. Then I look over and see a table leg with tape wrapped around one end. Then see a knife, and a baseball bat, all of these weapons that are stashed all over the place. Next thing I know, I'm carrying an arsenal of makeshift weapons into the band area backstage. Joe says, "Wow, Bob, are you getting ready for a war?"
We ask the promoters and they tell us that all of the kids that showed up early are the younger siblings of the local skinhead and punk gangs and that their job is to bring in the weapons and hide them in advance of the show in case something, you know, goes down at the show.
PSF: You're kidding me.
BC: No. We go out and do a sweep of the whole place and find a bunch of other weapons. I start getting worried. But, you know, we got a show to do. The opener was a Russian band that had a skinhead following but insisted that they were not skinheads. And I understood, I played in a band that had a lot of fans that I simply didn't like. But this place starts filling up with people and they separate. On one side is the skinheads, and on the other is the anarchist punks. And there's like 1,500 people there. And when the music starts, they just charge towards each other.
You see these wimpy, scrawny, no balls metalheads talk about their super tough wall of death pits that break out at metal shows but this was nothing like that. This was full of dudes with scars on their heads from things like this. There's a thousand giant, ugly dudes swarming all over each other. The first band has to stop several times to break-up fights that are starting inside of this riot. Then D.O.A. comes on and it gets worse. I'm still getting the shit shocked out of every time I touch the mixing board and this enormous riot breaks out, everyone is just going at it. We finish the set and I have to fight my way to the van. I got hit in the head walking through the crowd. We had to have security watch the van and help us load everything into it.
Nomeansno plays next and then the shit really broke out. Someone had called the cops and they show up in a couple of big armored school bus things. The cops are covered in riot gear and they walk into the center of the crowd two by two and turn back to back in this giant line that goes through the crowd. Then someone blows a whistle or something and the cops just start beating the crap out of the people that were there. It was like the seas being parted. The cops are beating people, throwing them around, arresting them, and throwing them into these buses just indiscriminately. So there are more fights breaking out in the buses. There were riots in the buses. As far as I know, no one died.
I talked to the promoters afterwards and basically said, "yes, we know it's a problem, but what are we to do? We need the money. And it's not as bad as soccer games." When we left, we got pulled over by the Polish police and essentially were shaken down for cash over some insurance thing.
PSF: Where else did you play?
BC: We played a lot of squats. We played at Forte Prenestino in Rome which is this huge historic building filled with anarchist shops, a recording studio, everything. They had to fight the cops to gain ownership of the place and the funny thing is that they painted murals on the walls of the battles, like ancient people would do, you know. It was hilarious. There was one where a guy is hanging his butt over a wall and he's pooping on the cops. I loved that one.
TO BE CONTINUED...