Perfect Sound Forever


Final chapter of Midwest punk tales
Interview by Jack Partain, Part 5

In the late 1990's, Bob Cutler moved from the cornfields of Kansas to the idyllic environs of Vancouver, British Columbia. He had made a name for himself working as the regular sound engineer for hardcore punk legends D.O.A. for numerous years, touring Europe, Canada, and the US several times. He also worked for bands like Patti Smith Group and Front Line Assembly among others. But the music industry can be an incredibly fickle master and world events would soon change the way the business was done and stack stress on an already tenuous situation.

See previous editions of the Bob Cutler interview:
Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4

PSF: Ok, one more time. Any good Outhouse memories pop into your head lately?

BC: Did I tell you about the time Girls Against Boys played The Outhouse and one person showed up?

PSF: No. Shit, one person?

BC: That had to be the smallest show at the Outhouse. At that point Girls Against Boys was pretty hot, but only one person showed up. When the band pulled in it was raining and the promoter had this bad habit of cancelling shows if the weather was bad. And then he would disappear and tell us not to give his number to the band. Well I would always give the number out and the bands would call and bitch him out. Then he would yell at me and I'd be like 'look motherfucker, you're the one who did this!' Anyway, Girls Against Boys played to just one guy. I think they did it just so they could say that they played the infamous Outhouse. The promoter did eventually show up and the one guy that showed up, he had paid, and the promoter gave him his money back. I was, you know, super impressed by that, how magnanimous of him to give the guy his five bucks back.

A similar thing happened at a Dr Know show at the Outhouse. It was in February or March in Kansas. And we get bad weather sometimes. Especially during that season, ice storms can be common. The day of this Dr Know show, there's an ice storm and the promoter tries to cancel the show at the last minute because he figures no one is going to show. And I'm like, 'you can't do that.' So it was kind of left in my lap to get everything going. It was not the original Dr Know with Brandon Cruz. I was in a band called Horror Porn and we were opening the show. We were a kind of a shock rock, angry band. We had a couple of guys on stage with us holding pitbulls on chains. Our singer was Billy Christ and he was wild on-stage, real aggressive and screaming. Billy was the kind of guy that a lot of people say 'the first time I met that guy, we got into a fist fight.' Anyway, so we drew about a dozen, two dozen people, and there's some other people there for Dr Know- small crowd but not a disappointment. A lot of those shows at the Outhouse, and at a lot of punk rock venues like that had less than fifty people there, And I'm talking about legendary shows that everyone seems to remember.

Anyway, so Horror Porn plays and then Dr Know goes on. While Dr Know is playing, Billy Christ goes outside and he has a stencil that he made for Horror Porn because Billy was an expert vandal. So he takes this stencil and spray paints Horror Porn on the side of the Dr Know tour van. And then, of course, he takes off, which was typical of him to start a bunch of shit and leave.

So when the show ends, Dr Know goes out to their van and they right away see 'Horror Porn' spray painted on the side of their vehicle. They quickly realize this is not a good thing to drive across the country with and they are really pissed off. They turn to me and I'm like 'look I was inside, I don't know what happened.' And they go 'well, you are in that fucking band.' They did not care. I thought I was going to get my ass royally kicked. So they grab me and shove me up against the side of the van and, remember this is in the middle of an ice storm, the ice cracked. The paint was only on the ice that had formed on the outside of the van. So they use my body to scrub the side of the van and get all of the paint off. A few of them still wanted to kick my ass. But since the original promoter had screwed everyone and took off, I still had all of the money from the show. They backed off because they realized that I hadn't paid them yet. I gave them a hundred bucks, some of which was probably my own money, and they left.

PSF: I know that what happens on the road stays on the road but you've mentioned a great story about touring with Vice Squad in Texas a few times. Will you tell it to me?

BC: I was living in Vancouver and I would do sound at clubs there. Joe Keithley (from D.O.A.) would always help me out and hook me up with other things so I could get some cash between D.O.A. tours. And he'd get me other traveling jobs between tours. In 2000, he hooked me up with Vice Squad, who did the big Social Chaos tour in 1999 with a bunch of punk bands. Vice Squad are British and were touring America and wanted someone that didn't need a work visa in the States. I met them at LAX and they had rented a minivan, they had little amps and everything. About twenty minutes out of LAX I get pulled over for driving in the wrong lane. Vice Squad starts asking me if I know what I'm doing, and I'm like, 'look it's LAX, it's chaos. Nobody knows what they are doing.'

We played Fitzgerald's in Houston on my birthday, May 4th. It was an old roadhouse sort of place. And there was a massive storm that day. It set a record for rain in an hour that day, like 28 inches in a hour or something. Cars were floating down the street and shit. After the show Houston is flooded and no one can leave. They have to lock everyone in the venue and everyone has to stay inside. I'm the tour manager and I decide to claim the dressing room as my place to sleep because there are couches in there. But, of course, that's where the after party has to happen.

The next day we are trying to leave but we have to drive a weird route all around Houston to get to our next gig in San Antonio. At one point we ran into a Budweiser truck that was run aground and was being looted by people. We have to make up time so we get out of Houston and start down the highway to San Antonio and, of course, I get pulled over for speeding. The cop tells me that I was doing 150 miles per hour and says he has to arrest me.

PSF: What is that scene like with a hardcore punk band like Vice Squad getting pulled over in Texas of all places?

BC: We lucked out. The cop pulls me out of the van and is interrogating me. He's asking if anyone is having a medical emergency. Then, 'who are you, what are you doing, where are you going?' And I say 'I'm Bob Cutler. We're going to San Antonio. We are a touring band. We're late for a gig.' He asks what the name of the band is. I say 'Vice Squad.' And he goes, 'you mean the old punk rock band?' And I say, 'uh, yeah, you know them?' He's like, 'yeah! I remember Vice Squad!' The cop was an old punk rocker. He knew who Vice Squad was. He was like 'I had the Punk and Disorderly comp they were on when I was a kid.' Everybody had that compilation. He talked to the band and asked them where they were from, made sure the story checked out. I gave him a couple of T-shirts and CD's and he reminded me how serious the offense was but he only wrote the ticket for doing 85 miles an hour so it wasn't a felony or whatever. It was still a pretty big ticket and the band did not split the cost with me.

PSF: So you had been on several tours throughout the US, Canada, and Europe with bands like D.O.A. and Vice Squad but then things began to sort of peter out. Why? BC: Well, it was after 9/11. A few things happened. My mother got sick and I had to come back to Kansas for a little bit. I was living in a warehouse in Vancouver at the time but I came back to Topeka and was there when 9/11 and the anthrax attacks happened. That put a lot of bands on edge. Also, the Bush administration's response to those things made people scared to tour through the US, especially radical punk rock people with weird haircuts and political ideas. I had things lined up nicely to get through the fall and winter professionally, leading to the next D.O.A. tour. I had a run down the West coast with a punk band and then a full US tour with Front Line Assembly, whom I had toured with before. The punk band cancelled first. Then the Front Line Assembly tour fell through pretty much the night before the tour started.

So there I was in Vancouver. I never had a work permit but I did have a bunch of under the table jobs lined up that I had always done but they were all tied to the music industry. And a lot of those things started disappearing with bands not touring and other circumstances. So I'm there with no income for the next couple of months and I think to myself, 'well, if I don't eat, drink, smoke, or breath for the next couple of months I will be OK.' And then I got fired by D.O.A. over email. There was no incident or anything. D.O.A. has a reputation for cleaning house every couple of years and I had survived six or seven of those. It felt like a 'well, after so long of touring in a van with somebody smelling their farts you just gotta move on eventually' sort of thing. No hard feelings.

However, I will say that I do not feel like I was officially fired by D.O.A.. At the D.O.A. house when someone got fired they would always do the same thing. Dave Gregg would put the theme song from The Good the Bad and The Ugly on the stereo and the firing would commence. I sat through several of those sessions. That didn't happen with me, so I feel like my being dismissed was not official. For the record.

PSF: Okay, so now you are stuck back in Topeka, where you came from. And it is post 9/11. And Topeka's most famous residents, the Westboro Baptist Church, are there and begin ramping up their operations, moving from simply protesting about homosexuals to protesting at the funerals of soldiers and saying that 9/11 happened because of America's acceptance of homosexuality, things like that. But you had actually been protesting against Westboro and the family of Fred Phelps for some time, right?

BC: Yeah, see, everybody knows the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing the funerals of soldiers. That's when the nation got really pissed at them. But it all began with them protesting on the street corner in like 1990 or 1991 at 10th and Gage in Topeka about supposed homosexual activity in the bathrooms at Gage Park which is this small, centrally located park in Topeka. I heard about it through the news and the grapevine pretty much right away and started organizing counter protests. The Westboro people would line up on one side of the street and we would show up with a bunch of punks and weirdos and line up on the other side of the street and we would yell back and forth and wave our signs around. I'm not gonna name names or say which side was responsible because a lot of the people involved are lawyers, but I saw people attacked in those days with signs.

Also, the cops would come through our picket lines, which would sometimes bring about 100 or more people, and videotape who was protesting in a way to get evidence of 'known homosexuals.' They didn't do that to the other side. A lot of the people protesting with us were not homosexual. A good number were just punk kids who were like 'oh, there's this cool political protest thing going on, I wanna be involved.'

Once the funeral protesting started it became a big patriotic thing and other people started getting involved. None of these people gave a shit about Westboro or the Phelps clan when they were just protesting about homosexuals. They didn't care about signs that said "god hates fags" or "fags deserve AIDS." I'm sure most of them are wearing MAGA hats these days. And it became more organized. There were a lot of people involved and the protests were larger. One day while I was at a protest, I said something like 'Wow, I wish there were this many people cared when they were protesting about gays.' Someone turned to me and said "Well, if it weren't for you faggots, we wouldn't have to be doing this." That was the attitude of a lot of people involved, and I feel like it was the attitude on a larger scale as well.

PSF: Yeah, I always kind of felt that people in Topeka especially felt it was distasteful that Westboro was talking about their homophobia but didn't disagree with their homophobia. They just didn't want to see it on the street, their own hypocrisy on display. It wasn't the homophobia they were mad about, it was the protesting.

BC: Right. When Westboro was just picketing the funerals of people who died of AIDS, which they did, these people did not give a shit. The attitude was 'so what? What do you expect if you're gonna be gay.' I brought this up to the "leaders" of the "local gay community" and they essentially said 'don't be a troublemaker.' I feel like a lot of people thought that they could build political careers out of this group. It was called Unity Boulevard. At the time, I was trying to set up a non-profit so I could open a venue in Topeka. I had a guy who was going to give me a building as a tax thing, and I was trying to hook up with these local groups to help get the project going. But everywhere I went, it was the same story: 'oh, we've heard about you, Mr Cutler.' There was more harassment too. I got doxxed in an online chat forum for a local newspaper that was a real cesspool and people would start calling my employers bitching about me. My house and car got vandalized because my info got released. Real crummy stuff.

PSF: Tell me about your career in radio.

BC: Ok, so before I quit drinking, we would go out to parties and stuff in Lawrence, me and my good friend Jamie McCoy from the Topeka punk band The Iguanas. And we would always get separated. So we started telling each other, if we get separated, at the end of the night meet up at KJHK, which is the student-run alternative radio station at the University of Kansas. We were in bands and worked at the venues, and KJHK was deeply involved in the local music and punk scene, so we knew the DJs there. Jamie would always wander off with some chick and I'd continue partying, so I would wander up to the KJHK studios where they had a couch and I would pass out there.

PSF: I know KJHK, I worked there when I was in college. It was in a little cottage off campus, sort of in the woods almost.

BC: Yeah, so when I would get there I would lay down on the couch and the DJ, who we were friends with, would go on air and say 'Jamie McCoy, you have won a prize at the radio station. Please come and pick up your prize from the station.' He knew that we were always listening. Everyone listened to KJHK. If Jamie waited too long they would broadcast me snoring on air. Then one day, he didn't show up to get me and I woke up in the middle of a staff meeting. Everyone was nice. They offered me coffee. But they also put an end to my crashing there.

Later, I started a pirate radio station in my house after I moved back to Topeka after 9/11. There was a movement for it at the time, a lot of stations were popping up. The thinking was that if the FCC won't license a station under 100 watts then they have no jurisdiction over stations under 100 watts. It makes sense to me but doesn't to the federal government. Go figure. Anyway, I built the FM exciter and transmitter myself and bought antennae and power amp and set everything up. You can get on-air for around 500 bucks, it's surprisingly not that expensive. I had Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins record promos for me. I called it KAOS radio. It was either that or KUNT. I got away with it for about a year. Had the antenna on top of my house. I made stickers and fliers for KAOS. It was interesting because I had to try and promote the whole thing while being secret about doing it. So I would go to events and stuff and ask people, 'hey, have you heard about this punk rock radio thing in Topeka called KAOS?' And people would be like 'Oh, no, that sounds great.' And I would say 'yeah, I found this flier the other day.' I had to try and get people to listen without letting them know that I was the one doing it.

Then one day I'm asleep in my room and my idiot brother hears a knock on the door. It's the FCC and they want to talk to me. So he brings them to my room, two agents. They wake me up and say 'we need to talk about your little radio station.' I stand up and I've got a case of, um, morning wood, the agents are looking away. I say, 'oh, I'm sorry, I'm just adjusting my antennae.'

They were not amused. I stood up and they asked me about my radio activities and I couldn't really deny it with all of the flashing lights and equipment around me. Apparently, some local station had claimed that I was broadcasting on their frequency, which I was not, and had complained. They only respond when they get complaints like that. But I had heard all sorts of horror stories about what they can do. They can not only confiscate all of your radio equipment but all of the things that are connected to your equipment. They told me to stop and left.

PSF: I wanted to ask you about two things that are only sort of tangentially related to music. Suicide and sobriety.

BC: OK. Good topics. They are kind of related.

PSF: I feel like they've just been on the periphery of the conversation, sort of peeking in every once in a while and we've walked away from them. How long have you been sober?

BC: Thirty-five years, as of New Years Eve 2023.

PSF: Why did you sober up?

BC: Really, I was killing myself one way or another. Either deliberately or subconsciously. By the time I quit, I was drinking three fifths of whisky and a case of beer a night. My brain was just soaking in alcohol. When you do that you get wet brain and you just do really stupid, risk taking stuff. One night I went up to Hashinger Hall on the campus at KU. It was the creative people dorm, where all the artists lived. I tried to start a fight with basically everybody there and ended up getting chased by the cops all over campus. Just dumb , obnoxious shit. I had been to treatment in 1987 or 1988 but then they just shoved me in an old hospital, separated me from my friends, and pounded me with Alcoholics Anonymous stuff. So, pretty much the same way it is today. It didn't help, but I'm not going to shit on it. I stayed sober for like a week and a half after that. When I got out I would hang out with the same people and they'd be like 'oh, we got a joint let's smoke it.' I'd say 'no man, I'm sober now.' And then someone would say 'you never had a problem with weed, you were an alcohol and acid guy.' And I'd say 'yeah, you're right, I never had a problem with weed.' Next thing I know, I'm climbing the side of the Empire State Building with a bottle of whiskey.

That saying that you have to give up your playgrounds, playmates, and playthings, is pretty true. It was painful when I quit. A lot of my friends just dropped me. 'Bob doesn't party anymore? Fuck him.' All of a sudden I'm left alone. And then, of course, like anything else in the stupid scene, anything you do will start rumors. So the rumor became that I was a narc. Like 'we can't do drugs around Bob now because he's a snitch.' It was pure stupidity but it was painful. A lot of people that I thought were real friends were not. Our only real connection was drinking and drugs.

PSF: You quit in your early 20's?

BC: Yeah, it was at the New Years Eve show at The Outhouse in 1989. My band, The Klusterfux, were playing. Ultraman and I think DI too. There was a big bottle of Gatorade mixed with LSD going around the place. I had decided to stop drinking earlier that night. At the stroke of midnight, I raised a bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whisky to my mouth, chugged it, and smashed it on the ground. No one took me seriously. But I haven't had a drop since. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to kill myself or someone was going to kill me if I didn't stop. I took a cold and honest stare at my life and decided that I didn't want to die.

PSF: But you have attempted suicide before, right?

BC: Yes, there have been a couple of weird attempts. I tried once when I was about eight years old. Another time when I was in my mid-twenties. The extension cord broke. It was based around depression and whatever other mental illnesses I had at the time that no one really talked about.

PSF: Did getting sober help?

BC: It helped to keep from acting on those impulses. You know, suicide can come in many forms. I tallied it up a few years ago and I've known over forty people that have gone from suicidal acts. I include people who've died in drunk driving wrecks that were suicidal acts.

PSF: The punk or goth or metal scenes present themselves to be very accepting and open arms to everyone. Like we're all special people sort of coming together.

BC: Yeah, that's what we tell ourselves.

PSF: But sometimes within that scene it seems like they're really not that accepting, that they kind of close themselves off and it can be especially cruel when that happens. It heightens the alienation of already alienated people. Do you ever feel like these things become sort of secrets for the scene or whatever? Like they happen and then they just disappear?

BC: Well, people love to talk about them. It depends on who it is.

PSF: They talk about them or they gossip about them?

BC: Well, it's a fine line.

PSF: I think it's a blurry line. People like to talk about the salacious details but not about the actual circumstances.

BC: Yeah, like 'oh, cool, we had a real punk rock suicide in the scene!'

PSF: You know, this is a five part story. We've been talking for almost a year. There was a mishap back in the summer of 2023 where my phone fried and I lost nine hours of audio and we basically had to start over. But I really feel like we've only covered about 20% of the story. How do you suggest we end this?

BC: I had a stroke a few years ago and I don't want that to be the exclamation point at the end of my story. 'Bob had a stroke and died. The end.' I really feel like I've come to a new understanding of life, that I'm fighting back with a new appreciation of life. It's ironic that I'm feeling less and less depressed these days. I hardly ever have suicidal thoughts anymore, when it used to be very common. You know thinking 'eh, I could go to work today or I could go hang myself' was a common way for me to think for a long time and I'm not really like that anymore. There is a lot to live for. I have a lot to live for. If anything, so I can go vote in a few more elections. And The Klusterfux are still together, we're playing shows and kicking ass. Right now, I am making a guitar strap for Joe Keithley from D.O.A. because his birthday is next week. He is turning 96. But really, he doesn't look a day over 95 and a half.

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