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Cult Leader: An Interview with Dave Gutter

Dave Gutter is a busy man and it feels like he likes it that way. He fronts Rustic Overtones and Paranoid Social Club, does solo work, collaborates with other songwriters and is always looking for creative inspiration for whatever project is next.

With the release of Let’s Start a Cult, Gutter and Rustic Overtones have drawn a line in the sand. Free from label expectations and limitations, the band has crafted a thematic record that makes listeners think and groove at the same time. Gutter recently took time in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to talk at length with Chef Diesel.com about the cult of Rustic Overtones, upcoming shows and the exciting future of the band.


Rustic Overtones, clockwise from top: Jason Ward, Gary Gemitti, Dave Noyes, Mike Taylor, Jon Roods, Dave Gutter and Ryan Zoidis. Photo courtesy of Matt Cosby.

Chef Diesel: Let’s Start A Cult has been out for a few months now. How has the reaction been so far?
Dave Gutter: It’s been great. I think the theme of Let’s Start a Cult is a good one to get fans on board with and get excited to be apart of something. Our whole mission on this record was to bring everyone together. Even though every record is very different, we try to incorporate elements that have been staples of the Rustic sound, while still moving forward.

CD: You’ve talked before about the cult metaphor and the record as a whole concept. But I really think individual songs on the album can stand on their own. Does that dynamic factor into the writing or did the band intentionally try to make the tracks accessible on different levels?
DG: Yea, I’m still romantic about the idea of listening to a whole album from beginning to end. I know it’s really old fashioned. We are very much in a singles kind of generation right now where people will just take the one song they like and download it off iTunes and the rest of the record gets lost. The key is to make songs where there is no filler. We wanted to make a record that you could listen to from beginning to end and it would make sense musically and emotionally and sonically. Let’s Start a Cult is a very short album. It’s short and sweet and we wanted to keep it like that because it’s the introduction to Let’s Start a Cult Part Two that we’re working on right now, which is going to follow this same story line.

Being in a band is pretty much like being part of a cult. You’re constantly going around trying to recruit new followers and get people into what you’re into. At shows they sing the lyrics back to you while you’re performing on stage. That’s a huge responsibility. Once words are spoken, it impacts people, so I try to be conscious about saying something that is going to somehow move people when they learn the lyrics or when they learn the message behind something.

CD: My favorite moments on the album are some of the instrumental breaks like on “Let’s Start a Cult Part II” and the bridge of “We’ll Get Right In.” How do those creative arrangements happen within the band?
DG: I write very simply. I bring the songs in and a lot of times I haven’t even flushed out chords. I’m playing like the equivalent of a bass line, sort of where the progression should go. Then, as a band we go through and figure out what chords are going to be and the other guys flush out my very skeletal ideas into these big grandiose instrumental sections. Other times I’ll come in with a just chorus and we’ll spend a lot of time on that because it’s the message of the song and I’ll whip up verses really quickly while the guys wrap their heads around what the song should be. The less finished an idea is, the more those guys can take it some place that I would maybe have never have thought of.

CD: You mentioned the Rustic sound.  How does the band decide on experimentation and pushing the creative boundaries. Has there ever been something that was too far out for the band?
DG: No. We always try to push ourselves and do something different each record. Sometimes it will alienate fans, but if you listen to every record, it’s really all over the place. It use to be from song to song, now it’s more all over the place from record to record. We’ve gotten a little more cohesive. I don’t think anything is too far.

One thing that is good is right now is that the music industry is very DIY and grassroots-based, especially for bands like us, so the pressure to make something that’s going to sound candy coated and friendly for the radio, that pressure’s just not there anymore. It doesn’t really exist. People just want music that is the realest and the best. You can be more experimental in this era and we’re taking advantage that.

CD: The roles of Jason, Dave and Ryan have really evolved over the years with the addition of synthesizers and various wind instruments. The horns on the new album are very understated but fit well within the songs. It feels like the newer material is much more sophisticated than the typical chorus/verse/horn riff/horn solo type of arrangement. Do you think the band is beyond that now?
DG: No. We change it for every record. We just do what we feel is best for the song. There’s very few songs in our catalog that sound alike. Every song is treated as an individual rather than trying to stick with the same production or same arrangements.

CD: I’m curious about the song “Suicide.” I saw Rustic perform an early version of it a year or two ago but then a very different arrangement ended up on Paranoid Social Clubs’ Axis 4. What’s the story behind it?
DG: It just wasn’t really jelling with Rustic. We tried to do it a couple different times, a couple different ways. Then Paranoid was working on our record and I was in the studio working on [“Suicide”] and just came up with this new approach and it seemed to fit. It’s more tongue and cheek lyrically and that’s more the Paranoid vibe.

Sometimes I’ll have a song that I think should be for Paranoid and I’ll show it to one of the guys in Rustic and they’ll want it, or vice versa. Sometimes we try to ft songs into whatever band is working on a record.

CD: So let’s talk about the shows coming. Davis Square Theatre is this Saturday. It’s an intimate, sweaty place, really the best kind of venue to see a Rustic show. Talk about how the band feeds off the energy of the crowd.
DG: That’s 100% of what it is. It’s very important for us and a huge part of what we do. We want fans to know what to expect at at Rustic show–high energy, intense. I like small venues where we’re right in front of the crowds. I hate barricades. They’re my kryptonite.

CD: So what can we expect as far as a set list? You’ve always had a really great balance of both new and old material along with various styles with the songs you choose.
DG: Every couple of weeks we’ll get together and talk about some ideas and figure out what songs we want to incorporate into the set, whether it be a new or old song or a new take on an old song. We keep it fresh every time.

CD: I saw on YouTube you’ve been doing a Morphine cover.
DG: Oh yea. We’ve been doing that a lot. We also have been doing a Beyonce/”Simple Song” remix thing. It’s pretty fun.

CD: Any plans to tour outside of New England?
DG: We do. We just signed with a new management company and we’re trying to get things together and hit the road probably in support of Let’s Start a Cult Part Two. We’re doing a Kickstarter campaign that’s really fun where we’re dong all kinds of crazy special things like I’ll write and record a song for your girlfriend, or we’re letting people come to our studio and record their own songs and we’ll produce it. Some of us will get fans’ names tattooed on us. We’ll cook some people dinner. It’s going to be big.

CD: Is there any timetable for the new record and the Kickstarter campaign?
DG: You’ll hear about it. It’s going to be very publicized and out there. We’re going to hit it hard and have a lot of fun.

CD: At a lot of bigger shows I’ve been too recently it seems like everyone is just on their phone either filming or taking pictures the whole time. I get that fans want to remember a moment but it feels like people now don’t know how to just enjoy a concert and live in the moment. First, have you experienced this and how does it make you feel as a performer/musician?
DG: There was this show I did a while ago, I opened solo for Ray LaMontagne and it was right when this whole cell phone thing was starting to get big at shows. I saw some girl in the crowd and she was on her phone the whole time while I was playing and then she came up to me after the show and was like ‘Oh my god, I loved your set, it was so amazing, thank you so much’ and I was like ‘yea right, you didn’t even like my set, you were on your phone the whole time!’ and she’s like ‘asshole! I was downloading your album on iTunes!’ So I apologized and realized I had to catch up to this generation.

It’s cool though, because in a lot of ways what people are doing is trying to share what they’re experiencing with others on social media. Even though I want them to enjoy the show and to absorb the show, it’s also cool if they’re sharing with their friends and trying to bring new people in.

CD: Next year will be the band’s 20th anniversary. It’s been a long ride for the group but it feels like the group is in a really healthy place.
DG: Since New Way Out we’ve built an incredible studio in Portland [ME] and it’s become and a more personal and hands on thing for us. Everything is very much in our control and the ball is in our court. We’re very much enjoying that part. It’s amazing to have that much control, because it’s not always like that.

Pop music is getting worse, but indie music is getting better. You have to make your sound stand out from the million other bands that are out there and I like that challenge. I think we have a lot of things that set us apart and there was a time in our career when being original and having a totally unique sound was our biggest detriment and it was people’s biggest criticism of us. Now we’re entering into an age where people rally around that sort of thing.

CD: OK, three more quick questions. Favorite restaurant or bar in Portland?
DG: I really like the Big Easy. It used to be Granny Killian’s and that was the club that we started out at, like when we were 17. And it hasn’t really changed that much. That’s where we got our first management and our first deal and record record release party. That room feels very much like home to me. To watch a show, I really like Port City Music Hall. To have a drink I like the Armory.

CD: Your family history with the meat market is well known. What’s your favorite cut of meat?
DG: Rib-eye. It’s a toss up between a rib-eye and a porterhouse, but I’ll take the rib-eye.

CD: The picture on Twitter of You, Talib Kweli and Eric Krasno [from Soulive/Lettuce] at the Jay-Z concert during the opening of the Barclays Center. What’s the story there and name your favorite Jigga Man song.
DG: I started a songwriting team with Eric Krasno and besides gigs I’m going to be down in Brooklyn every week. We have a studio down there that was just built with a little crash spot that’s connected. Eric’s produced a bunch of tracks for Talib Kweli. So that’s kind o the scene that I’m hanging in right now, trying to write songs for other people.

That night when I was sitting next to Talib Kweli I kept whispering song ideas to him because he would say something and it would make me think of an idea for a song. He was into it.

The concert was the grand opening of Jay-Z’s place in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center, and we were VIPs. Like Yoko Ono was there. It was just a crazy star studded event and I was just happy to hang with great musicians and be very inspired. My favorite Jigga song, I guess since we just had a hurricane, I’m going to have to say the song he wrote about New Orleans called “Minority Report.” That’s one of my favorite one’s but there’s so many. He’s a big inspiration on my writing.

Rustic Overtones are performing at The Stone Church in Newmarket, NH on Friday, Nov. 2 and at the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville, MA on Saturday, Nov. 3.


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