The Cutthroats 9: Their way

by Kristen Stanovich


What happens when one of the most well-known New York noise rock bands goes on hiatus? For lead singer and founding member of Unsane, Chris Spencer, that didn’t mean the end of music. In fact, it meant an opportunity to start fresh.

After witnessing the gentrification of the city, and the imminent closure of CBGB, Spencer decided it was his time to move on to something new, abandoning the cemented metropolis to find his own version of tranquility on a plot of land in Northern California. During the move toward Unsane’s “hiatus” of three years, Spencer got together with some buddies in San Francisco to form what is now The Cutthroats 9. The new outfit, initially featuring some members from Unsane’s lineup, was Spencer’s way of branching out in the scene, testing instrumentation that veered from traditional noise rock.

“The basis of the band really was just hanging out with your friends playing music,” Chris said. “We’re not really about trying to make a lot of money or get signed to a big label or anything like that.”

Coming at his new project with a DIY approach, Cutthroats became an experimental endeavor – ever-evolving as members were subbed, moved from instrument to instrument, or recruited for touring.

“Unsane was the same way when I first started. Then you start touring all the time, people start depending on you and it changes things.”

But it didn’t change Spencer’s love for making music. Cutthroats was always a project Spencer saw as something he could pick up whenever the timing felt right. Which in this case, took a little while. Their most recent album Dissent, released two years ago, was their first full-length since 2000.

While Cutthroats 9 exudes Spencer’s Unsane-style vocals: loud, throaty, drawn-out notes atop gritty, rumbling guitar sounds, the two other band members bring their distinct styles to the new group. Drummer Will Carroll hits heavily on the floor toms while somehow simultaneously allowing the cymbals to ring out, heard even over the hard kicks on the bass drum. In previous interviews Spencer notes Carroll’s constant movements on drums compared to Unsane member Vinnie Signorelli’s more minimalistic style. Even Spencer himself experiments with new sounds, incorporating slide guitar throughout the album. The notoriously bluesy interpretation of slide guitar is completely turned on its head in this outfit, however. Emitting hauntingly strung-out notes, Spencer’s slide guitar produces mysterious melodies over simplistic bass riffs (played by several members including Unsane bassist Dave Curran).

“In San Francisco I seem like an oddity being a guy who plays really heavy music with slide guitar,” Spencer said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen another band like that, especially in San Francisco.”

Will nearly all members of Cutthroats diving their time between multiple projects, assigning priority to each band can take a toll. Spencer said he sometimes finds himself having to fly between the East and West Coast to perform with UXO after doing a Cutthroats show – trips that he said can be taxing, particularly for a tour veteran. Though Spencer’s love of music has been the driving force behind his many projects, he does now try to place his attention on things outside of music that matter. Having a life on tour, Spencer said, is fleeting.

“It’s a more superficial existence,” he said. “I kind of like having a home. When I left New York that was kind of a part of it. I didn’t want to just [keep] eating out of truck stops and living in a van all the time. You kind of want to have some sense of the simple life.”

LIVE SHOW: The Cutthroats 9 will play with Drunk Dad and Dryland March 23 at The Shakedown. 

Published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine