Cute Are Not For Sale
The one thing you need to know about cute is that they practically demand to be seen live.
Decked out in jumpsuits and with headlamps adorning each of their heads, the four bandmates play in as much darkness as the venue will allow. More recently, they’ve taken to using a fog machine, having it belch hazy plumes of vapor into the room. As the beams from their headlamps slash and cut through the darkness, they play at an ear shattering volume and leave any gaps between songs to crackle with feedback and delay. The band says that their performances are tailored to be as atmospheric and sensory as possible.
“We don’t want to be individual, we want to be a vehicle for the experience,” explains Daniel Conroy, the band’s primary vocalist. “The more anonymous we can be, the more the music can stand apart.”
During a January set at the Sonic Unyon-owned venue Bridgeworks, their performance took on even more of a surreal quality in its second half as the fog machine they were using set off the venue’s fire alarm. With the stage largely shrouded in darkness, it was hard to tell what was going on; was this repetitive whine some sort of sample they were playing during their set? A malfunctioning amplifier? As cute finished their set, Hamilton firefighters had already arrived and were maneuvering their fire engine out of the narrow parking lot.
Two months later, on an overcast Friday morning, the four of them - Conroy, guitarist Ciàran Galati, bassist Chuck Kostash, and drummer Zach Vernon - gathered at the non-descript LMNOP recording and rehearsal space in Hamilton’s East end to work out a series of songs they plan to release on a future sophomore full-length. Working out of a tucked away jam space in the basement, they chip away at new material which takes the sort of lengthy, dissonant jams of their recent debut record apocalypse / life and tightens them into their most vital characteristics.
For each of the bandmates, cute was something of new musical ground. After studying music at Mohawk College, Galati began releasing free jazz-influenced solo work and established the dream rock outfit Memory Lakes. Meanwhile, Vernon and Kostash have lent their talents to various local groups like the mathy art rock band Dizzy Spells and folk rock project Delta Days. Although several years older than his bandmates, Conroy says that cute is in fact only the second musical project he has ever participated in, aside from a brief stint playing with a band that, as they put it, “never made it out of the basement.” Cute was Conroy’s brainchild; although the band members knew each other tangentially through mutual friends, it wasn’t until their first practice - brought together by Conroy - that they became more than acquaintances.
“I was just looking for people who I thought were making the right type of sounds,” Conroy says.
Conroy sent each a list of inspirations that ranged from the anxious art punk of This Heat and Nick Cave to composers like Julius Eastman and Steve Reich, largely recognized for their work in dissonant minimalism. “Whoa, this is different’” Kostash recalls thinking after looking the list over. For Kostash, cute was an exciting opportunity to play with a much more abrasive sound than they were used to by adding, “I’d never been in a band like this but I’m into that.”
After releasing various demos and live versions of their songs via bandcamp, the band’s record apocalypse / life was recorded in October of 2022 and released this February. Considering their influences, it's not surprising that the record veers ferociously between weirdo noise, manic punk and atmospheric post-rock. “Let your mouth digest it” builds over its 20 minute runtime in a fashion that recalls Constellation Records signees Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Do Make Say Think, climaxing with an acidic guitar freakout that resolves into a quiet interlude of birdsong. “It’s about the start of the universe,” Conroy says casually on the song’s inspiration.
Meanwhile, the record's second side “Voodoo Dissolve” is where the band's interest in corrosive noise and psychedelia is clarified. Impassioned hollers of “we are not for sale!” are underpinned by a wall of discordant distortion and percussion.
Only a month removed from the release of apocalypse / life though, the four already seem restless to put out new music. “If we didn’t have to go to our day jobs and all we had to do was write, we’d put stuff out like mad,” says Conroy. With their next release in the works, the group seems energized by the fellow bands who have arrived on the Hamilton scene in the past few years.
“I think a lot of people got inspired during the pandemic because they couldn’t do anything,” says Kostash. “I think it's probably the most creative it’s ever been.”
Photo credits: Lorraine Postma, Curt Monchamp