Quick & Dirty - Cut Off Your Hands

By: Alexander Gandar

Quick & Dirty - Cut Off Your Hands
Photo: Ritchie Harvey

Feb. 11, 2009 - Auckland, New Zealand

For a band that didn't release their debut album, You And I, in the U.S. until January 20th of this year, New Zealand four-piece power-pop-post-punk (that's one band member for every adjective/noun) Cut Off Your Hands have been through a lot. First there was the name change, back in 2007, from Shaky Hands to Cut Off Your Hands, though this didn't seem to faze them much.

"We'd just been playing around New Zealand and we were about to embark on doing SXSW, and go through America," muses Brent Harris, the drummer. "This band in Portland called Shaky Hands . . . sent us a semi-formal letter saying, basically, and legally, you can't use the name Shaky Hands. We weren't necessarily attached to the name in any big way so we just decided to call ourselves Cut Off Your Hands, which at the time was the name of our EP."

No identity crisis? No ructions? No fights?

"Nah," leader singer Nick Johnston says flippantly. "I think because of the nature of the momentum . . . It was good that happened then, while we were still juvenile."

Ace. Touted as the next big thing in amongst such (now) heavy-hitters like MGMT and Foals, the group relocated to London and signed up with sixsevennine Records. At the time, sixsevennine was an indie, but was quickly snapped up by Warner Music. Now, however, the label is defunct, bands have been dropped, and still Cut Off Your Hands haven't broken a sweat.

Harris: "Yeah... they got credit crunched, or something."

Johnston: "It's actually kind of a blessing in disguise to be removed from it. It just would have been really nice to have known a year before."

This blithe ‘tude seems to have little to do with apathy, and is only really worth commenting on because of the dazzling energy for which their live set is renowned. Perhaps it's the sunny Friday afternoon in which we sit in an Auckland park calmly sipping on European beer that lets them exude such an effortless serenity about their future. But the fact that things weren't progressing too swimmingly in The Empire could also be a mitigating factor.

"Our introduction to England was basically being signed to a major label," Johnston explains. "So we went in there and we were just put for contention for major tours, and did things the major label way. That's pretty demoralising to any kind of band that, um, has half a soul, I think [laughs]. We found that, y'know, it was pretty relieving to get out of there."

These major label "things" consisted of relentless touring (Johnston: "How many miles did we drive in Europe? Like 30,000?"; Harris: "That one tour we did we put like 7,000 miles on our van"), a lot of living day-to-day, recording You And I (the debut album) and having it produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard "Duffy" Butler. Though, this, confessedly, was a high point.

"We came to the album with similar understandings of how we wanted to produce it," says Johnston. "We were really obsessed with all the Phil Spector stuff from the '60s, and we kinda said, 'We wanna make a punk record that sounds like a pop record from the '60s.' He did a lot of that kind of stuff, just getting this big feel, which was kinda . . . Well, obviously it's not weird, or anything new, or groundbreaking, but for us, we've always just pressed record – play, y'know, we've had a real kind of punk attitude towards it. So, this was kinda cool to be layering, and bringing heaps of stuff out . . . I really liked working with Bernard. But I'd like to do the next record with a lot more noise, and a lot more, I dunno, just raw kinda guts to it. I felt like it was a bit British."

"I mean," adds Harris, "I think it's cool that we got to make really focused . . . clear-cut, song-based record. And, yeah, it had moments where it explored different avenues, but it's cool. You get to do that and now Cut Off Your Hands get to do something different."

Difference is key. Rebirth and reformation seems such a core mantra that they even manage to be sanguine about losing their guitarist, Michael Ramirez (who has been replaced by Jono Lee). And, having been picked up by label French Kiss in the U.S., 2009 sees them wasting no time on rumination. A North American tour with Ra Ra Riot starts in February.

"We're kind of thinking about 2009 being something that we dedicate more to our label in the States," Johnston explains. "And do things in a way that we've done things – really similar to what we've done here [in New Zealand], which is just touring, and working hard, and playing with bands that we love."

Aw. So! Ready your good Americas. Cut Off Your Hands are on their way . . .

Video: "Still Fond" by Cut Off Your Hands

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