Fans of the innovations and originality that sprang from the L.A. underground of the late 1970s and ‘80s often ask, “What’s Paul B. Cutler been up to?” A vital participant in the Los Angeles music scene of that period as bandleader, songwriter, musician and producer, Cutler’s work – in particular his guitar playing – with The Consumers, 45 Grave, Vox Pop and The Dream Syndicate is still admired by fans and an influence on anyone interested in that period and the styles that developed from it.
Those familiar with Cutler’s past will find numerous touchstones of it in the songs of Les Fleurs. The driving, insistent and immediate sound and style of his guitar playing is all there, right from the downbeat of “The Cold Light of Day.” His overdriven tone is distinctly his own, a finely-tuned grind that was in place on the early Consumers tracks and has developed and grown over the decades. The speed-burner “For the Children” would not be out of place in his early catalog, while the lyric decries “All around the world/Little boys and girls/ Sick of all the liars in this world.” On “The Game,” the eloquent arpeggios and signature melodic leads draped over tight, syncopated power chords show a fully developed, singular style, one familiar to fans of 45 Grave. Meanwhile, “Istanbul” rests more on keyboard drones and catchy Middle-Eastern figures in the verses, while a crunchy power riff lifts the chorus. The 15-songs take numerous left turns to keep listeners fully involved, whether the drill sergeant intro of “Chains” or the slow, reverberated dreamscape of “Body Shadow Spirit.” PRE-ORDER HERE.
Cutler’s legacy is impressive and groundbreaking. The Consumers were the first punk band out of Phoenix, AZ; they departed for the more musically inviting Los Angeles early on, and then splintered into various bands that would make their mark in the L.A. scene of the following decade. Cutler started the genre-busting 45 Grave, who combined so many musical elements that scribes and scenesters tried to outdo each other in describing it. Eventually, they became acknowledged as the forerunners of the L.A. deathrock scene, a more aggressive cousin to the goth music coming out around the same time in London. While the rigorously rehearsed 45 Grave bewildered and excited crowds, Cutler and most of the Grave ran the deliberately non-rehearsed Vox Pop at the same time, building an equally rabid fanbase. Later in the decade, Cutler played in The Dream Syndicate (whom he’d previously produced) from ’86 to ’89.
45 Grave image by Bob Seiderman
“The Dream Syndicate was it,” recalls Cutler. “After I played guitar with them, that’s when I retired from music as a career. That’s when I joined Goldenvoice.” Cutler, from top of the ‘90s to 2015, was concert promoter Goldenvoice’s Art Director, responsible for all of their branding and advertising. In fact, he created the iconic imagery, logo and poster design associated with Coachella and still used by the festival to this day.
In 2015, Cutler decided to again retire, leaving L.A. for Humboldt County. During his years at Goldenvoice, Cutler was always writing and recording, though strictly for his own enjoyment with no intention of releasing his material. What might be called “the bug,” or if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, “the fever,” caught up with Paul when a prominent musician, influenced by Cutler, contacted him regarding collaboration. In 2014, “Ryan Adams contacted me and wanted to form a band. He loved 45 Grave, he wanted to do some goth/punk, whatever you want to call it. That’s right up my alley. He’s amazingly talented and inspiring to work with. We did that for a while, and I wrote a bunch of songs.”
Enthused about his new material, Cutler continued recording songs with just his signature electric guitar style and vocals. “At one point, I just said ‘screw it man, I’m just going to throw this stuff out there.’ I just threw it up on YouTube. Larry (Hardy, owner of In the Red records) had released The Consumers (in 2002). So, I think he was a fan. He contacted me: ‘This would sound great on vinyl!’ I was actually intending to release it (with guitars and vocals only).” As this was developing, another vet of the early L.A. scene – Brad Laner of Medicine and Savage Republic – got in touch with Paul. Laner was a Vox Pop fan; the two had met when Brad was just 15 years old, and in fact Laner performed with Vox Pop a few times. “We just happened to reconnect on Facebook.”
Laner contacted him about mixing and suggested it would sound better with a basic rhythm section. Cutler initially resisted, but tried it, and agreed it was the way to go. Paul then overdubbed drums, bass guitar and some keyboards. Says Cutler of Laner’s participation, “He co-produced it, he mixed it, and while he was doing that he put on some keyboards, percussion, he sang back-up vocals on it, and added some modular synth.” The end result evolves through the 15-song journey, but has a cohesiveness built around the inventive guitar figures and Cutler’s vocals, alternating between intimate whispers and full-voice proclamations.
The overall process took some time, with songwriting beginning in 2014. When reflecting on the music that comprises Les Fleurs, “To me, and it does not sound like it, but because of the philosophy I had while producing it, it’s punk. I come from the original punk, before it was a genre. Before it was a ‘sound.’ When I got to LA in 1977 there were about 20, maybe 30 bands and they all sounded very different. The Screamers, The Deadbeats, so many different takes on what music could be. There was no chance for commercial success so we all just did what we wanted. I never stopped. So philosophically I consider this punk rock, made in its original spirit although nobody would recognize it as such. I am a punk to this day.”
So that, dear reader, is the basic story. Now it’s up to you to see what you recognize in Paul B. Cutler’s Les Fleurs.