A Chat With: Cut Worms
The brainchild of Max Clarke, Cut Worms combines a lo-fi process with timeless, harmonious vocals reminiscent of 1960's singer songwriters, the storytelling element of folk music, and a touch of psych rock. Following the October release of his debut EP Alien Sunset via Jagjaguwar Records, Clarke and his bandmates will be coming to Chicago next week to perform as part of the annual TNK Fest. The show acts as a homecoming of sorts, as Clarke attended Columbia College here in the city, but now resides in Brooklyn. For more on what you can expect from his set at Tomorrow Never Knows, what's in the books for 2018, the biggest lesson he learned at Columbia, and more, tune into our chat with Cut Worms now!
ANCHR Magazine: So starting off, what was your first musical memory from when you first got into music?
Cut Worms: My first musical memory would probably be just singing along to stuff on the radio as a kid. Or listening to my dad’s CDs that I found, like his Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits.
AM: Did that then inspire you to want to make music yourself?
Cut Worms: Yeah, in a sort of subliminal way that I didn’t really recognize yet. But I didn’t really start thinking about that I wanted to try to make music until I was 12 probably. Two of my uncles played guitar, and at family gatherings I would see them play, and just wanted to be able to do that.
AM: Nice, so then you started making music as Cut Worms when you were at Columbia College right?
Cut Worms: Right, I’ve been writing my own stuff, or trying to, since I was in middle school or high school. I didn’t ever actually get my own band or anything together until the end of college.
AM: Nice, I went to Columbia too!
Cut Worms: What did you go for?
AM: Music Business, what was your major?
Cut Worms: Mine was illustration.
AM: What do you think was the most valuable lesson you learned from going to Columbia? Did you take anything away about the music business, even though that wasn’t your major?
Cut Worms: Not really as far as music, but it did give me a sense of developing a process for my work, whether that was illustration or music. Imposing deadlines on yourself, and I had some good professors there in the illustration department who were illustrators or cartoonists....Especially in Chicago, they tend to be kind of dark people. They just like sit inside all the time and draw, but they have really good work ethic. So I always admired that and took that away from them.
AM: For sure. I was reading a little bit about your writing process and that you’d try to release two songs a month online, so it seems that you definitely took that process away. So what were some of your favorite responses after you released your debut EP, Alien Sunset?
Cut Worms: It was just nice to get responses from people all over the place. Especially since signing with Jagjaguwar and them putting it out, they have a much wider reach obviously. So getting like a message from somebody in Norway saying that they were into it, that’s pretty wild to me.
AM: So where did you pull influences from for the songs on that EP? Did you look to other art forms like visual arts or films and what not?
Cut Worms: Yeah, my girlfriend and I always watch a lot of movies and TV shows, so I’m sure a lot of that is in there. I don’t really know where anything comes from. It’s kind of like listening to the news and getting angry, and trying to deal with it.
AM: Do you have a particular story about any of the songs on the EP and the process behind how it came together?
Cut Worms: I kind of just did it as I went along. I didn’t think about it too much before hand. “Curious Man,” that song on there, was the only one that I kind of had an idea and kind of wanted it to be like a sci-fi ghost story thing. That’s kind of one of the only times I’ve tried to write a certain type of song.
AM: So you’re originally from Ohio, and now you’re based in Brooklyn after living in Chicago. Do you find yourself pulling influence from the location you’re based in, and does it affect your writing habits?
Cut Worms: Oh yeah. Living in different places...I guess, since living in New York, I’ve started traveling a lot more than I ever did before. Even just to go home for holidays and stuff, just driving a lot. You kind of get more of a sense of the differences between different places and the atmosphere and the vibe. Just the pace of life. That was always kind of just like a meaningless cliche to me, but it really is kind of true.
AM: What are some of your favorite parts of the Brooklyn music scene, compared to Chicago?
Cut Worms: I don’t know. I’ve never really felt like I was part of a scene per se. In Chicago I guess I kind of was. There’s a garage rock scene there, at least there was...I think there still is. I was in a garage/punk band there and that kind of got me...that was the first band I was ever in. I’d never really experienced what it was to be in a scene before that. Since moving to New York, I don’t go out that much. I’ll go see my friends’ bands.
AM: Do you have any favorite NYC venues?
Cut Worms: To play at, yeah. Any of the bigger ones. It’s always good to play places with good sound, like Music Hall of Williamsburg. We got to open for The Growlers one time at Webster Hall. After spending years of just playing in shitty bars, not really being able to hear yourself, or when you could hear it, you know that it sounds bad...it’s just kind of depressing. So finally getting to play places where they know what they’re doing with sound, and they make you sound better. It’s more exciting to play, and I think it feeds off each other. Some of the places I like to go see shows are like Union Pool. Small rooms like that are cool.
AM: Nice, what about some of your favorite bands? You mentioned you like to go see your friends’ bands, so anyone you want to shout out?
Cut Worms: Yeah, EZTV. John Andrews and the Yawns. He actually plays in my band now. People from Woods. This band called Pavo Pavo. The guy Oliver is a good friend of mine who I met by playing shows with him. He moved out to LA, but when I met him he was a Brooklyn band.
AM: So speaking so playing live, you’ll be coming out to Chicago to play Tomorrow Never Knows Fest. What’s your live set up usually?
Cut Worms: So I play guitar, and then John Andrews plays keyboards and also sings harmonies. It’s really exciting for me to finally get someone to sing with, who’s good and gets it. Then Jarvis from Woods is gonna be playing bass with me, and my friend Noah Bond, he plays with a bunch of different people, he plays drums. It’ll be just a four piece, and that’s been the set up lately. Occasionally if I can pin him down, I’ll have my friend John, he plays in a ton of other bands, so he’s not always available. But it’s always good to have him when I can.
AM: For sure. Do you get to stick around and see any of the other bands playing TNK Fest?
Cut Worms: I’ll stick around for that night, but we’re flying back to New York the next day. The day after that we have a show at Brooklyn Steel with Allah Lahs. We need to get a rehearsal in since that’s a pretty big venue.
AM: Anyone on the line up that you’re into, if you got a chance to check it out?
Cut Worms: I’m getting to play with my friend, the band opening for us, Cafe Racer. One of the guys in the band used to play bass for me when I lived in Chicago. I know Sonny and the Sunsets are cool, so I’m pretty psyched on the show that I’m playing. I can’t remember, I know I was looking at the line up.
AM: Yeah your show is pretty stacked though, you have a good lineup! Do you have any other artists that you look up to in terms of stage presence, or anyone else you’d love to share the stage with?
Cut Worms: There’s a lot of people who I admire for their stage presence. I feel like I’ve never been that big of a...I don’t have that big of a presence. Or I don’t do a whole lot of moving around. I mean, The Lemon Twigs, who we’ve played with before, they have a pretty amazing stage presence. I admire that. I’ll probably never get there.
AM: What other goals do you have for 2018?
Cut Worms: I’m going to Europe for the first time in February so I’m excited about that. Then my record will be coming out in May. That will be like the first real release, and I’m excited to see what happens with that. I’m mainly trying to write new stuff.
AM: What can you tell us about the album?
Cut Worms: I just want it to speak for itself and for people to take what they want from it.