Seth Sutton Elegizes Memphis Punk

Even if Seth Sutton, mastermind and heartthrob of Uselesseaters, went a little Golden Glow on his recent, Black Night Ultraviolet E.P. you can’t hold it against, the punk-trained prodigy of Memphis garage scene idol, the late Jay Reatard, for riding on the, (pardon the redundant nomenclature) new, new-wave wave. Nevertheless, there’s definitely more hiding in the back pocket of this twinkly-eyed twinkster than cliche tributes to a romanticized sonic era. Even if you think Sutton sounded a little better on his political droning tracks iike, “Rich Boys and Rich Girls,and leaned more towards the raw and uncomplicated sound of his indecent proposals on “Take Advantage of Me”, I’m sure you’ll take pleasure in this Sonny and the Sunsets or Kids on a Crime Spree meets Public Image Ltd take on the recent EP. Although, I doubt you’ll be hearing Sutton screaming “anger is an energy” at the end of any of Uselesseaters tracks, the latent classic rock, glam rock creeping out the edges of his psychedelic paranoia pays melodic reverence to Throbbing Gristle and Orchestral Manoeuvres. You might even hear a little Pixies danceable attitude and pop-punk á la Minor Threat in the dormant inspirations of this dapper 22 year old.

At first glance his bright shining youth and vigor might contrast the more aggressive, brooding, anti-commercial, confrontational impulses at work behind Sutton’s style and nontraditional training. However, continuing with the obsession for weird or out of place nostalgia for eras of pop aetheria just out of reach, Gemma Ray and Bosco del Rey loosely come into conversation here. And having toured recently with Hunx and his Punx, its now wonder we’re seeing a neo-dark wave sound upsurge from Sutton. Though his mentor and friend, the sorely missed legend, Reatard, converted his tastes towards palpable Twee á la Adverts tinged radioability at the end of his career, admitting a shift to more melodic trends before his untimely passing, I can’t help but consider Sutton’s shift on the Black Night Ultraviolet E.P. to be a form of homage to Reatard’s legacy and lessons.

In a recent interview with Sutton, in Williamsberg, New York, the young Memphis-raised musician confided about his audio upbringing, his applied work ethic, the grimy truth about Bluff City or River City (Memphis), and his unexpected idol. In Memphis, Sutton shares, “My dad always pushed music on me. He exposed me to a lot of good music early on. My dad was in the Air Force and put me on to Kraftwerk, Evo, The Clash, The Ramones very early. Probably when I was like 5 or 6. He’s kind of a square but he knows his shit.”

During our conversation, I note a sudden Ritche Valens vibe coming from the vibrant young man sitting across from me, as he searches the crowded, noisy Lovin’ Cup walls for his replies, skirting my gaze and concentrating on his accounts. “I started going on tour when I was 14 with guys who were always older than me. My folks always trusted me. They’re support definitely helped me a lot. Even to this day. Even when I’m messing up, they’re like ‘keep going, keep doing what you like.’ That definitely inspires me to be more creative and create more stuff.” Sutton can also thank some of his musical taste development to, “a brother who’s into really bad 90’s pop punk,” who would pass him “compilations here and there.”

But, just in case it sounds like Sutton had it too easy growing up, smashing away on his brothers unused drum-set and picking up a guitar at a very young age, teaching himself basic chords after only one formal lesson, with all the support in the world from his folks, despite all the die hard punkers, rebelling against their families and working class expectations and imposed ambitions, Sutton tells of a gritty Memphis, with “tranny prostitutes causing trouble” and gunshots just up the street.” He tells of a “dark cloud hanging over Memphis,” with it’s intense history of violence and even notes a distinct propagation of hatred towards the city portrayed in the blood thirsty media, all of which echoes faintly of Jay Reatards’s own words to the Memphis Flyer: “More than the music of Memphis, the city itself has inspired me. I’ve always felt like Memphis has this weird, ominous cloud hanging over it. To me, that’s inspiring. I’m never bored. I always feel like I’m in danger. But to me, that’s exciting.”

That element of danger, of thrill and vitality comes through loud and clear in Uselesseaters, in Sutton’s vibe and in the truth, style and voice coming from the South, unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Those “desolate streets” which Sutton describes, might be then, the perfect breeding ground for musical mayhem. As a result, Sutton feels the same rush for time as his teacher and friend. “When I’m home,” he shares, “I’m always recording. I have a couple friends with studios. At this point I feel rushed for time. Maybe it’s something that Jay taught me. He was always telling me he was rushed for time, he had to put out all these albums before he croaked. He taught me to have these goals and go for it [..] Three LP’s for the year, that’s my goal, maybe 4 next year.”

Despite Suttons move to Nashville, the “cleaner sister of Memphis,” he still holds a special place in his heart –a stoic, critical pride– for his hometown memories and formation. “Meeting Jay and becoming pretty close to him, that’s a good Memphis memory. The last two years of his life, I spent the majority of it with Jay. He was the one who kind of got me to do this full time. He kind of pushed me out there to continue making the music I was making. That gave me a pretty good boost because I was really fan of his shit. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s really my best Memphis experience. He was the last shining hope, he was the golden boy who made it, who got out of the shit. But ultimately it was the shit that took him under. Without him it was like there was nothing left.”

I imagine Sutton’s move to Nashville and part-time residency in New York to be similar to the journeys of his surprising idol, the enigmatic and prophetic Sun Ra. Sutton confided a passionate following of free-form jazz, blues and a devout respect for those “rough, hood-ass motherfuckers who could probably beat you up, who were making real music back then.” He mentions Mingus, Monk, Coltrane and a slew of others as his inspirations but the trippy, fringe esoterica and Egyptian cosmological trappings of the space-age philosophyhal and diligent musician Sun Ra, stands above the rest. The blaringly obvious similarity between Sun Ra, Reatard and Sutton might be their duty and respect for dedicated production. Ra said in a 1989 Press Release by A&M Records, “all of us are free to ride those flights […] if we have the precision and discipline to do so.”

From the LA punk, bubblegum pop sounds that inspired his participation with agit-punk garage bands at 14 to his first encounters with Full Specter and Lindsey’s work with Final Solutions, there’s a story here about love and drive, passion for the music, for the communities and history that form them. All the way to his final decision to “recorded 6 or 7 songs and [make] cassette tapes and pass them out to friends under the name Uselesseaters,” Sutton says he’s “just trying to put out as many records as possible. It’s so easy for me to record too. Writing all the songs, playing all the instruments, it’s easy for me to me create. Record a drum track, the rest just comes out.”

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