Four years after it was funded and recorded, Cusses has finally publicly released their second album, “Golden Rat.”
Closing in on a decade of life, the hard-rock trio cemented themselves into the Savannah music scene early on through the illegal house venue No Control, incredible live shows, a killer debut album and general pleasant dispositions. For a number of years, a Cusses show was the highlight of the events calendar.
Since the release of their eponymous debut album in 2012 — which hit No. 12 on the sub-modern charts — Cusses has garnered respectable attention as formidable rockers. Couple that rising popularity with a high-energy live show and 20 years ago, you’d have the recipe for immediate rock star status.
Today's music industry
For musicians working in the current landscape, however, it can be hard to know what direction to take when it comes to releasing music. It's tough to find the right home for your music on the right label. You essentially sign over the rights to your music, but in return you get distribution, publicity and a pool of resources you might not otherwise have, which is designed to earn you a larger fan base.
Self-releasing has its advantages, too. With the advent of the digital age, and the dramatic shift in the way the music industry operates, you can essentially skip the middle man now and go directly to the fans. Bandcamp is awesome. Social media hype works.
The current musical landscape is a strange universe, an alternate dimension where business-minded decisions have gotten more complicated. Self-released digital albums are getting picked up by labels for a vinyl-only release, because a good number of people still buy vinyl albums, but not CDs, nor digital downloads. (I'm guilty of being one of those weirdos.) There are cassette tape-only labels. (That is really strange).
Congress is now involved in the conversation, as they look to pass legislation updating the laws around copyrights, which hopefully will help artists make more money off the work they put into the music. As we all know, though, relying on Congress for anything is typically a terrible idea.
Streaming services are king now. Record sales are essentially dead. Touring and selling merchandise is one of the last, best ways for a band to make money from their music. Record labels rarely hand out massive checks anymore, unless you’re a Soundcloud rapper. The worldwide web has changed everything, and no one seems sure what to do next. The old model, built in the 1960s around giants like the Beatles, is essentially a dead format. It’s now a free-for-all, do-what-you-want world.
Releasing singles ahead of an album seems silly, too. Before everything was handed directly to the customer, essentially for free, single releases and radio play were a good way to get someone to buy the album when it dropped. Very few people are still buying albums. FM radio is no longer a key promotional platform as more people stream music off their smartphone. Social media serves as a major promotional outlet now.
Cusses in transition, too
Five years ago, when things were still in transition in the industry, Cusses was primed for a major or mid-level label deal, which could have thrust them into a national spotlight. They tried to take advantage of that position, to their credit.
Although the heart of the band, singer Angel Bond and drummer Brian Lackey, recently left Savannah for Nashville, Savannah will always be home to Cusses.
“Golden Rat” was funded and recorded in 2014 through a highly successful Kickstarter project that raised over $37,000. Fans wanted it. Since then, Cusses has been shopping the album to labels, trying to find the right home for it.
Then they took a year off completely in late 2015. They released the album to the Kickstarter supporters, but held back from a full public release. Right before the break, they were trying to tour more. Back in the day (2013) they did a 50-plus city tour.
Touring these days is tough for the trio, since guitarist Bryan Harder is firmly planted in Savannah with a regular day job and family. They hired a guitarist to fill in for Harder on the road and played a number of shows before their hiatus. They also released an EP of tracks from the new album, “Here Comes The Rat,” in June 2015 on their own label, HA! Records.
Once Cusses returned, both to Savannah and to the music in 2017, they ignited another frontier into touring and attempted to get “Golden Rat” released. They were also writing new material. After winning a bid, they opened for Bon Jovi in Memphis. Later, they toured with Joy Formidable and opened for The Descendents in Atlanta.
But rock ’n’ roll is dead, according to real music journalists. The majority of people listen to hip-hop these days. The streaming numbers prove that. The masses aren’t interested in a solid rock band, unless they sound like a Led Zeppelin rip-off, apparently.
According to the Recording Industry Association of American, The Eagles' “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975,” is the No. 1-selling album of all time. The measurements typically used to gauge popularity within the music industry are clearly skewed and antiquated. Record sales are no longer a measurement and only the biggest names make money on streaming. The Billboard charts now include a complicated formula calculating worth and value based on streams.
Rock 'n' roll is here to stay
Perhaps in this complicated new world, the answer is simple: Just do it. Write. Record. Release. Simple. Don’t overthink it. My favorite example of this model is Savannah native/Chicago resident Daniel Lynch. Through a seemingly endless stream of projects (here, here, here, here and here), he has put out new music nigh every month for the last four years. (Yes, that’s probably hyperbole, but it’s not far off the truth.)
Keep making music. Never stop. Who cares if everyone is listening to mumble rap? (Why?) Who cares what a label will do with your album? Make another one. Musicians now have all of the power. Write as much as you want. Release it directly to your fans. Cultivate a small following and grow it into a large following. Use social media wisely. Tour till you die. Or don’t. There are no clear answers.
Rock ’n’ roll, of course, isn't dead. Most people just aren’t listening to it. It happens. People elected Donald Trump. People make bad decisions. Which doesn’t mean it’s time to surrender, to call it quits. Quite the opposite.
It’s time for rock ’n’ roll to stop being mediocre. We’ve all heard Led Zeppelin. It’s time for a good bands to rise to the challenge of writing good music. And they are. They are out there, doing it. It's not even that hard to find if you want to.
Cusses is a great rock outfit with pure talent and raw energy. “Golden Rat” is a solid rock ’n’ roll album. I’ve been listening to it for three years now. You should buy it.
I also had the opportunity to hear some of the new material Cusses was writing last year. It’s really good. Maybe their best yet. They’re going on tour this fall and will be back in Savannah to play Oct. 12 at The Jinx Anniversary Party. You should go hear them live. Buy a T-shirt.
And let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next Cusses album.
Joshua Peacock is the arts and entertainment features writer for Do Savannah and Savannah Morning News. Empire of Sound has won multiple Georgia Press Association awards. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.