Since they first met as sophomores in high school deep in the San Fernando Valley, Jose Varela and Ashley Stuart were interested in playing music. Though their interest and participation in the local punk rock scene initially led them to become part of the Los Angeles Experimental Orchestra, called KILLSONIC, which played jazz and orchestral free jazz allowed the longtime friends the opportunity to collaborate. When that project reached its end, the duo were left to ponder where their next sonic journey would take. The result was an undertaking that has seen them exceed even those initial hopes and expectations.
After attending the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival and shooting a documentary surrounding the event, the duo were inspired by the scene and sound that encompassed the event. Mesmerized and smitten with the scene, Varela decided he wanted to take what he enjoyed from that festival and start a new band.
Now, a few years later, he goes by Cutty, who sings and plays guitar and Stuart by Bang Bangs, apropos due to her handling the drumming. Those alter egos properly fit their rockabilly-meets-prom punk sound. Inspired by vintage 1950s pop culture a la the diner scene in Pulp Fiction, the band goes by Cutty Flam, and has added a bassist, Chewy Lewy. They liked the idea of that era because "when you went the movie theatre, you had to dress up" and wanted to bring that vintage feeling to their live set. When it came time to come up with their theatrical show, changing their names to reflect this presence felt natural.
"The names were Bang Bangs' idea," Cutty says. "We wanted to create another world beyond ourselves and our normal life, and take the band in a different direction. We wanted to be more theatrical and came up with some fun names."
Shortly after the group's inception, Flam recorded a demo of "Robot Heart" and tried shopping it around. When that didn't work, the group took matters into their own hands. They recorded more songs and released them as singles and once they started to notice there was some traction behind what they were doing, they recorded an album bearing the same name as that first demo, which they self-released in March 2014.
Heeding the words of Michael Rey and The Woebegone's, with whom they played a warehouse show in Downtown L.A., Cutty Flam became intrigued with Burger Records, and figured that with the types of bands they were releasing, that the label was a logical fit. At Rey's urging, the trio went to the label's Fullerton headquarters to introduce themselves. As fate would have it, Flam and Bang Bang's friends were playing a show at the Burger store, so they went down to network, and on the off chance they had the opportunity to meet Lee Rickard and Sean Bohrman, they brought copies of their music. Their opportunistic nature paid off.
"We made our own tape that I drew the song titles on and gave Lee the tape," Bang Bangs says. "We talked to him when he was cleaning up that night, and he decided to put it on. He dug it and contacted us shortly thereafter."
Burger re-released the group's debut album last September, and has promoted the band under it's umbrella. Cutty Flam played last year's Burger Revue. As the group readies for its Fourth of July show opening for Wanda Jackson – a rockabilly hero of theirs – the not-far-off future is looking busy for them. They're in the process of working on their second album for Burger, have signed with a management team and plan to tour for the better part of the summer.
Cutty Flam, above anything else, wants to be known for their electric live show and being accessible and appreciated by all audiences and age groups.
"We want people to know we give a damn about how we present ourselves," Flam explains. "It's all about filtering everything into one simple package that even kids can singalong to."
Cutty Flam performs with Wanda Jackson at the Observatory on July 4th at 8 p.m. $5 show! For full show info, click here.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.