Rock ‘n’ roll is in safe hands.
Sharing more in common with the “rock” half of rockabilly than the country strands of its “billy” half, Doc & the Headshrinkers bring a few additional extras to the rockin’ scene.
Despite holding a sound that is suggestive of numerous different influences, Doc & the Headshrinkers has become something of a regular feature on the rockin’ circuit during the last few years.
Not ones to appease the agonised brows of the traditionalists therefore, when it comes to the purest of definitions of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, the order of the day when considering the sound associated with Doc & the Headshrinkers is one of a wild, hollering racket more in tune with the rough end of rock music and its nearest ally punk than the countrified strands associated with rockabilly for example.
A trio exuding much confidence given their abilities in the song writing department where it’s not uncommon to find the vast majority of their compositions self-penned, Doc & the Headshrinkers provide an alternative to those bands more concerned with perfecting the ideal cover version. Add to the potion a drive and determination to succeed, not to mention high levels of exuberance expressed during any number of their live performances, then its clear to understand why increased recognition for the wild electrified rock ‘n’ roll of Doc & the Headshrinkers has gathered at an increased pace.
Taking in to account current government recommendations of social distancing, Famous Last Words (FLW) was keen to find out more about this rock ‘n’ roll trio and their most up to date album, ‘Crashland’ and its striking imagery and sound to match. Therefore, by adhering to the latest rules and regulations, a series of questions were transmitted from afar to Doc & the Headshrinkers’ lead singer and songwriter Dave ‘Doc’ Cutter. The rest was all down to the band’s wild, enigmatic frontman to complete, which he passed with flying colours considering his detailed responses with enough information to complete a thesis on the band and therefore scoring EXTRA Brownie points on this side of the rock ‘n’ roll aisle.
“It started in 2006 when I put together an album completely by accident and a friend, Rob Livestock Davies, said I should release it,” begins Dave Cutter on the foundations of Doc & the Headshrinkers. “At the time I had no band and that wasn’t even a possibility, but I released ‘DIED JOGGING’ [album] under the DATHs (Doc & the Headshrinkers) banner. I got some good reviews from around the world and sold them on the internet. Sold the last few copies when the band started gigging. I wrote and recorded another album [and] called it ‘Crashland’ and just shelved it.
“A year or two later I moved to deepest, darkest West Wales, it was here I met my driving force and Richie. Without him, there would never have been any Headshrinkers. Despite a slight conflict of interests, we both wanted to be the bass player (Dave Cutter is an established bass player but plays lead guitar in the band). However, we hit it off and his massive enthusiasm and love of rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll drove us. I played guitar while we tried to find a couple of good guitarists and a mate of Richie’s, John Lovell, played drums. We did our first gig in April 2017. We played mostly our own songs and maybe two or three covers. I wrote all the songs with two guitars in mind for the band, but we struggled to find one to fit in, so I adapted the songs for one guitar and, after a few gigs, we settled on a three piece.”
Considering the various rock ‘n’ roll influences running through the band’s sound, who do Doc & the Headshrinkers regard as influences when it comes to your own music?
“The first rock ‘n’ roll I heard was Chuck Berry,” answers Dave. “I was 10 years old. Nobody tells a story like Chuck. Little Richard was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer, but my first introduction to rockabilly came through Breathless in the early 80s. I drummed for Breathless for a while when Colin went to Australia and ended up in a rockin’ trio called Katsquire with guitarist Rob. I don’t just write rock ’n’ roll and ‘billy stuff, I write anything from punk to funk as well. I would say the people who have influenced my writing the most have been the ones I have been lucky enough to play with. Most of them you’ll never have heard of, but they’ve been pivotal in influencing my penmanship.”
How would you describe, therefore, Doc & the Headshrinkers’ sound because there are definite references to punk rock (as you mention) in both sound and attitude for example?
“I would totally agree with that. I’ve always loved bands who play with balls [attitude] and, although I love the 50’s sound, that was then, and this is now. I loved the Stray Cats because they brought the music up to date. I love the tension in the Clash or the Blockheads or the Ruts. I love the energy of The Jim Jones Revue who re-ignited my dwindling love of rock ‘n’ roll and, if I was going to be in a band, whoever was with me had to give their soul because I insist on all of that in the mix. Live music should be LIVE! I think we dug our way into our own skin and we therefore sound like DATHs, we do not want to sound or look like something stuck in the 50s. If that is your thing, great! But it’s not us.”
As the conversation gathers apace, history seems to be a pivotal ingredient when defining Doc & the Headshrinkers. A reason to believe this arrives suddenly when Dave Cutter throws a curveball into the conversation by suggesting he has reason to believe there is Norwegian ancestry in his family, which is relevant considering the location and ancestry of this particular music paper. Therefore, with this sudden revelation in mind and seeing as how we’re on the subject of “beginnings” and the subject of history involved, FLW probes Dave Cutter further to see how far the Norwegian blood lies in terms of his own family connections.
“I’ve never managed to find out much about my Norwegian ancestry, although my sister is looking into it at the moment,” he begins. “My Grandmother’s maiden name was Cumper, which had been changed from Cymper when the family came to the UK. My mother had the greenest eyes you have ever seen. I remember calling her from somewhere in Europe when I was on tour in the 80s, and she told me she’d just been to a ceremony where her cousin had been posthumously decorated for his part in Telemark (Very important missions during WWII led by Norwegian resistance movement and Allied forces to thwart German developments of nuclear weapons). She said she would write the family history down but, unfortunately, she passed away before it happened. One day, I hope I’ll learn more and maybe find a few distant cousins in Norway.”
With Doc & the Headshrinkers frontman adding to the discussion the often referred to subject of sex being a main staple of any rock ‘n’ roll sound, and no different to this three piece when it comes to their song writing, in addition to “…the occasional moan about the fluffy scene or the government and everyday life”, it’s the foundations for the band’s ‘Crashland’ album that arrived in a fanfare of thunderous rock ‘n’ roll and left a trail of emotions to ponder over.
“’Crashland’ was recorded at Fflach Studios in Cardigan, Wales in late 2018,” mentions Dave about the band’s most recent album. “I do a lot of freelance production and engineering there, and some session work as well when I can get it. It is a great little studio and I had some studio time owed to me. We tried to get the album finished in a week, but after two days we decided to rework some of the tracks. Once we returned to the studio, we nailed it down in a week. I had originally written the album for two guitars, and we were now just a three piece and therefore I felt that some of the songs did not work for us. We shelved those, and I wrote a couple more specifically for the band as it was.
“We should have gigged the songs more before recording them,” continues Dave before adding, “but I was impatient. Like lots of artists, I am never truly satisfied with any of my work. But it’s there, it’s done. You can keep on going over the little irritations forever but, at the end of the day, you must capture a moment. You must stop playing with it at some point and say, “That’ll do” and get it pressed. It’s too late to change after that. I find it best not to listen to your own stuff too much or it will drive you mad. On to the next!”
Is there a favourite track from ‘Crashland’ and what are your reasons for this?
“’I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL’,” Dave scribbles in capitals and sends down the internet whilst adding, “because it’s the only song not written by me. Rob (Livestock and the Lo’ down Snakes) Davies penned it and I’d played it live with him loads of times and fell in love with it. I tried to get him in the studio for years to record a solo album and he wouldn’t. He wrote my favourite Katsquire songs and I loved all the stuff he had written since. He is my favourite rock ’n’ roll writer of the last thirty years. Anyway, I called him up and told him if he wouldn’t record it, then I would. He approves of the end result.”
The songs ‘Mrs Tolley’, ‘High School Reject’ and ‘Paranoia’ have all gained FLWs’ attention recently. Care to elaborate on the contents of these three particular numbers?
“Blimey! I’ll be here all night!!” answers Dave who actually misreads the original question and elaborates a bit further with a few details regarding other songs. Good news as far as we are concerned! “‘Mrs Tolley’ was my hideous music teacher who banned my guitar from school because I refused to play classical. I just wanted to be Chuck [Berry]. ‘High School Reject’ was about the vulnerability we feel as teenagers. It’s about not feeling that we “fit in”. ‘If There Wasn’t Any Sinners…The Saints Wouldn’t Look So Good’ says it all. Whereas ‘Paranoia’ [refers to] a failing relationship! ‘Love Lies Lost’ is the battle with insecurity that goes on in the head of anyone creative. ‘Rocker’ was inspired by the late, great Crazy Cavan. He loved it Rockin’. He loved the Headshrinkers. The King of Brit rock ’n’ roll. All the rest are about sex I think, apart from the bonus track Diabolo, not a spelling mistake, just a reference to the Leader and the Conscience; Welsh twins who carried my sorry arse around Europe for a couple of mad years.”
Your lyrics give the impression of having a desperate, running out of time feel and frustrated edge to them, including some regrets. Are you talking in the first person here and, if so, are these emotions that you still feel a lot when it comes to writing?
“As a songwriter I think there is always going to be a spattering of autobiography lurking in the lyrical shadows. As for emotion, listen to the next album when it comes out. It’s called ‘In The Doghouse’. You can tell me if the emotion is still there.”
Considering Doc & the Headshrinkers current location and your broader approach to your own song writing, how is rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll received in Wales these days and, more specifically, your own standing given the band’s appearance at such great festivals as the Welsh Rockabilly Fair not too long ago?
“We enjoyed it,” responds Dave to their appearance at the Welsh Rockabilly Fair. “There were a lot of people who didn’t [appreciate Doc & the Headshrinkers] because our turn ups weren’t regulation size and my quiff has gone astray but we played to the ones who like it the DATHS way. We have never tried to be anything other than ourselves. We have fans in the rockabilly scene, the psycho [billy] scene, the Ted scene and the punk scene and a lot in no scene at all, they’re just music fans. We don’t feel the need to belong to a scene, just to the fans.”
Considering your years together as a band, what has been one of the most memorable experiences and one of the strangest experiences?
“Richie falling through a portaloo after a cider session at a festival we headlined in total blackout because the lights failed. We could not see anyone in the crowd, and they couldn’t see us, but everyone had a ball! Strangest experience is playing in a band with Edd. You never know what he’s gonna do next.”
What’s next for Doc & the Headshrinkers, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing restrictions?
“At the end of 2019, I decided to hang up my rock ’n’ roll shoes,” Dave admits. “I’m a bass player. I never wanted to get stuck on guitar because I don’t feel comfortable with it. We are talking about releasing ‘In The Doghouse’ because it has been written and pretty much recorded for over a year, and there are some of my best songs on it. We have one more gig to do after lockdown, and that will probably be it. I have spent a large part of my life playing music for a living. For example, twenty years ago, it was easy, but I took a break and when I met Richie and kickstarted the band, I wanted to be touring and gigging 300 nights a year. Sadly, the music scene has completely changed, and those days are pretty much gone. Gigs are on Friday and Saturday nights and ‘tribute’ bands rule the scene. They were called Cabaret bands in my day. I’m not sure how coronavirus will affect the music scene. How musicians, technicians, promoters, anyone connected with the music business will fare when we come out the other side, nobody knows. I hope it is going to be a positive outcome for live music, and I pray Simon Cowell will not get his hands on all of it. Long live rockers!”
FLW salutes Dave Cutter for a truly memorable discussion and for the honest and savage rock ‘n’ roll brawling its way out of deepest, darkest West Wales as he describes it and otherwise known as Doc & the Headshrinkers. For those looking for further information of the band and to purchase a CD of the album ‘Crashland’ then please visit: https://docandtheheadshrinkers.com/
(Photography courtesy of Tony Bruce)
We have never tried to be anything other than ourselves. We have fans in the rockabilly scene, the psycho [billy] scene, the Ted scene and the punk scene and a lot in no scene at all, they’re just music fans. We don’t feel the need to belong to a scene, just to the fans.”
Dave Cutter, Doc & the Headshrinkers
FLW - From the Tapes
It is a dramatic image and one that stays with you long afterwards yet perfectly sums up the brutal contents held inside ‘Crashland’. But how, exactly, did the band decide on this particular photo image?
“The cover photo for ‘Crashland’ was from stock images on the internet,” explains Dave Cutter. “I trawled through hundreds of photos looking specifically for old black and white images from the 50s or earlier and showed some to the boys. We had a vote.”
The video to the single release ‘Paranoia’, also from the album ‘Crashland’, has a habit of lingering in the memory once it’s finished rolling, especially the scenes of the band performing underground in a tunnel and the jail imagery. Care to elaborate further on this?
“As for the video, it was filmed on a budget by me and a friend called Wyn Jones. The tunnel is under a dual carriageway near Carmarthen (Wales), the cars and drivers were donated by some mates at Riverside Rockabilly’s Club, and the pub scenes were shot in my partner’s pub, the Masons Arms in Cilgerran (Wales). We took it over for an hour and got some of the regulars to join in. I thought it would be a nice touch to have them on film for posterity. The jail scenes were in the actual cells in Cardigans (Wales) old police station. It was all filmed on two old 35mm cameras and a GoPro and edited in Protools by me. Even the smoke machine was home made. We were pleased with the result considering it cost a total of £50. I had a rough sketch of ideas but come the day of shooting we improvised a fair bit.”