At the very first Cusses gig, not much more than a year ago, singer Angel Bond felt her ankle bones cracking inside the old shoes she wore onstage. By the end of the show, after hours of bouncing and dancing and thrashing at the microphone, both straps on her dress were irrevocably broken. The zipper in back was a disaster.
Lesson learned. Today, Bond dresses for comfort — leggings and a tank top. Her bare feet are wrapped in Ace bandages, and she mans her centerstage post with a comfy shag rug underneath.
It’s become a look, as much a part of the Cusses mystique as Brian Lackey’s pummeling, raw–energy drums and the distorted multi–octave crunch–chords of Bryan Harder’s guitar.
“I don’t know who that person is up on the stage,” Bond says. “I have no idea what she’s doing up there. I’m just trying to let her do what she wants to do.”
In a relatively short time, Cusses has become Savannah’s “must–see” band. Bond, Lackey and Harder play with blood, sweat and punk abandon, but it’s the alchemy of their individual influences — grunge, metal, electronica, R&B and ‘90s pop — that makes the band so exciting to hear and to watch.
For Bond, who moved around a lot as a child, this sense of wild expression is exhilarating.
“I was always the new kid,” she explains. “So I was super–aware of what people thought of me. That’s why it’s been so important to get to that point. Then you’re able to let go.”
She’d been a saxophone player in school, and was content to hide with the other people in her section, a little lamb in a big flock of sheep.
Eventually, her intense stage fright eroded away.
What it took, she explains, was “Years of growth, and being with two phenomenal musicians that have pushed me to an edge that I’d wanted to go. And made me comfortable.”
A New Jersey native, Harder arrived at SCAD in 1992 and began to study architecture. As a guitarist, he was drawn to the tough, visceral style of Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne, and to the innovation and theatrical flourish of Jimmy Page.
“I find that each of these guys were innovators in their genres,” Harder says, “and really displayed non–conventional playing styles at the time.”
Almost immediately, Harder met Lackey, who’d come to SCAD from North Carolina. “I remember that when I was about 12, my family got HBO and I saw The Song Remains The Same,” says Lackey. “And that was it. John Bonham’s kind of a given for everybody. I don’t really play like him at all, but I definitely like his energy.”
Lackey cites his main influence as Animal, the drummer for theMuppet Show band. Watching him play — he’s like an eight–armed octopus — the lineage is logical.
Harder and Lackey played in numerous bands together in the 1990s. Although there wasn’t much happening musically downtown at the time, all the musicians thought of themselves as part of a tightly–knit community.
“You knew every single person at the show,” Lackey says.
“I think the scene was probably the same as it is now,” adds Harder, “but there weren’t as many people here. So it seemed a lot bigger.”
An artist and photographer, Lackey left Savannah, came back and left again, and whenever he made camp in town he and Harder would re–convene and put another project together, advancing each time on the freestyle playing approach they’d begun to enjoy, and relying on the musical telepathy that comes from jamming together for so long. Gradually, they stopped doing cover material.
“I think that’s a natural process,” Lackey explains. “If you’re an architect, you’re going to emulate somebody’s building, and eventually you’re going to find your own style. But it’s still going to hold those qualities.”
In 2005, Bond — who’d been living in Naples, Fla., managing a cafe — relocated herself to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I got a little team of five together, and set up a little renegade tent village,” she explains. “And went in every day and just found out what people needed. I was only going to go for a couple months, but when I got in it, I was just overwhelmed. And I had to stay until it ran out.”
Although she’d started to sing, at open mic nights back in Florida, it wasn’t until New Orleans, with its cozy camaraderie between musicians, that Bond began to fully enjoy expressing herself musically.
“I spent most of my life volunteering all over the country or the world,” she says, “and it’s always been for other people. I thought being a singer, and doing music, was the most selfish thing I could do. So I didn’t allow myself to do it. Even though I always wanted to.
“And I secretly sang at home by myself. I thought ‘Naw, I can’t do that. I’m supposed to be doing other things.’”
Between 2006 and 2009, Lackey was in Los Angeles doing prop work and set design for television, films, commercials and print advertising.
“Anything,” he smiles, “that would pay me.” He also started digging the polyrhythms of electronic music.
He returned to Savannah — with Angel Bond.
“He came in, probably planning to resurrect an old band,” says Harder, who’d started a career, and a family, and was teaching part–time at SCAD. “And it didn’t happen like that at all. And she just started singing. We went ‘This works.’”
There was, they all say, no master plan, no blueprint. “They asked me to sit in, but I fought it for months,” Bond laughs. “Because I really didn’t know if I wanted to be in a band with my boyfriend.”
From the start, Cusses never had a bass player. “We started playing as a two–piece,” Harder adds. “We had some people come in and try to play bass. We’re just so much more productive without that other person.”
With 10 guitar pedals that give him innumerable effects including delays and octave–leaps, Harder is, in effect, the band’s guitarist and bassist. He is a wall of howling sound. “I’m kind of a gear geek, researching pedals and amps, and how to get a different sound,” he explains. “And we figured out how to get the big sound with little people.” He uses no processors or pre–amps.
The EP Thurst appeared last April, and in November the band put out a new song and video, “Purses.” The music (and video) is available through Cusses’ Facebook and Myspace pages.
They are, and happy to proclaim it, three of a kind. “We write together so fast ... I think it surprised us all,” says Harder.
“When you collaborate with a lot of people,” Bond adds, “you don’t get that all the time. So I think we all knew we had something special.”
The band has begun to venture afield, playing shows in Southern strongholds like Asheville and Charleston. Every club they’ve played calls back and wants them again.
But ambition isn’t what’s driving these three musicians. They’re dedicated to their community, and to the home–made aesthetic (the “Purses” video, for example, cost exactly $36 to make – and that was for the latex Michael Myers mask worn by the mysterious guy on the bicycle).
Lackey does all the band’s art work, and takes care of the booking and promotion business. Bond, who recently quit her day job in a restaurant, is recovering from a minor case of vocal polyps and learning to sing from the diaphragm.
They’d play out more, but Harder, who has two kids and two other jobs, is already committing more time than he really ought to. “It’s happening so fast that I think we’re just gonna move at this pace,” Harder says with a quick laugh.
“Hopefully, none of us will have a breakdown.”
With Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun
And Death Cheetah
Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.
When: At 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8