Seth Sutton learned a lot from Jay Reatard in the last two years of his life—a time that included taking Sutton’s band (Useless Eaters) on tour and pressing one of their many limited singles—but one lesson stood out above the rest.
“Jay always felt like he was running out of time,” explains Sutton, “so he thought it was important to try and be as musically productive as possible.”
That’s certainly been Sutton’s case over the past four years, as the singer/guitarist crammed a couple side projects (the nihilistic hardcore of Vile Nation, the power trio transmissions of the aptly titled Feral Beat) into an already packed schedule of rehearsing/replacing band members and releasing as many records under the Useless Eaters name as humanly possible. That includes such standout releases as the catalog-combing Cheap Talk compilation and the road trip-ready Daily Commute album. The latter’s a glaring example of Sutton’s meaty melodies, loose-limbed riffs, and undying love of punk-not-punk artists like Television, Wire and, well, just about every other glass-gargling history teacher in Legs McNeil’s legendary Please Kill Me book.
“It showed me that punk is more of an idea and an attitude than a fashion statement,” says Sutton, a self-taught musician who considers dropping out of high school “the best decision I’ve ever made,” because it “gave me the freedom to focus on my art and music.”
While that phrase has been uttered by many self-taught musicians over the years, Sutton’s songwriting actually speaks for itself. Take his latest LP (Hypertension), for instance. As Useless Eaters’ cult following first heard on the “Addicted to the Blade” 7’’ and Black Night Ultraviolet EP, Sutton’s cleared yet another layer of dust from his scrappy sound and pushed a revolving door of haymaker hooks and restless rhythms to the fore. That goes for everything from the neon-bathed locked grooves of “Life on a Grid” to the welcome, climatic cacophony of “Vertical Africa.” Meanwhile, Sutton continues to channel a lonely childhood of living on army bases—and eventually finding his creative footing in Memphis, Toronto and his current hometown Nashville—into lyrics that reach well beyond tired punk tropes, whether that amounts to metaphorical love stories or brutally honest nervous breakdowns.
“I think everyone struggles with things like that,” he says. “The whole idea behind Hypertension is that most people aren’t aware—or just don’t care about— their situations and will buy into anything.
He pauses and adds, “I guess I just write about people and thoughts.”
If only things were that simple.