Alt-Nation: The Same Thing Project and Other Tales from the Basement



Whether with The Schemers, The Raindogs, The Men of Great Courage, his Tiny String Band or as a solo artist, I’ve long been a fan of the music of Mark Cutler. He has been a staple over the years, performing in his various bands and sitting in with legends like Bo Diddley and David Johansen (New York Dolls) on one-off gigs when they pop into town. In addition to be a professional musician, Cutler has paid it forward by sharing his gift through teaching guitar and songwriting. I recently chatted with him about a new songwriting program he is running called The Same Thing Project, and looked back on some favorite memories and what he’s got brewing next. This is also the first interview that I’ve done where I can’t abbreviate initials for obvious reasons.

Marc Clarkin: Can you talk a little bit about the workshop?

Mark Cutler: The Same Thing Project is a free songwriting workshop. It happens at the Artists Exchange in Cranston on Tuesdays from 10am to noon. Participants come from all segments of the community. We have artists, retired folks, working folks, people who have developmental challenges and everything in between. We write a song a week. My mission is to form unusual collaborations between unlikely partners and so far, it’s been a great success. I hope to expand it in the future. My intention is to have a place where you don’t have to be skilled at a musical instrument in order to be musical. But musicians are encouraged to take part as well. The goal is to have a place where someone can be creative and part of a creative community that is open, non-judgmental and encouraging. Ray Memery, director of Avatar, encouraged to me put the program together and has helped out with some financial backing and a lot of moral support. We’re also collaborating on some tunes.

Marc Clarkin: What was the genesis of The Same Thing Project?

Mark Cutler: A few years ago, film director Jim Wolpaw asked me to write music for a documentary about Ladd School called Who Belongs Here. He wanted me to collaborate with a few folks who have developmental challenges (Jimmy Isom, Samantha Smalley and Bob Marcoux). It was a mind-expanding experience and it proved to me that most people have the same desires and dreams. Shortly afterward, in an interesting twist of fate, Patrick Norton, director of the Narrows Center for the Arts, asked me if I would run a singalong program for folks who have similar challenges as my collaborators/friends in the Ladd School doc. I said yes, but I wanted to make it a songwriting workshop, not just a singalong. He agreed and a few years later, we’re still writing songs. Deb Kney from Advocates in Action then introduced me to Ray Memery and we did a little workshop with the folks from the film crew. Ray and I hit it off and we got together to work on a songwriting project on our own. I told Ray about my idea for The Same Thing Project. and he encouraged me to follow through on it.

Marc Clarkin: How does the songwriting work?

Mark Cutler: Each week a bunch of us get together, and each week the process is different. Sometimes a couple of people play different chords and we all decide which ones to use. Other times someone will have song title and we’ll brainstorm different thoughts, write them on the whiteboard and connect the ideas. People bring chord progressions and we add to that. It’s very organic. Every week is a new experience and we create something from nothing. Not all of the folks are trained musicians, but we all love music. Melodies come from everyone.

Marc Clarkin: When you work with these young musicians, do you learn anything as far as how the students approach music that maybe never occurred to you?

Mark Cutler: I learn something every time we get together. The points of view in our workshop are infinite and I find myself thinking, “I would have never thought of saying something that way” or “that’s a cool melodic idea” and that’s from the person who doesn’t play an instrument. When we’re coming up with ideas, I try to harness the ideas that are flying all over the place. I love the fact that we are bringing people of different backgrounds together and creating something more than just a song. I feel like we’re building a better community.

Marc Clarkin: I’m sure you have a lot of great memories from a lifetime in music. What is one of your favorites?

Mark Cutler: I have many fond memories and know that there are many more to come. Here are two: When The Schemers opened up for Jerry Lee Lewis at Lupo’s, we got to spend a few hours with him down in the basement. He was great company. He told me things that I won’t repeat. He also invited me to his house for BBQ. He was a good guy to us and a lot of fun. The Raindogs were lucky to have Harry Dean Stanton appear on our song, “Some Fun.” Darren Hill and I went to his house in Los Angeles, talked and watched the Lakers play. I also got to hang with Harry in Philadelphia. The Raindogs opened for him and The Call. We did a shot of Jack Daniels and I noticed he was carrying “The Motel Chronicles” by Sam Shepard. I told Harry that I loved the story about the girl in the motel room and he lit up. He said, “Mark! I read from that one onstage!” We were standing in the stairwell and he quoted a few passages. “She was aching to leave, Mark. She was ACHING!” That was something else.

Marc Clarkin: Do you have any new music coming down the pike?

Mark Cutler: I’m finishing up a new recording. It’s taking me a long time because I’m doing the engineering as well, and it’s hard to write, perform and do all that other stuff. My pals from The Men of Great Courage (Jimmy Berger, Rick Couto, Bob Kirkman and Richard Reed ) are on it. My friend Jonathan Gregg also plays some pedal steel. I feel good about it. It’ll be released by the end of the summer, hopefully.

The Schemers and Hope Anchor rock The Parlour in Providence on June 24 to benefit The Same Thing Project.

Odds & Sods

People ask me all the time what shows are coming up and I usually don’t have one in mind off the top of my head.  Really I wish they just read the column because otherwise I’ll just let people down. Here are four absolute bangers that I probably will not recall if you ask me in person.

Dead Heavens, Hideout, and Telegraph Papers rock the Café at the Parlor in Newport on June 15.

Downtown Boys, The Kominas, Giant Kitty, and FL 3 rock Aurora in Providence on June 17.

Tall Teenagers, Pyramid, Eric & The Nothing, and Party Pigs rock Dusk in Providence on June 24.

Aimee Mann and Jonathan Coulton will enchant the masses at the Columbus Theatre in Providence on June 29.

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