Useless Eaters' Seth Sutton on Thinking Outside the Box and His Memphis-Born Bullshit Detector

Useless Eaters

Last week, SF-by-way-of-Memphis punks Useless Eaters’ released their fifth full-length album, Bleeding Moon. On Saturday you’ll have a chance to not only see the band's dynamic live act, but you can grab your own vinyl copy, out on Castle Face, at the record release show at Thee Parkside. This effort represents the trademarked deliberate and aggressive style frontman/songwriter Seth Sutton has given us all along. He started releasing music under this seemingly self-deprecating guise in Tennessee about five years ago. Then sometime last year he relocated to the Bay Area and picked up with a new band lineup.

Surprisingly, considering the quality and volume of their output in a fairly short amount of time, it will only be the group’s first European tour this spring. The new album has several shining moments — the kind of record that leaves you convinced you’ve found a new favorite track as each of the songs play.

“American Cars” steps on the gas for some fun sounding effects. “Hidden Fees” has a menacing drone hook, but a jabbing guitar solo to remind you the track is anything but background noise. And with tracks named, “Sitting on the Fault Line” and “Aftershock,” it may be apparent his relocation is sinking in.

Ahead of Thee Parkside show, the sometimes tight-lipped Sutton answered a few questions for us regarding his gift for creating melody and how he’s been giving Herbie Hancock’s 1971 jazz-fusion record some spins. 
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Do you think moving to San Francisco or the new band lineup has changed much of your formula for you since you began putting out records?

I'd say the music is getting more aggressive with the current lineup because it's more of a solid unit than the band has been before. When I attempt to listen to a lot of current music, all I really hear is a bunch of babies talking about nothing on top of mediocre and played-out melodies. I think it's better to be aggressive and passionate than whiney and flaccid.

Played-out melodies? How can any current band be innovative or original at this point with melodies, concepts or otherwise?  
I'm not one to give anyone advice on how to be innovative; that comes naturally to anyone who tries something different. It's not totally impossible to think outside the box.

You told VICE Noisey about driving friends across the country from Tennessee with all your belongings in a van and deciding to move to the Bay Area on a whim. I take it there’s a certain resilience about you. Do you think much of that experience comes through in the personality of your music?
I guess you could say it does. I've continued doing UE regardless of anything. I'm not some rich boy and I don't make a living off music. I've lost and sacrificed a lot being focused on music, but that hasn't fazed me at all. You have to be resilient in America today because if you're not, people will step all over you.
You said you've sacrificed a lot to keep UE going, but why is that so important to you? Why is it important to create?
I still care about doing it. I really don't have any other skills or much other interest that'd I rather be immersed in. If you're a creative person then you just create because that's your purpose in a sense.

What’s the biggest difference between the Bay Area music scene and Memphis’s? Have you had to adjust much?
You can't really compare the two. I haven't really had to adjust much to any “scene.”

Well, what did you like or take away from having lived in Memphis?
Growing up in Memphis exposes you to a lot of real shit. Nothing is sugar-coated. So I think I have a pretty keen bullshit detector.

Does not adjusting to a scene mean you really don't take part in it socially? Are you more of an outsider?
I don't really see it this way at all. SF is my home now and I love it. But I frankly don't really give a shit about being a part of any social scene. My band plays in the Bay Area and we are located here, but I don't see why it's important to try to establish yourself in one music scene. Why should it matter if you're involved “socially” or as an “outsider”?

You make the artwork for most of your record sleeves. What’s your visual arts background? Do you have a stockpile of collages and drawings?
I've always made visual art and at one point wanted to pursue that more than music. In high school, I was even thinking of applying to the Memphis College of Art (so glad I didn't). I have a bunch of notebooks of sketches and collages that not too many people have seen. Making art for your own records is good for me because I don't really trust many other people to do it.

What music are you listening to currently, these days?
So far this week: Herbie Hancock — Mwandishi, Iggy Pop and James Williamson — Kill City, and The Intelligence — Boredom And Terror.

Useless Eaters record release show with Vial, Scraper, and Beekeepers, 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8 at Thee Parkside. $10; theeparkside.com

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