Rising through the ranks, Chicago natives make the Cut

Rough Cut uses its Chicago heritage to create its own blues/rock sound, which has launched them into recognition.

By Cristina Carrazza

Rough Cut has earned a well-deserved spot in the local music scene by packing local clubs almost every weekend. After constantly being books as an opening act, the Chicago natives have finally made their way up to headlining major venues around the city. But what really makes this band remarkable is their unpredictable live set, which features brand new versions of old songs and spontaneous improvisation. The Maroon spoke with the band members to learn more about this rising local act.

Chicago Maroon: Rough Cut’s music has been classified as a mixture of different genres. How would you describe it specifically?

Mike Tate: When we first put the songs together, we try to combine the Chicago blues with our childhood passion for rock music. We all grew up listening to different things, but at the same time we are all on the same page in a lot of senses. For example, we all listen to Led Zeppelin, Guns ’N Roses, or whatever was cool in the ’90s. As we got older, we started diversifying into different genres. Josh and I followed bands like Phish through North America all through our high school and college years. We’ve kind of branched out, but at the same time we’ve all maintained our roots.

Tom Rogus: Yeah, like Mike said, we’ve all started listening to different types of music, apart from the ’90s rock bands, like funk and soul. We’re big fans of jazz groups like Medeski Martin and Wood. Really diverse interests.

CM: You mentioned that being from Chicago has influenced this infusion of blues into your music. Are you guys into the blues club scene and how did that come about?

Cris Lauer: Yeah, we can all say that we’ve gone to blues clubs and that has been a huge influence. We’ve been to Buddy Guy’s Legends and Smoke Daddy’s, so we’ve definitely experienced all the hot spots for music in the city.

MT: Usually where you can find us on the weekends is at one of those blues clubs, so it still continues to be an active influence on our music.

CM: Rough Cut live shows have been known to feature a lot of improvisation and crowd interaction. How would you describe it, and how has the exposure to the clubs you mentioned above shaped it?

Josh Izzo: Our live show is our main drive. We have a different performance each time. We try to entertain the crowd by making it new every time. We jam on stage; the crowd gets into it, and we get into it. It’s like a push-pull effect.

TR: With improving, we basically try to give it all on stage both physically and creatively. We constantly interact with the crowd and can decide if we want to take things in a different direction. We’ve played together so many times that we can usually do that with no problem. There are times when it’s a little awkward, but for the most part it really shows our true colors. Usually we like to look at the reactions from the crowd and try to play things differently than we’ve played them before.

CM: I know as a group you also record your live shows and have most of them available online—which is where most of your music catalog comes from.

MT: I think recording has become very accessible. It’s easy for a band to get their own equipment and record their music. With the death of digital media, CDs are basically given away for free. I think it’s essential that bands focus on their live performances because that is really the only place that they’re probably going to find mainstream success—especially for rock bands—so we work really hard on that.