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Useless Eaters

“It was pretty boring really,” laughs Useless Eaters protagonist Seth Sutton, when I ask him about growing up in the famed Southern musical metropolis of Memphis, Tennessee. “Everyone thinks about Elvis and Stax Records when they think of Memphis, and it’s true that Memphis has a rich musical history. It’s a bit like Detroit in a way – it was really lively in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, but then it all imploded,” Sutton says.

Sutton was born in the neighbouring state of Mississippi. With his father in the United States Air Force, Sutton and his family moved to Germany, and then to Virginia, before settling in Memphis. As a young child in Memphis, Sutton was notionally unsettled, looking around for various pursuits to occupy his mind. Sutton’s father had already introduced him to punk rock in the guise of The Clash and The Ramones; Sutton’s elder brother was attracted to skate punk and the Epitaph stable of bands. It was a combination of those ingredients that led Sutton to immerse himself in the local hardcore scene at the beginning of his teenage years. “I started skateboarding when I was about 12, and all those things got me into hardcore, bands like Bad Brains,” Sutton says. “There was a pretty good hardcore scene in Memphis when I was about 14 or 15, around the early 2000s, and I suppose I just fell into it.”

 

Eventually Sutton started making regular visits to Goner Records and Shangri-La Records in the city, where he was introduced to other styles and sounds. “Goner’s got that garage and punk thing, and they’d recommend me stuff like The Oblivians and The Reatards,” Sutton says. “Plus they’d also get me to listen to blues and jazz stuff as well.” It was another classic teenage moment that led Sutton to embrace more eclectic music. “To be honest, when I started smoking marijuana, that’s when my tastes started to change,” Sutton says. “When I was about 16 or 17, we were smoking marijuana and a friend put on this Sun Ra record, and I thought that was amazing,” Sutton says. “And then I realised that I could take a lot of those influences and make them my own. In some ways hardcore is really limiting, so here there was a lot more freedom.”

 

Sutton had been given a four-track recorded by a friend, which had been secreted in a cupboard until he learnt how to use it. “Eventually I worked out how to use it, and I started recording myself,” Sutton says. It was Sutton’s original bedroom tape recordings that became the genesis of his Useless Eaters project. Throughout the project’s six year history, Sutton has maintained almost complete artistic control, writing and recording the music himself, and drawing upon local musicians whenever he tours. “I had this five song cassette and I took it around Memphis,” Sutton says. “And people seemed to like it. I’ve never really had a solid lineup, so Useless Eaters has had a fluctuating cast of people who’ve played me in different places.”

 

Sutton was fortunate enough to hook up with fellow Memphis resident Jay Reatard, touring with Reatard just before the garage punk legend’s death a couple of years ago. Sutton says Reatard taught him to work proficiently, and to ignore peer group assessment. “He’d always tell me that he was running out of time,” Sutton says. “He’d make a deadline in his head and he had to make as many records as he could. That really stuck with me. And also not to give a fuck what people thought.”

 

While it’s easy to lump Useless Eaters in with a nebulously defined garage punk scene – especially in light of Sutton’s avowedly DIY approach and lo-fi style – Sutton says he’s not sure if his music is properly described as punk. “Punk rock is definitely why I’m interested in making music, but I really don’t know what the music is. Every record is different. Some songs are pop songs, and some of them are noisy. There’s no real game plan.”

 

While he’s worked his share of ‘shitty jobs’, Sutton has spent much of the last few years striving to make a living out of his music. “That’s what I’ve been striving for the last four years, though I wish I was a little more professional at times,” he laughs. “I’m 23 now, and I’m getting to the point where I need to work out what I’m doing with myself financially. But I can’t ever see myself doing something I hate – I see so many who’re unhappy because of their career. I’m so against that.”

 

BY PATRICK EMERY

USELESS EATERS play Maggot Fest at The Gasometer Hotel this Saturday November 3 (along with Fighting League, The Stevens, Ausmuteants and heaps more – Maggot Fest also takes place at The Gasometer on Friday November 2 and at Wooly Bully on Sunday November 4) before returning to play a headline show at The Tote on Friday November 16 (with support from Constant Mongrel, Ratsak and Bad Aches).