Scratching beneath Cuffs’ indie-pop surface

Living splendor
By LIZ PELLY  |  August 7, 2012

DIRTY POP "I didn't want to do Pants Yell! again," says Cuffs' Andrew Churchman. "In the back of my mind now, if a song is too poppy, I'm like, 'Guys, we've got to fuck it up somehow.' "

On a Friday night in Central Square, the guys from Cuffs are hanging around before a show they're playing with some local friends' bands. Over a game of pool and a few beers in the back room of T.T. the Bear's, the band — two former members of Pants Yell!, plus current members of Major Stars and Reports — tell me about the first two years of their newest band.

In the second half of 2010, frontman Andrew Churchman announced the end of Pants Yell!, his widely-loved seven-year-old Slumberland band, leaving his fans and friends with a demo of 4-track recordings for his new band. Those first scuzzy home recordings quickly made Cuffs a local favorite among indie-pop purists. Since then, Churchman, plus Casey Keenan (also of Major Stars, and formerly Pants Yell!), bassist Joe Mahoney, and guitarist Martin Pavlinic (of Reports), have played Boston regularly, releasing a couple of the best singles to surface in Boston in recent memory.

Cuffs draw enough inspiration from their twee-pop roots to keep Yell! fans happy, but purposefully add some layers of rock-band sensibility for a more expansive sound. The first of those two singles, "Privilege," is a guitar-oriented meditation on private schools and summers abroad ("I never knew privilege until it looked me straight in the eye/Blond hair and accents, in retrospect I ask myself, why?"). Inspired by a break-up, it maintains Churchman's plainspoken lyricism — a Pants Yell! hallmark.

"I think you had a romanticism about privilege that ended with the relationship," Keenan says to Churchman. "I think it's a growing-up song." It's also, Churchman adds, an ode to an underrated Television Personalities album, Privilege.

That 7-inch was released in May 2011, followed up by "Private View," a more frantic track with jangly guitar leads and heavier drums. Both are out via Ride the Snake, a local label that Pavlinic helps run with his friend Chris Strunk, with other releases out by Life Partners, Reports, plus bands like the Native Cats, from Tasmania, and So Cow, from Ireland.

The full-bodied sound of Cuffs is a result of Churchman's changed songwriting routine. In Pants Yell!, he wrote everything — the literate lyrics depicting everyday life, about relationships and transience and the like, plus all of the instrumentation. But with CUFFS, the more full-band rock-oriented vibe is a result of an updated songwriting process involving the whole band.

"I didn't want to do Pants Yell! again," says Churchman, laughing. "In the back of my mind now, if a song is too poppy, I'm like, 'Guys, we've got to fuck it up somehow.' "

That doesn't mean they're are totally over indie-pop, though. Even in post-Pants-Yell! life, the guys in Cuffs are still huge pop fans, and of course, still Slumberland super-fans. "If you told me when I was 15 that I was going to put records out on Slumberland, I'd say, 'Get the fuck out,' " says Keenan.

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