No matter how big The Cottonwood Cutups get, they will always remember where they started. It was at the small primitive Cottonwood Campground on the banks of the Hoh River where the Americana alt-country trio first performed together.
Today, years later, the group will release its debut CD on iTunes, Amazon and independent webstore CD Baby. The 12-track CD also is available at Tacoma’s Hi-Voltage Records.
A release party and show will be put on at The New Frontier Lounge on Saturday. Also on the bill are Portland-based McDougall and Tacoma’s The Rusty Cleavers.
More than a band, The Cottonwood Cutups are also family. Those annual campground jam sessions were part of an annual family reunion.
Lakewood resident Ryan Ramsdell, the upright bass player for the band, is brother-in-law to Joel and Jesse Hill, the other two members of the trio. Joel Hill is married to Ramsdell’s sister Andrea. Joel, also of Lakewood, plays guitar, while Jesse, a Spanaway resident, plays mandolin and banjo. Both brothers provide vocals for the group.
The band that formed out of those annual jam sessions formally became a group in 2011. At first they just performed covers, but within a few months had moved to original material. All three write the music and lyrics.
Often compared to The Devil Makes Three, the trio range in age from their early 20s to late 30s and all bring something different to the mix, Ramsdell said. Joel Hill has played guitar since he was a kid, and Jesse Hill “picks up everything with strings. Banjo is his favorite,” Ramsdell said.
But Americana music hasn’t always been foremost in their repertoire. Joel Hill was in a metal band and Jesse Hill was in a punk band before The Cottonwood Cutups. Ramsdell, a former trumpeter, played jazz.
It may be all these varied musical backgrounds that lands the Cutups in a world between genres. Ramsdell calls the group punk bluegrass as well as Americana, folk revival and alternative country. He cites Hank Williams Jr., Hank 3, Lucero, Old Crow Medicine Show and Scott Joplin as influences.
“Jazz, ragtime and punk influence us more than people would expect,” Ramsdell said. Mostly acoustic, they occasionally use electric guitar.
The trio all have day jobs and pursue music as a love. They started performing at open mics, but soon graduated to scheduled shows. The group has played at Jazzbones, the New Frontier Lounge, and at now-defunct spaces including the Mandolin Café and Hell’s Kitchen. They also play Olympia, Portland and Seattle venues.
“Because we’re a trio and a family, it’s easy to pack up and go,” Ramsdell said.
The group has developed a local following. “When you started seeing people singing your lyrics, it was weird,” Ramsdell said.
The cottonwood cutups
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma
Tickets: $5 for those 21 and older