Interview with Rough Cutt guitarist Chris Hager and drummer Dave Alford

Date: June 9, 2021
Interviewer: Pariah Burke, host of The Hard, Heavy & Hair Show radio show and podcast
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (second, third and fifth photos)

On June 8th, without pre-promotion, DDR Music Group released a surprise album by Rough Cutt, but not the same Rough Cutt that released the single “Black Rose” back in March of this year. Pariah Burke, host of ‘The Hard, Heavy & Hair Show’ radio show and podcast, immediately reached out for comment to both groups calling themselves Rough Cutt. One side immediately answered and talked with Pariah the next day. Stay tuned for Sleaze Roxx editor Olivier’s interview with Paul Shortino, which will be posted in the near future.

Full video interview:

It seems like every time you turn around there’s suddenly two different bands with the same name releasing music. I’m not talking about the wave of self-produced solo hip hop and EDM artists suddenly popping up on Spotify calling themselves “The Cult,” “Saxon,” or “Tesla” in an attempt to steal streams. I’m talking about actual band members who believe they have a legitimate claim to a name forming a band and releasing music, sometimes even booking performances, as their long-time band.

In recent years, there have been several examples of this as older bands split up and some, but not all members, want to make new music. We saw it most famously of late with L.A. Guns, two completely different line-ups gigging and recording as L.A. Guns. You heard just last month in my interview with Tracii Guns how that was resolved.

Then, you have situations like the Rough Riot project, which formed one band from members of Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot. That project left the remaining members of both bands to carry on without the would-be members of Rough Riot. Two of those musicians carrying on were Rockin’ Dave Alford and Chris “the Count” Hager of Rough Cutt. Alford is a founding member of the Sunset Strip veteran band, along with singer Paul Shortino, guitarist Jake E. Lee, keyboardist Claude Schnell, and bassist Joey Cristofanilli. Shortly after forming, guitarist Hager would replace Jake E. Lee and Matt Thorne would replace Schnell on bass. Amir Derakh would also join as a second guitarist.

When Rough Riot finalized its line-up change in the summer of 2019 as Carlos Cavazo’s Rough Riot, it was with Shortino singing, Carlos Cavazo on lead guitar, White Lion’s Greg D’Angelo on drums, and Sean McNabb on bass. At that time, Alford and Hager, left alone as the two remaining members of Rough Cutt, started auditioning musicians to fill in the missing three band positions. They publicly debuted their new line-up in November of that year during a live show in Portland, Oregon, which is when I first interviewed them.

Leading up to, and in the year and a half since, that new line-up debut, Rough Cutt have aggressively marketed themselves, letting the world know about the new Rough Cutt, now including Steven St. James on vocals, second guitarist Darren Housholder, and bassist Jeff Buehner. In late 2020 and early 2021, Rough Cutt began finalizing — and publicizing that they were finalizing — new music written together and the production of at least one new single and its music video. They dropped that single and video in late March 2021 with plenty of pre-release press and fanfare. According to Alford and Hager, they never heard from their former Rough Cutt and Rough Riot bandmates. In fact, Alford’s and Hager’s attempts to contact them went unanswered.

Photo by Joe Schaeffer Photography

This is why they were so surprised when, on June 8th, their former bandmates released their own album as Rough Cutt, including their own version of the single Alford’s and Hager’s line-up put out in March. The new album is titled Rough Cutt 3, because, other than a best of anthology, it’s only the third studio album released under the Rough Cutt band name since 1985. The release of the album, which had no pre-release announcement or marketing, was accompanied by a press release asserting that the trio calling itself Rough Cutt — Shortino, Thorne, and Derakh — are “the three main men of Rough Cutt” and are “arguably the three most important members of Rough Cutt.” Further, without naming them, Alford and Hager were accused of making “false accusations” and lies about them.

Within minutes of the release of the album by DDR Music Group, formerly Demon Doll Records, I reached out for comment from both versions of the band. My message directly to Paul Shortino went unreturned, though the owner of DDR Music Group, Lance V, said he would “pass along” my request for an interview to Shortino. Hager immediately agreed to an interview, and brought along Alford. This is my conversation with Rough Cutt members and apparent torchbearers Rockin’ Dave Alford and Chris Hager the day after Shortino, Thorne, Derakh, and DDR Music Group issued Rough Cutt 3 and its accompanying incendiary press release.

Pariah Burke: For people who don’t know, this week the DDR Music Group, which is formerly Demon Doll Records, released — seemingly out of nowhere with no pre-marketing, no press release other than the minute the album dropped — a new record by Rough Cutt and two singles simultaneously, one of which is the exact same song you guys just put out.

Chris Hager: Funny, huh?

Dave Alford: Except it ain’t. It’s not the exact same song. Our song has different lyrics and melodies. We just kept the chorus.

Chris Hager: Yeah. That, that happened.

Dave Alford: And it was out of nowhere, like you said.

Chris Hager: Do you have a question in particular about that or.…?

Rough Cutt‘s “Black Roses” video (with Dave Alford and Chris Hager):

Pariah Burke: Well, I wanted to talk about that, about “Black Rose.” Your single is “Black Rose.” Their single is “Bed of Black Roses.” The same line “bed of black roses” is in both songs’ choruses, so…

Chris Hager: Who wrote it?

Pariah Burke: Who wrote it?

Chris Hager: Well, I wrote, yeah, I wrote the music to that song. Matt [Thorne] wrote the chorus, lyrics, and [part of the] melodies. And the version that they did, he also wrote the verse — part of the verse melody and the lyrics. Now our version, which we released obviously before they did —

Dave Alford: Three months ago.

Chris Hager: Steven, our singer, changed the verse lyrics. I don’t know if you’ve listened to both of them, but you’ll hear a marked difference in the verse, vocals, melodies, and phrasing. So… yeah. The thing about that it is, I went and I listened to the samples of all their stuff [via Bandcamp], and you know, they didn’t even bother to redo it.

Dave Alford: That’s me playing a drum machine.

Photo by Joe Schaeffer Photography

Chris Hager: Yeah, that was all done over here. [Hager indicated the studio he and Alford were broadcasting from.] Those are my guitars, and they added some stuff to it. They embellished it, but, and they did that on a couple of other songs as well that we had written collectively before we had we’d broken up. And we, you know, that really took, it was like… wow!

Dave Alford: Yeah, it was a slap in the face, but, you know, look, we have no ill feelings towards those guys. I will say we dropped our single months before they did this. And we were going out and playing and we have a record coming out.

Chris Hager: Well, you know, the thing is, I’m going to say this. It’s a cheap shot. And the thing is, they had every, you know… We made every effort to make Rough Cutt work with the original members and they just weren’t having it. It’s like one person didn’t want to go out and play shows.…

Dave Alford: And then the other person wouldn’t go, unless that person went.

Chris Hager: Yeah. And then the Rough Riot thing came along and then that didn’t work out. And so, you know, we put a lot into making that work, especially me, man. I mean, I worked my ass off on that and it just didn’t happen. And so Dave and I, you know, we don’t want to sit around and that’s why I went and called Steven and said, ‘Hey, Steven, do you want to come over and write some songs?’ And then I said, ‘Hey, Dave, come on over and listen to these.’ And you know, of course, Dave knew Steven from before as well. And, and so that’s how we got started. And what they did is really weird because it’s more of a compilation.

Dave Alford: Over half of the music that’s on that record is old stuff. That’s me playing drums, him playing guitar [Alford indicated Hager]. It’s stuff that we did with Brad, Aaron, and all kinds of stuff.

Pariah Burke: There’s no mention of either of you in the marketing material for that album.

Chris Hager: Not only that, they screwed us over on the royalties.

Dave Alford: They cut us out, and we didn’t cut them out.

Chris Hager: In fact, when I registered “Black Rose,” I was very generous to Matt [Thorne]. And, so that’s what tells us that it’s out of spite. They think that we should have asked them or told them that we were going to do this…

Dave Alford: Remember, Pariah, them guys didn’t want anything to do with it.

Chris Hager: I couldn’t get Matt to return my calls…

Dave Alford: Or I either. I would text them. I would talk to them. Even Amir told me, he says, ‘Well, that’s really, you started that band, Dave, and I, I’ve got Julian K.’ And all of this other kind of stuff.

Chris Hager: They basically weren’t interested until our single came out [“Black Rose” in March 2021].

Dave Alford: Once we dropped the single, then all of a sudden — boom!

Chris Hager: I don’t care, you know? I’ll say it. I’ll say it straight out. I think it’s a cheap shot and, you know, they’re perfectly… I can’t stop them from doing it, but also it’s going to be.… We’ll see when it comes to the trademark and all that. You know, that could turn into a legal thing.

Dave Alford: But it’s not going to stop us. The music that we’re creating right now, our fans are just dying to hear it. Once they heard “Black Rose” and saw the video? It’s on now. It’s totally on. And we got some real talent in the new line=up.

Chris Hager: Fans? They can take their pick, you know, but, you know, it’s like, a lot of people will say, well, ‘Without Paul Shortino, it can’t be Rough Cutt’. Well we say, ‘Bullshit.’

Dave Alford: Right. Because I haven’t gotten any negative feedback about our singer, much less talking about Paul. I mean, he really —

Chris Hager: It was really amazing. We expected more pushback from fans and, and it never really came.

Dave Alford: We have totally kept our integrity. Totally. Throughout this whole process. We have done everything the right way. We won’t — like we said earlier — we won’t just release something for spite.

Chris Hager: To me, it sounds like the thing was mixed through a fricking tablecloth.

Dave Alford: [Laughs] I know. I hate to say that, but it is true. I’ve listened to our “Black Rose,” and I put on the old “Black Rose” that I’m playing the drum machine on, and it’s about this big [he holds two fingers roughly one inch apart] compared to our “Black Rose,” [he holds the fingers of the other hand approximately four inches apart], you know?

Chris Hager: We’re giving you some good poop here, man [all three laugh].

Pariah Burke: Yeah. Well, to your point of not hearing any complaints from the fans, like we talked about, I was at the debut of your current line-up show — your first live performance as a band, the five of you with three new members. And everybody in the audience was rocking the hell out. You know, they loved your show. And these are people that have been Rough Cutt fans for years, at least half of them. I mean, some of them. Chris, you and I went out with a couple of people before the show [Hager nods] — and I was watching them loving Steven’s [St. James] vocals, you know, and Darren [Housholder, second guitar] and Jeff [Buehner, bassist] playing in the band.

Chris Hager: I mean, frankly, we expected more pushback and it never materialized.

Dave Alford: And I think the reason why is, like I said, our integrity is intact. Let the music speak for itself. And that’s what we’re doing. The new stuff that’s coming out on our record. There’s only two other tracks that those guys [referring to Shortino, Thorne, and Derakh] were even around when we started writing them. And one of the songs, Chris wrote a hundred percent of the music, and I came up with a little melody and then the hook in it, but we’ve decided to just get rid of all of that and write all new lyrics and melodies to the song that he wrote [gesturing to Hager]. Okay. And the rest will be all new stuff.

Photo by Joe Schaeffer Photography

Chris Hager: It’s unfortunate, but.… Yeah, that’s right. We’re not going to go back and re-release a bunch of crap that’s been laying around for 20 years.

Dave Alford: I cant believe they did that, to be honest, you know?

Chris Hager: The thing that, you know, again, and then I think I’ll probably let this go, is that, for them to release “Black Rose” like that is like that is…

Dave Alford: It’s completely unprofessional.

Chris Hager: Well, it’s like ‘Couldn’t you have just written something else?’ And then you could still put it if you wanna put it on your record, but to release it.… It says something about them.

Dave Alford: It really does.

Chris Hager: But, what are you going to do? You know? It happens. It happens.

Pariah Burke: I don’t know the guys personally that we’re talking about, but it certainly seemed to me like it was a direct shot across your bow.

Dave Alford: And it was.

Chris Hager: Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Alford: Next [all laugh]!

Chris Hager: No, we can talk about as much as you want, man.

Dave Alford: That’s all right. You can. Look, we’re okay with it. We’re going to keep doing our thing. That’s it.

Pariah Burke: The timing is interesting because, I mean, yes we had Covid putting the music industry as a whole, including you guys, on hold for about a year, but you weren’t quiet about the 2019 line-up and you getting together. We’re friends on Facebook. You’re posting pictures all the time in the studio. You’re recording new music. It’s not like you were very quiet about being Rough Cutt.

Chris Hager: Yeah. We were pretty transparent.

Dave Alford: That’s why I said our integrity is still intact because we did everything right. You know, we didn’t do the sorta say, ‘Shot across the bow’ thing, you know?

Chris Hager: Our motive was just purely to release music that we loved and we thought other people would like, too.

Dave Alford: The fans were starving for new stuff. I mean, you saw the band. To be honest with you, when we played that show, that really energized us. It wasn’t even a month before we were in the studio, writing new stuff, after we played that show that you came to [November 2019 was the debut of the band’s current line-up].

Chris Hager: And that was our first show. And we only had a couple of rehearsals before that. And, we just thought it turned out really great, you know, so…

Pariah Burke: I enjoyed it.

Dave Alford: We enjoyed playing it, too. It was a very good show. Yeah. I liked that room. Good acoustics in that room.

Pariah Burke: The Bossanova Ballroom.

Dave Alford: Yeah, nice place.

Chris Hager: Davy [David Jones, CEO of the Bossanova Ballroom] did a really good job.

Dave Alford: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s a good venue. We want to go back there.

Pariah Burke: They did survive the pandemic, so you guys can play [there]. Yeah.

Chris Hager: That’s good to hear. That’s good to hear. Well, you know, this guy, Davy Jones, he’s a friend of ours and I’m glad to hear that he made it through.

Dave Alford: Yeah, absolutely. And if he wants to do some kind of big, post-Covid grand opening, Rough Cutt’s available.

Chris Hager: Absolutely.

Pariah Burke: Well, I’ll tell him, if you don’t get to them first.

Chris Hager: Please do. Yeah.

Pariah Burke: I know you said you don’t want to do any of the old songs, but one quick observation — when I heard you play live, and when I heard “Black Rose”… I don’t compare you — the five of you now — to the Paul Shortino-led line-up of the ’80s. You’re a different band. It’s a different, but there’s still, you know — Chris [indicates Hager on the monitor], your signature guitar playing and Dave [indicates Alford on the monitor], your drums, but.… It’s… To compare is unfair, you know?

Chris Hager: It’s kind of apples and oranges really, in a way. It is a different band.

Dave Alford: [Unintelligible] We were able to keep the sound, you know? Especially the two of us. So, when you hear the new music, you can tell that’s Rough Cutt. But having the new lyrics and melodies and vocals, you know, the signature of [Steven] St-James and stuff, and the way we attack writing now is, where the twist comes in.

Chris Hager: Not to mention attacking the guitar.

Dave Alford: Yeah. It’s a twist. So it’s like the good sound that we’ve always had with a new edge.

Chris Hager: With a new, fresh edge to it. And by the way, when we say, we’re not going to do any old stuff, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do any old stuff live.

Pariah Burke: Oh, of course.

Chris Hager: We know that people still want to hear all that stuff. So, we’ll be playing a combination of classic Rough Cutt and new Rough Cutt.

Dave Alford: We’re just not going to release any old stuff. It’s gonna be all new music.

Chris Hager: We’re not gonna pull anything out of the vault [Alford and Hager laugh].

Interview with Rockin’ Dave Alford and Chris Hager by Pariah Burke for The Hard, Heavy & Hair Show radio podcast: