If you haven’t heard the name Captain Cuts, the you probably aren’t listening hard enough—since they’ve written and produced with damn near everyone you’ve heard on the radio. From most notably Walk The Moon’s multi-platinum selling “Shut Up and Dance,” to Halsey, Tove Lo, most recently Bebe Rexha’s “I Got You,” and everywhere in between.
Now the guys are adding to their already ridiculously impressive resumes with an Epic Records signing and their first single, “Love Like We Used To” featuring Nateur. From humble beginnings of “writing songs as jokes,” to coming up with their name as a concept about “pirate producer personas,” the talented trio is maintaining a sense of humor and charming sarcasm with their budding success.
Made up of Ben Berger, Ryan McMahon, and Ryan Rabin (also drummer/producer of the band Grouplove), these guys are undoubtedly on the list of hot industry hit makers. They keep their finger on the pulse of pop culture by DJ’ing the famous and native to Los Angeles Emo Nite, where their unorthodox mashups of Justin Bieber with Fall Out Boy and other “one of these things is not like the other” pairings have become quite famous.
For Captain Cuts, the future is just a bunch of synth melodies, mashups and retro sounds waiting to be chopped up, remixed, and mixed again, and then served up on a platter of magical ear worms stacked high to the ceiling for your listening pleasure…and this is just the beginning. Read more in our exclusive Q&A below.
OTW: What would you say your “genre” is?
CC: We kind of have been using the phrase “retro future.” Our goal is to write songs that feel classic and timeless but clothe them in current or future production. We’re not trying to stick to trends in terms of what’s cool-sounding in songs now; we’d rather write songs that feel like they could be part of culture from the past to the future and then kind of produce them out the we way like them. So “retro future” feels appropriate.
OTW: Tell us about the “Captain Cuts” persona, if there is one.
CC: When we first started making music, it was kind of at the time when producers in the music industry were starting to be personalities in their own right. It’s when producers started to become a little more public, and they all had these names, so I think we kind of were just kind of like, “How could we make this funny and stupid and not take ourselves too seriously?”
OTW: Which is how I think you guys are about practically everything, aren’t you?
CC: [laughs] Yeah, that’s definitely right. I think the important thing is to always remember how ridiculously awesome our job is and never take anything too seriously. We take our work very seriously, but music is fun, so we want that to always be at the forefront.
OTW: So why did you decide to be called “Captain Cuts”?
CC: Our first remix we ever did was for Grouplove, and we just needed a name. We always shot around the idea of being pirates, and each having a pirate’s name. So we were going to be “Captain Hooks,” it was going to be our team name, and then each of us was going to have separate pirate names like “Trap Beard.” Then we looked up “Captain Hooks,” and it was a Myspace rapper. So we were like okay, I guess we’ll go with Captain Cuts. We were thinking it was just a one-off remix, and we could pick another name later, but it got picked up on a soundtrack, and then we got a couple more remixes, so it was an accident.
OTW: Tell us about the creation process of your first single, “Love Like We Used To.”
CC: I think when we wrote it, we were just trying to write a song that felt great for everybody—for people of all ages. And I think when Nateur started singing a piece of the chord’s melody, it immediately just felt so classic, and that’s kind of where it all stemmed from.
OTW: How do you tell each other you don’t like something in one of your songs?
CC: We just say we don’t like that. [laughs] I think luckily we’ve known each other long enough, seven, eight years. Ryan and Ben have known each other for like twenty years. They went to high school together. I think that’s the most important part of songwriting is being comfortable enough to tell somebody that their idea isn’t good and not to take offense from it. And you know, it’s always attempting to push the song forward, not put a halt in things. On the reverse side, being able to take that criticism and trust that the other person is right. I think our standards are really high, so if we don’t like something, the other person trusts that there’s a good reason for it. So there’s no ego about it.
OTW: When you listen to your mixes, do you drive around the block in your car or dance to it in the studio? When do you know the mix is complete?
CC: We’re definitely perfectionists in that sense. “Love Like We Used To” has ten different versions that we did from scratch that all sound completely different. I think we’re always trying to beat whatever we currently have. In terms of the mix—we kind of have to hear it, driving in the car and listening to it in a playlist of songs that we really love and asking, “Does this fit with everything else? Or am I kind of bored, at any point, do I skip it?” All of our mixes are seven or eight passes, usually a lot of the time.
OTW: Do you think current music is missing the melodies that were popular in the ‘80s?
CC: Surprisingly, I actually think the group that really brought back some ‘80s stuff was One Direction with a couple of their albums, and I feel like they were barely ‘80s influenced. I think the song we did with Walk the Moon last year, “Shut Up and Dance,” had a good amount of ‘80s—with the guitar and then the big drum hits here and there. I think that there’s always amazing music coming out. So I don’t necessarily agree–I think there are still amazing melodies coming out. You have to get good at finding the music that you love now—and in a Spotify world, you need to scour the internet to find and make your own radio playlist.
OTW: What do you think the trends of a “hit song” are right now?
CC: I think actually there is less of a rubric than ever right now for a hit song and that they’re coming from so many different places. The Chainsmokers set the standard that EDM can be a very wide-ranging genre, which is exciting. You have something like “Closer,”—it’s such a different song than any of their previous songs, and it’s their biggest one by far. You have Twenty One Pilots coming in, now Adele, Bruno Mars. Things are wide open. Really when we have sessions, we are not looking at writing any “kind” of songs—we’re just looking to write something that gets us excited. I think it’s actually an exciting time to be making music.
OTW: Besides DJ’ing at EMO Nite , what can we expect from a live Captain Cuts performance?
CC: We don’t want to be just DJs for a live set. We all play instruments, so I think we’d want to incorporate a live element into everything we do. I think you could expect to see something along the lines of a band set up with some electronic elements thrown in. We want our shows to be super fun, so whatever that takes. Our favorite shows are the ones that mix a lot of electronic stuff with live elements, so we’re still in the process of figuring that out.
OTW: You guys co-wrote Bebe Rexha’s “I Got You” — What was it like working with her and writing that song?
CC: We wrote that with her almost two years ago. She’s one of our favorite writers and artists to work with, by far. We went through a lot of versions of it to get to where we are now, and we’re very excited about it. It seems to be doing really, really well so far and her voice is out of control.
OTW: You guys have worked with everyone—give me three artists you want to work with next and why?
CC: I think we’d love to work with Porter Robinson, Bruno Mars, and Years and Years.
OTW: If you could create a sample for a song using only your favorite curse word, which word would you pick?
Ben: Interesting. I’m trying to think what would be a syllable that would be a good sample? Because “fuck”…“fuck” is a little too soft.
Ryan: That’s a really hard question…
Ben: But speaking strictly from a producing standpoint, maybe “dammit,” only because you have multiple ways you could chop that up. It’s not even my favorite curse word, but I just think it would be easy to make a cool sounding thing from “dammit.”
OTW: If you could meet any music legend, dead or alive, who would it be?
CC: We’d like to write a song with both The Beatles and Max Martin–both of them together if possible, in the same room. That would be a great session right there.
OTW: What’s next for Captain Cuts?
CC: Working on a new song, which should be out in the next couple months.
Captain Cuts are also announcing their new mixtape, The Life Of Emo, set to release this Wednesday, Nov. 30. Read more about their mixtape and get the track list here.