Beats from the basement

Grant Cutler’s solo music project Tom Hanks pushes students to polish their steps

Keri Carlson

As the mainstream, – or at least “The O.C.,” – begins to embrace indie rock bands like Death Cab for Cutie, the brooding style is waning in college radio.

This year’s hottest releases, from the likes of MIA and Annie, feature not the strums of guitars, but the pulsating beats from a laptop.

Now the kids want to dance!

But after years of listening to Elliott Smith, many have forgotten how. Or maybe they never learned.

“I’m an awful dancer,” said Grant Cutler, the man behind electro-project Tom Hanks. “I look like a seal if it didn’t have one of its flippers and was trying to get up.”

It seems odd that while claiming to be a grotesque dancer, Cutler makes music with pop-heavy synthesizers and booming beats. But it also makes sense.

Cutler listened to a lot of progressive rock in high school. Then he discovered electronic music.

Cutler quickly became “nerdy” about synthesizers, he said. In his basement two years ago, amid electro releases from the Faint and others, Tom Hanks began.

So electronic music was not so much an outlet for dancing as it was a way to make music by himself.

“I never imagined it being heard by anyone,” he said.

So Tom Hanks sat unknown to the rest of the world. That is until Cutler stumbled upon a CD he had made, hidden in his car seat. The time apart helped Cutler realize that Tom Hanks had created some cool stuff (besides “Joe Versus the Volcano”).

The Tom Hanks six-song CD has now been released. It came out this summer on Cutler’s own label, Steam City Rock, also home to his rock band, Passions.

“I think Tom Hanks is really dated at this point,” Cutler said, referring to electro’s several years of revival. “But since it’s Minnesota, it’s OK.”

Cutler thinks the name Tom Hanks is also a bit tired.

“When I thought it up I made myself laugh, but it only made me laugh. Now I’m jaded and old,” he said with a laugh.

But Cutler is perhaps too modest about Tom Hanks. Though electro does not seem as new or fresh as it did several years ago, his music is goofy, sexy and very danceable. There’s even a song about a commanding dance robot.

Cutler said he’s mainly concerned that his music is fun and helps people have a good time. His music certainly inspires a good time – in the same way Gwen Stefani let loose on her solo album.

Despite his two left feet (or one fewer flipper), Cutler assured fans he will nonetheless show off his moves at the Weisman.

“It will be me singing and dancing around, being a jackass,” he said.