Weapons of Anew bassist opens up about forthcoming album; punk, jazz roots
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
May 10, 2021
Photo: Elena Jasic
Stefan “Reno” Cutrupi knows how to keep things steady in the middle of a musical maelstrom. He’s the bassist for New Jersey-based Weapons of Anew, a group that isn’t afraid to bring a little thrash and funk to its hard rock stylings. In addition to Cutrupi, the heavy hitting band is rounded out by vocalist Ray West (Spread Eagle), guitarists Freddy Ordine (HavocHate) and Kevin Hicklin (3 By Design), and drummer Chad Szeliga (Breaking Benjamin). Weapons of Anew turned a lot of heads with their 2017 debut album, The Collision of Love and Hate, and had a Billboard Top 40 Rock single with their cover of The Chainsmokers’ “Sick Boy.” Following up on that success, Cutrupi and his bandmates are now looking forward to releasing their sophomore effort, Art of War.
FPBO: What can you tell me about the new album, Art of War?
Reno: It’s coming. We’re very excited. Hopefully the world opens up at some point and they let us push the darn thing out. That’d be really great, but I’m excited. Everybody did awesome work on it. Freddy wrote an amazing record with Ray, and everybody just killed it. It’s been very exciting. I can’t wait for everybody to hear everything else besides “Sick Boy.” It would be nice.
FPBO: Do you think the band’s recording of “Sick Boy” surprised a lot of people?
Reno: We’re always doing something cool, and anyone that knows us knows that we think outside the box. But I definitely think it was a little bit of a departure from our previous record. I think it’s a cool thing, and it opens up a whole new set of eyes to the band and it’s exciting just to see the response and people’s take on it and stuff like that. It was cool.
FPBO: What was the recording process like? Did you have to do a lot of it remotely?
Reno: No, we did it all in-studio. A lot of it was pre-mask, and then some of it was post-mask time. But we keep the circle really tight, so it wasn’t really a super big concern.
FPBO: Has a release date been announced yet for the record?
Reno: I don’t think I do. It’s just up in the air. It depends on touring and how that pans out, you know what I mean?
FPBO: Have all the tracks been recorded?
Reno: Yeah, everything’s in the can. In the freezer staying fresh! I think we’re going to do another single, probably around June.
FPBO: Are you starting to feel like touring and playing live shows is actually going to become a reality? Can you see that yet?
Reno: I’d like to say I see it, but I haven’t seen anybody on any big forum or anything like, “Yeah, it’s back on definitely.” And as things open up, you see there are shows happening in certain areas of the country and stuff like that, so I think the grip is loosening, some places a little bit quicker than others. But we’ll see. My fingers are crossed.
FPBO: Let’s talk about your bass technique. You play a lot with a pick, but I’ve also seen you do quite a bit with your fingers.
Reno: Most of it pick. Maybe one or two songs with fingers. That’s about it. On the first record, pick, pick, pick, pick, pick.
FPBO: You’ve cited people like Bobby Vega, David Ellefson, and a few others, when it comes to pick playing. Bobby’s unbelievable with a pick!
Reno: My goodness. It’s amazing what he can do with that thing! It’s unreal when I watch him, but you know, umpteen billion years and the gigs that he’s done. He’s out of control.
FPBO: What about you when you were first learning to play? Did you start with pick or fingers?
Reno: I was a fingers guy. I played punk rock in high school when I was a kid, so I was fingers for a while. And then I messed around with a pick here and there, but nothing really major. It’s not like I devoted tremendous amounts of time to the metronome and pick or anything like that. And then when I was in HavocHate with Freddy, I was like, “Yeah, fingers, aren’t really cutting it,” so I switched to playing with the pick primarily. Then I took a couple of years off, I got married, I got divorced, semi-retired from playing before Weapons of Anew came up. Then it was nice. I just picked the pick back up and I was like, “Yeah, this is cool. It cuts. I can beat the crap out of the bass.” I’ve never really spent a super amount of time translating my finger-style technique or left-hand into regimented stuff with a pick or anything like that. The metronome is my enemy. I hate her, just like anybody else. I hate her!
FPBO: Where are you from originally?
Reno: I’m from New York, Westchester County.
FBPO: How’d you become a bass player?
Reno: All the cool guys were playing guitar. When I heard Jimi Hendrix when I was 12, I was spending a lot of time hanging out with my dad and he’s showing me Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix and all the awesome dudes. And I’m like, “Yeah, I really want a guitar.” And then Wayne’s World came out, so then I was like, “Yeah, I really want a white Stratocaster. That’s what I need.” Well, it turns out nobody had money to buy me a white Stratocaster. And when I turned 13, he had a ’67 Gibson EB3 black bass with the five-way phase switch and the big soap bar in the neck. And it was sitting in the foyer of my grandma’s house. And I’m like, “What are you doing? You’re playing again?” And he’s like, “No, I can’t afford to buy a guitar, so I figured you could take my bass.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s cool.” And I opened the case. It’s got the crushed purple velvet. And he had a little Gorilla 10-inch amp. The fucking thing was so old, he never played it in forever. It had curlicue cables, right-angle cables in the case and shit. Still, it all still worked. I brought it upstairs and I was like, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?” Listening to bass players wasn’t a thing that was registering in my mind. I was listening to Led Zeppelin IV on vinyl and just putting the needle back on all the awesome songs on that. So it wasn’t even a thing like, “Oh, the bass. Yeah. There’s a guy in the band that plays the bass?” No, you’ve got guitar and drums, you’ve got a guy that thing sings. That’s how oblivious to this shit I was at 13 years old.
FPBO: That must have changed pretty quickly.
Reno: Yeah! I spent the summer with a cousin of mine, and he was a total metalhead. He’s like “Metallica, do you know Metallica?” And I’m like, “Yeah, kind of.” And he’s like, “Oh, Cliff Burton,” and fucking all that shit. And I was like, “Okay.” And he was into Pink Floyd too. Very eclectic taste. So it was like, I’m going to stay there for the summer and hang out with my cousin, and he played bass, so he was like, “Yeah, I’ll teach you how to make some type of substantial sound on this instrument.” And he taught me some tunes and just went from there.
FPBO: Was Mike Watt one of your influences?
Reno: I didn’t get into Mike Watt until a lot later. I liked a lot of Op Ivy when I was a kid. Who else… the first couple of Rancid records. Matt Freeman is a frigging titan. Screeching Weasel, the first two Green Days, Mike Dirnt is fucking amazing. Just the punch and the way he is so melodic and shit, oh my God. He’s definitely up there for me. NOFX. Fat Mike is awesome, the way he keeps it so simple. But it all fits, and it drives everything home. Ramones. I’m a big Ramones fan. I actually knew Joey personally. I met him and Dee Dee a couple of times. I got to hang out with them as a 15-year-old kid. Growing up and working, Coney Island High was still open and all those places, ABC No Rio and all the cool clubs that don’t even exist anymore. It just sucks. Then I heard Primus and I was like, “What the fuck is that?” Like anybody else that plays the bass. They’re like, “Oh, let’s play this.” Yeah. And then I just started getting into jazz.
FPBO: Did you say jazz?
Reno: Yeah. Oh yeah. I was a big jazz guy. My first concert was actually Stanley Clarke out on Long Island, with George Duke and Lenny White. So I would listen to him and, you name it, Bootsy, anything Jaco. Everybody knows you can’t talk about this without talking about the man himself, you know, and it just kind of ballooned out from there.
FPBO: Let’s talk about your gear. Are you primarily a 5-string player?
Reno: I used to endorse ESP, so I had some fours for the first record. I was playing a couple of their 4-string basses, and then got a 5 to do one of the songs on the first record, on Collision, called “Awake.” And it turned out I liked the 5 better. I had a 5-string coming up, so it just felt cool. And then I got another one and then we came down a little lower for this record. I really wanted a heavier your sound. And I ended up hooking up with the great people at Ibanez, and I was just like, “Yeah, these things are killer. Let me get two of them. Yeah, make them all 5.”
FPBO: What about amps?
Reno: I was using Ampeg for a number of years, and it turns out that the way our studio was set up, I just don’t really need them more. I don’t really need a rig right now. I’m primarily using the Tech 21 dUg Pinnick preamp right into the board and right into my ears. It’s the best sound I’ve ever had. I don’t need to carry 9,000 pounds of speakers and big 8x10s anymore or the heavy frigging amplifier. Ever since I got that thing, it changed.
FBPO: How did you discover the Tech 21 stuff?
Reno: We went to NAMM last year and I heard it; it was coming out in the pedal, and I went to the booth and checked it out. And I was like, “Holy shit, this is great!” I’m a big dUg Pinnick guy. I played with them in the city one time when I was a kid, like 20-something at the Knitting Factory. So I’ve always been like, “Yeah, dUg’s sound is fucking gigantic.” He was using Ampegs for a while, and I saw that he made the switch to that new one. I got to check that stuff out. It’s killer. I don’t need anything else. It’s literally two plugs, it weighs four ounces and it’s great. I set it and forget it. I mark the little knobs where I like them and that’s it. It’s killer. I’m talking to them about maybe checking out some amps, just to have something to move some air behind me. But on the last tour, I got so used to playing with ear monitors, which I didn’t think I was really going to dig. I’m so used to it blasting at my face. Just give me everything in the ear monitor. Crush my life! I don’t want to hear anything at the end of the night. So now, it’s like, “Oh, I have a little bit of everybody. And I turn it up and down as I need.” It’s kind of Prima donna-y, but who would’ve thought?
FPBO: What kind of strings do you play?
Reno: I’m playing GHS Boomers. I’ve been with them for years. They made me a custom for the lower tunings. It’s like .50 to 140.
FPBO: Wow, that’s pretty heavy!
Reno: I like a flat set up and with tuning down so low, I just couldn’t get the neck to sit right and get the clarity out of the B. It was just that first fret, it just wasn’t coming out, you’d just hear it rattle. Instead of me fighting the neck for two days and having like ride height all over the place between different strings, I’m like, just make me like a set of bridge cables and we’ll go from there. But they’re bass-y, they hurt. It’s not a joke. I don’t have the longest, biggest, strongest hands in the world, so if I go a week or two without practice, shit, these fucking things are tearing me up. But they’re awesome.
FPBO: What advice do you have for somebody who wants to learn bass?
Reno: I learned bass in such a haphazard way. When I was growing up, you didn’t have the Internet. You’d have to save up all your money and go buy Hot Licks videos, VHS tapes. I grew up in my punk band playing with this drummer. We’d been friends since frigging middle school, and I couldn’t really afford a lot of videos. Maybe I had one or two. But he had drum videos. A lot of drum videos, between listening, trying to figure out what they’re playing. A lot of the way I approach it is drum-based, it’s very strange. I probably watched Mike Portnoy’s Liquid Drum Theater more times than probably any Mike Portnoy fan has ever watched it. Any Dennis Chambers video that he put out in 2005, I’ve probably watched 22 million times. A Buddy Rich memorial, the old ones, like (Gregg) Bissonette, and all those guys. I was just constantly like, “the drummer, the drummer, the drummer, the drummer, the drummer.” And then, harmonically, just listening to all these great players like, “Okay, how are they doing what they’re doing?” I needed to learn chords, I needed to learn theory and scales and arpeggios, the practical application of how it all fits together in the song. So it’s like a myriad of things. But I was playing 10, 12, 15 hours a day for, I can’t even tell you, sun-up to sun-down for years.
FPBO: I bet the gauges on your strings weren’t as heavy as the ones you play now!
Reno: (Laughs) No, I was just playing bullshit medium, like .45 to 105. But yeah, playing and listening to stuff and trying to reproduce the sound with some formality. I took some basic theory for like a year and they taught me how to chart stuff down. I worked at Guitar Center for a while, probably 10 years, so I had access to a wealth of information. I took lessons for maybe about a year of just basic theory, of reading changes, of writing out chords and walking lines and stuff like that, just to better educate myself instead of being the odd person out.
FPBO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
Reno: Oh, man. That’s tough. I don’t know. I really honestly don’t know what could possibly interest me more than the music. Music is so awesome, it’s a universal thing. I think music is the greatest thing ever, it’s awesome. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have music. I really don’t.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview here.