“The Same Thing Project is a “community songwriting” workshop for people from all walks of life. Musicians, artists, students, teachers, retired folks, neurodiverse, differently-abled, blue and white-collar workers participate every week in writing a song. The Same Thing Project provides a place where you don’t have to be skilled at a musical instrument in order to be musical. It’s a space where you can be part of a creative community that is open, nonjudgmental and encouraging. Connection is created and isolation is reduced.
The Same Thing Project, founded in 2016 by Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame inductee Mark Cutler takes place at schools, adult care facilities, and community centers and now is taking its innovative community songwriting workshops to college campuses for a tour titled Community Songwriting for Mental Health. This first-of-its-kind college tour has been developed with support from the National Museum of Mental Health Project (NMMHP) as a means of addressing the mental health challenges being faced by today’s college students.
The Same Thing Project is one of the first organizations in the United States dedicated to community songwriting, which it defines as “discovering one’s voice, alongside others, to create words and music for shared experiences and emotions—everyone becomes a songwriter. No music experience required.” ”
LA: I really want to focus this interview on The Same Thing Project but want to start by talking about Mark Cutler as singer, songwriter and guitarist. Tell me when you started in the music industry.
MC: I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old and started a band in 5th grade. My first band was JEM and we played at my 6th grade graduation. I was still playing guitar in 7th grade. One thing that was cool about playing guitar was I got to hang out with the older folks. I was in bands with high school kids and college kids. I kept playing through junior high school and college. I left college after a few years and went into music. I answered an ad in the Newpaper and I joined a country rock band called Windy Mountain and we played around RI and Ma. Then new wave happened and I left Windy Mountain and started my own band. We went into the recording studio and made a demo. I got some air time on WBRU and that’s when The Schemers started back in 1978. We played Rhythm & Blues but with new wave and punk. The first gig we played we opened for Sam & Dave at Lupos. It was a great opening gig and it was the last gig that Sam & Dave played. Some of our members left and we switched our music to more punk, new wave with British influenced music. We played until the late 80s and then I joined a band called The Rain Dogs and we got signed to a major label at ATCO Records and we toured around the country for a few years. My son was born so I started painting houses and did construction and giving guitar lessons. One of my students offered me a job at a software company but after my son graduated college, about 10 years ago, I left that job and wanted to start a program and help the community by using music. That’s when I came up with the idea for The Same Thing Project and I’ve been doing it for 10 years now.
LA: You’ve shared the stage with Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon and Little Feat, tell me about when and where you did this.
MC: I toured with Bob Dylan in 1991 with The Rain Dogs. We were on tour for a couple of months. He is one of my idols and it was great to be on the same stage with him. Warren Zevon was great because I got to hang out with him and we became good friends. Whenever he came to town he would get in touch with me. With The Schemers we played with Culture Club at the Worcester Centrum in the early 80s and The Smithereens opened up for us in New York. We also played with David Johansen and Harry Dean Stanton. We had Iggy Pop and Harry Dean Stanton on our second album. It was cool to work with people you really admire. We did a couple of shows with Little Feat in Philadelphia
LA: You founded the Boston band The Rain Dogs and Rhode Island band The Schemers. Tell me what type of music you played in these bands and where you played.
MC: With The Schemers we play “Rootsy Rock & Roll”. We started with punk and new wave but we morphed into an Americana kind of band. The Rain Dogs was a rock band but we had a heavy Celtic influence which included a fiddle player, the late great Johnny Cunningham from Scotland and our drummer came from Ireland. For our second album we used some hip hop and we were one of the first bands to do that. My most memorable thing for me was with The Schemers when we won the Rock & Roll Rumble at WBCN. We also won the WBRU Rock Hunt. We didn’t expect to win and it was a great thing to happen to us. I made a lot of friends at WBRU and WBCN who helped us move forward.
LA: Currently you’re in Men Of Great Courage and on Facebook you call it the “Never Ending Food Drive”. Tell me about your current band and about the food drive
MC: We started off as a pickup band 15 years ago where people just show up and played. Six years ago we were doing a food drive for Thanksgiving and I said “Why don’t we do this all the time”? It’s a good thing to do, it gets people in the door and we just started doing it. People are hungry year round so it’s a nice thing to do. We play at Nick-A-Nees, The 133 Club, The Parlour, The Met, The Pump House and The Narrows. We want people to bring food to all our gigs and we drop off the box at “We Share Hope”
LA: The Same Thing Project, founded in 2016, meets every Tuesday morning at 10:00 AM at Outsider Collective in Pawtucket. This is an amazing workshop that you started how did you come up with this idea?
MC: It started off as a way to use music to help the community. Hopefully it has a ripple effect to help a bigger community. Some folks bring instruments and I always show up with my guitar. You don’t have to know anything about music, songwriting or singing. You can just show up and sit there and listen. We talk about everything and anything. Every week we write a song. We have about 20 to 30 regulars that show up you can show up late, leave early, there’s no pressure it doesn’t cost any money. It’s a free program and the way it works is we talk about something for instance… waiting in line… and we start writing lyrics and create a song. Everyone helps to contribute to writing the song. Everyone comes to my recording studio in East Providence to record the song at the end of the week and gets to get a copy for themselves. There’s an adult care center called Avatar which subsidized us for a few years. We have a lot of connections with folks who have disabilities and a couple people from each center will come. We get the word out about us in a few ways…musicians know about us so word of mouth from them, we have posters and we’ve been in some newspaper articles and my website.
LA: You have expanded to colleges, tell me about the Community Songwriting for Mental Health and your involvement in the National Museum of Mental Health Project. There are so many mental health challenges facing college students. I have a daughter in college and she is very involved with this. She is the president of Active Minds the mental health club at Saint Anselm College.
MC: I do workshops in conjunction with National Parks. I do work with Roger Williams National Memorial and Slater Mill. One of the directors for the museum contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I just want to get the word out and make my project as big as it can get. As big as I can make it. He got me involved with Active Minds and the colleges in Worcester and Newton. We are trying to get more connections with colleges and we have been talking with the Louvre Gallery in France to do workshops in their communities. The National Museum of Mental Health is a mobile museum. They have exhibits in airports and a traveling exhibit that goes around the country. They are very concerned about students mental health
LA: Lastly, when you’re not working, playing out or involved with The Same Thing Project, what do you do for fun ?
MC: I like cooking, watching old movies and hanging out with my wife, dogs and cats. I would say Spain would be my favorite restaurant in Rhode Island.
The Same Thing Project meets every Tuesday morning, 10:00AM at Outsider Collective 1005 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860, and it’s free and open to everyone!
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