Sometimes in the world of independent music, being one of the most badass bands in the game isn't enough. Take the Savannah, Ga. trio CUSSES, for example. The band — frontwoman Angel Bond, guitarist Bryan Harder, and drummer Brian Lackey — has developed one of the most thrilling live shows around, combining Lackey's endlessly propulsive percussion with Harder's jagged-edge riffs to create a foundation for Bond's stunning wail, which recalls the elastic range and power of Robert Plant in his Zeppelinesque prime. Onstage, Bond is mesmerizing, shaking like the music is sending an electric current through her body and hitting notes that could shatter glass.
By mid-2015, the band was in the middle of a whirlwind of activity, recording a follow-up to their 2012 self-titled debut album and touring nonstop. But after releasing a four-song sampler as a prelude to that second album, Golden Rat, the band suddenly hit a wall. Three years of physically punishing live shows and financial strain had taken their toll. So in late-summer 2015, CUSSES announced, somewhat abruptly, that they were taking an indefinite hiatus.
"We just all needed to take a break, from everything," Bond says. "When you're doing this independently, the stresses of touring and money can pile up. We needed a healthy break, and it's the best decision we could have made at the time. Sometimes you're pushing so hard that that grind gets in the way of the creative part, so it was good to take a step back and look at everything and come back with a fresh start and a different perspective."
At the time, there wasn't any kind of timetable for when the group would get back together. Harder had been unable to tour full time with the band in 2015 because of his family and career obligations, and Bond was battling some unspecified medical issues, not to mention a persistent problem with stage fright. They met up for a rehearsal in late 2016 and were encouraged by the results, then played a show in February. But there were still no definite plans to move forward.
That's when, as they often do, New Jersey's own Bon Jovi swooped in and saved the day.
On their 2016-2017 tour, Bon Jovi undertook a talent search, looking for undiscovered bands to open their shows. CUSSES entered the contest and won an opening slot at the band's Memphis show in March.
"My dad is kind of an old rocker, and he always believed he was going to open up for Bon Jovi years ago," Bond says. "He's the one who pushed me to sign up. It was like no other show we've ever played before. It was quite a production, and I was very nervous; I already have stage fright, and that was the pinnacle of it. But Jon was really cool to us."
To say that the band was surprised when they won is an understatement. "I didn't actually believe it," she says. "We researched the email we got telling us we won because I didn't think it was real."
And as for those who might think the two bands didn't necessarily have much in common musically, Bond is quick to snap back. "Bon Jovi was pretty rockin' back in the day," she says. "I loved Bon Jovi. And I think it was good to be a female-fronted band that was chosen."
After that trial-by-fire gig, the band booked some festival appearances and began working on finally finishing up Golden Rat, all with Harder back on board full-time.
"It wasn't the same without Bryan," she says. "That was probably another reason we ended up taking a break, because it didn't feel like CUSSES without him up on stage."
The band's setlist these days consists of the unheard Golden Rat material and a handful of new songs they've written for another new album further down the line.
"Golden Rat is still fresh to us, even though it's been almost three years." Bond says. "A lot of the songs, people still haven't heard yet live. The number of years is the weirdest thing, because it doesn't feel that long ago."
As for her stage fright, Bond says that it's still there, but she's learned to live with it, if not completely control it. "I still get sick before every show," she says. "It really was debilitating for me for a while. I didn't sing in front of anybody until I was in my 20s because it's a very vulnerable place to be, and we write about things from the heart. You're very exposed up there. I still get really nervous, even if we're only playing for like 40 people, but I've learned to kind of shut it out. Then when I hear the first stroke of the guitar or the first drum beat, I'm able to black out and go to this other place."