Chelsea Cutler ’19 was juggling academics, soccer and a burgeoning career in electronic dance music when her parents offered unexpected advice: “They sat me down before I went back for junior year and said that if I wanted to pursue music full-time, they would support me.” Soon, she was invited to tour with Quinn XCII—and she went for it.
Cutler began writing songs on piano when she was 5 or 6, but things really came together when she got her first laptop as a tween. “It was one of those little white Macbooks,” she says. “I started messing around on GarageBand and got a fundamental understanding of the recording process.”
A few years later at boarding school, she gained access to a professional-grade recording studio and learned how to use Logic Pro. “I’m horrible at tech in general, but when it came to Logic Pro, everything clicked,” she says. “I started writing seriously.”
Her songs are autobiographical, and while they seem to focus on romance and heartbreak, Cutler says they’re really more about her relationship with herself and her own mental health. In “Wake Up,” from her 2017 EP Snow in October (Ultra), subtly auto-tuned vocals advise an imaginary lover to “Move on ’cause the world is moving along right in front of you. If you don’t stop for a while, you might miss a perfect view.” It’s a nostalgic take on the passing of time—an emotional approach that seems to resonate with listeners. On stage, in fact, she seems to be speaking directly to each member of the audience.
Cutler began recording and posting her songs online in 2015, and soon had literally millions of listeners downloading her tracks. She was “discovered” by Sony affiliate Ultra Records in 2017. Her debut single, “You Make Me,” hit the Billboard viral chart that year.
That song starts with a hypnotic groove and Cutler’s sweet, distinctive vocals. Layers of sound quickly build: harmony vocals, orchestral swells and spacy synth sounds that round out the groove. The beat is danceable but mellow, and the pulse occasionally comes to an abrupt stop to highlight Cutler’s stripped-down voice.
Cutler toured with Quinn XCII through March and is now home in Westport, Conn., writing new songs.
Does she miss Amherst? “Absolutely,” Cutler says, “and I really hope to come back and finish my degree someday.”
But the lessons she learned in college—in particular on the soccer field—are serving her well on stage, where she intentionally dresses like an athlete, in a basketball jersey, rather than a pop star, refusing to buy into the sexist stereotype of female performers in high heels and tight clothes.
She counts her Amherst friends and soccer coach, Jen Hughes, among her most supportive fans. “A lot of things I learned playing soccer are applicable: putting your team first is like putting the audience first,” she says, “and, of course, the importance of performing under pressure. My time at Amherst is really important to who I am as a person.”
Solondz, a writer in Providence, R.I., works at the Rhode Island School of Design.