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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CHEERING FOR CHEERLEADER

Last Monday’s #songoftheday was a track called “Pefect Vision” by a new five piece band from Philadelphia called Cheerleader. In our write up about the song, we remarked that it was one of those rare songs that’s so mind-blowingly good that we’re tempted to make it not merely our #songoftheday but a #songoftheweek. Now that said week has come and gone, I would still be inclined to agree with that statement. Nothing against the other tracks that rightfully earned #songoftheday status last week, of course. It’s just that “Perfect Vision” is easily one of the top songs I’ve heard throughout the entire month of March. A truly brilliant and blissful earworm. So, naturally, I wanted to do an interview in order to learn more about the band, to find out what inspired “Perfect Vision” and what their plans for the future are, among other things. Fortunately, lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Haller and lead guitarist Chris Duran we able to have such a chat. So, read on and find out what Cheerleader has to cheer about.

MM: You recently released the audio of your single “Perfect Vision.” Will there be a video coming at some point?
JH: It’s something we have been talking about but we haven’t started production or anything like that yet.

MM: Will the audio for the B-side “Waiting, Waiting” be made available prior to the release of the single or are you going to hold off on that one?
CD: That’s a good question. We’re not entirely sure. I think it will be made public on Soundcloud.

MM: I looked on Spotify to see if “Perfect Vision” was on there and I actually came across a bunch of albums by some other band called Cheerleader. Are you aware of that?
JH: Yes, we are aware that there are actually a couple of other bands called Cheerleader and we talked about it being professionally a risk for us in our future, but we felt pretty strongly that the name fit our project pretty well, so we just kind of wanted to take the risk and go forward with that name, hopefully sort it out as we go along.

MM: When I found the other band on Spotify, I did not find your song. Are you going to be on there at some point or are you one of those artists who are vehemently opposed to streaming?
JH: We’re certainly not opposed to the streaming idea. I think it’s just a matter of time and sort of figuring stuff out a little more before our stuff turns up on Spotify.

MM: I just heard “Waiting, Waiting” this morning and I really loved it but it’s definitely different from “Perfect Vision,” having a slower tempo and more of a shoegaze vibe to it. How would you describe it?
CD: That definitely makes sense. I mean, obviously, for the slower tempo of the song. I think any shoegaze element probably comes from that song being more of a quote unquote demo. Joe and I recorded it on our own with Garageband, so obviously some of the sounds are a little more inherently lo-fi.
JH: When we recorded that song we were also both coming out of another band that was very shoegazey so I’m sure that that influenced us a little bit.

MM: What made you decide to go with that for the B-side?
CD: I think what it came down to is that we have some songs that we are working on that we recorded in the same session as “Perfect Vision” for a full-length. And there were about half a dozen songs that Joe and I recorded on our own and a few of those obviously made their way out into the public and there were a few more that we made that we didn’t like as much that weren’t maybe as obvious to put out or didn’t fit as well together. “Waiting, Waiting” was one of those songs where we weren’t entirely sure what to do with it. But we liked it, and we were proud of it, and when it came time to put out a single it just kind of made sense. I think it was Joe and I who were like, why don’t we just use “Waiting, Waiting” – it made perfect sense.
JH: We also wanted to give people another song with “Perfect Vision” but we didn’t necessarily want to release anything else that might be going on our upcoming album. So, we thought that was a good option.

MM: I know it’s a cliché question to ask, but since you’re a new band I’m curious – who are your influences?
JH: Chris and I share a lot of influences and we’re kind of all over the map. I guess some of the bigger influences for “Cheerleader” were The Talking Heads, David Bowie, T. Rex, stuff like that. We got a little more into New Order. We also just love The Beatles and The Beach Boys and classic rock stuff. We’re very much into the songs being the focus.

MM: As you mentioned, you guys started off recording stuff with Garageband, making various demos and such. Who was doing what when you were recording those?
JH: Often, what usually would happen would be that I would start writing the song – or a song – by myself and I would get maybe a little loop going, and here’s my idea for the lyrics and here’s my idea for the chorus and the verse. I’d have a few ideas and we’d start fleshing it out together arrangement-wise. And we love pop structure so we often went with a pretty pop kind of a structure and then we’d basically battle each other to see who could come up with better guitar parts or synth parts or whatever and whoever came up with the better part was the winner.
CD: The song always wins. You check your ego at the door. And the cool thing about Cheerleader is that it’s the most collaborative thing Joe and I have ever done because we’ve been playing together for eight years or something like that and Joe is a really good songwriter. And the cool thing about Cheerleader is, like Joe was saying, he’d bring in a loop or an idea and we were kind of just playing, discovering stuff together, which was fun.

MM: At that point were you serious about doing music professionally?
JH: I think both of us, Chris and I, have always had a dream of being in a band and I guess, more recently, after we graduated from college and stuff, we were like, how can we turn this into a career because it would be awesome to wake up every day and just be able to play music and not have to worry about having a 9 to 5 or whatever. And I think all of the guys who we’re playing with now – Josh and Paul and Carl – have felt the same way. Everyone’s just very committed to the idea of making the band our day job.
CD: I think the other thing, too, is that as we were growing up and playing music in high school you’d have a high school band and then you’d go off to college and some of your high school buddies you were playing music with stopped playing music and then you graduate college and some of your college friends you played with stop playing music and I think, for us, it was always like, this is what we’re gonna do. Why would we stop? There’s work to it, but it wasn’t necessarily something we had to will ourselves to do.

MM: What were your majors in college?
CD: I majored in psychology and philosophy.
JH: And I studied English.

MM: You left Connecticut and moved to Philadelphia in 2013 and I was just curious why you chose Philadelphia because usually artists who are seriously pursuing music will go to New York or L.A.
JH: We wanted to stay on the East Coast because it makes more sense for regional touring because we’re all closer together. So, that kind of ruled LA out, as much as we love California, because it’s beautiful there. And New York is just, for one thing, very expensive and somewhat overwhelming to us, the music scene being so saturated.
CD: We didn’t want to be a cliché.
JH: Exactly. So, we had some friends who lived in Philly and we fell in love with the city with the way the art scene is. And it has a laid back vibe that we like. And it also seems to be a burgeoning scene as well.

MM: What’s the music scene like there?
CD: There’s definitely a pretty strong DIY, which I think is often synonymous with hardcore and that’s kind of the case in Philly. But there’s also just DIY bands for house shows doing that. Hardcore bands, the emo thing – the quote unquote emo revival – is certainly a part of Philly and there’s some great bands in that scene. There are a lot of punk and hardcore [bands] then you’ve got the big names like Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs and those guys. And Doctor Dog, who started off that whole Americana, folky rock kind of sound.
JH: There are a lot of other bands we love like Bushwick. The scene’s great. Being such a young band, we have yet to really establish ourselves too firmly in the scene.
CD: We’re trying to pay our dues.
JH: Yeah, we’re just learning and we’re trying to pay our dues and not overstep any boundaries.

MM: Once you moved to Philly, that’s when you completed the band’s line up. How did you find each of the guys?
CD: When we moved here we were wanting to upgrade our whole recording style. We wanted to transition from recording ourselves to recording in a proper studio. So, we looked at some studios in and around Philly and found one that was called Studio A and our now guitarist/keyboardist Josh worked there. We didn’t end up recording there but we did meet Josh and talk to him and we had him in the back of our minds so we eventually just formed the band. And he knew our drummer Carl because they had played a show or two together and were mutual fans of each other. So, it was just put together slowly like that.
JH: We did audition people but it was one of those things where when we first played with Paul and Josh, our keyboard player, it was like, oh yeah, this is the band. It was just a great dynamic.

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MM: Did either of you come from musical families? Did any of your parents make you take guitar or piano lessons or anything like that?
JH: Actually, yeah, my parents encouraged me to pick an instrument. I guess when I was 7 or 8 years old I decided I wanted to play the alto saxophone so that was my introduction to music. My Dad also is a classical guitar player of the finger picking variety. So, I observed him a lot as a child and then he eventually taught me how to play guitar.
CD: I had a similar thing. My dad played drums in bands when he was in high school and stuff, but I started playing the tenor sax when I was eight years old and he was very supportive of that. And he would play me Chicago and Marvin Gaye and so, yeah, I kind of had that as well.

MM: You’re going to be doing some London dates opening for The Hold Steady. How did that come about?
CD: We got offered to play at The Great Escape festival. And it’s a great opportunity to go over there and play that show. So we tried to see what we could put around it and make it a tour. And dates started popping up and we tried to put together as many as made sense. And we were very fortunate that The Hold Steady were putting a new record out and they were going to be promoting that and we reached out to them, said we’d love to play whatever was possible and we were very fortunate that some dates lined up and we’re going to be playing two shows opening for them.

MM: Have you ever been to London before?
JH: No.
CD: No. Neither of us have. It’ll be the first time for both of us. And I think for the entire band as well.

MM: I don’t know a whole lot about the London scene, but I know it’s an important milestone for a band. And it’s like, if you’re considered cool in London then the whole world thinks you’re cool. So, does that put any pressure on you, going into the London shows?
CD: I don’t think it’s pressure. I think there’s this nice thing – from what I’ve read and heard – that people in London and England and that music scene are really ready for new music and are ready to dive in and take a chance and be supportive. I think there’s a nice thing where they’re ready to hear you. So, hopefully we’ll be well received.

MM: One of the shows you’re doing there is with a group called Alvvays, which I’ve never heard of before. Have you?
CD: They are a female-fronted [band]. Using genre names and stuff can be so silly. But they’re female fronted, kind of like ’90’s type of rock music. A laid back kind of a thing. Their songs are great. I know I at least heard the single – I’m drawing a blank on the name – but it was really awesome. And they’re new to the scene but have a buzz around them so we’re psyched to play that show and hang out.

MM: You’ve got a show coming up in New York City at Glasslands. Is this the first time that you’ll be playing in New York City together?
JH: With our current line up, yes. We have played in New York City back in the day when we were playing with some other friends.
CD: We played a venue called Pianos that’s an awesome venue that’s been really supportive of us and of Cheerleader. We’ve played there but never Glasslands.

MM: Will you be doing a national tour here after you get back from England?
JH: Yeah, potentially, we’re not really sure when that would happen. We’re going to take the summer to do some regional stuff.
CD: We’ve been running around a lot, so this summer we’re kind of hoping to do some East Coast dates, nothing too major or official. But we’re putting together something together for the fall.

MM: How soon do you think we’ll get an album from you? Are we thinking like a year or…?
JH: Before the year is out. Potentially anywhere from very late summer to, I’d say, November.

You heard the man – he’s promised us an album by the end of the year. Let’s hold them to that!

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Written by

Paris365

An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

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