In an age saturated with dark, brooding pop songs that challenge nothing in formula or function, it is quite easy to forget the power of music’s strong side-effect: fun. Luckily for us, that quality is far from lacking in the songs Cherub dishes out like drinks at a party. With the summer smash hit, “Doses and Mimosas”, Cherub began to take the pop world by storm, due to the contagious songs and relentless touring.
We talked to Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber about their unconformity to pop standards, the catch-22 in having a hit song, and the challenge in bringing their studio sound to a live audience.
StageBuddy: When I listen to your music, the first thing I hear, more than style or genre, is that it’s just so much fun. Do you find it hard to maintain this when most pop music today tends to be so self indulgent and serious?
Jordan: It’s cool that you said that because Jason and I really don’t care about genres. At the end of the day, we just want people to feel a certain way when they hear our music. Pop music always changes directions and there’s always something that is “in” at the time. The main thing is to always do what sounds good to you, and once that happens, it all aligns itself.
Jason: I think a lot of that has to do with our personalities. We take ourselves seriously, but only to a certain degree. That’s one of the things we want to make people remember. At the end of the day, you have to laugh. There should be serious songs, but then there are other times to just have some fun.
When you are pressed for a genre though you just simply say “pop”, but your songs are quite anti-top-40-fomula. ‘Work the Middle’ comes to mind, with the last two minutes being just a guitar solo and slow pitch bending downwards. How do you navigate this middle ground between full on pop and dark, brooding indie?
Jordan: To me, a pop song is just something that gets stuck in people’s head and has a really catchy melody. Even when switching down to something that’s a little bit slower or necessarily fitting into what pop music sounds like currently, the foundation of it is pop music. It’s something hopefully that will get stuck in your head (without annoying you too much).
Jason: We both grew up listening to pop music on the radio. If you go back and look at all of those great 90’s pop albums, there are tons of songs you recognize, but then they also have epic musical interludes. It was a lot more musical than what people would expect out of just a bubblegum pop album. That’s what we grew up listening to and enjoying, so we can’t help but be influenced by those things.
Do you ever feel pressure to crossover to one side or the other? As in, if you do something a certain way, it would be a shoe in to the top 40 sound?
Jordan: There’s never been a time when we’ve made music that we’ve thought, “This would be more marketable if…” Our main goal is to create music that makes us really happy. Jason and I have been on the road for five years pretty much, and we realize that if we were to make songs that had a marketable sound, we would end up wanting to shoot ourselves. We have to play these songs every night, so our goal is to make songs that sound fun and good to us. If that’s something that fits into what people consider a “marketable” sound, then that’s awesome, but at least we don’t hate ourselves every night when we play.
Jason: Our conversations in the studio are more like, “Let’s have these drums sound like ‘Return of the Mack’.”
I stumbled across the acoustic performance of ‘Doses and Mimosas’ on YouTube, and it blew me away because I’ve read that you always start writing electronically in Reason. Do you feel though, both being guitar players initially yourselves, that your music comes from a singer/songwriter mindset?
Jordan: Yeah, dude, totally. I didn’t even really sing or write lyrics until I started doing Cherub stuff, so I’ve only been doing it for about six years. I’ve been the guitar man in bands since I was about ten, but it was a completely different role. When you start off playing instruments and then move onto software, it’s nice to have a real instrument as the foundation. It puts patches and sounds into perspective.
Jason: You tend to write less as a guitar singer/songwriter, and more as a hip-hop producer. You’ll get a short little loop going, and then see where that really takes the song.
Jordan: I’ve never actually written lyrics without music going. I only start feeling creative when I hear a loop going.
I get the feeling in your music and live shows that you take on these incredibly sarcastic, over the top characters, but you do so with so much authenticity and sincerity. You’ve said in the past that a great aspect of pop music is the ability it gives people to sing along with lines they normally wouldn’t say in real life. Do you feel you have to leave your personal life behind when you’re making Cherub music and step into this space where it’s okay to say certain things you otherwise wouldn’t?
Jordan: I will say that all of the lyrics I write are things that true and have happened to me. There’s time when I exaggerate things a little bit because I know that it will connect with a larger audience. I don’t feel like we are stepping into characters though.
Jason: For most people that would stand true, but you would say pretty much anything you would sing. (laughs)
You’ve said that the success of ‘Doses and Mimosas’ is kind of a catch-22 because now people want you to do that kind of stuff. Do you feel confined to be the “party” band now?
Jordan: That’s always a tricky thing. We don’t ever want to pigeonhole ourselves into a specific genre or sound. If we were to make 12 more songs that sounded like ‘Doses and Mimosas’, first of all, it would suck. Second, we would just hate playing that, and we would feel we were cheating people. Even though a lot of people only consider us a party band because all they know is ‘Doses’, we definitely don’t want to be stuck on one sound. It’s been really cool to see the majority of people respond to songs like ‘Freaky You, Freaky Me’ or ‘Strip to This’, which are completely different vibes. Lyrically they might not stray too far from what people are familiar with, but the soundscape is so much different, and it’s really cool that people ride it out with us.
Jason: As we’re going back into the studio preparing to write new music, you gotta take a look back at what has worked and what hasn’t. The reason ‘Doses’ was ever a thing is not because we tried to fit something into some formula and write something very specific, it just happened because it was us being us and doing whatever felt write. Instead of trying to focus on a formula and recreate something specific, we’re trying to recreate the magic that made something else happen.
What can we expect from your live show this week?
Jason: We write in the studio first without considering live, so that way the ideas happen inside of our head and we just have to find a way to get them out there. Once we have a piece of music that we’re really excited about, that’s when the challenge happens of how are we going to break this back apart and perform this for people. People wouldn’t want to see Jordan and I running around frantically the stage trying to hook up a whole bunch of synthesizers to make it 100% live. That’s just boring and floppy and not a well thought out, put together live show. In going to pop music shows growing up, I used to love to just watch the magic happen on stage. That’s one of those things we try to do when create the live show. Not only to let people know that it’s real musicians up there playing real music, but also create a little bit of magic for them.
Be sure to catch Cherub at Terminal 5 on 1/30!