The kid narrator of Cherry's new song, "Cherry," is dead by the end. He went out sledding with a girl he liked; they had a good time. But by the time they reached the bottom of the hill, she'd snapped his neck. He's staring at his own blood in the snow.
Russell Edling started Cherry in 2014, soon after the demise of his old band, the Philadelphia indie-punk five-piece Kite Party. On their two LPs, 2012's Baseball Season and 2014's Come On Wandering, the band had twisted Edling's often-gruff howl with art-rock staples: the occasional jagged riff, delayed guitars, tense drums. But the pressure to succeed as a band, and the friction that can create, became too much. They broke up within a week of ...Wandering's release. "It felt like we tried really hard for everything that we got," Edling tells me over the phone. "Which was awesome, obviously. But it was also systematically disappointing."
Cherry was designed to negate that friction. Alongside Jesse Kennedy, Kite Party guitarist Justin Fox, Three Man Cannon's Spencer Colmbs, and Lame-O Records owner Eric Osman, Edling took the pressure off of the music. "You release a record, you have to go on tour, you have to have this reason to be a band or write a song," Edling says. "I guess we've just been thinking, 'Let's just play music. Whatever happens, happens."
Gloom , the band's 2016 debut EP, sounded spaced out without sacrificing its paranoia—they closed it with a cover of Fugazi's "I'm So Tired." And their debut LP Dumbness, out September 29, builds on that further. It drifts between borderline-Beatles pop, swirling shoegaze, macabre balladry, and grubby pop-punk. Edling's lyrics are darkly comic—fixated on failure and pain and the stupidity that accompanies both of them.
But even on Dumbness, "Cherry" sounds exceptionally dark and spaced out. It clicks along around four of five notes—guitars that slowly trip into each other while a soft-howling organ spins around in the background. Edling's delivers it like a love song: "She twisted my neck so suddenly, I didn't even know / In the snow, little drops of blood like cherries."
Listen to "Cherry" below and read our interview with Edling after the jump.
Noisey: How do you create a situation in which you're having fun with music again? How does that happen? Is it automatic, or does it take work to try and have fun?
Russell Edling: What we've been trying to do now is just kind of like not try too hard, not feel obligated to do anything. I think that with Kite Party there was this constant pressure. With Cherry, it almost feels like a side-effect of us hanging out, which is really nice. There's not power dynamics or power hierarchy tension. It's easy, I think. The guitar player who was in Kite Party previously, we've been working together since we were 12 years old, so he and I just kind of have this great working relationship. It just seems easy and we're not worried about anything as a band. So it's just been not a lot of pressure.
It sounds relaxing.
Yeah. But with all that said, I'm a very neurotic person. I get stressed out constantly. It's a constant battle to maintain focus on healthy things and refocus stress. But I'm trying really hard to not get insane about anything.
Just listening through to Kite Party and the new stuff. Do you feel like some of that carefree nature has got into the music? It feels less tense.
Well, in Kite Party we were trying to be extremely democratic, as much as we possibly could be. We had this idea that we were working on these pieces of art independently and then we'd bring them together for the song. I think a lot of that resulted in frustrations because it didn't always work the way that we wanted it to. There'd be creative tension. And also just people's different styles being forced to work together. With the song, "Cherry," I just really wanted to write a very mellow, seductive, and still kind of dark shoegaze kind of thing. And just really let it exist with a groove rather than something more confrontational.
The lyrics aren't confrontational, but they're not breezy either.
Well, I mean, I think that in general, that song on one level is about romantic experience. Like, there's two characters going sleigh-riding and then one of the characters kills the other character. Which is very childish and very basic in that dramatic sense. But to me that song is about things we were talking about already, this idea that you have this expectation that things are going to be a certain way. In the lyrics of the song, the characters are thinking about how things are going to be. They're imagining, 'Oh this is going to be so great, this is going to be perfect, this thing that we really want.' And then, when you're actually going through with it, you're actually sliding down a hill, reality changes. I think about adolescence and childhood and expectations of growing up into a world where people get along and there's justice and there's kindness and then I find myself being almost 30 years old and terrified, always, about politics and mental health issues. Everything is different. It's a scary time to be alive and I think that that song in a way kind of mirrors that experience. 'Wow, this isn't really what I thought it was going to be.'
Is it an escape for you, writing like that?
Absolutely. That's a huge part of the way I deal with things. I try and create fake places to go to. I think that the problem is that sometimes I do it in real life and it's like, "No, that's not really what's going on." I'll concoct these notions of reality. Music is a really safe way to do that, a really productive way to do that, because fantasy worlds are these little handheld metaphors that you can pack things into and people can experience them too and you can share things with people. It can be really beautiful at times. But it's an escape for sure.
Does it make you feel better? Writing and performing?
I think it does. Even though we've been playing these songs now for a while and I've had these songs in my head for a long time, it's almost like if you wake up from a dream—a very vivid dream—and you kind of still feel the buzz of what happened in your dream—whether it was good or bad. And you wake up, like, "I was just in a place and now I'm not in that place anymore, and I know that wasn't real, but it really felt real, and I was there and I was going through it." I think that a lot of the times with songs, that's where I go to. Even if I'm playing a show and singing the parts, my head is navigating through these scenes. "Cherry" especially. I have these little visions. I can see the stuff in the lyrics. I can see the hill, I can see the snow, the blood. It's all cheesy on a certain level, but it does create a landscape visually. I do go to a place.
You've got a background in design. Does that help with those landscapes?
Yeah, but the design work that I do, it's not as surreal and vivid as the songwriting stuff. But I'm always kind of thinking and obsessing about things, so I guess I just always imaging false realities. It's kind of nice because I feel like I've been a kid always. Like, I'm still just 8 years old. I think I was probably sixteen when I heard that Modest Mouse line: 'I'm the same as I was when I was six years old / Oh my god I feel so damn old.' I remember hearing that and being sixteen and being, like, Wow, I guess I do still feel like I'm younger. And now I'm 28 and I feel exactly as childish as I did then.
That's good, right?
I think so. I think there's pressure to grow up. And I think people are lying, man. I think everyone is still a kid and everyone still has basic needs and basic emotional content that just comes out of them and goes through them and I think adulthood is... maybe it's a lie. Maybe it's a state of mind that people force themselves into. And I just don't buy it really. I don't want to buy it. I'm in denial of it.
Cherry are going out on tour across the East Coast in September and October in support of Dumbness. Check out the dates below:
September 29: Wilmington, DE @1984
September 30: New York, NY @TBA
October 1: Wilkes-Barre, PA @Burt and Ernie's
October 2 Toronto, ON @Smiling Buddha
October 3: Flint, MI @Churchill's Food+Spirits
October 4: Chicago, IL @Subterranean
October 5: Columbus, OH @Used Kids Records
October 6: Pittsburgh, PA @The Bushnell
October 7: Philadelphia, PA @Boot and Saddle
October 8: Baltimore, MD @Metro Gallery
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