By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious.
2014 has been a big year for Jason Huber (synths/bass/drum machine) and Jordan Kelley (guitar/lead vocals), better known to you and me as CHERUB (styled in all caps, but almost certainly not always yelled). The Nashville-based duo released their second full length album and major label debut, Year of the Caprese, to critical acclaim and plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from the blogosphere literati. This reception was wholly justified: Not only did this album give us veritable hit single “Doses and Mimosas”, it also featured some of the sexiest, funkiest and most danceable neo-soul this side of Prince and the Revolution.
Huber and Kelley are seriously talented, and clearly having a hell of a good time with all of this, riding the wave of inspiration to release music at a prodigious rate relative to their contemporaries. We had a chance to catch up with CHERUB after a sound check last week, and just let it fly, discussing the album, extreme fans, and pug fashion.
How are you? Where are you guys right now?
We’re doing well. We are currently on our tour bus, which we’ve been riding around the country for our tour this fall… and we are sitting in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We’ve got a show that sold out about a week ago, which is really nice.
The band is originally from Nashville, right?
Yeah – we’re from Nashville. We didn’t actually tour in Nashville this time, but we reside there.
So how has your actual Year of the Caprese been going? Is it everything you expected?
Yeah, things have been going really well, and it’s been really awesome to see the way people have received the album. There are a couple of tracks that people were already responding to that seemed to be received well, but there were some other tracks that were stylistically a departure from other music that we had released, and people have really been responding to the tracks across the board. It’s been awesome for us that people have been listening to the whole album.
What did the creative process for this album look like? Did you guys have a clear idea of what you wanted it to sound like from the off?
This album was kind of unique from the other albums. We had a lot of time to put into this album, and we put about two years of work into this one spread out between touring. A lot of the other records, you know, we’d put out literally every six or seven songs we recorded…this time we recorded a whole bunch of songs and then went back into the studio and recorded even more. Then just the process in the studio is different from album to album. The first album really started with Jordan writing the basis for bunch of songs on his computer at first, on this program called Reason, and then us going to the studio and fleshing everything out. A lot of this new record started on drum machines, keyboards and guitars and things like that in the studio while we were sitting down and writing. It was a really fun album for me, and I feel like we really got the best out of our ability.
Give us a bit of background as to how the band came together – you guys met at Middle Tennessee State University…
…and have known each other since college. How did you two find each other?
We were both going to MTSU for music production, and there was a very strong group of friends – we all met in the dorm, and were in the same program together. We developed friendships, and it’s actually really cool because it’s the same group of friends that we still work with today. We’re really proud of that. Every single record that you’ve heard and you’ll hear has been mastered and engineered and produced by Nick Curtis, and he’s been friends with us since freshman year of college. Our tour manager – Ryan Hug – he’s also been friends with us since freshman year of college. It’s really cool we all met going to school for the same thing, and we’ve stuck together since.
I know this is totally off-point, but it kind of reminds me of The Dungeon Family and Outkast down in Atlanta – they had that kind of chemistry.
Yeah, they are a big influence for us.
So how long has this tour been going on, and how much longer does it run?
This is the second week into this tour, maybe the second-and-a-half week. It’s a two-month tour, and we’ll be doing this until November, and then we actually hop on tour with Capital Cities, which will be a lot of fun.
Your music is, on the surface, upbeat and sonically uplifting. Obviously, you’re talking about and dealing with a broad range of lyrical themes, including heartbreak, being broke, self-medicating and sexcapades… where does the inspiration come from?
Jordan is the songwriter, and I’m doing all the answering for us as he’s saving his voice for tonight. The inspiration really just comes from every day life. Things he runs into, and we run into, and things that everybody feels. He has the uncanny ability to take a personal topic and put it in perspective. It’s really kind of every day things.
Have you guys been surprised by the reception to the new album?
Not necessarily surprised us. We’re super stoked that people really like the “Freaky Me, Freaky You” and “Strip To This” – those are the ones that we were really excited about. We hoped that people who have been with the band from day one would still like those songs, and still stay with us, and they have so far.
Speaking of that, I caught your show at Made in America a couple of weeks ago, and you guys pointed out some dude in the crowd who had a cut out of your (Jason’s) head, I believe. What’s that guy’s deal – have you connected with him?
Yeah, that’s our friend Ry. He’s from New York. He made this giant cardboard cut out of Jordan’s face, and he lugs it to music festivals. He took it to one of our shows in Nashville last year, and we’ve seen him bring it to places around the country, and out of the country at this point, and he dances around with it up front at each show – it’s awesome. It’s really cool, and we’ve met a bunch of really cool people in our travels who are really weird and really awesome, and we are very lucky to get a chance to do this.
Yeah, it seems like you guys have a really devoted fan base. I first heard of CHERUB a few months ago actually – my good friend Brian Maher has seen you a few times, and he mentioned how you brought him up on stage during a show in Jacksonville (in November 2012), and let him push the button for the beat to drop. He was pretty happy about that.
[Laughs] Yeah! That’s awesome. That’s the interactive portion of our show.
What has been your favorite show or experience as performers to date?
It’s kind of hard to say at this point, just because there are so many shows that have been really, really awesome. It’s getting to the point that every show. I’m not saying that we perform awesome at every show, we’re not that full of ourselves – but the audiences and reception is getting better and it’s a lot of fun for us. The one that comes to mind is in Latvia recently, which is the furthest we’ve played from home. There were just a whole bunch of people singing along to every single lyric, and it’s really fun to be that far from home and have people know about the music.
What do you think is the most exciting thing about the music scene right now?
The most exciting thing happening in the music scene right now… is just people making music! People are just trying things out in different genres, and putting things out there.
If you could go on tour with any living artist, who would you want to tour with?
We would go on a 12 Days of Christmas tour with Mariah Carey. [Laughs]
That’s a great choice, her Christmas album is still on heavy rotation in my household.
Or, I would actually go on a metal tour with Suicide Silence. But we’ll have to get back to you on that.
So what’s on the cards for you guys in the near future, as you wrap up 2014 and start off 2015?
Wellll… as I was saying, we’re going to finish up this tour and then hop on with Capital Cities. Then we’re toying with the idea of flying back to Europe for a couple of dates over there, and finish up the year at home with friends and family and hitting up the studio. We might be writing another record, or maybe put out some short releases. We don’t really have a plan, except for making some music and seeing what happens.
What does a typical day off look like for you guys? What do you do with your free time?
[Laughs] With our days off things are kind of boring, I mean. When we have a lot of free time we’ll end up playing more music, as silly as that sounds. If we have a day off on tour, we’ll lay around and watch a movie. If we’re home, we’ll play with our dogs, do some laundry, maybe light a candle. [Laughs] Paint a picture. Maybe do some Yoga. I’ve been doing a lot of P90x on this tour. I like to ride my bike. Some Sudoku puzzles.
What kind of dog do you have?
She’s like half pug, half Chihuahua? We don’t really know. She’s really half pug, half amazing – she hangs out with these pit bulls all day, and she thinks she’s a big dog. She’s a big dog on the inside.
I don’t know if you’re aware, but pugs are killing it on social media these days.
The pug game these days is…off the chain. That was a dog pun – did you get it? [Laughs]
Yeah, that was a good one. So, I know we’re running out of time, but what’s the deal with the CHERUB app? Tell me about that.
Oh! Well, it’s this new thing we’re just starting. It’s our first adventure into making an app, so we’re learning as we go. We are using it as a way to collect all of our social media feed and be more interactive with our fan base. It’s a way for us to get everybody in one place and contact people, and host exclusive material as we do on our insider feed. Things like content, video, pictures – all that sort of fun stuff – and just do it for the people that actually want to be involved and want more than you could find on a regular website. It gives people access to everything they might want – ticket sales, merch links, links to new music – all that kind of stuff. It’s our first time doing it, and we’re learning as we go. We have a bunch of great people helping us, and it’s really fun.
That’s really cool. You guys are like the first Social/Local/Mobile band, I guess. I don’t know if you watch “Silicon Valley”, but that’s a reference to it – it’s a great show.
Ah yeah. We, uh, think the future is real cool. [Laughs]
Well, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, and we look forward to seeing you at the show at the 9:30 Club next week. It’s a great venue, with one of the best sound systems in the country.
We are super pumped about the show next week, and we’ve heard really good things about the venue. I just saw it was on a Billboard Top 10 List for venues across the country. I’m excited to hopefully shake some champagne on everybody. And by “hopefully” I mean I’m definitely going to shake champagne on everybody. [Laughs]