Cheekface on “It’s Sorted” and the State of Our Human Condition | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Cheekface on “It’s Sorted” and the State of Our Human Condition

The Most American Band Ever

Apr 12, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by Pooneh Ghana Bookmark and Share

The ubiquitous Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson almost didn’t make the cut for one of the cleverest rhymes on the Los Angeles-based Cheekface’s fourth album, It’s Sorted. The lyric snippet from the funk laden “I Am Continuing to Do My Thing,” goes “Waxing in Atlanta, waning in Wisconsin, vaping in the parking lot with Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson.” The cities were inspired by the starting and ending points of one of the band’s tours, but the wrestler turned Hollywood star not so much. “The lyric was actually A.J. “Alex” Johnson for a while. He’s our touring keys player. But it felt a little too much like an in-joke. We were just spitballing people and Dwayne Johnson just reared his bald head as the resolution to the thought,” band leader and co-songwriter Greg Katz shares. “There’s some songwriting tea for you.”

Katz is joined by his songwriting companion and bass player, Amanda Tannen, as well as drummer Mark “Echo” Edwards via Zoom for our interview on their recently released album. As with all of the trio’s albums, It’s Sorted was self-released and, in this case, surprise released as well. To the best of our collective knowledge, the album peaked out around #6 on the NACC (North American College & Community Radio Chart) and at the time of our talk was hanging in at #22 just ahead of Peter Gabriel’s i/o. Not one to allow for much dead air, Katz quips, “Eat my dust Peter Gabriel.”

Veterans of other projects, Cheekface has always been a DIY endeavor. “We didn’t start with any commercial aspirations,” says Katz. “We never had the thought of, ‘Let’s wait to put out this next release until we talk to all the record labels.’ It’s never lined up for us to give half our money to someone else. We feel more validated doing it ourselves. And considering we’re not trying to be a famous band it works for us. I think anyone can do it and anybody reading this interview should try it.”

Though the band is noted for its ever present sense of humor and musical homages to their heroes (both Minutemen and Elvis Costello come up in the opening moments of our talk), It’s Sorted is not without a serious side. “The album has a conceptual thread about belonging in society and the faces we put on to belong or distinguish ourselves as unique. How much of that is real versus how much is a face you put on to give an appearance to someone else and the complicated dance through a hall of mirrors that we do with our identities,” Katz explains. “Our identities and sense of belonging interact with the noisiness of society politically and the mix between wanting to belong to a bigger community and to be a unique individual node.”

These thoughts come to bear on the album’s second track, “Popular 2,” the idea of which sprung from Katz observing his neighbor during the COVID-19 lockdown. “I have a neighbor across the street whose front yard decoration is a head on a pipe. It looks real, but I doubt it is. It even has hair. Not only that but the guy rarely wears a shirt. I was watching people out of my window because I wasn’t doing anything and you start to form judgments about them. So the song is about the self-imposed surveillance state that people create in their own neighborhoods. People are worried that the government and big corporations are spying on us and rightly so. But on the flip side we’ve created a system of spying on others ourselves,” Katz explains.

Over the span of the band’s four albums, the band’s signature humor has remained intact, but musically things have advanced and continue to on It’s Sorted. “When Greg and I first started it was really just a get together on a Saturday to have fun finishing a song,” Tannen says. “It was very simple. Simple parts, simple construction, including the lyrics. As time progressed, our flow of writing got easier and quicker and we could add more. Let’s just add this because it sounds fun or add this instrumentation because I really want to write a song with that.”

“Even from the arranging or recording perspective every time we stepped outside our comfort zone we all had a lot of fun,” Edwards adds. “It’s been rewarding every time we’ve done something a bit different.” One instrument that has yet to appear on a Cheekface album is the seemingly ever present pedal steel. “I know it’s crazy, the alt-countrificaiton of indie rock is definitely occurring right now for some reason,” Katz says. To which Tannen promises to include the musical saw next time out.

While much of It’s Sorted sounds like musical fun and games in spite of the album’s underlying themes, one song stands out from the pack. “Don’t Stop Believing” (thankfully not a Journey cover) plays out as an acoustic hymn-like dirge and includes the not-so-funny line “what lives on is the destruction caused by market economics.” “I was straight up listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ on a maniacal loop,” explains Katz. “I wasn’t even thinking of starting a Cheekface song, but I was wondering if I could write a little hymn like that. We kind of kept toiling with it and rewriting the lyrics and it almost didn’t make the album. It ended up being exactly what the themes of the album are distilled down to its barest essence.”

Our interview took place a few days before the band was set to kick off their tour, which is starting in the U.K. Given the band’s focus on all things America and their own tagline of “America’s Local Band,” it was fair to explore how Cheekface plays to a non-U.S. audience (the band did have two prior shows in London for a point of reference). “I’m surprised we make sense to folks in the U.K., but they do seem to listen to us. I once listened to a British podcast review where one of the hosts said, ‘The first thing you need to know about Cheekface is it’s the most American band ever,’” Katz jokingly shares.

“They are the same as every Cheekface audience,” Tannen adds. “They are amazing and don’t just stand there with their arms crossed. They interact with us. It’s a party. It’s fun. One thing the U.K. fans do that we don’t see in the U.S. is that they sing along with the guitar riffs and the bass lines. I’d seen it in videos. So yeah, the kids across the pond know how to party.”

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