photo + words by ava butera
At the time of this interview, I braced the rush hour Blue Line and ventured my way up to Paul Cherry’s recording studio in Jefferson Park, Chicago -- a bit of a hike from my usual stomping grounds. But I conquered through nonetheless, being that I was eager to be interviewing one of my proudest music discoveries of the year.
Although he’s been making me since 2014 (and even earlier if you count the years before he officially put out material), I stumbled across his brilliant effort, Flavour. Having been expanding my music taste as of late, I felt like I had struck gold with this record. It’s genius, it’s unique, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen or, moreso heard from modern artists. Paul is truly doing something nobody else is doing at the moment and I feel like he needs to be applauded for that.
Infusing elements of jazz and indie rock, Paul Cherry firstly captivates audiences with his laid-back, yet attentive sound. Though when examining his music deeper, the lyrical content proves to be striking and pensive. Even though he has yet to make it big per se, I know soon enough the rest of the music community will soon discover Paul Cherry’s talent and cherish it as much as I do.
What caused the sound progression from “On Top” to “Flavour”?
Paul Cherry: The sound change was because I really wanted to be considered in a certain way. I didn’t really feel like my last record made me be considered in a way I wanted to be.
Ava: What do you mean?
Paul: You know how you have that idea of who you are in your head? You want everybody to see you the way that you’re seeing yourself in your head. That On Top tape -- I felt like I’d miss something. I was pushing out something, but I didn’t really think it was me. So I wanted to make an album that was really me. You know? I didn’t really feel like the person that was making the first tape was me. This new record is a good representation of how I see my mind working.
I heard that the most prevalent theme throughout Flavour is miscommunication. Where did this idea stem from? Did incorporating this into the project happen organically or did you want to convey this message in the first place?
Paul: It was kind of something that was just naturally coming up when I was going to write lyrics. When I was looking at all the songs I had in my batch, I was like ‘what do these songs have in common?’ They all kind of came independently of each other and I was like ‘wow there’s a lot of lyrics about being on your phone and misinterpreted messages.’ It just kind of ended up being what the lyrical content what being pointed towards. So after I was aware that four or five songs were kind of about that, then my mind was more geared to committing to that idea. Then I eventually put the skits into the album as like more of an overt way to tie that theme together. Does that make sense? It really hammered it home. This is a 30 minute piece of music that’s about something.
How do you feel social media has played a part in your growth as a musician?
Paul Cherry: It’s played a great part in growing my ego (laughs). I’m just kidding. Pretty much, it’s taken me to a level where with social media alone, led me to a place where I didn’t have to work a lot this year at a job. Like, the social media benefits were great because if I posted about having a record online, and if I post about it and ask my record label if we sold any right after I posted something, we sell a bunch. So I’ve realized that the best use of social media is that I can sell my records through it and it’s pretty crazy.
How do you feel pursuing music full-time has impacted you as an artist? Or do you even do it full time?
Paul Cherry: Oh man. I kind of do it half full-time. It’s weird. For the last two months, I haven’t had a job at all and I’ve just been focusing on musical projects. But then the money just runs out, it’s never infinite. So I had to scramble to get this construction job that I’ve been working on for the last week and half. And then I was working at a coffee shop earlier this year, but I toured too much so they were like ‘you can’t work here if you’re touring this much’ and when I came back, they didn’t have any room for me. But then they ended up having a spot. So I went from having no job for two months to having two jobs. It’s so weird how the full-time music thing is never permanent but sometimes you can get a gig that pays you really well or you can get a tour where the merch sales are really good. Then you have extra money and then you can use that to create free time for yourself and that’s the best thing ever. But the full-time thing, is not really me yet. Pursuing it full-time is fun and it’s pretty challenging. Yesterday I was talking to Matt [his drummer] and I was like ‘I feel worthless, I can’t come up with a song”. When all your eggs are in one basket and your shit’s not working right, you get really scared. You think you don’t know how to write a song, but you do know how, you’re just overworking yourself. You know the writer’s block thing.
Ava: Yeah, I know.
Paul: But then at the same time you want to have another album ready for 2019. It’s very difficult to reckon with. ‘Can I get an album in the time these people want me to?’
Ava: Do you think you’ll be able to?
Paul: Yeah, I think so! I just can’t doddle.
I know you pretty much self-produce everything, but have you ever considered collaborating with other musicians in the Chicago scene? More so mixing and producing with them, as opposed to just like being featured on a track.
Paul: Well, I’ve been putting my efforts forward on a few Chicago bands like engineering and recording. I’ve connected with this band in Kansas City that I’ll be recording my next album with. It’s going to be me, Matt and this guy, Ross from Kansas City. He’s in a band called Shy Boys.
Ava: I’ve never heard of them.
Paul: Well, they’re really good, you should check them out. I actually like to have my collab circle pretty closed off.
Ava: I mean, that’s fine too.
Paul: I want to do more collaborations on other people things like singing on their tracks and stuff like that. For my music, it’s so finicky. But this guy Ross that we’re working with is really good at recording. He’s a whiz. It’s like a dream to work with him.
I know you just started touring as solo last year. How have you matured in that sense? What have you learned from being on the road?
Paul: I’ve seen some really good live bands.
Ava: Like who?
Paul: Like Sunset Rollercoaster and The Marias. Recently, those were the two bands that I saw live that made me think that in indie rock and you can get away with being kind of shitty a lot’ You can get away with playing a pretty average set and people still think you’re cool. But then I saw these two bands and I was like damn these guys are good. They’re going to be way bigger because they have this amazing live sound. I’ve learned that you can have an amazing live sound and still be lower level indie rock. And that’s what I want. I want to have an amazingly, sick, pro, really crispy-sounding live set.
What should we expect from one of your live performances? I know we already kind of touched on that, but still.
Paul: Right now, you can expect my entire album. I play the whole thing (laughs) -- I’m working on a bunch of cool new songs and they’ll be really fun to play live and have a really good vibe. I want to have a longer set. I know what songs feel like the fun ones to play and ones that feel like I’m kind of forcing it. I know what I want to be doing live, but I’m not doing it now. I think it’s just about writing songs that will do the things that I want them to do live.
Ava: So are you going to be playing any new stuff on Saturday [Post Animal & Paul Cherry show at Metro in Chicago on Dec. 15th]?
Paul: No because I don’t have any ready.
Ava: Oh, I thought you had some finished.
Paul: Nothing is complete.
Ava: So do you play your whole album consecutively or out of order?
Paul: Kind of out of order.
Ava: You could do it consecutively and put all the skits in between.
Paul: We’ve done that before. We did it at Pitchfork and it was pretty cool.
I know for a period of time you were touring with Speak Low If You Speak Love. Did you ever consider going down the pop-punk/emo route soundwise having been exposed to that scene for a period of time?
Paul: Wow, you did your research!
Ava: I know (laughs)! I used to really be into that genre of music too, so I remember.
Paul: Oh really?
Ava: I never saw Speak Low because I lived in Florida and they never came down there but I used to like them.
Paul: You know the band State Champs?
Ava: Yeah, I was actually listening to them this morning.
Paul: So Ryan, the bass player, I went to high school with him and he’s been one of my best friends since way back. Like early high school, ninth grade. The reason I played in the bands like Northbound and Speak Low is because I was in college and I wasn’t really doing anything and those dudes were like ‘you want to play?’ And I did it after college too. It was fun. I got hired, I got paid, I got to tour and play lots of sold out shows but it was just a different phase in my life. It was pretty fun. But I never considered making that sound. I just don’t listen to music like that, I never did. Even when I was playing with them, I didn’t know any of the bands we were going on tour with. I didn’t really dig that music. It was just like a fun time on the side. Just because all those guys were and still are my best friends, I love them, and it was fun to go on tour with your really good friends. I got to go on tour in Japan with Speak Low, which was really cool.
Ava: So what did you listen to then if you didn’t like that stuff?
Paul: Well I was probably worshipping Mild High Club. I was really inspired by that stuff.
Did you just start recording stuff for your next album? How has that been going?
Paul: There’s a couple songs where I have to do some stuff to them. We probably started working on this in July or August. I had like two songs. I’ve been looking to write everyday. So really, since I got back from my tour in Europe. In early November, is when I started taking it seriously. It’s been hard, but I’ve been taking it slow. But we have deadlines and stuff. But it’s more like tentative deadlines.
What’s a band or artist you’ve been loving that we should check out? Can be from here or wherever.
Paul: The stuff that Matt’s been listening to is really good but I don’t know if he wants to give away the secret (laughs).
Matt: Do you have Spotify?
Matt: It’s called A Year In Your Garden by Column.
Ava: I’ll check it out.
Besides the string of dates you’re doing with Vundabar in February, where will we be seeing you in the new year? Still in the studio? Tours? Festival appearances?
Paul: There will be tours, I just can’t tell you what they are yet. There will be some pretty cool ones, I think. There will be more music. All in time. Maybe some South by Southwest dates.