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Premiere: Cherry Cheeks' Wildly Manic Synth-Punk Returns on "Pure Power"

While Kyle Harms' Portland-based synth-punk project Cherry Cheeks has evolved into a full band over the last year, their anticipated new album CCLPII shows them once again in their Portland-based home recording by themselves, making adrenaline-soaked garage punk armed with a knack for infectious hooks. Ahead of the release on Total Punk Records next October, today we have the pleasure in premiering the album's second single "Pure Power," an animated and chaotic lo-fi frill loaded with charging synths and warbly guitar overdubs. We also caught up with Harms to talk all about the making of the new album, injecting a darker tone on its flip side, and how spending time on the road with Research Reactor Corp. and Gee Tee last year informed much of it.

Photo by Dougal Gorman

Formed in Orlando, but now based in Portland, Cherry Cheeks, the clamorous punk band led by Kyle Harms, came out of pandemic boredom in 2020. After releasing a handful of EPs and limited tape runs, Harms caught the attention of Total Punk Records (Theee Retail Simps, Tee Vee Repairmann, Sick Thoughts) for the release of their 2021 self-titled debut that kept the whole weird-as-hell "egg-punk" flag flying high with dizzying cuts like "Shell" and "Alone." Over the last year, Cherry Cheeks branched out into a full band and even though the lineup changes depending on availability, the usual is comprised of lead guitarist Kyle Elferdink, rhythm guitarist Brandon Marcoux, bassist Delaney Walatka, and drummer Matt Schulze. Following up last year's Under The Gun-released Cherry Radio EP, Harms is back with a new Cherry Cheeks full-length simply titled CCLPII.

While its another solo venture for Harms (a full band release will surely come later), the synthetic oddball punk and brilliantly new wave nerves are still at the forefront of the attack on CCLPII. The songs are more fleshed out, the songwriting is as crisp as ever and the production is packed with frantic guitar runs and discordant synths that microwave your brain. After releasing last month's biting lead single "Hard Stancing," today we have the pleasure in premiering Cherry Cheeks' latest single "Pure Power," an animated and chaotic lo-fi frill that takes a much darker turn with its razor sharp lyrics dealing with Harms' experience with prescription mood stabilizers. Much of that is disguised by Harms' intricately-laid layers of buzzing synths and warbly guitar overdubs that clog your earholes — it's another banger of Devo-indebted rock 'n' roll!

Along with the premiere, we also caught up with Harms to talk all about the making of the new album, injecting a darker tone on its flip side, and how spending time on the road with Research Reactor Corp. and Gee Tee last year informed much of it.

Paperface Zine: What has it been like expanding Cherry Cheeks into a full band compared to the initial bedroom recordings you did yourself beginning in 2020?

Kyle Harms: It's been a great experience. I'm a huge fan of performing. Getting on stage and having a full band backing me makes me free to really get into performing the material in more ways than just playing the music live.

PZ: What has it been like relocating the project from Orlando to Portland?

KH: So, in Orlando, the project's existence really boiled down to me sitting in my single-room studio apartment and writing and recording material. There was no live element until my move to Portland. This being the case it was more like I was really starting the band when after I moved and just conveniently had a lot of material to work with at the beginning of it all. I'd say it was a fairly seamless transition.

Photo by Dougal Gorman

PZ: Your new album CCLPII picks up where last year's Cherry Radio EP left off with its adrenaline-soaked garage punk and hooky lo-fi frill. Talk to me about how exactly these ten tracks came together in your Portland home?

KH: I wrote most of these songs over the course of 2022, with a few (like "Ad Shark") coming from the vaults to be re-recorded. The A-side of the album was mostly written and recorded in the two weeks subsequent to completing our East Coast tour. It takes a lot of patience to put songs together in a small living room typically occupied by roommates, but I'm thankful to have any space at all to do this stuff. Having just now moved into a much larger living situation I'm excited to have an actual studio space to occupy instead.

PZ: Today, we're premiering the new album's second single "Pure Power" where your biting vocals and piercing synths are at the forefront. How did this track come together and did you have a particular vision behind it? Some parts remind me of "Mr. B's Ballroom" by Devo.

KH: This track was one of the few written years earlier and reworked for the album. In line with the track "What Went Wrong?," "Pure Power" is about my previous experiences with prescription mood stabilizers. This song in particular is just about the feeling I'd get when I would run out of pills (I wasn't a very organized person at this point in my life). It would often feel like all of the suppressed emotions would take over and wreak their havoc. When I first recorded this track it was something I was working on a video for to test out equipment I had gotten my hands on. I ended up enjoying the feel of it and thought it would work well for the album. Of course, I am heavily influenced by Devo and I wouldn't be surprised if you told me any of my songs reminded you of them. They rock.

Photo by Dougal Gorman

PZ: It feels like the flip side of the album takes a darker and more sinister turn with this song included. What made you take this approach?

KH: For a few months before recording this album, I had been on a binge of listening to Kitchen and The Plastic Spoons. I think I just felt like recording something that sounded stressed, industrial, and just overall darker. I love making the listener feel like I'm a little stressed out voice in their head telling them things they already know but ignore. PZ: From this new album, do you have any songs in particular that you're most proud of?

KH: From the perspective of songwriting, I was really happy with the song "Switch." It was probably the song I had the most fun recording. It's a silly song but also true to myself. From a recording perspective, I like the snare on that one and that is a rare statement for me to make because damn snares can be tough to get right.

Photo by Pablo A Martínez

PZ: How did touring the East Coast last year with Sydney punks Research Reactor Corp., Gee Tee, and Satanic Togas influence the direction of the new album?

KH: I'd say that I had so much fun that I just came back from tour wanting to write a lot of really fun songs. I wanted to write songs that made people feel as silly and stupid (in the best way) as we were feeling on tour. Songs like "Switch," "Mourning Sky," "Bunny Does Ice," they're meant to be fun 'n dumb. I tried to invoke a feeling of not taking myself or others too seriously. PZ: How did your "kinda" Australian tour happen back in May? The show with Itchy and the Nits and Tee Vee Repairmann looked like a ripper!

KH: After our fall tour I just really missed that crowd. I knew I had an audience in Australia and, while I didn't have the resources to tour the whole country, I wanted to go there really badly. It took a lot of work on the part of Billy (Research Reactor Corp.) to plan it all out and make it work and for that I'm forever grateful. The whole experience was amazing and I'd do it again in a heartbeat (and will very likely tour the whole country next time around). I was completely blown away by how much they love to rock. Those shows were crazy.

Photo by Caitlyn Ridenour

PZ: It was really cool catching you live at Total Punks Goner 19 after show at Hi Tone last year. What has it been like translating these songs live from their bedroom recordings? Do you still plan to make the live shows multimedia in the Devo-theatrical sense?

KH: I'm glad you mentioned this! I do remember telling you that in our last interview and the answer is still yes! I didn't have the space to really do make or store any props or to rehearse theatrics, but now that I do it's all I can think about. Having a workshop to build in's a game changer. PZ: The new album's cover art is another collaboration by the incredibly talented Under the Big Black Sun. How did you get in touch with them and what has it been like working with them for the last couple years?

KH: I first spoke to Karol after noticing the great artwork they had done for the YouTube channel Tegoslucham. From there we have developed a good working relationship. Our initial contact was simply an email from me telling them I loved their art and that i would love for them to do my album art. I've received many compliments on the album artwork and I couldn't be happier to have them back again doing the artwork for the second LP. They do a great job of injecting the sort of bratty feeling I want to give off to my audience.

Photo by Pablo A Martínez

PZ: I see you'll be supporting Matt and Kim for a few shows in October. How big is that for you and what are you most excited about? Cherry Cheeks' biggest stage yet?

KH: It's an amazing opportunity! Kim [Schifino] is a huge supporter of this scene and that hasn't gone unnoticed. It's very exciting to be able to support them on the West Coast leg of their tour. We've wanted to hit some of these cities for a while now and I can't think of a better way to do it. These stages and crowds are likely to be the largest we've ever played for but I'm excited about that!

PZ: What else is on the horizon for Cherry Cheeks?

KH: We'll soon be planning our 2024 European tour, and hopefully the dates for that will be announced early next year. Beyond this, we have a split with the Ghoulies that should be coming out some time next year as well. Plenty to look forward to.

CCLPII is out October 1st on Total Punk. Pre-order the wax here and check out Cherry Cheeks' tour dates with Matt and Kim below.


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