Cheem’s pop rock genre is not ‘Clueless’: An interview with the New England band
“Everyone in our band is so talented [...] we all deserve a solo” —Cheem
If you know me, you know that I love musical theater, hip-hop, and classical music. Rock music? Not so much. But since I have been at Brandeis, my friends have slowly convinced me that rock, and specifically pop-rock, are genres worth listening to. Pop rock is considered to be an intersection of pop and rock music, which often uses instruments such as piano in conjunction with various guitars, drums, and synthesizers.
On a chilly Friday afternoon, I ran up the stairs in the Shapiro Campus Center to my virtual interview with Cheem, a pop-rock band that creates a genre-bending style. The March 10 interview consisted of me getting to know the band’s members and learning more about their story while they joined me from their tour van in Georgia. They were clear that they are very intentional about subverting expectations within the music industry and particularly the pop-rock music scene. This 5-member band declares their genre to be ‘nu pop,’ and while they have been around for some years, they truly feel at home with their own voice as a band and as artists.
Skye, with long hair wearing an adidas tracksuit, and Sam, wearing glasses, are the band’s vocalists, while Sean, wearing an entire khaki fit, is their head drummer. Both Gabe, in a simple blue shirt, and Nate, rocking locks and wearing a tee and jeans, are guitarists. When asked about their musical influences, they explained alternative rock music — particularly from the 90s and early 2000s — is their main inspiration. They try to incorporate that nostalgia into their own music style while balancing that with finding their own voice. “Cheem has been going through many forms over the years,” Gabe explained. The band was initially started in 2013 in high school by Gabe and Skye, Cheem’s founding members. They eventually grew as they found more talent through college friendships. Several of the members went to music school or had been playing music since they were young. “I think we were all very much playing music by any means necessary,” Skye said. He also shared that despite not receiving approval from his parents or his neighbors for playing guitar and drums in his house and garage, he loved it anyway.
The band explained that finding their voice and artistic style was very challenging. Skye took the lead, saying, “We try to combine new metal and pop-music,” while Sam added, “We come from an emo background.” The process was gradual to learn how to lean into other influences and not necessarily follow what everyone else is doing. Something I really enjoyed while listening to their music before the interview was seeing how unique they were in highlighting each other. Their songs often incorporated each member’s style, whether that was more light pop, heavy metal, rap, or hip-hop.
Cheem admitted that they are extremely interested in genre-bending work; while their influences are strong in 2000s pop rock, they generally like to take inspiration from modern music. “Even if one person writes a song, it’s kind of writing with the rest of the band in mind and then the parts get brought to the other members and they put their own sound on everything,” Skye said. This allows for each member of the band to express their individual talent and style with instruments and vocals.
Beaming with pride, Sam added on, “I feel like every member of the band is so talented [...] like we all deserve a solo!”
I transitioned our interview into looking at the meaning behind their songs and music. As I mentioned before, I had listened to some of Cheem’s songs from their latest album titled “Guilty Pleasure.” Specifically, one song from that album that stood out the most to me was called “Clueless,” so I shifted the conversation toward their music and particularly the meaning behind the lyrics in “Clueless.” Skye said, “I mean [the song is] about being upset at the music industry … [and] the people who work on the business side and their attempts to appeal to the general public.” Two of my favorite lines are “Tell me who you know from here or why your Soundcloud disappeared” and “How’s it feel to make-believe that you earned all you achieved?” The chorus includes a double entendre “get the picture, turn the other cheek,” which is not only about a metaphorical wake-up call or getting hit with reality, but it is also a reference to literally being imprisoned and having your mugshot taken. The band explained the meaning behind the metaphor in a separate interview with Flood, saying the song exposes the music industry as the ones “keeping artists as prisoners by getting them to sign terrible contracts.” The band explained that the music industry often pushes artists in a way that is not genuine, and the music that is created in this environment is very alienating to avid listeners. The song itself is a very transparent look at this inauthenticity, contrasted with their passion for making music.
Luckily for Cheem, they have found their voice and they don’t plan on changing it for anyone. Talking to each of the members of the band was powerful, and I was able to hear their stories and learn where they draw musical inspiration. Cheem may not be the most well-known band (yet), but they always put their best work in everything they do. They are all excited to keep making music, to expand their fan base, and hopefully to play in a festival like Coachella in the near future.
I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for this amazing band in the next few years!
SPEED ROUND Q & A
Advice for artists and musicians:
Sam: Take your time to build your audience.
Skye: Rehearse a lot before you ever play your first show!
Nate: Be mindful about meeting people; try to create organic connections.
Gabe: Don’t pull inspiration from only music; look everywhere for inspiration.
Sam: Frank Ocean
Favorite song (not including Cheem)?
Sam: “When it’s over” by Sugar Ray
Skye: “Prisoner” by 311 and “Pop” by NSYNC ( “that song changed my life”)
Nate: “Primus” by John the Fisherman
Gabe: “Oblivion” by Mastodon
Sean: “This must be the place LIVE” by Talking Heads
Favorite Cheem song:
Sam: “Fashion Valley,” “Smooth brain,” and “Snag” (“I have multiple favorite children.”)
Skye: “Worldstar” (“It’s like picking a favorite child”)
Nate: “Fashion Valley”