Herald the age of Cheerleader, ladies and gentlemen: the new buzz band for whom Philadelphia shall serve as a springboard to stardom. Last week at Kung Fu Necktie, they made their live Philly debut in a haze of mysterious upstairs warmth and cigarette smoke. The sound was pretty terrible, and the first song was full of shrill feedback cries. But the room was full, and Cheerleader executed 10 lovely, well-rounded and loud power pop songs blessed with a catchy and beguiling patina.
They’ve only got a demo with three songs on it—“New Daze,” “Do What You Want” and “Dreamer”—but they shot a nice video for “Daze,” and the blogs went absolutely nuts. Seriously, they’ve racked up a nice little stack of URLs for being a baby band. Maybe the biggest deal yet is NME—London’s legendary ‘zine, New Musical Express—calling them its Buzz Band of the Week in its Jan. 25 issue. MTV dubbed ‘em Buzzworthy last May. That’s a whole lot of buzz for an unsigned band with three songs and a video. And Cheerleader isn’t raising brows with any particular “look” or reputation for wild behavior, either. Honestly, these guys might just have the goods.
Chris Duran, 27, and Joe Haller, 26, met in Connecticut, New England’s richest and most boring state, before they fled to Philly’s booming bosom. But their musical journey began so humbly and modest that it’s practically the indie-rock fairytale you’re almost tired of hearing—We never thought we’d get this far! We just love music!—and that’s almost, because these guys are ours, and they mean what they say.
“We can’t make demands,” Haller confesses, sitting in a downstairs booth at the Fishtown hipster haunt after their gig. “We’re a new young band.” Duran partially agrees; he certainly had expectations that their sound would be solid tonight. “I was pretty pissed off,” he says, “at the feedback on that first song.”
Having listened to the Cheerleader demo, it was a pleasant surprise to hear an album’s worth of good, fully realized songs—tracks that sound grand, solid and rich with complexity. There’s an irresistible aural takeover when you’re listening intently. The tracks have that Wall of Sound nature to them; they barrel over you with Ronnie Spector and Beach Boys tones.
Duran and Haller have employed three other guys to make them a quintet, with Haller on rhythm and lead vocals and Duran taking the lead on guitar. Paul Impellizeri, Josh Pannepacker and Carl Bahner assist by picking up respective bass, drum and synth duties. It allows them to blast out vibes that resemble Broken Social Scene, but BSS is almost a little too bohemian and gentle in comparison.
Some of the bands that Cheerleader loves might surprise you. The influences of locals like the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile (“‘Red Eyes’ is so fucking good,” chimed Duran.) and other Philly luminaries like Swearin’ and Waxahatchee can be heard, too, but they also love the late J. Dilla and Wu-Tang Clan. It wasn’t hard to get Duran and Haller to geek out on records they’re digging these days; they even admitted to having band crushes on HAIM and Deafheaven. “We love pop music. We listen to the radio a lot,” Haller says. Still, they don’t seem interested in making music that’s inaccessible or niche-based. They want to make records with a pop sheen that gets their music appreciated by as many ears as possible.
“There was a point in time where all we wanted was to be a part of Pitchfork,” Duran admits. “Pitchfork, in our eyes, was the end-all and be-all. But at this point, we just want to make music all the time. Staying hip and staying cool can just be exhausting. We’re not cool dudes,” he adds, as Haller nods his head in agreement. “We watch Battlestar Galactica. We’re not trying to be super-hip.”
All that said, we’re fairly certain that adoration from indie tastemakers is in Cheerleader’s future. This March, they’ll be making that time-honored pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for SXSW. The band’s hoping to knock some shows out of the park, attract some new interest and continue to make a name for itself. “We’ve never been to Austin before,” says Duran. “It’s just gonna be ‘Keep our heads above the sand, blow people away as much as we can, spread the word, and play some good sets.’”
The group is currently in talks with labels and seem poised—and hungry—to hunker down to record a juicy EP or a statement debut album. “We’re hoping to work pretty hard on the social media stuff, get our names out there, make an Internet presence and write songs that we’re really proud of,” Duran says.
But all in good time, they say. No matter the sport, every cheerleader needs a strong platform from which to dazzle, flip and charm an audience into a frenzy. And Philly’s the solid foundation for this one, pom poms or no.