Interview Upbringing: Cheatahs

Thrashing four-piece dig into their early musical obsessions.

With their new ‘Sunne’ EP, Cheatahs take the finest aspects of their 2014 self-titled debut and dive even further into the deep unknown. There’s no going by the book, a complete refusal to tick boxes underlining every move. Saw-toothed and merciless, it’s an obsessive exhibition in thrashing fuzz, the kind that doesn’t come naturally.

Which leads us to the obvious conclusion that Cheatahs must’ve had one hell of a musical upbringing to wind up making music like this. They were either raised in a house full of amplifiers, or they had a transformative epiphany midway through their teens that showed them The Way Of Fuzz.

We figured it’d be a good time to ask the thrashing four-piece about how they came to be - in Upbringing, DIY’s favourite acts talk about their pre-coming-of-age musical obsessions, the moments in their lives that helped shape them into who they are today.

Answers come courtesy of Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall (both vocals / guitar), so we’re getting perspectives from both sides of the Atlantic.

What was the first gig you ever went to?

James Wignall: I can’t remember exactly, but one of the first ones was a Christian rock band in a church hall in Leicester. They were called Damascus Road. I was still going to church at the time (my parents are pretty religious), and I went with some other kids and one of the youth leaders. Anyway, it was one of the worst things I’ve ever heard, just so so bad, and the guys in the band looked a bit embarrassed; I remember feeling a bit sorry for them.

Nathan Hewitt: The first time I ever went to a concert to see someone perform was with my mom who took me to see Liona Boyd (a Canadian classical guitarist) I remember because on the way there I’m pretty sure I thought, ‘This is the first concert i’m ever going to and it’s with my mom’.

"Big influence outside of music? Deadlines."

Was there a good supply of venues to go to in your hometown?

JW: Yeah it was pretty good in Leicester until about 10 or so years ago - you had the Charlotte, where I played a good few times and where I saw a few decent bands passing through on tours. It closed down a few years ago, but the building’s still there and people say it’ll reopen, which I hope is true. There are other venues that I loved, too, like The Magazine and The Pump and Tap (and they had the added bonus of serving beer to 15-year-olds). Leicester university had (and still has) some good bands, too; I remember being about 14/15 and seeing Teenage Fanclub there, supported by Superchunk. That was pretty great. Living in London I’m a bit out of the loop, but The Cookie Jar on High St is pretty good.

NH: I grew up in a town just outside of Edmonton (which does have decent music venues) but Morinville (said town) didn’t have any. It had a community hall where we could go perform in talent shows/battle of the bands or go see local punk bands scream at each other in the basement of the hall. I remember the hall shows being really fun and really intimidating. There weren’t many parents and everyone would be drinking underage and getting into fights. I once played drums in a cover band at the hall. The song we butchered was ‘Born to be Wild’.

Can you remember the first song you ever developed an obsession over?

JW: Well, I was lucky that the older brother of my best friend when I was a kid had great taste and would lend me all these classic American alt-rock records, so from the age of 11 or 12 I was introduced to all these 80s classics like Dino’s Bug, Murmur by REM etc. So really it was obsessing over lots of songs at a time, rather than just one.

NH: I had the Kris Kross - ‘Jump’ cassette on repeat for ages. But I remember getting totally obsessed with Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’.

What was the first song you purchased with your own money, and why did you choose it at the time?

JW: Maybe ‘Parklife’ by Blur - I think every little indie kid bought that, didn’t they?

NH: I think the first CD I ever bought was Elvis Presley’s ‘Greatest Hits’. I remember running around the house in circles singing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ like a jerk.

What’s the story behind you getting your first instruments?

JW: My dad always had an acoustic guitar knocking around (he’s a good guitarist and banjo player - he used to play Earl Scruggs and fast picking stuff like that before his arthritis got too bad), and one day - I must have been around 10 or so - I just really had the urge to pick it up. My dad showed me a few chords and that was it for me, I couldn’t put it down. After a while I really wanted an electric guitar, and a friend of my older brother had this cheap Hondo II strat copy that he didn’t want anymore and so he gave it to me. I flipped out, I was so happy. I still have the guitar to this day - it’s completely trashed but I still love it.

NH: I used to watch this TV show called “Fred Penner” who’s main character (Fred) played guitar. I think I had a plastic guitar to jam along to his shitty songs with until I asked for a real one. I had to take a year of piano before I was allowed to get a classical guitar. Then I had to play classical for 3 years before I was allowed an electric. Thanks mom.

What’s your worst musical habit?

JW: Sometimes not wearing ear plugs when we play live. Really stupid.

NH: I remember in an old band I would break a string like every single show. I’d just get really nervous or drunk and play like 5 times harder live for some reason. Took a while before I could calm down and strum properly. I remember telling the singer after one show, “hey at least I didn’t break a string this time!”

What kind of inspirations outside of music have an impact on your songwriting?

JW: Gerhard Richter’s approach to painting has inspired me lot, as have other abstract artists like Cy Twombly, and Jackson Pollock - his Greyed Rainbow at the Art Institute of Chicago, which I saw last year on a day off during a tour, blew me away - it’s music, you can hear it. And ‘Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X’ by Bacon - the illusion of actual movement he creates around the head, as if he’s in a constant state of being beamed up… I could look at that for hours. Poetry has always inspired and helped me due its inherent musicality. Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Frank O’Hara are some favourites; Jack Kerouac too - the recordings of him reading his poetry are great.

NH: Everything I guess. My songwriting usually gets better when I’m down or frustrated or really bored. If i’m happy and content I usually can’t write anything. Deadlines are also another big influence.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a band?

JW: Give everything you have, but remember to have fun.

NH: Make music you want to listen to.

If you could be any band from the past two decades, who would you be and why?

JW: That’s a tricky one - I’lI cheat a bit and assume that if they’re still around and doing stuff it counts. So I’d choose Roky Erickson’s band. Just for one show would be enough. Cheatahs playing back up on Slip Inside This House or Reverberation with Roky singing? It wouldn’t get much better than that.

NH: I would be Metallica so I could have broken up the band just after ‘The Black Album’ - I think it’s obvious why.

Cheatahs’ ‘Sunne’ EP is out 23rd February on Wichita. Check out forthcoming live dates here.

Tags: Cheatahs, Upbringing, Features

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