Cheatahs Talk Touring With Wavves, Accepting ’90s Comparisons + the Joys of Cranking Your Guitar
Cheatahs aren’t trying to fool anyone. Sure, they sound like an all-American alt-rock band MTV would have played back in the heyday of ‘120 Minutes,’ but they make no secret of the following facts: They’re not all Americans, and they were mere lads back in the ’90s, when their supposed influences were giving angsty teens a reason to stay up late on Sunday nights.
A British band, at least in terms of home base, Cheatahs comprise Canadian singer-guitarist Nathan Hewitt, English guitarist James Wignall, American bassist and producer Dean Reid and drummer Marc Raue, a native of Dresden, Germany. The four came together in London, fleshing out a project Hewitt had started in 2009 as a solo venture following a stint with Male Bonding. Last year, the foursome self-produced and released a pair of EPs, ‘SANS’ and ‘Coared,’ and those two sets have since been combined to form ‘Extended Plays,’ an eight-song kinda-sorta album the band dropped in February and recently promoted via a six-week U.S. tour with Wavves and FIDLAR.
Shortly before that trek wrapped, Diffuser.fm caught up with the fellas at a Mexican diner in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they chatted about life on the road, the constant comparisons to ’90s bands and the status of their forthcoming full-length debut.
You’re touring with Wavves and FIDLAR, two bands known for their hard partying. How has it been so far? A lot of debauchery?
Nathan Hewitt: I think both of those bands have done it for so long, the hard living, that they’re trying to keep it relatively sensible. Obviously, there have been some messy nights, for sure, but generally speaking, they’re professional, too. It’s been the longest, busiest tour I’ve ever been on.
When you get back to the U.K., will there be a period of detox?
NH: Just sleep for like a week. That’d be great.
Were there any cities that surprised you — places you didn’t think would be cool but were great?
NH: Yeah, man. Omaha was awesome. That was surprising. Cleveland. Santa Barbara was one of the best shows. Where else? Detroit was so good. Every place we played, pretty much. It’s a sold-out tour, with three similar bands, as far as guitar and stuff goes, so people are just up for it.
Being that you’re Canadian, had you spent much time in the States as a kid?
NH: I did a trip when I was younger to Disneyland. When I was growing up, we did holidays and stuff, but I’ve seen more of America in this month than I ever have.
What’s the status of the full-length? How far along are you guys?
NH: It’s pretty close. We’ve pretty much tracked everything. We just need to mix it. We’re 90 percent there, I guess. Everything’s written. We recorded it over a month in January. When we recorded it, there was all this other stuff was happening at the same time: preparing for the tour, visas, loads of personal things. It was really stressful. It’s good to have some time away from it, so we can come back an realize a great album, hopefully.
Dean Reid: We actually spent a week back in the fall in this cottage in Cornwall. It was really peaceful — this nice, beautiful valley. We set up a little personal rig and just cranked it and played all day, for five or six days in a row. We’d never really played every day for a week before, so those little demos became the basis for this record. It’s a lot more cohesive-sounding than ‘Extended Plays,’ which is out now. ‘Extended Plays’ was an afterthought. We released two EPs. It was never meant to be one body of work. It’s kind of weird now it’s out, and we’re sort of promoting it like it’s our album now, but the one we’re finishing now is our real proper album. I’m a lot more proud of it.
The more people talk about this “’90s revival” sound and compare you to groups like Dinosaur Jr., does it make you want to push back and do something different?
James Wignall: I don’t know how you can do anything with guitar these days and people not qualify it with, “Oh, it’s ’50s or ’60s.” It’s just the way people get a handle on different things. It’s a really fluid term when people say “grunge” or “’90s rock.” There are so many bands in this area, so I don’t know what people mean. With the second record, people will hopefully compare it to our first record, and then you don’t have to worry about it so much.
NH: But I understand. I’d be like, “That kind of sounds like My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. and all these bands I really like.”
JW: People see those names and say, “I like that stuff. Let’s check it out.” I think we definitively have our own sound. There are influences there, but when there’s loud guitars, you’re going to struggle to shake those [kinds of comparisons].
NH: It’s stuff we grew up listening to and loved. It’s a complement, I guess. You’ve got to take it that way.
DR: It started on acoustic, and every show we played, we’d add something different, a different instrument. And then we were just like, “You know what, the funnest thing in the world to do is crank your guitar really loud with a fuzzy pedal and sing songs.”
On those EPs, the lyrics are kind of abstract, but there’s this sense in some of the songs that you’re looking back and reminiscing. Does that carry over with the new material?
NH: I think that’s probably the biggest difference: the lyrics. When I was writing some of [the older] songs, because I moved from a different country, I was like, I didn’t know what I was doing at that time. [I was thinking] I would maybe have a band or something. I think with the songs [James and I] came up with now … we’re looking at ourselves where we are now.
JW: You write what you know. A few of the songs I’ve written the lyrics to are about breakups, but I’d never want to write very obvious songs about, “My heart’s broken,’ as much as I love those soul songs where you wear your heart on your sleeve. I like writing abstract lyrics. I don’t want people to necessarily understand what they’re about on first listen, but I want them to enjoy the words and maybe impress their own meaning on them if that works for them. Sometimes I don’t really want to know what a song is about, because I’m forming my own meaning about my own experiences.
You guys have gotten a fair amount of buzz, but you’re not on the level of, say, Palma Violets, where you’re almost over-hyped. Do you feel like you’re in a good spot?
NH: Definitely. As soon as I hear the name [Palma Violets], I’m like, “I hate that band.” It’s just the reaction I have. I actually kind of like that band, but you don’t want it shoved in your face so much.
JW: I always feel slightly sorry for that band. I don’t know if they know what they’re letting themselves in for. There’s so much hype. They can never live up to it. We’re in this for as long as we can do it. I like the slow-burning thing, gradually getting more people into you and more fans. I don’t think it helps anything if you’ve got that huge buzz.
You guys all come from other projects — do you see Cheatahs as a three- or four-album band, something that could go for 10 years or something?
DR: Who knows? We’re already thinking about the second album. And the thing is, we’ve done so much [of the production] on our own backs. If we got dropped in a year, we could still make an album and keep going, if we want to.
NH: We’re just enjoying it. It’s the only reason we started it.
JW: Just having that luxury of hanging out with your friends and making music with them … we’d forgotten along the way how fun that was.
Marc Raue: It felt like a natural process, finding each other. The fact we’re doing everything in the band is quite a privilege. I’m really enjoying recording with the band, mixing everything together.
NH: That’s the best way to be.
Watch Cheatahs’ Video for ‘The Swan’