Through The (Indie) Haze: An Introduction To Cheerleader

Philadelphia-based hazy electro-pop band Cheerleader are about to give you something to, well… you know… (Atwood’s editors refuse to be that cheesy). Cheerleader are less than a month away from releasing their debut album, The Sunshine Of Your Youth (out 5/19 via Bright Antenna Records), and it promises to be one of the more exciting indie releases of the summer.

"The Sunshine Of Your Youth" album cover // out May 19, 2015
The Sunshine Of Your Youth – Cheerleader

The Sunshine Of Your Youth finds Cheerleader coming into their own with a distinctively hazy, full, electro-pop-enriched indie sound. Brightly textured and vibrantly multi-layered, Cheerleader’s songs shimmer with electric guitar glazes and treated vocals that put a fresh spin on the alternative and summery new wave sounds of the now-nostalgic ’90s. For newcomers to the indie scene, consider a highly subdued fusion of The Killers and The Strokes, with less vocal drive and more emphasis on the overall soundscape, and you’re close to Cheerleader. Lead singles “A Million Ways” and “The Sunshine Of Your Youth” capture the essential sonic ingredients of Cheerleader’s debut.

Listen: “The Sunshine Of Your Youth” – Cheerleader


Well established indie artists like The War On Drugs and Beach House, and fast-rising indies like Alvvays have also embraced this sun-drenched indie-going-on-psychedelic vibe. Cheerleader’s music stands out from the rest, with tightly-crafted pop structures walking a thin line between mainstream and underground accessibility.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of Cheerleader until now, rest assured that you’re not alone. They are still very much a new and emerging band, having released their debut EP less than a year ago and with little touring experience under their belts. In fact, Cheerleader very recently embarked on their largest route to date, supporting Bright Antenna labelmate The Wombats and UK indie rockers Life in Film on a 24-city North American Spring 2015 tour (details at article’s end).

Cheerleader Boat pic
Five guys on a boat: Cheerleader’s promotional picture depicts the band in the same laid-back, relaxed, summery atmosphere as is felt in their music.

When I asked them in early April about the tour, Cheerleader sounded ecstatic: “We’re going to be out on the road for a month and a half, which is like three times as long as we’ve ever toured,” said frontman Joe Haller. “Hopefully we don’t kill each other… We’ll make headlines one way or another.” And they are. The Wombats tour is selling out across North America, offering Cheerleader tremendous exposure and opportunity for growth.

SOLD OUT! The Wombats/Life In Film/Cheerleader @ Webster Hall, NY 04/27/2015
SOLD OUT! The Wombats/Life In Film/Cheerleader @ Webster Hall, NY 04/27/2015

I caught Cheerleader’s live set at their recent tour stop in New York’s Webster Hall. Everything about the live act is still a work in progress, but the band’s sound is on point. Trickling a production- and track-heavy album down to a five-person lineup has its challenges, and Cheerleader’s live strength definitely lies in the music. For a young band, that should come first, however audience engagement is a close second – and let’s face it, sometimes the music takes a complete backseat to the spectacle of a performance. Touring with as physically active and engaging an act as The Wombats should give Cheerleader a lot of tips to improve in the showmanship department, and I cannot wait to see them again on their next tour!

The Sunshine Of Your Youth (single) - Cheerleader
“The Sunshine Of Your Youth” (single artwork) – Cheerleader

Cheerleader’s The Sunshine Of Your Youth has strong potential to shine through today’s cluttered musical jungle. With the band’s tour and debut album release just around the corner, I spoke with Cheerleader “co-founders” Joe Haller and Chris Duran about their band’s musical journey and experiences to-date. Read on as Atwood Magazine demystifies the haze around indie pop’s newest noisemakers. 

The Cheerleader Interview

Cheerleader is a Philadelphia band, but you both grew up in Connecticut. Does your music have a connection to home?

Chris Duran: I think in terms of roots, there’s a strong and awesome music scene in Philly and it’s super cool and inspiring for us to be a part of that. Our music definitely has a lot of nostalgia, but I think it’s one of those things where, if you’re doing your job right, hopefully a lot of people can relate to it regardless of your original concept. So for us, that means East Coast and things like that.

I heard blasts from the past in your music too, what with psychedelia, new wave influences, etc.

CD: We’re definitely hugely influenced by ’60s psychedelic rock – The Beatles, The Beach Boys and the like, but I don’t hear it in the album.

Joe Haller: I think there’s definitely a lot of ’80s shit going on – David Bowie, Talking Heads, The Smiths.

That being said, Cheerleader has a newer sound.

CD: I dunno, I think it’s one of those things where… it’s like the prism, where all your influences come in and they go out at once.

JH: I think we tried to rip off our favorite artists and fell short.

Your album came out of a collection of home-recorded demos.

CD: I think both of us are still very attached to those demos – though at the time we didn’t think of them as demos.

What was your experience reworking the music with other producers?

CD: When Joe and I started, it was just us. Any decision or influence was just the two of us… And then we brought in bandmates, producers, label… It’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen sort of thing.

JH: It was moving toward a professional experience. Recording the demos, Chris and I would get high and drunk in his mom’s basement… We’d fart into the microphone, you know… The move helped us understand the more professional side. It was also a year ago, so it’s hard to remember.

And yet, it's only been a year.

CD: A lot has happened, for sure. We’re definitely excited – being on the road is fun! We just got back from South by Southwest, which was pretty cool. We’re working with a new tour manager and sound guy, and I think we’re trying to take it to the next level. It’s a scary, exciting experience.

What are you most excited about people hearing on the new record?

CD: There’s a song we did called “A Million Ways” – everyone performs on it, and the production…[trails off in thought] I don’t know, for me that’s the one I’m pretty stoked about. 

JH: I think the song I was most pleased with was “Perfect Vision.” I think it’s one of the more accurate representations of what we want Cheerleader to be – it’s a simple song, but there’s a lot going on. Sometimes that’s hard to capture, but our producer (Mark Needham) did a great job on that. I feel like, sonically, everything lined up the best way possible.

Listen: “A Million Ways” – Cheerleader


What do you mean when you say, 'There's a lot going on'?

JH: The reason there’s a lot going on, really, is because when we were recording our demos, we had the worst quality equipment, so we layered everything up to make it sound less empty. Eventually, we would strike a balance where it was good… I guess restriction sometimes allows for greater creative strides to be taken. I’ve always thought that creativity flourishes under restrictive situations.

How did the studio production affect the music?

CD: Making this record and having a lot more hi-fi stuff… It kind of makes you want to go the other way, and let it breathe. I think it’s that thing where we both love music, and there’s a great challenge to it and respect we have for it, so it’s like, does it work? Does it sound good? Is it exciting? I think we’re still caught up in this album cycle

JH: Honestly, we ended up pooling a lot of the material we had and layering it on the record. Some of the songs we had earlier were a lot more heavily layered, like “New Daze,” but “Sunshine Of Your Youth” was a much simpler song.

CD: The album was written over the course of three or four years, so there are definitely a lot of disparate moments.

I’ve always thought that creativity flourishes under restrictive situations.

Do any strong memories in particular stand out to you from that long period?

JH: I’d say that “New Daze” was probably the first song of Cheerleader – the first collaboration Chris and I did together that we decided to call Cheerleader. I definitely have some vivid memories of recording that song.

CD: “New Daze” for sure – that’s what made Cheerleader. That was a very big moment… [pauses] I distinctly remember taking a trip to North Carolina with my mom and sister and being so fucking jazzed up about “Perfect Vision” and getting excited to fly home to finish that song.

JH: There’s not one song in particular… I mean, if you’re looking for a song that ties everything together, it’s probably “The Sunshine Of Your Youth.” I remember writing “Do What You Want,” and those lyrics were sort of emotive.

Listen: “Do What You Want” – Cheerleader


Why do you make music?

JH: Good question. I think my answer used to be because I just do – because I have to… I’ve been writing songs since I was 12 or 13 years old. It was always something I did as my creative outlet. Music is and was everything to me.

CD: Same goes for me.

What’s something people can really look forward to about Cheerleader's Spring 2015 tour?

CD & JH: This is the all nude tour, so people can be excited about that at every stop. [laughing] We’ve got the songs to perform!

Watch: “The Sunshine Of Your Youth” (Official Video) – Cheerleader


:: Cheerleader Tour Dates ::

Spring/Summer 2015

April 21 / Toronto, ON / Lee’s Palace
April 23 / Philadelphia, PA / Union Transfer
April 24 / Burlington, VT / Higher Ground
April 25 / Providence, RI / The Met
April 27 / New York, NY / Webster Hall
April 28 / Boston, MA / Paradise
April 30 / Washington, D.C. / 9:30 Club
May 1 / Albany, NY / The Hollow
May 2 / Rochester, NY / Montage
May 4 / Columbus, OH / A & R Room
May 5 / Indianapolis, IN / Deluxe
May 6 / Minneapolis, MN / Varsity
May 8 /Kansas City, MO / Granada Theatre
May 9 / Denver, CO / Bluebird Theater
May 12 / Los Angeles, CA / Fonda
May 13 / San Diego, CA / House of Blues
May 15 / Santa Ana, CA / The Constellation Room
May 16 / San Francisco, CA / The Fillmore
May 18 / Portland, OR / Wonder Ballroom
May 19 / Seattle, WA / Crocodile
May 20 / Vancouver, BC / Imperial Vancouver
May 29 / Colorado Springs, CO / Sunshine Studios
May 31 / Oklahoma City, OK / ACM@UCO
June 4 / Kansas City, MO / Record Bar
June 18-22 / Dover, DE / Firefly Music Festival
July 24-26 / Camden, NJ / Susquehanna Bank Center

“The Sunshine Of Your Youth” – Cheerleader

Available May 19, 2015

"The Sunshine Of Your Youth" album cover // out May 19, 2015
The Sunshine Of Your Youth – Cheerleader

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