Posted: by The Editor
With the amount of momentum Cheem is gaining from their sophomore album, you’d think they were going DOWNHILL. But the 15 track album only serves to fully realize the aesthetic that the band has created for themselves; bringing listeners on a journey through genres, melodies, and colors, DOWNHILL just proves that Cheem hasn’t hit their peak yet.
According to Skye Holden, one of Cheem’s lead vocalists and guitarists, the public’s reaction to the album has been one of the most gratifying things about the whole process, second only to the band’s own pride in the finished product. DOWNHILL, Holden explained, “is probably the first thing we’ve put out that actually came out the way we wanted.”
The new record expands exponentially on their debut, Making A Planet, and it’s done in a way that is perhaps best benefited by the recorded medium. “Sometimes you play live and the vibe you’re trying to convey doesn’t translate to the audience,” Holden acknowledged, “so now that people are able to hear the recorded versions of the songs I think they get the idea more, which is awesome.”
The variety of sounds introduced throughout the album were an intentional departure from typical rock music roots. “During the early stages of writing for DOWNHILL, there were definitely some of the same rock influences, but as we continued writing, that shifted pretty much completely over to hip-hop, R&B, funk, and pop music.” The core of Cheem’s music remains accessible, but there are more layers and nuance to add to the experience. Holden identified specific branching points in tracks, noting experimentation with vaporwave on “Reef” and with dub reggae on “Paint”, as well as a general change in personal listening habits.“There was also a conscious effort to distance our material from the rest of the rock music we were hearing from our peers, which is a diversion we hope to continue in the future.
The intertwining melodies created by Holden and the other lead vocalist, Sam Nazz, play a major role on the new album. “We’ve had two lead vocalists since the inception of the band,” Holden explained, “so this time we just wanted to have the vocals interact in ways we’ve never tried before.” For guidance in weaving their parts together, they looked to other bands with two singers, such as blink-182 and Barenaked Ladies. “There’s a lot to be learned from the way they balance the different vocal styles and how they structure their songs.”
“As far as the melodies themselves, the main priority was catchiness, and immediately following that was groove.” Their instrumentals follow the same type of formula, creating an active environment. It’s an important factor to the band, and the give and take continues to come more naturally as time goes on. Holden also added that, “Being in a band like Cheem you eventually learn when too much is too much.”
However, when it comes to the tracklisting, some may feel that the band may not have fully learned that lesson. But, while 15 songs might seem intimidating, the longest track on the album comes in at just over three minutes. Ideally, Holden said, DOWNHILL can be taken in as either a full album or a track-by-track experience, “the listener has the choice.” Even if they only find one song they enjoy, that’s fine. “Hopefully that one song is something you can listen to on repeat.”
Chances are though, that with the combination of relatable lyrics and energetic music, listeners will find that more than one track resonates with them. Reflecting on the contrast between their lyrics and more upbeat sound, Holden stated that writing the music tends to come from good moods, but words flow best when things are bad. “The lyrics ended up being a sort of therapeutic ousting of all the negative thoughts I had in my head. And the music has to be fun and danceable because then it’s way more fun to play live.” This is a mindset that Cheem hopes they pass on to their fans.“Sometimes it’s just nice to dance to something and sing along to lyrics that are relatable because of how depressing they are.”
Through their album artwork, music videos, and various social media accounts, the band has shown that the Cheem experience goes beyond music, and visuals are a key part of that. Early on, the band realized that they “could garner attention just by making bizarre images.” An obsession with bright colors, retro graphic design from the 80s and 90s, and vaporwave, are all part of what Holden has credited with establishing the vibrant and engaging personality that the visual side of the band has helped to cultivate. Uniqueness does remain important, though, as the band tries to draw from their inspirations, without ripping off other artists who may work in a similar vein. “Being able to inject our humor into that has been cool. I think we’re just weird people,” Holden admitted, “so it’s cool to take our weirdness and turn it into entertainment. In the end though, I’m just making things I like to look at.”
– Scott Fugger