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A Conversation with Paul Cherry

Interview conducted by Ellise Shafer

Photos by Finn Hewes

After he opened Saturday’s lineup at Pitchfork Fest, I got the chance to sit down with Paul Cherry (on a cool art installation). Here’s what the Chicago musician had to say about touring Europe, the Chitown music scene, and his upcoming collaborations.

ES: You just finished your set at the festival. How was the experience for you?

PC: It was very bizarre. I have been coming to this festival for like the 8 years I’ve lived here I think. I’ve come every year and I never ever thought in a million years that I would play this festival. Even just opening it up, it was so special. It felt so amazing. It was so surreal. I saw so many friends in the crowd. It was just so fucking cool.

ES: How did you prepare for the festival?

PC: Basically, I saw on the advance info that I could just put however many band members I wanted down. So I have rotating members – people that come in and out – and I just wanted all of them to be there, so I got as many of them on stage as I could. And my friend Kevin Krauter, whose got amazing music, hit me up and he was like “Can I play with you at Pitchfork?” and I was like, “That’s bold of you to ask, but hell yeah, come on.” So he did backup singing and it was really fun. We practiced all week long and I took the week off of work. I took it pretty easy last night and didn’t go to any after parties or anything because I had to play early and didn’t want to fuck up. But now it’s my time to party.

ES: How did you first get into music?

PC: Well I went to music school here, at Columbia College, for composition. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 10. It was never a question of what I was going to do with my life. I feel like I said when I was 10, “I like music. I want to do that,” and then my mom was like “Okay, you like music, we’ll do that now.” And then I went through guitar lessons and orchestra in middle school and high school, and then it was time for college and I was like, well I just want to keep doing music. So I did that. I think life is about just picking one thing and doing it, like it doesn’t really matter what the one thing is to a degree. When people can’t figure out what they wanna do, I’m like, just pick one thing and then do it for a while, and do it really hard, and see if you like it. So I just did the one thing for a really long time, and now at age 26, it’s starting to really pay off.

ES: How would you describe your sound?

PC: I would say it’s very happy music that sounds pretty drugged out.

ES: Do you record your songs yourself? Do you subscribe to the whole “bedroom pop” craze that’s going on right now?

PC: I record all of my music myself. I do it with some friends too, but I’m the head engineer on all of my own things. And yeah, it is basically bedroom pop style. I recorded all of Flavour in my apartment with my friend Matt. We had this big, open space and recorded it all there.

ES: Who have been your biggest personal inspirations?

PC: I’d say Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren. At this point, Mild High Club is probably my favorite band, and I’m getting more into house music right now, so I think the music I make for my next album is going to sound a lot different with some house influence, which is weird.

ES: You definitely shifted your sound between EP On Top and Flavour. What brought on this change and how did you execute it?

PC: Well that was a four year gap [in between projects], which is so long. And that first EP, it was weird that people liked it at all because I made it so hastily in my apartment in Bridgeport just for funsies, and then it got a lot of plays on Soundcloud. But then I thought, I wanna make good music. Like, I don’t wanna make hasty music, I wanna make extremely good music. It took me other four years to make Flavour. I recorded two albums that I scrapped and I took some of those songs and revamped them. It took me a while to feel like what I was doing was cool. And then seeing the response off of that, the wait was worth it I think because the response I have been getting has been really crazy. It’s really bizarre to watch.

ES: What does being a Chicago artist mean to you? How has being from and living in Chicago influenced your music, if at all?

PC: It means lots of homies that make music. It means every time I go out I know that I’m going to see X, Y, and Z and I know we’re gonna talk about A, B, and C. Being a Chicago musician means having an arsenal of people that are so overly joyed to work with you and overwhelmingly accepting of who you are, and just ready to help you. Like everyone’s ready to help each other and nobody wants anyone to fall. The Chicago scene is special for that because the bigger bands help out the smaller bands and it just feels like everyone’s lifting each other up and it’s really, really tight.

ES: You recently announced that you will be touring Europe in the Fall. What are you most excited about in regards to these shows?

PC: What I’m most excited for is that I’m going to some really weird countries, like Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary. It’s really, really weird that I’m playing there, but it’s so tight that I get to. I’m super stoked on that.

ES: Could you describe your songwriting process?

PC: Lots of times, it’s very long and drawn out and exacerbated, like just listening to something over and over and being like, “This isn’t good yet. I don’t know when it will be good either. Fuck.” I feel like a lot of the songwriting process I make torturous for myself. I don’t know why, I just make it really hard on myself. But watching the pay off has been worth it in the end.

ES: In your lyrics, you talk about millennial culture and dating in the age of the iPhone. What do you hope to communicate about this topic through your music?

PC: I think that is part of the cultural zeitgeist of today, actually, and I don’t feel like that message is unique to me. Like, listen to somebody like Clairo, it’s the same thing. I was even listening to Jojo the other day, that song “Too Little, Too Late,” and a lot of those lyrics are about being on your phone. So I don’t think that it’s very unique. One of my songs [“I See You”] is specifically about being on your phone and looking at someone who broke up with you and being like, “Damn.” And that’s a thing! You know, when you get broken up with, you can still look at their Instagram. So, I don’t know if my lyrics are going to continue to be about that, but that’s what they were at the time.

ES: Who are some of your favorite artists of the moment?

PC: Lala Lala is so tight. Post Animal is super tight. Kevin Krauter – really sick. Clairo, love her. All my friends. Divino Niño are coming out with a sick record.

ES: What’s next for you? Is there another album in the works?

PC: Yeah, I’m working on a new one right now. Kind of changing up the sound a bit. Sitting on an album for a while and then touring it, you get to meet a lot of people that you respect. And then when you notice that people are giving a shit about your music, you get more liberty to say “Yo, will you work with me on a track?” So now, I’ve been just like, who do I really like and who do I want to work with, and will they say yes? I’ve been going out on a limb and being like, “Can we work together? I’ll come to you!” So, I love the band Hoops and I’m recording some songs with those dudes, I’m recording a bunch of songs with this band Shy Boys in Kansas City, I’m gonna go out to New York and record with my friend Adam [Intrator] who’s in the band Triathalon, I’m gonna go to LA and work on a track with my friend Dent May. So I’m like doing this friend collab thing where I just get to say, “Yo, let’s hang out, let’s make songs,” and everyone’s just been like, “Yeah, that sounds sick.” Everyone’s just into the music. So it’s been exciting. Really freaking chill.

PC: So you guys are from Northwestern?

ES: Yeah!

PC: Well, have me play Dillo Day or some shit!

 

Pitchfork Music Festival: Saturday

Write-up by Ellise Shafer

Photos by Finn Hewes

Paul Cherry

Chicago native Paul Cherry opened the second day of the festival. His yacht rock dream pop fusion of a sound provided good vibes and had the crowd swaying in agreement upon the first song, “Hello Again.” While Cherry played guitar, his extremely talented band backed him up on drums, bass, and keys. His set consisted of every song off of new album Flavour, except for an impromptu cover of John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More.” Cherry’s excitement to be performing at Pitchfork was clear, and the crowd reciprocated his enthusiasm by jamming out, even to instrumental track “Cherry Emoji.” WNUR also got the chance to interview Cherry after his set – check that out here!

Berhana

As soon as he walked on stage, Berhana’s raw talent was undeniable. Opening up the set with the groovy “Janet,” the crowd began moving and singing along immediately. His voice was incredibly smooth, running over intricate riffs with unbelievable ease. His DJ backed him up, playing intriguing samples before tracks and turning the bass up so high that you could feel it in your throat. With an infectious smile in between every song, Berhana played his cover of “Whole Wide World,” “Brooklyn Drugs,” and “80s,” intermixed with a few new songs including the just released “Wildin’.” He claimed he wanted to try out these new songs on the audience, and asked for everyone to put their “phones away for a second and just listen.” Berhana closed the set with his most popular song “Grey Luh,” sending everyone away with a smile and sense of relaxation. 

Nilüfer Yanya

London-based rocker Nilüfer Yanya started her set alone except for her mint green guitar, and was then met with her band – a saxophonist (doubling as keys) , keyboardist (doubling as bass), and drummer. Her rich Alanis Morissette-esque vocals complimented the jazz rock instrumentals nicely, providing soft jams and slow builds. Yanya played all of the tracks she has out, along with a few new songs (“Angels” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”) and a Pixies cover. Although her sound was intriguing, it did grow a bit repetitive over the course of the set – but for someone just starting out in the U.S., Yanya is well on her way to becoming an indie-rock darling. 

Girlpool

Grunge-rock duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took over the Blue Stage Saturday afternoon along with touring members Ross Wallace-Chait and Kevin Boog. As I listened to other audience member’s conversations, it seemed that the biggest topic in discussion was singer and guitar player Tucker’s current transition from female to male. Specifically, the group of girls next to me were wondering how Tucker’s voice change would alter their sound, once notable for the high-pitched harmonies between Tucker and Tividad. However, as they played through their set, it became apparent that Girlpool had not lost, but gained something. Tucker’s now octave-lower voice added a more rounded sound to their slow-building discography, introducing new harmonies and a pleasant rasp. More than anything, it was clear how much passion both Tucker and Tividad still had for their music, playing through “It Gets More Blue,” “123,” and “I Like That You Can See It,” “Ideal World,” and “Your Heart” as if it meant the world to them.

Blood Orange

As soon as Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes stepped out in a Kangol driving cap and tiny glasses, it was apparent this performance was going to be old school. As vintage-looking footage of cars, an old interview with Outkast, and 90s music videos played on the screen behind him, Hynes proved that he is indeed a talent to behold. Switching from playing keys to guitar and back to keys, Hynes dove into his discography with the voice of a 70s crooner, à la The Commodores or early Prince. Highlights of his set included “Desirée,” “Best to You,” “You’re Not Good Enough,” and “E.V.P.” He also played a few tracks off of his forthcoming album that was just announced to be released on August 25th. However, the real star of Blood Orange’s show was his band – his two back up singers stunned with chill-inducing voices, and his saxophonist, drummer and bassist provided intricate funk-driven instrumentals. In addition, everyone on stage seemed to be having so much fun and bouncing off of each other’s energy. At one point, Hynes even broke out into dance, making the crowd – and his band – go wild. It was truly a feel-good set for everyone involved.

The War On Drugs

Seasoned rockers The War On Drugs seemed to bring everyone together. Teenage girls were in the crowd amongst married couples, 50-year-old men, and boys in their 20s. Frontman Adam Granduciel delivered his signature rasp and complicated guitar riffs in a leather jacket and Slowdive t-shirt, while the rest of his band followed along in perfect time. As they played through hits such as “Pain,” “Strangest Thing,” and “Brothers,” a combination of happy dancing and air guitar took over the crowd. Although not all of their lyrics can be described as joyous, The War On Drugs’ music seemed to put a look of peace and contentment on the faces all around me. The last third of their set was the highlight, playing “Red Eyes,” “Under the Pressure,” and “Burning” back to back. The combination of those three builds was enough to leave anyone in awe.

Pitchfork Fest Preview 2018

Courtney Barnett by Finn Hewes

As the weekend of July 20th approaches, here’s who WNUR is excited to see at this year’s #P4Kfest. Look out for more preview coverage over the next few weeks and festival coverage in late July!

 

Friday, July 20th

Saba

Saba is just one of many Chicago-born-and-raised artists to be featured at the festival. After releasing several mixtapes, Saba made his debut with 2016’s Bucket List Project and collaborated with Chance the Rapper on “Angels” in homage to Chicago. On 2018’s Care For Me released in April, Chance returned the favor by featuring on standout track “LOGOUT.”
Listen if you like: Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Noname
Fav tracks: “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” “Photosynthesis,” “LIFE”

Syd

Even if she hasn’t been singing on them, it’s likely that some of your favorite R&B tracks were produced by Syd. Starting out as an audio engineer, she was apart of Odd Future until 2016, then becoming the frontwoman of supergroup The Internet with former Odd Future bandmate Matt Martians. Although she is often collaborating with Tyler, The Creator, Daniel Caesar, and Steve Lacy, Syd put out a solo album in 2017, Fin. Up next for Syd is the release of The Internet’s highly anticipated comeback album, Hive Mind, on July 20th – the very day she is set to perform at Pitchfork Fest.
Listen if you like: Odd Future, Steve Lacy, Daniel Caesar
Fav tracks: “Body,” “Dollar Bills,” “Come Over” (The Internet)

Earl Sweatshirt

One of the scene’s most elusive rappers, Earl Sweatshirt is making his return to the stage at Pitchfork Fest after canceling most of his recent European tour due to his battle with anxiety and depression. Like Syd, Earl was also a member of Odd Future and has since collaborated with the likes of Frank Ocean, Flying Lotus, Tyler, The Creator, and Vince Staples. With his last studio release being 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, rumors have been swirling for a while now about a possible new album in the works. His set at Pitchfork should prove to be quite telling on that front.
Listen if you like: Kevin Abstract, Frank Ocean, Vince Staples
Fav tracks: “Sunday,” “Wool,” “Sasquatch”

Courtney Barnett

Alt-rock darling and Pitchfork favorite Courtney Barnett is making a stop at Pitchfork Fest after touring her new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, for the past few months. (We were fortunate enough to review her Chicago show in May, check that out here). Before her latest solo album, Barnett worked with Kurt Vile on a collaborative record, Lotta Sea Lice, released in 2017. The straight-to-the-point crooner is set to be a crowd pleaser at this year’s fest.
Listen if you like: Kurt Vile, Snail Mail, Angel Olsen
Fav tracks: “Over Everything” (with Kurt Vile), “Pedestrian at Best,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”

Mount Kimbie

Known for their lo-fi beats and unique instrumentals, British duo Mount Kimbie came to be known from 2010’s debut Crooks & Lovers. 2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth saw collaboration with King Krule, and their most recent release, Love What Survives, features King Krule as well as James Blake on select tracks. Their chill vibe might prove perfect for laying on the grass and taking a breather from the fest.
Listen if you like: King Krule, James Blake, Bibio
Fav tracks: “William,” “You Took Your Time” (ft. King Krule), “We Go Home Together” (ft. James Blake)

Tame Impala

Psych-rock legends Tame Impala are set to be headlining Pitchfork Fest’s Friday lineup. Amid a hiatus in 2017 and rumors of the band’s disintegration, Pitchfork will be Tame’s first show in the U.S. since last summer’s Panorama Festival. Although their latest album, Currents, came out in 2015, the band’s members have been keeping busy on side projects and released a collaborative single with ZHU titled “My Life” in March.
Listen if you like: Beach Fossils, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Pond
Fav tracks: “Yes I’m Changing,” “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” “Mind Mischief”

Saturday, July 21st

Paul Cherry

Another hometown artist, Paul Cherry’s bedroom-pop aesthetic is all the rage right now. On his first full-length work, Flavour, released in March, Cherry has seemingly become more experimental with his sound. Tracks like “Like Yesterday” and “This High” include jazz and pop influences while still sticking somewhat to his quirky roots. Cherry also appears to enjoy commentating on the struggles of everyday millennial life dealing with social media and relationships, which is portrayed perhaps most prominently in the final track of Flavour, “Cherry Emoji.”
Listen if you like: Triathalon, Clairo, Mac Demarco
Fav tracks: “Hey Girl,” “Like Yesterday,” “Cherry Time”

Berhana

Although he only has one self-titled EP under his belt, Berhana has made a name for himself via his infectiously sweet voice and style. The LA-based artist recently released his own rendition of Wreckless Eric’s 1977 hit, “Whole Wide World,” giving it his own twist with slow, simple piano and delightful backing vocals. With several festival dates on the radar for him this summer, including Pitchfork, Berhana is definitely one to watch.
Listen if you like: Yellow Days, Mac Ayres, Masego
Fav tracks: “Janet,” “Grey Luh,” “Brooklyn Drugs”

Moses Sumney

With an incredibly powerful voice and an even stronger sense of lyricism, Moses Sumney has all the makings of an up-and-coming R&B superstar. 2017’s Aromanticism has some insanely beautiful songwriting, and his newest single “Make Out in My Car” has been remixed by James Blake and Sufjan Stevens. Proving to be perfect for both emotional nights and sunny summer days, Sumney’s set is guaranteed to be breathtaking.
Listen if you like: Kevin Morby, Sufjan Stevens, serpentwithfeet
Fav tracks: “Don’t Bother Calling,” “Plastic,” “Make Out in My Car”

Girlpool courtesy of Wikipedia

Girlpool

Punk duo Girlpool is known for their soft garage-rock sound, honest lyrics, and often raw vulnerability. Reminiscent of 90s femme rockers such as Letters to Cleo, Girlpool has two LPs already under their belt since forming in 2013. They returned in February of this year with single “Picturesong,” a collaboration with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), a seemingly unlikely combination possibly signalling a forthcoming change in sound.
Listen if you like: Frankie Cosmos, IAN SWEET, Adult Mom
Fav tracks: “Chinatown,” “Blah Blah Blah,” “Picturesong”

Blood Orange

Singer, writer, and producer extraordinaire Dev Hynes has collaborated with A$AP Rocky, Haim, Solange, and Willow Smith among others. His own solo project, Blood Orange, has seen success with its 80s electro-pop flair and political commentary. A set of two singles titled Black History released in February has been Blood Orange’s most recent solo endeavor since 2016’s Freetown Sound. Also an accomplished dancer, this set is guaranteed to be a full-out performance.
Listen if you like: Toro y Moi, Perfume Genius, TOPS
Fav tracks: “Christopher & 6th,” “Instantly Blank (The Goodness),” “You’re Not Good Enough”

The War on Drugs

Dad-rock favorites The War on Drugs, formed in the early 2000s by Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel, deliver consistently soft yet hard-hitting rock ballads. After Vile left the band in 2008 to pursue his solo career, Granduciel took over, releasing the critically acclaimed album Lost In The Dream in 2014. With their latest release, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs have continued to reign supreme amongst music fans.
Listen if you like: Dawes, Band of Horses, Deerhunter
Fav tracks: “Pain,” “Red Eyes,” “Thinking Of A Place”

Fleet Foxes

Folk-rock champions Fleet Foxes are the headliners for Saturday’s lineup. Earning popularity and critical acclaim alike with their debut self-titled album in 2008, Fleet Foxes have since released two more albums, the most recent being 2017’s Crack-Up. Known for soothing vocals and harmonious instrumentals, their set should prove to be a calm end to Saturday’s madness.
Listen if you like: Iron & Wine, The Shins, Alt-J
Fav tracks: “Oliver James,” “Crack-Up,” “Lorelai”

Sunday, July 22nd

Kweku Collins

Evanston’s own Kweku Collins has been a part of the Chicago music scene since 2015, producing music in high school and now having released an EP and two LPs – Nat Love and Grey – in the past three years. The singer and rapper seems to be a favorite of Pitchfork, having earned a rating of 8 on Nat Love and Best New Track for “Stupid Rose,” so it only makes sense that he’ll be playing their festival.
Listen if you like: Topaz Jones, Duckwrth, Jalen Santoy
Fav tracks: “The Continuation,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Love It All”

Ravyn Lenae

An alumnae of the Chicago High School for the Arts, 19-year-old Ravyn Lenae also started making music in high school. In 2017, she released EP Midnight Moonlight and featured on tracks with Noname, Mick Jenkins, Saba, and Smino. Collaborating with Steve Lacy, she put out EP Crush in February of this year and even stopped by Northwestern to preview it (check out the Daily Northwestern’s coverage of it here).
Listen if you like: Steve Lacy, Kali Uchis, Jamila Woods
Fav tracks: “4 Leaf Clover,” “Computer Luv,” “Free Room”

Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner, provides a mix of lo-fi beats and indie pop accompanied by her sugary-sweet voice. 2016’s Psychopomp put her on the map, shortly followed by 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Zauner’s songwriting touches on themes of heartbreak, death, and celebrities, resulting in high levels of young-adult relatability.
Listen if you like: Alvvays, Car Seat Headrest, Soccer Mommy
Fav tracks: “Till Death,” “Road Head,” “Everybody Wants to Love You”

Noname

Chicago-born R&B powerhouse Noname got her start performing slam poetry and made it big after featuring on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” in 2013. Her one and only release, 2016’s Telefone, features fellow Chicagoan colleagues and Pitchfork festival performers Saba, Smino, and Ravyn Lenae. With it being two years since Telefone, Noname has been hinting at new album Room 25 on Twitter, but no release date has been given yet.
Listen if you like: Saba, NxWorries, Goldlink
Fav tracks: “Sunny Duet,” “Diddy Bop,” “Shadow Man”

(Sandy) Alex G

Alex G, or Alex Giannascoli, already has an extensive discography, having released five albums within four years. His brooding,“sadboy” sound gained him a loyal fan base, and his undeniable guitar talent resulted in him playing on a few tracks off of Frank Ocean’s Blond. His latest work, Rocket, was released in 2017 via Domino Records.
Listen if you like: Spencer Radcliffe, Florist, Starry Cat
Fav tracks: “Mary,” “Sandy (Bonus Track),” “Forever”

Japandroids

Seasoned garage rockers Japandroids returned in 2017 after a five year hiatus with eight-track album Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. Beforehand, they released three full-length LPs between 2009 and 2012. Known for their rowdy, DIY approach to live shows, Pitchfork fest is just one of many stops for Japandroids on their tour of the new album.
Listen if you like: Cloud Nothings, Wolf Parade, The Walkmen
Fav tracks: “The House That Heaven Built,” “Press Corps,” “Younger Us”

Lauryn Hill by Brennan Schnell

Ms. Lauryn Hill

Queen of Soul Ms. Lauryn Hill is set to headline Sunday’s lineup at Pitchfork fest. Although it is her only LP, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill proved to be a smash success. Nominated for 11 Grammys and taking home five, the album soon became a classic. Hill has not put out any solo music apart from a MTV Unplugged live album in 2002, but listeners may recognize her song “Ex-Factor” as the sample on Drake’s hit single, “Nice For What.”
Listen if you like: Aaliyah, Brandy, Mary J. Blige
Fav tracks: “Superstar,” “Ex-Factor,” “Doo Wop (That Thing)”