Chicago artist Paul Cherry has been juggling multiple passion projects since releasing his debut EP in 2014. After the six song On Top, Cherry spent the next four years playing local shows, touring the country, producing for Anna Burch, creating instrumental side projects, and honing in on his solo craft. He slowed down his sound, polished up his jazz keyboard, and found his red and white shoes covered in lounge bar glitter. After releasing two singles, complete with a music video for "Like Yesterday", Cherry released his full-length Flavour through Feel Trip Records. The ten song album is a vintage spliff in an antique elevator. It's a jingling parade passing through all four of Chicago's seasons (which you can catch in one week's time inside the Windy City). It's psychedelic, it's poppy, it's lost in time, it's cinematic, and it's glamorously stoned. I spoke with the music mastermind about his growth, his self doubt along the way, his collaborative personality, and his upcoming tour with Post Animal.
How has 2018 been treating you so far?
2018 has absolutely been the most exciting year of my life to date. So crazy to see people beyond my local scope being turned onto these songs and connecting with them. Truly something I never thought would happen. So many things to be excited about, I'm just feeling really good :)
How would you describe your new album to a stranger on the street?
It's hard, I usually just tell random people that ask me that we are "jazz pop" or "dream pop" or something like that, although I don't really think it's either of those.
This is your first project since your 2014 EP, is that right? Had you been working on Flavour for 3-4 years? How do you feel you've grown/changed over the years?
I have been working on the songs for Flavour for about 3 years. I had a huge crisis after making the first tape On Top, an artistic funk I couldn't pull myself out of, because I felt I just wasn't very good at music at all. So I went into the hole for like 2 years just learning all my jazz chords, teaching myself piano from The Real Book and starting to record myself more and other bands. It's crazy how many different things you have to be super good at to make a great record. Knowing how to record things the way you want, what mics to use when, how to sing well, how to write a great song, how to stand out on your own two feet and make something that sounds like you and not like someone else, how to afford everything...it's actually an insane amount of things to juggle! So seeing myself grow and change into someone who feels like they are finally pretty good at all those things has been awesome for my self confidence. Two or three years ago when I started this record, I had a much lower sense of self.
Was this whole project recorded in Humboldt Park?
The whole album was recorded mostly in Humboldt Park in my secret spot ;) but some of it was recorded at my buddy Andy's place in Avondale, and a bit was recorded in my girlfriend's mom's house when she was at work in the basement in Albany Park. Nothing on this record was recorded in a "real" recording studio, we did it all on our own in various living rooms/bedrooms/etc.
You've also released side/collaborative projects like Java I & II, as well as having recently completed a tour with Anna Burch. Are you always multi-tasking? Is it hard to split time between solo and collaborative work?
For a long time, I was pushing off taking Paul Cherry seriously because of a fear of failure, so I was eager to take on other people's projects. I put higher priority on other people than I do myself when I think someone is depending on me. With Anna, it was totally like that. I took a year of sidestepping my record to focus on hers, and I'm glad I did! That record put her in a great place and I couldn't be happier for her! The whole process on that record was a great learning experience for me which set me up to make my record even better! As for the Java projects, that was always meant to be an experimental, low stress and fun side project for all the little tiny demos that never went anywhere. The Java never takes away from anything, most of those little ditties were half songs or just ideas floating around that were good, but had nowhere to go!
What's your typical studio setup?
Cigarettes used to be my main writing tool, but I've since quit and have been discovering some new ways to handle the mental stress of the recording process. I've been drinking a lot of water, setting up shop in my apartment (I have an office) I make all my demos and mix in, and I shut myself in for awhile, smoke a little weed and sit down at the piano, and just let my mind go. Or I have a song I really like sitting in a playlist, and I'll go inside that song and dig around the chords and melodies, and that always helps to get the creative mind flowing when I need it to.
What's the rest of the year looking like for you?
Rest of the year is shaping up to be a lot lot of touring! I'll be touring as direct support for Post Animal from May 24 - June 14th, come out if you're reading this! And then I've got Pitchfork Fest in July, and a European tour in the fall! I'm also going to find time to crank out LP 2 in that time
How do you feel that the Chicago music scene has evolved in the last 4-5 years?
The Chicago music scene has always ebbed and flowed for me, it'll be supercharged and awesome one year, and the next year it'll feel like everyone gave up, but then the next year everyone's supercharged again. I think the rest of the country views Chicago as a cool music scene with cool bands though, which I really like.
Outside of your own art, what have you been listening to / reading / watching as of late?
I recently got out of a crate digging phase, and have been looking at newer artists. I'm happy to say that I've been jamming a ton of Hatchie from Australia, Girl Ray from the UK, and I love these new Post Animal tracks! Super stoked for their release. Overall though, the band to look out for is Shy Boys, they have an unreleased record coming out in August on Polyvinyl that is absolutely the most special new music I've heard in a long long time. Definitely be on the lookout for that <3
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Don't sideskirt any hard work, don't focus on things like "getting signed" or making "industry connections". Just focus on what is inside your mind, and do your best to get it out. Don't get caught up with the idea of something that doesn't exist yet. When the thing exists, and it's really good, It WILL work FOR YOU !
Do you have any final thoughts / words of wisdom? Thank you for taking the time!
Uhhhh, if you listen to my record, smoke a dub and try and do the whole thing in one sitting. I think that's the way I want it to be enjoyed ;)