Music

With a sharp and unpredictable songwriter, LA’s new wave pop trio Cherry Glazerr are walking in the footsteps of Blondie. By Dave Faulkner.

Cherry Glazerr’s ‘Apocalipstick’

Cherry Glazerr: (from left) Sasami Ashworth, Tabor Allen and Clementine Creevy.
Credit: Daria Kobayashi Ritch

Clementine Creevy is standing centrestage, about to perform. She adjusts the position of her microphone and tests it. “Vaginas,” she declares, “are fucking awesome.” The London pub audience cheers. “They’re so much cooler than penises,” she adds.

The other three members of Creevy’s band are noisily checking their instruments while Creevy fiddles with her Rickenbacker guitar. Slowly, imperceptibly, their random noodling begins to merge and they start to get in sync. It soon becomes apparent that the soundcheck has segued into an actual song. Well, kind of. After a couple of minutes of unstructured riffing, this opening number limps to a desultory finish, ending just as undramatically as it began. Creevy turns to the crowd and announces brightly, “Thanks so much! That’s a jam we’ve been working on – it’s called ‘Jam’.”

It’s a strange, offputting way to start a show. It’s also charming and unpretentious. Welcome to the peculiar world of Cherry Glazerr.

A week ago, the Los Angeles band released their second album, Apocalipstick. Their debut, Haxel Princess, came out in 2014 and was a cult favourite. The unforced authenticity of Creevy’s lo-fi slacker pop songs about grilled cheese sandwiches and teenage girls resonated all the more because she was a teenage girl herself. Since then, the band has added keyboard player Sasami Ashworth, brought in a new drummer, Tabor Allen, and signed a record deal with the major independent label Secretly Canadian. Where Haxel Princess was recorded on a shoestring, Apocalipstick was recorded in Hollywood’s Sunset Sound studios with Joe Chiccarelli (The White Stripes, The Shins) on board as a co-producer, along with Carlos de la Garza (Ziggy Marley).

It was a high-risk strategy – line-up changes, a bigger label, a bigger budget, a name producer in charge – but it has paid off handsomely. Apocalipstick is better than Haxel Princess by any yardstick: the sonic quality, the musicianship, the arrangements and, most important of all, the songs themselves.

Apocalipstick opens with one of its strongest tracks, “Told You I’d Be with the Guys”. The song is built upon Creevy’s loping, angular guitar line, and her quirky playing is a unifying thread throughout the album.

“Trash People” jumps in suddenly, all colour and movement. Cherry Glazerr whips up the new wave and disco flavours until they become a fruity musical sorbet. Creevy is confessing that her room “smells like an ashtray” and that she wears her underpants “three days in a row”.

We can’t live a 9 to 5

Art is love and love is sloppy

Nothing is all pure

Nothing is all dirty

The album’s simple, poetic lyrics often exhibit the don’t-give-a-shit impetuousness of youth, but there are deeper insights beneath their brashness, as Creevy explained to me over the phone recently. “You can see ‘Trash People’ as a lighthearted tune about everyday activities,” she said, “or you can see it as diving into my psychology … That giving up control is a wonderful thing to do and to be emotionally free from any bullshit social norms and social conventions in the hunger for fame.”

Creevy isn’t very comfortable explaining her lyrics. She prefers to leave their meaning unfixed. “Authorship is full of bullshit,” she said. “Separating the art from the artist is important to me and I believe that art should live in its own world, disconnected from authorship and open to interpretation.”

The lyrics of “Moon Dust”, the third song on the album, don’t offer a simple narrative but they seem to touch on paranoid schizophrenia, with the singer haunted by fears of demonic possession and questioning her sanity. The song has an unconventional musical structure, as do many of the tracks on Apocalipstick. They don’t conform to the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula and, in the case of “Moon Dust”, Cherry Glazerr crams a lot of different melodic material into its two minutes and 35 seconds. In fact, many of Apocalipstick’s songs are brief: five are less than three minutes long and only one exceeds four minutes. But the songs make perfect musical sense on their own terms. There is so much melody and so many great instrumental hooks that it sounds like conventional pop even as Creevy completely subverts the rules of the game.

“Humble Pro” is a surf-punk workout, exuberant and fun. It’s cry of “Turn the heat up! Margaritas!” will be guaranteed to fire up any party. I’m suddenly reminded of Blondie, and not just because of the charisma and insouciance of both lead singers. Blondie exhibited a similar devil-may-care attitude in their music, though more through their grab bag of disparate influences than in their approach to songcraft.

As with Blondie, punk has been an enormous influence on Creevy and the sound of Cherry Glazerr. “I grew up with punk rock,” she told me. “I always play punk rock, you know? I play it all the time. Every day I play punk music. It’s been on all of our records so far.” Punk also rears its ugly head on “Sip O’ Poison”, “Instagratification” and in the noisy ending for “Told You I’d Be with the Guys”. And while punk rock and synth pop are not natural allies, Cherry Glazerr have no time for musical boundaries. Creevy calls the band “genre-fluid”.

“Nuclear Bomb” and “Only Kid on the Block” are literally the centre of the album, but figuratively they also serve as its emotional core. Creevy was slightly more forthcoming about the meaning behind “Nuclear Bomb”, telling me it deals with bereavement. Certainly the lyrics for this beautiful ballad leave no doubt that the subject of this song is a deceased family member:

Black like a nuclear bomb

We share the same blood you’re not alone, love

Her smile

Shines through the desolate crowd

Her heartbeat

Felt through the clouds

Like a painted picture

The song concludes with a wonderful image:

All the souls are swimming in a bathtub

Up above

Picturing the afterlife as a bathtub might sound mundane to some but, to my mind, that matter-of-fact description is beautiful and intimate. Creevy keeps her metaphysical thoughts anchored in the real world, making her feelings of loss even more palpable.

“Only Kid on the Block” revisits a troubled adolescence during which the songwriter grapples with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Seeing her now it’s hard to imagine Creevy ever feeling that unsure of herself. At six she started writing songs and at 13 she took guitar lessons. A couple of years later she began putting her recordings on Soundcloud, under the name Clembutt. Creevy’s mother’s chance meeting in a supermarket with Paige Stark from Tashaki Miyaki saw Stark helping out on drums and, through her, Creevy gained access to a small demo studio.

Their new tracks attracted attention from music blogs and soon Burger Records offered Creevy a cassette release of her demos. Now called Cherry Glazerr, Creevy recruited her high school classmate Hannah Uribe on drums. Sean Redman begged to play bass after hearing “Grilled Cheese” on Soundcloud. Soon Cherry Glazerr were being offered gigs everywhere and Creevy found herself answering emails and organising merchandise during class.

What happened next would make anyone’s head spin. In 2013 Hedi Slimane, who at that time was fashion director for Yves Saint Laurent, saw Cherry Glazerr at a Burger Records show and took the band to Paris for the launch of his latest collection and they performed at the afterparty. Creevy also modelled, along with other musicians, at the runway show itself. Slimane then used “Trick or Treat Dancefloor”, from their Burger Records cassette, for a YSL fashion video and the following year a new Cherry Glazerr song became the soundtrack for Yves Saint Laurent’s autumn/winter collection runway show.

On top of all this, Creevy was cast in a minor recurring role in the Golden Globe-winning television series Transparent, appearing in its first two seasons. All of this happened by the age of 17. Creevy appears completely unfazed by all the glamour and attention. First and foremost she sees herself as a musician, with everything else in her life coming a distant second.

Creevy’s burgeoning acting skills haven’t exactly been tested in the band’s music videos but they give a good insight into her personality. In the clip for “Told You I’d Be with the Guys” the band set up in a house but their performance becomes chaotic as they are gradually overrun by a herd of oblivious men, a neat visual encapsulation of the song’s subject matter. “Nurse Ratched”, one of my favourite songs on Apocalipstick, was inspired by the tyrannical character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but the song’s music video resembles a grisly slasher film, with Creevy playing a homicidal hitchhiker in a portrayal that is surprisingly shocking. Their latest video, for “Nuclear Bomb”, ignores the sensitive tone of the song entirely. Instead Creevy acts out a ludicrous romantic scenario between herself and her Rickenbacker. They wake up in bed together, enjoy quiet moments in the park, share pizza and twice have sex. Need I add that the whole thing is hilarious, with production values that make Ed Wood look like Cecil B. DeMille in comparison. Cherry Glazerr are still more than capable of turning a shoestring budget into something remarkable. 

It’s obvious from their videos and everything else Cherry Glazerr does that they have a clear sense of purpose and tolerate a minimum of bullshit – they exhibit little interest in the fantasy of success or fame. When YouTube channel FaceCulture asked the band a few weeks ago what would be the most important measure for Apocalipstick’s ultimate success, Creevy simply replied, “The making of it. The success doesn’t come later, you know? The creation of it – the creative process – is the fulfilment. The fulfilment and the creation happen simultaneously. Whatever happens to the record doesn’t matter.”

I think the comparison to Blondie is a good one. Blondie were the band that no one picked to succeed out of the CBGBs scene, and they became one of the few to achieve enormous global success, and completely on their own terms. Cherry Glazerr are cut from the same cloth. The incredible growth of Creevy’s skills as a songwriter in such a short time is a marvel, and, even better, gives me something to relish for the future. As she told me, “I just make music all the time and it’s all different, you know? And it’ll continue to change and grow.”

 

Arts Diary

THEATRE Jasper Jones

Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, until February 19

FESTIVAL Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts

Venues throughout Melbourne, until April 3

OPERA La Traviata

Sydney Opera House, February 3-April 1

THEATRE Pip Utton Playing Maggie, Adolf and Churchill

Theatre Works, February 1-4

CULTURE On Air: 40 Years of 3RRR

State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, until February 26

Last chance

MULTIMEDIA The Scent of Sydney

Carriageworks, Sydney, until January 29

THEATRE The Process

The Butterfly Club, Melbourne, until January 29

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 28, 2017 as "Cherry ripe". Subscribe here.

Dave Faulkner
is a musician best known as frontman of Hoodoo Gurus. He is The Saturday Paper’s music critic.

Continue reading your one free article for the week