interview: Cheekface

Cheekface has a released a steady stream of memorable singles and quickly became one of our favorites with their fun, but important takes on everything from California cities to current politics. We chatted with two members of the band: Greg Katz (vocals/songwriter) and Amanda Tannen (bass/BGVCs/cowriter) to learn more about music-making, the band, and more.

 photo: Miriam Brummel

photo: Miriam Brummel

The Grey Estates: Each member of Cheekface comes from different musical and music related backgrounds. How did you all find each other and at what point did you know that creating a band was something you wanted to pursue?

AT: Greg's girlfriend was one of my first friends out here after moving to LA from NYC. My former band had stopped playing music and I was pretty heart broken and thought I'd be OK not playing in a band anymore. I quickly learned that I wasn't happy without playing and writing music. I started asking around to see if I could find a writing partner, and poof! Greg was there, and we seemed to have very similar views on music and similar work ethics. Echo filled out the triangle nicely with drumming talent. He understood the simplicity of what we were doing and he fit right in. 

GK: I think Mandy and I wrote a song the day after we both went to a Wire show, it sounded a little Wirey, and it felt like the direction for a project. After writing like 4 or 5 songs in that vein, we wrote song called "House Shoes" that we really liked – it's two chords and the only lyrics are "house shoes." People liked the demo a lot. 

All of your songs have been really memorable and have such great lyrics. What's the songwriting process like for you? Has it been hard to approach songwriting and creativity in this current political climate? How have you managed to find the bright side or make music out of it?

AT: When Greg and I get together to write, it normally follows what we are feeling that moment. Sometimes the music is inspired by a show we had recently gone to, or a feeling (which can be affected by current events). Sometimes it's just us fiddling around until one of us says, stop, that's it, let's build on that. It is lovely to play and just see what comes out without a preconceived notion of what kind of song it might be. It has been incredibly cathartic. 

GK: I have a notebook where I try to capture ideas from my id while it's not paying attention. A lot of song concepts and lyrics come out of there, but a lot of them also just come from talking about what's on our minds.

It's a challenge to write something meaningful when our terrible fascist government is destroying people's lives. Personally, part of why I wanted to start this project was the desire to create something while the government is so destructive. Obviously the lyrics go to political places, and hopefully they capture some of the moral confusion that intelligent people are facing right now. But I also don't want the lyrics to be heavy-handed – I like heavy-handed political lyrics a lot actually, but with so much darkness in the world, we're not trying to add any more darkness with this particular band.

 photo: Miriam Brummel

photo: Miriam Brummel

You named a track "Glendale". So what if any influence has California had on your sound? And speaking of Glendale, if you were to take TGE on the perfect California day where would we go?

GK: In some ways California is a huge influence, and in other ways, it's none at all. I don't think we sound much like the contemporary music that's made in California. But in writing lyrics, it's hard to avoid since I'm a California native. One example: a lot of the songs talk about food, and Californians have such a complicated relationship with food, especially in L.A. where so many food trends start out. Everyone wants to eat healthy, but everyone also wants to eat donuts. A perfect California day probably involves Donut Friend and the beach.

AT: TGE, I'd take you on a hike in Griffith then we'd eat some In n Out. 

How did each of you come into music and being a musician? What impacted your listening habits growing up?

GK: I started singing when I could talk, and started studying piano when I was in third grade. I listened to the radio and the Beatles a lot growing up. But I also got into other indigenous California music like pop rock, skate punk, and hardcore early in my life. I didn't get into hip-hop until the end of high school, but it's a big part of my life now. The albums I've listened to most probably are the bootleg version of the Beach Boys' "Smile" and Nas's album "Illmatic," but the artist I've listened to most I would guess is Elliott Smith.

AT: My dad was a music fan and loved playing harmonica during road trips in the car. Family sing alongs in the car to the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads and Bowie got us kids through long road trips around the USA. I started playing cello when I was 12, and was an orchestra geek through school. I moved to the upright bass my senior year on high school. I couldn't bring it with me to college (wouldn't fit under my dorm bed) and my dad bought me an electric bass as a substitute. Within the first two months of college, I was in a band. And have basically been in one ever since. 

Where did the name Cheekface come from? And also who is coming up with the song titles because INCREDIBLE.

GK: We had a band name shootout and came up with another name. Then I didn't like it so I changed it by fiat to Cheekface. It's an homage to Operator Music Band's troubled cat named Cheeks. The song titles are all from the lyrics! I used to be a journalist, I learned that having a good title on something would always catch people's eyes.

 Cheekface is curating a festival. What bands would you have on it?

GK: Illuminati Hotties, Goon, Black Flag reunion, Earth Crisis reunion, Speedy Ortiz, Kiefer, Patsy Cline hologram, Joni Mitchell, Public Enemy, Kanye.

AT: Electric Light Orchestra, Erasure, The Talking Heads, Hall and Oates and Al Green.