published Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Music City electronic duo headlines Rhythm & Brews

Nashville-based electro pop duo Cherub is Jordan Kelley, left, and Jason Huber.
Nashville-based electro pop duo Cherub is Jordan Kelley, left, and Jason Huber.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

* What: Cherub with Smooth Dialects.

* When: 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

* Where: Rhythm & Brews, 221 Market St.

* Admission: $10.

* Phone: 267-4644.

* Venue website: www.rhythm-brews.com

RELATED LINKS FOR WEB:

http://www.cherublamusic

If those in the audience at a Cherub show ever question how demanding the music is, they need look no further than the sweat on Jordan Kelley's and Jason Huber's brows.

"The thing that has irritated me and Jason is when kids ... don't even think we play music; they think we DJ it," says Kelley, the Nashville-based electronic duo's lead vocalist.

"We put a lot of work into bringing a live, organic element to the music. We want people to understand that we're playing things and doing stuff live."

Cherub shows, Kelley says, are a real-time blending of man and machine. The action is equally split between the use of samples -- all recorded from actual performances on real instruments -- and live vocal and instrumental performances by Kelley and co-founder Huber.

The band's blend of falsetto vocals and funk and hip-hop elements with an eminently danceable beat earned them tremendous acclaim in 2012.

Following the release of their second album, "MoM & DaD," in February, Huber and Kelley landed slots at major festivals, including SXSW and Hangout Fest and an appearance alongside electronic legends STS9 at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater.

In August, Cherub's "Doses & Mimosas" spread like wildfire across the Internet, eventually becoming the No. 1 song on music blog aggregator Hype Machine and Video of the Day on AOL Spinner.

Friday, Jan. 11, Cherub will take to the stage at Rhythm & Brews alongside local funk/jazz fusion ensemble Smooth Dialects.

Huber and Kelley met while studying at Middle Tennessee State University. The pair shared a similar fascination with "ridiculous electronic music" and got along well, Kelley says, but the seeds of Cherub didn't sprout until late 2010. Kelley, then a beat maker for rap artists, brought an early batch of his songs to Huber, who says he immediately saw the material's potential.

Despite the pair's shared roots in electronic music, Cherub's music also reflects its founders' love of early hip-hop, R&B, folk and singer/songwriters. The blend makes for an unusual musical casserole, Huber admits, but judging by audience response in the last year, no one seems to mind the taste.

"The crowds are getting crazier and crazier," he says, laughing. "One of the problems we've been having recently is that [they] are singing along louder than our onstage monitors.

"It's a really, really great problem to have."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber, co-founders of Nashville-based electro pop duo Cherub, about why 2012 was such a big year, how their music blends man and machine and why they want audiences to notice how much they sweat.

CP: Your bio suggests you had a “massive 2012.” Is that how you would characterize it, and if so, what made it so stellar?

JH: Honestly, we don't even know where to start when it comes to 2012. There are so many things. We started off by releasing “MoM & DaD,” our last record, and it just took off from there. Looking back, we're looking back on crazy milestones, like a bunch of dates at Red Rocks Colorado and a bunch of short tours around the country with great acts. It's just been a really big year for us. We've never had this type of attention or opportunity to go out and spread music like this. It's been a really great opportunity with us, and we're stoked to get to continue to share our music with people.

CP: How do you plan to top yourselves this year?

JK: I think the question is “How can people help us top it?” At the end of the day, we can only do so much ourselves. We're busting ass to go to there and play shows wherever, and it's been really great because people have been sharing the music. All we want to do is just continue playing shows. One of our goals is to go out of the country and travel the world playing music. Whenever that becomes a possibility, it will be a big opportunity for us. We want to continue putting out new stuff and growing as artists and people. Hopefully, we'll match last year and add to it.

JH: One of our big things is that we enjoy releasing music for free because it helps everyone get access to it. We'll notice that we'll go into a town we've never been before, and people are singing along with the songs, which is one of the most heart-warming things ever. We'll be releasing a new record in early 2013, and we're looking forward to people falling in love with that one as well and starting to sing the words along with us.

CP: Tell me a bit about the next record. What were your hopes going into working on it, in terms of how you wanted to grow from “MoM & DaD?”

JK: It will be called “100 Bottles.” To start off, going into this year, for the front cover, we were able to go to an exotic animal farm in California and take all these wild pictures with these animals you see in the zoo and be up close and personal with them. That was a great way to kick of this year; it was crazy.

The sound, in general, is adding to what we already have. We're starting to get a niche sound and we want to continue to build on that and continue to grow as artists and people.

JH: In comparison to the last record, it's a lot of the same big choruses we had on the last record and definitely a more mature approach to the songwriting aspect. You can really hear how Jordan and I have grown with each other in the studio on each record.

JK: For the past year and a half or two years, we've been getting pushed into the electronic dance music and electronic scene really hard, so a lot of our music was about making people dance as the main focal point. Now, on this one, there's not as much of a focus on making people dance as on making really good songs that have a nice rhythm to it. There's more of a singer/songwriter aspect to these songs.

JH: Don't listen to Jordan. I still dance. [Laughs.]

JK: You can still dance, but they weren't made just for that purpose, you know?

CP: After you received such a great response to the dance-centric sound of the second album, why would you want to deviate from that approach?

JK: We didn't go far from it. We just didn't try and focus on making another “Doses & Mimosas” song. The sound is still there.

JH: One of the big things is that these songs, even more than the last ones, still have the same dance production behind them, but they do a better job of standing on their own. The underlying songwriting will do a better job of standing on their own with the two of us on acoustic guitars. You can really hear how Jordan has matured in his songwriting.

CP: How did you two originally meet and did Cherub start immediately after that or did you know each other before hand?

JH: We were both going to school at MTSU [Middle Tennessee State Univeristy] for music production and management. We were both doing pro-tech. Jordan went for a couple of years, and then was working in Murfreesboro, and I went for five years.

Once we started touring, neither one of us ended up graduating. I'm just a couple of credits away, but we started touring to the point where we wouldn't be able to dedicate ourselves as much as we needed to the music without taking the leap.

We decided to drop everything else and give it 100 percent. We met back in freshman year and worked on one or two small projects that never really did anything. It really was the end of 2010 and early 2011 that we got together and started doing this and haven't looked back since.

CP: What was it, initially, that made you think your approaches to music would be compatible?

JK: Me and Jason knew each other the whole time we were in college. Jason was in a band that was doing something completely different from what I was doing. I was making beats for rappers for a couple of years. I didn't even know I could sing until three years ago.

This is the thing that made us performing together make sense. I was making stuff in my room, and I didn't know how to take the electronic side of things out of my computer other than bouncing it down and doing a full live show. Jason had been doing that with his band in this side project for a couple of years. So that's how initially we got together, me showing the music to Jason and him being like, “Yeah, let's make this into a live show.”

JH: The first batch of songs was on Oct. 11. I remember having a conversation with him about, “What are we going to do with this? Are we going to put together a full band or a project like we're doing now?” The simplicity of having two people makes everything so easy. It's to the point that it's like, “Hey, when are we going to have a band practice?” Well, Jordan and I live together, so we just walk into the living room and turn our stuff on and start working. It just worked really well. It's been a really good thing. Me and Jason have been really good about staying on point together.

CP: It's interesting that, initially, the music was flexible enough that you could have gone either way: full band or duo.

JH: Well, we still eventually intend to do a full band. Everything you hear on a Cherub record, though it may be made of digital sounds, none of it is programmed. It was all performed into a computer, whether it be on keyboards or drum heads or whatever. There is an organic element to everything. It's pretty much a matter of when we have the time and means to really deconstruct the music all the way and build it back up from the ground up with a full group of people, instead of just the two of us. We break it down and build it right now with the two of us, but we eventually want to build an army behind us.

JK: The thing that has irritated me and Jason is when kids hear “Doses & Mimosas” or something else, and they don't even think we play music; they think we DJ it. It really sucks sometimes because I've been playing guitar for 13 or 14 years, and Jason has been playing guitar forever. We put a lot of work into bringing a live, organic element to the music. By the end of our sets, we're sweating our asses off, and we want people to understand that we're playing things and doing stuff live. There will be sour notes every once and a while because it's all live, and that's what people do.

JH: I think people are starting to really get that now. After our last show, there was some guy who was standing there the entire time while we were packing up. I looked at him as we finished, and he pointed right up at the stage and said, “Thanks for keeping rock stars alive, bro!” [Laughs.] It was funny, but when we were starting out, that's what we decided, that we were going to keep things rock'n'roll, keep the guitars in our hands and push the fact that this is a band. It's more than a dance party.

CP: Who were some artists you both came into this partnership sharing in common, as far as influences are concerned?

JK: Me and Jason have always had electronic music and all forms of it in common. To a certain extent, we even listen to the same rock music, I guess you could say. But for the most part, electronic music was something we had in common. Jason loves DJing super rowdy, fast-paced house music as well.

JH: I enjoy doing DJ sets as well, so the common ground we found was for ridiculous electronic music. I personally like a lot of singer/songwriter folky, rocky stuff, and Jordan is big, big into hip-hop, especially throw-back hip-hop.

JK: All I listen to is rap and old school R&B, really.

JH: It's really funny to hear all those influences come together. I always enjoy it when Jordan is like, “Here. Listen to this album, this album and this album because they're good for you.” [Laughs.] He's been giving me my hip-hop education, and I really appreciate that.

CP: Jordan, you have such a distinctive falsetto. How did you discover that was a comfortable way for you to sing and were there any other singers you looked to for inspiration as far as that particular approach is concerned?

JK: OK, so, to make a long story short, I was making beats for this dude, and he ended up getting a girl pregnant and moved to Atlanta because he just couldn't keep up with it. I didn't want to keep making beats for random people, so I spent a year in my room basically going crazy in this house that I was supposed to be living in with this guy who I was making beats for before he bounced.

I spent a year working on turning my beats into something I felt comfortable singing over, teaching myself how to sing. I always knew I could carry a melody and stuff because I would sing for other people I wanted to sing my songs. I swear - this sounds crazy - but I've never smoked cigarettes, which plays a big part in my being able to hit those high notes without being trained.

I don't know how it happened, but I'm glad that people like it because it was one of those things I was really unsure about. It was something that was a little embarrassing because I was like, “This is really high. Is it going to annoy people? Is it going to sound stupid?” I didn't have any confidence at all in my voice at the beginning. I've been stoked that people are digging the sounds of it.

JH: I think it's hilarious because you can hear Jordan grow into his voice more and more, but every once and a while, we'll get off stage, and he'll give me a look like, “Wow, I need to learn to warm up my voice properly.” [Laughs.] We're just kind of doing what we feel is right. Maybe some day we'll get that training behind it, but it's funny to hear such a crazy voice come out of someone untrained.

CP: Jason, what is your philosophy, as far as live production is concerned? What kind of atmosphere or groove are you trying to establish at shows?

JH: When we were putting the project together, the biggest thing was to keep it raw and rock'n'roll. When we get on stage, we're getting sweaty. We're not standing behind a table; we're out in front of the crowd.

You can reach forward and touch people, and that makes for a lively classic rock'n'roll show, as opposed to a whole bunch of lights and almost clinical sounding music. That's what we really wanted to drive home, the fact that we want to connect with our fan base.

As far as setting up the live show with just the two of us, everything is built around making things streamlined and allowing us do our job to the best of our ability every night without having to think about anything other than performing and connecting with the fans. Once Jordan and I step on stage, everything else disappears except the people in front of us, and it's pretty awesome.

CP: Do you feel like some component of the crowd's enthusiasm is rooted in the fact that the music is performed organically before it ends up in the computer?

JH: Oh yeah. Definitely. The fact that everything is performed in just means that everything you hear we're emotionally tied to. There's not a single thing in there where we're like, “Oh, that's just a high hat.” It's like, “No, those are the beats we put in there.” Everything in there is something we love.

CP: Tell me about working on “MoM & DaD.” What were your hopes going into working on that project because it was also represented a new direction from “Man of the Hour?”

JK: I think, going from “Man of the Hour” to that album, for the first part, “MoM & DaD” was originally going to be an EP with five or six songs. Then, it got away to the point where we made five or six more songs to make it a 12-track album. The “Man of the Hour” album was made when that material had never been played live before; Cherub wasn't even really Cherub when that was being made.

When you make that music and perform it live, you see the reactions of people to certain things.

On the faster songs - “Mine Is Yours” and “Love You Right” and all that - were the ones that were making people dance. Me and Jason like to see people be excited at shows and yell and scream. Playing the “Man of the Hour” album out and moving on to the new stuff, I wanted to make things that were very dance-able, very faster-paced and very in-your-face because that was what was getting reactions at the live show. Jason even said we should speed it up from the album to the live performance, tempo-wise. That as the biggest thing.

JH: that and that our producer, Nick, made the comment that on every single record, we go in and he can hear us growing as producers and songwriters. It's funny to hear ourselves influence each other.

JK: The “MoM & DaD” album was made - a lot of it was made - with the thought that, “How are kids going to react to this song live?” That was what was in back of our minds. That was the biggest difference.

CP: That came out about a year ago. How have the songs grown on you?

JK: Honestly, I'm really stoked that we make songs that we like. I haven't gotten sick of playing any of the songs yet or people requesting songs. I always thought it would be a nightmare to make songs you didn't want to make out of being forced to because of time limits or whatever. I haven't gotten sick of these songs yet.

What's funny is that even some older songs like, “Disco Inferno” and “Love You Right” are even more fun to play than the new ones at times because they just feel right live on stage. The relationship with all the songs, for me, has grown because I like seeing how they hit people's brains out live. Seeing people singing words that came out of my head, it's like, “Oh man. This is really, really flattering.”

JH: It's funny to see what songs hit, too. We didn't expect, “Doses & Mimosas” to get quite the attention it did right off the bat. That was hilarious for us to see. We feel like some of the songs off the album haven't even fully developed as much as we think they could.

We're about to release the video for “Monogamy,” and we have new music to follow it up so quickly that we don't know if the “Monogamy” video will get its full time to come into its own and release, but we still have this new music that we're dying to get out, so there's no holding us back. [Laughs.]

Another thing that has been a lot of fun, especially because of the way the live project is and that there are live elements coming out of the computer, some things sound very, very perfect. For Jordan and I to perform with those tracks live, we have to be very on point.

For the first few months of performing those tracks out, we're thinking really hard and are like, “Don't screw up. Don't screw up. Hit these parts.” But now, we're to the point where we know these songs like the back of our hands, and it's just a lot of fun. Jordan and I are having a lot of fun on stage with each other, and the crowds are getting crazier and crazier. One of the problems we've been having recently is that the crowds are singing along louder than our on-stage monitors. It's a really, really great problem to have.

It's fun to see the songs come into their own. It's one of those things where Jordan and I realize that it's more than just us, that something else is going on, and it's really special.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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