Interview: CHERUB

Before the spring concert last Thursday, I sat down with CHERUB duo Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley. They lounged on couches on the upper floor of the Pageant with their bulldog George, who immediately jumped on me. Over the course of the next hour, I got to know Jordan, whose relaxed eloquence surprised me, and Jason, whose childlike enthusiasm and joking consistently weaved through the conversation. They had a rhythm of speaking together and joking together, even sometimes finishing each others’ thoughts, and both were clearly grounded in genuine appreciation of their lives and their band.

Student Life: Welcome to St. Louis!

Jordan Kelley: Yeah—we’re stoked to be here.

SL: Fate has played a big role in how you guys met. How do you think fate in general has shaped CHERUB’s popularity and how you’ve developed?

Jason Huber: I don’t know—the whole thing has been relatively organic for us. Even in releasing the first record, we never picked the single from it. It wasn’t like “this is the song that everyone needs to listen to.” We kind of released the albums as a whole [and] then responded to what other people were responding to. Songs like “Doses & Mimosas”—we made a video for that because people were into it. So, it’s kind of one of those things where we reacted a lot to what was going on, as opposed to trying to steer things from the beginning, and it’s allowed us to really have some organic growth from the beginning, as opposed to trying to hold onto a radio hit or something like that. It’s allowed us to slowly build fan bases up from the beginning and because of that we have a bunch of really cool people that keep coming out to the shows to hang out with us. It’s really awesome.

JK: Yeah, the first show we played in St. Louis was to like five people, like 3 1/2 or four years ago.

JH: I remember that the promoter felt bad for us, and he was like, “I’m not supposed to pay you, but I’m going to pay you something or else you won’t have gas money, and I know that.” But now it’s really cool! We come into town and play Old Rock House. We’re getting to play here at the Pageant tonight. We’re super stoked—it’s been a couple years of coming here to St. Louis; it’s been really fun.

JK: Yeah, it’s been dope.

SL: I read that “Doses & Mimosas” was almost left off the “MoM & DaD” album. Have you been surprised at fan reactions?

JK: The fact that [Doses & Mimosas] has been the door-opener for us—it has been pretty crazy. When we got done mixing the songs, we weren’t as excited about that one as the rest of the songs, personally. I think we just ended up putting it on because it sounds cool, but I’ve been surprised that that song’s the door-opener. But that’s been the song. For sure, there’s people that come to our shows just for that song, which is fine. We’re not bitter about it at all. Everyone needs that one song to take that next step towards things, but hopefully we’ll get a song out that will replace that one in the next album.

SL: What would you say are the biggest influences on how you make music?

JK: Usually, just sounds kind of influence the creative process, to an extent. We get new equipment or drum machines or keyboards. Usually, there will be a sound that will trigger a foundation or [an] idea, and it just builds from there.

JH: Neither of us are classically trained. We don’t necessarily sit down to write music with intention, like “Alright, tight. Let’s write some minor chords and turn around to major to put a little twist in it.” We just write things that feel good to us, and it’s sounds that we’re familiar with because they’re sounds that we grew up with, whether it’s the actual sounds of drums themselves or the feelings that you get with certain chord progressions and melodies and stuff like that. The music that we listened to and grew up with has definitely been a huge inspiration to us.

JK: (looks at George, who has started running frantically around the room) Dude, he’s tripping out. When I brought him to my hotel room, he started scooting all over everything, just putting his head in everything. He’s been drooling all day. He must be super bored or something.

JH: He had some wheatgrass this morning!

JK: He’s been in the car all day, I guess, but still. He’s been hilarious!

SL: I know a lot of your songs are based on real life experiences. What’s your brainstorming process–like in translating those experiences into music?

JK: I don’t know; we usually start a loop.

JH: I know our brainstorming process. This is one of my favorite things to say! In our new record, we were moved into a new studio space. So, it hasn’t been quite like this, but I used to wake up all the time—Jordan and I have rooms that connect with each other, almost like one of those little hotel doors. I would wake up all the time to hearing plunking around with some little samples and maybe some keys. And 15 minutes later it turns into a loop, and then a little baseline would come in with some chords. Then I would hear Jordan start singing nonsense to himself for the next hour or so. (Imitates Jordan) Not actually saying real words!

JK: When you’re figuring out lyrics, you’ve got to.

JH: A certain syllable would create a certain feeling, and you could hold onto that idea and start writing around it and stuff like that. A lot of it’s not necessarily done with intention on the way into it, but it’s about what is inspiring along the way and what just feels right.

JK: And also like the iPhone record option—what you’re using right now—I don’t know how people functioned without it beforehand…

JH: Tape machines.

JK: Yeah, tape machines, I guess. But I forget melodies so [quickly] if I don’t have—once I get the solid first thing down, I have to record that s— in. Because I get so frustrated if I record a whole verse I’ve written, and I forget the melody and have to do it again, which is pretty crazy.

SL: Have you always known that you wanted to be musicians?

JK: (immediately) Yeah, I’ve never had a plan B, ever. I got a guitar in third grade, probably, when my mom’s ex-boyfriend was super annoying—making up death and s—. He had a couple [of] guitars and brought them over, and I just knew I wanted to play guitar so bad. And I didn’t really try at anything else after I got my guitar. I played soccer throughout school, but I gave about 50 percent effort into everything else, if that.

JH: I’ve always been into music—I’ve always wanted to be a musician. Probably around the end of middle school [or] the beginning of high school, I really started to focus on that. I always played sports; I always dreamed of doing different sorts of things, but definitely throughout high school and throughout college, that was the only thing I was focused on.

SL: What do you think you would be doing right now if you hadn’t met each other?

JK: I think it would be…I don’t know. That’s an interesting question because I’ve never really thought about it. But I guess I would still be doing some sort of music.

JH: I feel like we’d be doing some sort of music.

JK: I don’t know at what capacity it would be, but it would be something music-related.

JH: (melodramatically to Jordan) I’d be nowhere without you, man!

JK: Yeah, me too, man.

JH: Put her there, man. (Reaches out for handshake)

JK: But yeah, definitely something in the music industry, because I don’t really have other interests. Oh—I want to pick up fencing! I met this dude—he was my Uber driver the other night…

JH: For the record, this is the first time I’ve heard about this.

JK: He just really made it sound interesting.

JH: Who is this?

JK: I’ll pull his card out right now. He was really nice. He runs a fencing club like 10 minutes from downtown [in Nashville,Tenn.], and we have time off in Nashville the next couple months.

Alberto De La Rosa, Student Life Senior Video Editor: This is such a dope card, too!

JK: I know, right? I just think fencing would be so interesting. I’ve never tried it, and I feel like it’s an interesting—

JH: En garde, touche!

JK: So, maybe I’ll start fencing… Was that related to the question?

SL: How do you guys influence each other? How has that evolved and shaped your music?

JK: A big thing for me and Jason is [that] we’re alike in a lot of ways, but we’re really different in a lot of ways. Making things work has been [about] understanding our personalities and knowing what our strong points and weaknesses are and when to back off and when to push something. There definitely was a honeymoon phase when we first met. Probably after a year or two, we probably got on each others’ nerves for a while, trying to figure out what each others’ role was and battling personality-wise to a certain extent. After that, it was like we get each other now, and everything’s been super cool. It was never like at each others’ throats. We’ve always worked things out the day of the dispute; we don’t let things fester forever and then want to kill each other months down the road and bring up some s—. It was just a matter of understanding each other. We do have a lot of similarities and a lot of differences.

SL: What are your main differences?

JK: Jason is more—not anal—but more detail-focused. He’s very picky about things.

JH: Certain things–some things I don’t give a s— about.

JK: Which is one of those things where it’s not bad. I’m super passive about things, and sometimes it’s good to be lax, and sometimes, I end up being like “Dammit. I f—ing shouldn’t have been that lax about it.”

SL: Jason, what kind of things are you not relaxed about?

JK: Everything.

JH: I’m not that uptight! I think of myself as a laid-back person. I smoke so much weed—I can’t be uptight! I’m pretty particular about our live show stuff and how things get done. One of the reasons why I’m super particular about that stuff is [that] in what we’re doing, there never really is a right answer. There are a million different ways to get one thing done. There might be five or six different right ways to do it, but the reason why I like to do it my way is so I know absolutely everything that’s going on, from start to finish. And if there’s some issue, I know right where to hop in to start fixing it. We stay super familiar with what’s going on. It’s like that for me with live equipment, but it’s also like that with the business side of everything. We stay really involved in what’s going on so that way we know what’s going on in our own lives—we can’t be inept. With that said, there are plenty of times where I won’t know what city we’re going to next and only know that because our tour manager put it in the calendar. And [we] keep our hands in every part of the process.

JK: You hear about musicians being grown little kids, and it’s because they’re in a situation once they go on tour [where] if they start playing and getting enough of a pull [they] can literally start getting babied for everything. If you have a tour manager, it’s like your mom when you were 10 [years old].

JH: It’s like the movie “Spinal Tap”— “I just want bigger bread.”

JK: It’s pretty crazy, to the point where, between our tour manager and business manager, I don’t even own a key to anything.

JH: I have a lot of keys.

JK: If things started going south and Ryan and Paul were to bounce out of my life—

JH: Oh, dude, we would get arrested for f—ing tax evasion.

JK: I would have a really hard time.

JH: I would be like, “You have to pay taxes? I thought you paid taxes when you checked out at the register!” But we at least sit through the meetings and talk about it. We may not know how it’s going on, but we know that it’s going on.

SL: Do you have a favorite part of being on tour?

JK: I like tour a lot.

JH: I love tour.

JK: I think tour, for some musicians, is their downfall. We have loved ones back home that we would love to spend time with, but I also get restless if I spend too much time in one spot. For a lot of musicians it’s hard to go place to place, day after day after day, especially if you have kids. We don’t have kids.

JH: [points to George] Just this baby boy.

JK: [looks at George] F—in’ weirdo. But yeah, I love tour. I’ve been able to travel so many places, and I get paid to do it, which is just tight. We’ve been to every single state in the United States. And I was raised in Nebraska and I lived in Lincoln for 18 years of upbringing, so to be able to go from there to like Tokyo or Mexico—I just talked to my parents (they’ve lived in Nebraska their whole lives), and I’m like, “Damn, you guys should see the world.” We’re not even 30 yet. It’s been so cool to see so much of it.

SL: Do you have a least favorite part of being on tour?

JL: (immediately) Laundry.

SL: Wouldn’t you have to do that at home anyways?

JK: When you’re on tour, the venues a lot of times have a washer and dryer, but everybody wants to do the laundry in the bus, so you have 12 to 13 people trying to hit up the dryer, so it’s always over-flooded. And you’re dirtier on tour.

JH: Also, the 75 percent sick thing. People won’t get actually sick-sick. If you’re actually sick sick, you’ll quarantine yourself in a hotel room and get better. But you’re never quite 100 percent. You’ll always get the sniffles and a little cough. You’re a little run down, like you’re operating on 75 percent health. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have 13 people living in a tour bus for three months at a time. You’re constantly changing climates and allergens that you’re being exposed to. You’re working into the wee hours of the morning and sleeping during the daytime like a vampire. You put that all down on paper and it’s like, “Tight. You’re going to get sick.” But we do a good job of everyone trying to keep everyone else healthy. Ally makes us drink our juice.

JK: The wheatgrass. We’ve been touring for five or six years. Through that, we’ve learned how to get healthier on the road. We started off eating off-the-highway food that was just s—, and now we make an effort to try to eat healthy food and work out. That’s been a cool group bonding experience, too.

JH: You’ve been doing a lot of vocal training.

JK: My voice gets f—ed up on the road—that’s also a stressful thing. That’s my other least favorite thing. When you play a show every night for an hour and a half and go party, you wake up with no voice, especially with recycled air on the bus. You wake up with no voice, knowing you’ll have to do it all over again. My voice has dropped like an octave. I wasn’t projecting properly; I just never had proper training.

SL: Do you have any rituals on tour?

JH: I just play with George.

JK: I drink a lot of water. Everybody thinks we’re going to be just tooting out cocaine and dropping acid before the stage. Everyone wants to buy us shots before shows. The reason we usually just chill before shows is because if we go out there, people try to buy us so many shots and give us so many drugs.

JH: And people get offended when you say no.

JK: We’re doing you a favor by saying no. So my ritual is just drinking water. It’s what my mom would do, probably.

SL: What’s your craziest fan story?

JH: People have come up and asked for Jordan to write lyrics in his handwriting and get it tattooed.

JK: That’s always so weird, that people want to get my chicken scratch on them. A lot of times, it’s just love, man. People sometimes just cry.

JH: There was a “Doses & Mimosas” tattoo that was misspelled. It was Doses and Mimoses. Maybe it was just an interpretive “a”?

JK: Mostly, it’s just heartwarming. It doesn’t often get weird. There is this family—they have a scrapbook of the past years of them coming to our shows that they put together and gave to us.

SL: If you could give a piece of advice to yourselves when you [were] in college, what would it be?

JK: Mine is bad.

JH: Drop out and make more music!

JK: I would’ve spent a month making all the contacts I did. So many people went to [Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)]. The networking was crazy, but what I got out of it was just debt, which luckily we’ve been able to pay off.

JH: I got a lot out of school.

JK: I would say make as many contacts as possible, and I would’ve dropped out way sooner.

JH: I would say take your time and get the most out of it that you possibly can. You might not necessarily get everything inside of the classroom. The most valuable things I learned was the network of people and the skills and experiences I made. But I was also there for 5 1/2 years—definitely took my time. I worked on campus booking all of the events, like the Social Programming Board that booked us for tonight. I used to have that job at our school.

JK: This ain’t his first rodeo.

JH: Meeting all of those people and learning all of those things got directly applied to CHERUB in our first formative months and years. And the other thing is [that] it’s just so much fun. You only get to do it once, so just do the f— out of it while you’re there. We’re still managing to find ways to pretend we’re in college, by playing at colleges and going out to to parties afterward and stuff, but if I had the chance to just hang out and throw more house parties, I’d definitely do that.

JK: Jason likes house parties. If I’m blackout, I’ll have a great time at [a house party], but if someone asked me what I like to do, I wouldn’t be mentioning house party.

SL: If you could change something about your careers, what would it be?

JK: I’ve worked a lot of s—ty jobs before this one, so this one’s pretty tight. Through all of the mistakes and trial and error we’ve gone through, being new to this and learning along the way, it helped us not do it again. So I don’t really regret anything. We’ve had some ups and downs, as far as the business side of things go.

JH: Everything that’s happened has made us into the band we are today, with how involved we try to be with the business and how participatory we try to be. If somebody else is working on something, we should be there to work hard on it too.

JK: No regrets, some ups and downs, but all in all made us stronger.

JH: Very poetic, that answer we just put together! I like it!

SL: Do you have any life mottos?

JK: Just be yourself, man. No—

JH: Don’t buy the shoes.

JK: That was an old motto. The new motto would be…don’t say no.

JH: That’s a good motto. I don’t know if I have a good one; I’ll just go with yours. Easy, breezy…You can’t make other people happy, unless you’re happy.

JK: That’s a good one too; I’ll support that.

SL: What were the main influences when you were younger to motivate you toward music?

JH: I don’t consider myself [to have been] a musician at a young age; I wasn’t raised as a musician. I probably picked up the guitar in my teenage years.

JK: My parents weren’t trying to push me in a musical direction at all. My dad was a state champion wrestler—he wanted me to wrestle.

JH: He always wants to wrestle.

JK: But he took me to one wrestling thing, and he could tell I didn’t like it and never took me to one again. He was super chill about letting me pursue what I wanted to pursue. I think them letting me do my own thing was the main motivator for it.

JH: There were a couple of shows I can remember that were a big deal to me. A lot of them were when I was going to high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I would go to these shows and say, “I want to do that” and just try to figure out a way to do that for the rest of my life. That’s when my mom found me the recording program at MTSU. Lo and behold, that’s where we met and [where] the band started. I also remember being at Bonnaroo and eating acid for the first time and wandering around with a head full of crazy and somehow I wandered into the backstage area. I was seeing the boneyard with Bonnaroo and seeing how the whole festival was put together, and I was just like, “Wow, this is crazy. I want to do this with my life. How do I get into this?” Over the next couple years, I started working at the festivals.

SL: What’s been your favorite place that you’ve been on tour?

JH: (immediately) Hawaii.

JK: Hands down, for me, Tokyo.

JH: Tokyo is a close second. Amsterdam!

JK: Amsterdam’s a close third. In Tokyo, the first show we ever played was super nerve-wracking because we came with our gear. And it’s always mishandled whenever we fly. The first show we played was at a festival named Summer Sonic.

JH: Summer Sonic!

JK: There [were] probably about 3,000 people for our set. First of all, Japanese people are—

JH: Super punctual.

JK: Super punctual—we were running late because there was a line check. S— was just going wrong for that set. But the thing about it was [that] while we were sound checking, all 3,000 people just [stared at us].

JH: In silence!

JK: And [they] don’t talk, as a respect issue. But as an American, where people don’t shut the f— up at all during the whole show, it was like, “What is going on?” They were whispering. It was very odd for sure. But Tokyo definitely, for the cultural experience, was my favorite.

JH: Hawaii’s just my favorite place. It has nothing to do with the actual show.

JK: Alaska was surprisingly awesome show-wise and just the people, food—the halibut there.

JH: We got to go skiing in Alaska. That was tight…We always make a point to do something, though. There are so many bands that, especially if they’re flying, they just go from their house to the airport, from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the venue, from the venue back to the hotel, to the airport [and] then onto the next one. Then they’ll wonder “Why am I depressed? Why am I not feeling like this is as cool?” Even if it’s just taking George for a walk or going for dinner somewhere or going to a record store, or anything just to appreciate the chance of what we’re getting to do—it makes the day that much less mundane. It makes the whole thing very exciting because then you do realize how much [traveling] you’re doing.

JK: Walking George, I’ll realize I haven’t gone out.

JH: George loves hikes too!

JK: I hate hikes. I let them take him.

SL: It sounds like you hang out with your fans a lot. How did that originally start?

JK: Well, it originally started because we didn’t have any choice.

JH: We were playing shows to five people—no friends.

JK: Which one of you motherf—ers is letting us sleep on the couch? I think unintentionally that’s how it started, but me and Jason, in general, are very appreciative of people supporting us and allowing us to make this our living. The least we can do is meet everyone who buys a ticket to a show and has fun at it. We always say like, “We have the day off tomorrow, and we’re trying to hang out and go to a bar.” And people are like, “Yeah right!” We f—ing for real like to go to a bar after the show. Are you guys 21? We like kicking it with people. We don’t feel forced to. It’s just the least we can do.

JH: That and it’s fun for us.

JK: We meet a lot of weirdos!

JH: Our options are [to] sit there bored in a hotel room and watch the same set of pay-per-view movies that you can see every time—

JK: For $17.99…

JH: —or go meet new people, make new friends, see a new place and get into something weird. That sounds way way more appealing to me. I’d rather take the opportunities that we are so lucky to have. I don’t understand how there are people that don’t do that. It’s so much fun. People are so delightfully weird! And we’re included in that—everyone’s a weirdo. There are so many different types of weird that you’ll get to encounter; it’s awesome.

JK: And whenever you’re traveling, you’re always wondering what the locals do. And all locals come to our shows, so why the f— would we not listen to them?

JH: The worst case scenario is it’s a really s—ty time, but then that probably ends up making for a really great story later that we laugh about, so everybody wins.

JK: It’s usually super whack.

SL: Is there a specific time when you knew you made it?

JH: I remember the first time we had what we call a “pinch yourself” moment. We were all on the balcony in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the end of that tour—

JK: Which was a s— show.

JH: And we were looking out in our robes and we were like, “This is it, dude. We went on our first tour.”

JK: That was tight.

JH: I specifically remember that as being a milestone, even though it’s been far surpassed. It was a cool checkpoint. Flying into Tokyo and having people with signs with our names on them.

JK: It was like five or six people waiting at the airport, and I was thinking to myself, “You’re trying to find another American. I’m not the one you’re looking for.” But they had our albums there to sign. It was super flattering and endearing for us. We were just pumped that people were that excited.

SL: How do you see yourselves shaping with the music industry?

JK: There’s a piece missing when you stream an album. You don’t get the smell of the booklet or the whole vision behind it, with the art that goes into it. I think, as a musician, it makes me put music out more frequently, which can be a good or a bad thing. Quality over quantity for us. It’d be tight to put out like three albums in a year.

SL: Where do you see CHERUB going in the future?

JK: We’ve definitely felt that as far as live shows have been going, we’ve steadily grown and grown for the past five years. With the past two or so, that kind of leveled off just because there hasn’t been anything new. We’re excited to get this music out, and hopefully we can replace “Doses” as the new encore that gets people cokin’ up.

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