To me, Cheekface could be the most exciting band bubbling up out of LA in some time. Cheekface is relatively new to the scene, having formed roughly around the beginning of the unpleasantness in 2017. Their music is an acute reflection of the collective cultural id of anyone Millennial-age or younger since then and their latest album, Emphatically No., may as well have been the soundtrack to the pandemic, despite all of the songs being recorded prior to anyone even being aware of the novel coronavirus. That’s not to say it’s depressing. In fact quite the opposite. The album is fun and as cheerful as a little porkpie-sporting dog in a burning house.
The album was recorded at New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys, which was formerly owned by Elliott Smith. The frontman, Greg, is native to SoCal, having grown up in Orange County and attended UCLA. He is joined by Amanda, an indie-rock lifer from New York who does the band’s artwork, and Echo, who moved from Texas a decade ago and is well-established in the local scene. A lot of their lyrics reference their hometown, with mentions of not only Glendale and Calabasas, but also the petition guys at the Silverlake farmer’s market.
The key to the magic of Cheekface, and their cult following, is very conventional song structures, unpretentious chords, and an intensely relatable dark sense of humor. They follow simple rules: “Make the music you want to hear, don’t do premieres, never buy Instagram ads, reverb is bad, don’t play shows you don’t want to play, fuck Donald Trump, abolish ICE.” As evidenced in their artwork, the band also has a slight obsession with food, and who doesn’t?
Cheekface are coming to the Echo on Saturday during a west coast tour and I wanted to take the opportunity to interview them for Knock.
Cheekface Members: Greg Katz (lead vocals, guitar), Amanda Tannen (vocals, bass), and Mark “Echo” Edwards (drums).
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Knock: Can you explain the “Cheek Freak” phenomenon?
Echo: I wish we could.
Amanda: [Laughs] The community around our band, we are so thankful for it. I feel it was created by itself but it’s just a bunch of people that feel maybe like outsiders or marginalized, and they can come together and find community through our lyrics and what we’re trying to say. It can bring people together that maybe didn’t think they had things in common, but they do.
Greg: For a band that is so itself outside the mainstream, when the fans find each other, they are finding people who have a similar outlook on life. The fact that they united themselves as a group and have given themselves a name is pretty wonderful. When I was growing up, there were certain famous bands and when you became part of the fanbase, there was this global community of people that you shared something in common with. And it’s hard to find community anyway!
K: Maybe one of the reasons you have such a passionate fanbase is that you are very active at engaging with your fans. You take questions on Instagram, you did a Reddit AMA, you are very active on Twitter, and you even had a podcast at one point.
G: I do most of the social postings, for better or for worse. The truth is, it’s a watercooler I can step out to in the middle of the day and check in with people, see how they are doing, and chat with them. Sometimes it’s with the Cheek Freaks and other times with other musicians. It’s also where I find a community of like-minded people, so I like it for that reason too.
K: There are a lot of leftist political themes in your songs, so I wanted to ask your opinion: It may not be possible to destroy capitalism with music, but what is the second best way?
G: All of the members of Cheekface, I think I’m safe to say, identify as leftists or progressives or somewhere on the socialist spectrum, but I would caution anyone from taking bands’ advice on how to improve their community or their society. I think we all have a duty to improve our community or our society in the way we are best capable of. And that answer will be different for everyone. I think as long as you take the duty seriously, and act on it in the world as you’re able to influence it, then I think you’re doing something right.
K: Is anyone in the band involved in local politics at all?
G: I’m a member of DSA-LA but I feel like that’s just where it starts in involvement. The councilmembers who represent the areas where I work and hang out will certainly recognize my phone number or email address when I call to complain about this or that LAPD malfeasance or their mishandling of the most vulnerable people in our city.
K: It’s pretty well publicized, I think, that “Dry Heat/Nice Town” was written after Greg and Amanda attended the Women’s March in 2017. Would Cheekface ever perform at a protest?
G: Yeah, I would love to. What do you think, Mandy, Echo?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, I would love to. Greg and I were just starting out with Cheekface when we went to the Women’s March and were just trying to figure out what to do with all the feelings and where to put them, and it just made sense to write a song about that.
K: I know that Greg has a label. What local bands are you listening to or are excited about?
E: There is a little group of bands that are super inspiring, and some of them we are lucky enough to consider our friends. Rosie Tucker, who we just played a couple shows with, and GUPPY, who just put out some new stuff the same day we put out our B-sides.
G: Even though I’m a music business worker bee, I don’t think that gives me any special insight on who the best music is. I pick what I like the best as a fan based on what I want to listen to. I will piggyback on Rosie Tucker being the best and most wonderful artist in LA as far as I’m concerned. Jess Kallen is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter that we really like. Goon is a great band from LA that I listen to all the time. Kenny is a phenomenal songwriter and singer, and he’s also an amazing visual artist. I love Ramonda Hammer that Mark also drums in. It’s a town of creative people, the local music community is a little bit in shambles in our late-COVID era and hasn’t had a lot of time to resettle and reconvene into what it will be in the future. But that being said, I’m excited to step back out into shows and find who is doing something new and exciting in our corner of the world.
K: Mark, you mentioned GUPPY. They are playing all the time in Los Angeles.
E: Their live show is incredible, absolutely incredible.
G: They are non-paralleled when it comes to delightful and silly shows.
K: You would say it’s a silly vibe at their shows?
G: Yeah [Laughs]
A: We’ve played with them many, many times.
E: Extremely pure, joyful silliness. They make rock super fun and not pretentious.
G: We just did a few shows out of town. Someone told us how grateful they were that our show was fun. Not just playing songs, but having fun with the audience. After so long apart, we realized, wow, we’ve been to so many boring shows where, as good as the band or performer was on a music level, you’d leave it being like, “That’s a fine night I guess.”
G: We wanted to come out of it playing shows where it was going to be fun to be out and amongst people. Because this is not a fun Time of Man to be alive in, a Plague Age, so if you’re gonna ask people to leave their house and in the back of their mind they’re like, “There’s a plague out there, but I want to go out and see my favorite band anyway, I want it to be fun and special and unforgettable rather than just a show.”
You often talk about your love of performing in less-glamorous or less-traditional venues. Can you share any fun stories about performing in LA ?
G: We played a couple times at All-Star Lanes, which is a rather decrepit bowling alley in Eagle Rock, and it has a little front room where they used to do shows. It was a bring-your-own-sound-system kind of venue that played host to a lot of outsider shows that you’d have trouble putting on at a regular venue. When we announced our first show there, one of my friends said, “I saw you’re playing All Star Lanes, did you hear about the gutter punk band that played there where the front man had a heart attack and died on stage?” So I searched the LA Weekly archives, because I thought, if someone died in a gutter punk show onstage it would have been mentioned in the LA Weekly. And there was no mention of it there or the rest of the internet. So, I think the story is completely apocryphal, but believable because it was in a decrepit bowling alley bar. I think that I would like to die doing what I love best, which is playing music with my friends, but hopefully not soon.
A: [Laughing] Hopefully not, no.
K: You talk about Glendale in the song “Glendale” being a place, but also a metaphor for death. Does being in Glendale make you feel like death?
G: No! I love being in Glendale. They have amazing falafel and plenty of beautiful parks to eat it in.
K: There’s also that highly successful Twitter account about the Americana.
G: Yeah. Sometimes I think that person is reading my mind.
K: Okay, to close out we’re going to play a game. I’m going to read you some comparisons to Cheekface that other people have made that you haven’t already cited as influences. Sound cool?
G: Go for it.
K: Courtney Barnett.
E: Big like. Courtney Barnett, let us open for you, please!
K: The Dead Milkmen.
G: Dead Milkmen, definitely a prime influence on Cheekface.
A: Yes, brought up in the rehearsal space many times.
G: Love Beck. We definitely thought about bringing in some Odelay cut-and-paste influence on the last album, and barely any of it made it in, but a little tiny bit did.
K: Dismemberment Plan.
G: When I drove my little station wagon around in high school, my younger sister would be riding with me, and I would always be playing Emergency & I in the car CD player. And when I moved away for college, I had just so relentlessly pulverized it into my sister’s brain that she asked for a copy of it. She didn’t even know what it was, she just said it was weird to be in my car without it playing.
K: Vampire Weekend.
G: Vampire Weekend I have a little bit of a complicated relationship with, because sometimes those songs just cut right to the bone, sometimes they’re just too real for me. Not the early ones, like the first album, those ones I could listen to just for fun. But definitely the later ones, I’m just like uh, these songs are just a little too in my head.
G: Love Pavement, definitely a big influence on the band.
K: Barenaked Ladies.
G: I have heard Canadians compare us to Barenaked Ladies. I honestly have heard no Barenaked Ladies songs other than “One Week,” so there’s definitely no intentional influence. If we sound exactly like Barenaked Ladies, it’s purely coincidence.
K: They Might Be Giants.
A: Yup, I’d say definitely.
G: Not too much of an intentional influence on my end, but once people started comparing us to them, I was like, oh yeah, we’re definitely a spiritual heir.
Disclaimer: I am friends with Cheekface, and it rules.