An Interview with Paul Cherry at Pitchfork Music Festival

Author: Zach Adams

Rising star and jazz-pop connoisseur Paul Cherry brought his unique sound to Pitchfork’s Green Stage on the second day of the festival. Brought up in Chicago’s lo-fi rock scene, Cherry (real name Paul Cherewick) completely altered his sound after realizing that bouncing from band-to-band wasn’t for him. His new LP Flavour draws from the yacht-rock of Hall & Oates to the intricate production of Todd Rundgren and is filled with jazzy tunes and summertime bops. Cherry, who is set to embark on his first European tour later this year, sat down with WSUM after his set to talk his roots, loving his friends’ music, and his infamous ode to Olive Garden breadsticks.

How’re you doing Paul? How does it feel to be here?

Paul: Today is a crazy day.

Can you elaborate? What’s so crazy about it?

Paul: I think that I was really expecting it to be rainy, and […] twenty minutes before we played, there was nobody there. And I was just like, “alright, we’re gonna play to nobody, it’s gonna be chill.” Like you know, I can say that I played Pitchfork. But then the clouds parted, there was a bunch of people, and it was a really special experience. Like, I felt like everything about it was just generally special and nice – and that’s all I wanted from the experience. So it’s been nothing but really positive vibes.

You grew up in Chicago’s DIY/garage rock scene. How did those formative years help mold you into the musician that you are today?

Paul: I kind of just started making music out of college. Well, I went to music school, and so I was making music there. And I had bands, and they broke up. And I just didn’t want to be in a band with a name anymore because I didn’t want the band to break up again. Because every time a band breaks up it’s, like, all the time and work, and money, investment – it’s for nothing. And I had a lot of that.

So then I thought – you know, my last name isn’t really Cherry, but it’s really close – so I thought, you know, I’m just gonna be Paul Cherry. And I’m gonna invite all my friends who wanna work with me into, you know…helping. But it’ll ultimately never break up because it would just be me. And no one but me can stop me from doing it.

So, I was hanging out with a bunch of really awesome bands in Chicago in 2014, around when I started, and one of those bands is the Mild High Club. And I just kind of watched them grow out of college – because I went to college with them – and just watched them grow up. And bands like Twin Peaks, and, you know, Whitney, and Ne-Hi and all of these dudes that are around me. Watching them make great music, and then watching people care about it, watching them blow up in a genuinely cool way, in a nice way. I thought, you know, I could do that, but I have to get really down to business. So then I started just really getting down to business on it, and it’s actually starting to pay off, which is really beautiful.

What prompted that change in sound from a lo-fi rock sound to your current jazz-pop sound?

Paul: When I write a song, it has to be really challenging for me. Like, it has to be stuff that I can’t really even play at the time when I write it. I want it to be really hard for me, because it makes it feel more worth it, or something. Like, writing easy three-chord songs is not fun for me, so I just try to write really hard stuff and see if I can make it sound good. And the change in sound kind of came from maturing as a person and, like, trying to maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude. But, you know, life happens, and I just always wanted to be a good musician. Like, I never wanted anything more than that, just to be a good musician. And, like, people would say “oh, more or less he’s just a good musician.” That’s all I really wanted. And I knew that I had to really throw down and learn how to record for real, not in a DIY/lo-fi way. I wanted to record for real, like I didn’t want to just play whatever local bars for my whole life. I wanted to play for real and I wanted to go on it for real. So, I think it was just an attitude switch from, like, “this is fun” to “this has gotta be, like, the only thing I want to do.” This is serious business, basically. And so the sound change came with that, too. Just kind of taking myself more seriously, deciding that I can do more. I just have to push myself.

You’ve said that your current influences, both sonically and personally, have included Hall & Oates, the Carpenters, and Todd Rundgren. Can we expect to hear these influences on Flavour?

Paul: It definitely has all of those vibes, for sure. All of that kind of, like, Hall & Oates, yacht rock kind of vibe is kind of prevalent. And the Carpenters. Like, kind of…sad-happy, sad piano is definitely prevalent on a couple of tracks. It’s all in there, for sure.

You got to tell me about your famous “Breadstick Ballad.” Would you consider writing another song for another restaurant, or does Olive Garden have your heart?

Paul: I would not…maybe I would, for a lot of money. But I just…

Getting that sponsorship deal?

Paul: They sent me $200 worth of gift cards, so that was cool. And I then took all my friends to get drunk at Olive Garden on sangria. But yeah, I just did that for funnies. And it was like, back in 2014, dude. Like, honestly just back when nothing was serious, and everything was just fun and lofty, and I can do whatever I want. And I just will make a song for Olive Garden because they’re just tweeting at me, and they asked me to do it as a joke and I was like, “this’ll be funny if I really did it.” That whole time in my life is so silly, and I look back on it as pretty carefree. Like, to just make a song for that reason. And I love when people bring it up because it’s so weird that I did that. I feel like it is weird.

It’s definitely a great talking point. And you gotta record a formal version and put it on an album someday!

Paul: Maybe I’ll change the lyrics up. But yeah, I actually think it’s a good song. I kind of ripped off a Todd Rundgren medley off of the A Wizard, a True Star album for that “Breadstick Ballad.” It was, like, a deep cut, Motown medley that I was inspired by for that.

You’ve got an upcoming European tour coming up. Are you excited about that? What’s going through your mind as you go out of the country touring for the first time?

Paul: My label is pretty small, and I pretty much fund most everything by myself. So, it’s been interesting making the money aspect of touring Europe work and looking at all the logistics. It’s, like, pretty expensive, but we’re actually making enough money to make it work. And I had an agency reach out that wanted to book me. And it was my ultimate, number-one dream of life to tour Europe. Like, that was like, you know…that’s when I know I’m doing something right. And when it started happening I was like…I don’t care how much it costs, if I lose money…like, I just wanna do it, I wanna see what it’s like. And so, you know, I’m going into it headstrong. Just like, let’s see what’s going on over there.

Which artists in music today have you most excited about the future?

Paul: I really like my friend Kevin Krauter’s new album. And he performed with me today, and you should all go listen to it, it’s so amazing. And another artist that I’ve been really, really into – kind of like a guilty pleasure – is Kero Kero Bonito. Do you know Kero Kero Bonito? I really like the PC music wave and, like, Hannah Diamond and SOPHIE. And all that kind of music is, like…that’s what, for me, is really frickin’ cool right now. All the super digital-sound-design-y kind of, like, internet-y music – I’m really into that stuff.

In terms of just what’s going on right now, my friends are killing it. Like, Kevin and Lilly West – she’s in the band La La La La – they have a new album coming out that’s so amazing, and everyone should listen to it. I work with an artist named Anna Burch and I love her album, and everyone should definitely go listen to that. If I have a chance to shout anybody out, you know? I love the new Post Animal album, I love that record. That song “Ralphie” is such a banger.

I think that now more than ever I’ve been more optimistic about new music and people making it, because I started to give more of my time to checking it out. And for a long time, I just did deep-cuts, listening only to old music, old deep-cuts from YouTube. And now I’m starting to care more about what’s happening now, and I’m pretty pleasantly surprised with what I’m finding.

RAPID-FIRE

  • Guilty pleasure: The Bachelorette
  • Favorite album of the year so far: Kevin Krauter’s new record
  • One place you’ve always wanted to visit: South Korea
  • First celebrity crush: Topanga
  • Best concert you’ve ever been to: “Last year at Pitchfork, Solange. That’s an easy one for me. That’s so easy.”

Listen to the full interview with Paul Cherry here!