Whether referencing Nicktoons or flirting with ska, Cheem offer unrestrained summer fun on their new LP, Guilty Pleasure. The Hartford, Connecticut five-piece serve it up in heaps with no reservations about lapsing into rap-rock and hyperpop, or taking influence from Nelly and Tim McGraw when the impulse strikes. Instead, these nine catchy pop-punk ragers are a testament to just how big a splash you can make when you don’t get hung-up on whether people will think you look cool—the musical equivalent of cannonballing into the community pool.
As much of a blast as it can be, though, DIY music is no pool party. Guilty Pleasure also nods to the sometimes-cutthroat community they work within, as parodied in a running Twitter bit that saw Cheem starting fake beef via memes with bands like Hoity Toity, Short Fictions, and Camp Trash. Songs on the record tackle the increasingly untenable economics of art, the push and pull of branding and genre labels, and the assholes we all have to deal with in and out of the music business. “There’s plenty of fun experiences that come with playing music,” guitarist/vocalist Skye Holden recently shared. “Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of facets that push me to ask, ‘Why am I even still doing this?’ And a lot of those come not just from the industry as a whole, but specifically from the scene we’re in.”
Ahead of the Friday, July 22 release via Lonely Ghost Records, the band is offering an early listen to Guilty Pleasure in all its uninhibited eclecticism, along with Holden’s track-by-track breakdown.
1. “Virtual Boy”
Our drummer Sean texted me and said our album should have an intro, so I sat down and wrote the most badass intro I could come up with in 10 minutes and that was that. I spent a while trying to get the guitar sound that you hear in the beginning to sound nice and screwed up.
The lyrics are about being annoyed by the routines and social constructs of being in a music scene, especially considering a lot of people seek it out as an escape from the exact same type of garbage they put up with at work or from their family or whatever.
These lyrics are from the perspective of the person who manipulates, gaslights, and ghosts (hence the Danny Phantom reference/sample) every potential romantic partner they can until they're literally universally hated in their area. At which point they usually move to another state and do it all over again. Pretty sure everybody knows this person. It was a fun change-up to write from a deliberately villainous point of view. Definitely will not be the last time we try that method.
This song is about how transparent it is when an artist tries to do something inauthentic. No matter how much money a label throws at them, or how many years they've been playing, you can tell instantly when someone is doing something just because they want a hit song and not because they actually feel passionate about the music they're making. The kids aren't stupid.
The chorus is a double entendre: “Get the picture, turn the other cheek” refers to a sort of metaphorical wake-up slap, but also the process of taking mugshots. The industry is able to keep artists as prisoners by getting them to sign terrible contracts. Even though it seems like we're leveling our complaints at the performers themselves, it's really the suits at fault. They're either directly ordering their artists around or whispering in their ear and making them paranoid enough to take their suggestions. A lot of the accusations we make in this song I could see being directed right back at us—and some of them have been. People can draw their own conclusions.
4. “Cheem Szn”
This track exemplifies the entire motto of our band, and the title of the album. “Guilty pleasures” as a concept needs to be abolished. If the content you consume isn't made by terrible people and isn't expressing any deliberately harmful ideals, then why would you ever feel guilty about liking it? Just be honest with yourself and the people around you. You shouldn't be ashamed to listen to music they think is “cringe”—they should be ashamed for judging you based on something so subjective. If you're one of the perpetrators of this, you should take a good look inwards and try to figure out why you would belittle someone for their opinion on art. It's like that meme with the cow standing in the ocean where it says, “I am cringe, but I am free.” Be free.
I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without my phone or laptop. I recognize this is not a good thing, but I also do nothing to change it. It’s a little frightening how much influence social media has on real life, though. I feel like 100 followers is seen as a really low number on most platforms, but imagine if you had 100 people following you around in real life just waiting for you to say something. I just feel like humanity wasn’t prepared to be connected to this many people at all times.
Musically, this was probably the most fun track to produce. Obviously it's mostly programmed tracks, so the fact that it's all locked to a grid made it easy to just keep putting more and more crazy stuff in. I love listening to chaotic hyperpop and breakcore, so making a song like this really scratched a specific itch for me.
The way the world and the economy are going now, none of us are going to own shit when we're older. Life will be a constant cycle of paying bills because you'll be renting or subscribed to everything you use on a day-to-day basis. Again, like in “Virtual Boy,” it would be nice if music was sort of an escape from this. But as most people know, the industry is so money-dominated that it makes it hard to want to try when you see someone who clearly has a lot of money behind them succeed with such ease when you're struggling to cover the cost of a merch run. There was a CT band called Grass Stains whose bio used to be “Making music in the money industry.” This is pretty much the song version of that.
Our friend Bobby Woody was kind enough to drop a really fun verse on the bridge of this song, so shoutouts to him.
What a surprise: another song about how much I hate/love making music. This one more specifically focuses on how off-putting it is to see firsthand how people get whipped up into a frenzy over the littlest things. DIY music seems like it should be a laid-back, supportive community, and at times it can be. But I've seen a lot of instances where it’s extremely cutthroat, unforgiving, and judgmental. At the end of the day, though, it still beats any “real” job I've ever had.
The chorus probably sounds like it's about a relationship, but it's just a metaphor for my personal relationship with the scene. The line about “holes in my brain” is like…I sometimes feel like I must be a total moron to keep doing this. The following “holes in your sweater” is a dig at people with trust funds and huge houses who try very hard to hide these things and dress exclusively in Goodwill chic to fit in with their peers who probably aren't as well off. Then they go around shitting on people for benefitting in any way from the exact system that ensures they themselves will never have to worry about making rent.
Sometimes you let a relationship go on for way too long because you both refuse to see that it's essentially already over. It becomes a struggle to enjoy spending time with the other person, and you realize that the plans you made around them terrify you instead of excite you like they used to. You'll go to sleep and dream about living without them or with someone else, and then you're disappointed when you wake up next to them.
Sad song—really cool vibe musically, though. My personal favorite from the album, maybe my favorite song we've ever released. It was actually originally inspired by “Over and Over” by Nelly and Tim McGraw of all things, although the end product doesn't really resemble it at all.
We all knew this was going to be the last track as soon as we finished it. Some really beautiful little production flourishes on this one. The lyrics are basically about how if you don't believe in yourself, nobody else is going to. Why should anyone give your art the time of day if you're not passionate enough to keep pushing, even when nobody cares yet? Do we think we're the shit? Yes, absolutely. That's because we put an insane amount of work into writing, recording, and rehearsing, and we also make music we love. If we never reach the astronomical highs we're shooting for, then at least we had as much fun as possible.