Interview: Robert Cherry

posted February 1, 2005

by Corinne

Robert CherryHow are you?

Surprisingly upbeat, considering there's a foot of snow on the ground. Maybe it's 'cause the sun made a rare appearance today. I'm in Cleveland, about a block from Lake Erie, so we get some heavy cloud cover.

With the break up of Ether Net, was doing a solo album the first thing that crossed your mind?

Pretty much. There was no chance that I'd stop playing music altogether, but I wanted to base the new album around the songs themselves, rather than the strengths and weaknesses of a fixed group of musicians. And since I was more or less going it alone, and the songs were extremely personal, I didn't want to come up with a band name and operate under some fiction like Black Cancer Marmalade or A Hint Of Nipple or something [laughs]. A band name seemed like a way to hide.

Has your working process changed any being solo?

Yes and no. I still write the same way--the songs always start on acoustic guitar--but I was able to bring in a bunch of different friends to arrange and record them, mostly people I've been playing with for years and years. The core group was me on guitar, producer Don Depew on bass and slide guitar, Ken Leonard on keyboards and string arrangements, and Dave Zima on drums. Then I'd bring in additional players, depending on what the song called for. In a sense, it didn't feel like I was completely starting over, because I'd worked with Don and Ken on all of the Ether Net albums.

You mentioned in your top 10 albums of 2004 that George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" and T. Rex's "Slider" were "big touchstones" for "The New Forever." Why those albums and what has been their effect on the album?

In general, I've always loved the texture of those three albums. That's the main thing you'll hear--a reliance on acoustic guitar and voice, with drums, bass, piano, strings and electric guitar supporting them. Lyrically, I really like the directness of Harrison's first post-Beatles album. Songs like "Isn't It A Pity" and "Beware Of Darkness" have a clarity and spiritual perspective that cuts through the bullshit and points in a better direction. It's a really wise, soothing, timeless album.

Did you have a specific mindset when writing "The New Forever"?

Yeah, it felt like the end of things. And I guess it was. On a personal level, Ether Net had broken up after plugging away for ten years. And on a global level, the Iraq war seemed inevitable, even though a huge number of people throughout the world saw through the pretense and were already protesting it. There was definitely an apocalyptic vibe in the air. The album was originally titled "Love Songs For The Apocalypse," but that felt a little dark and heavy for what's ultimately a hopeful album.

Why "The New Forever" as the title?

The song "New Forever" appeared just before the band broke up, and led the way for the new direction and the new songs. It also captures that apocalyptic vibe. And by "apocalypse," I don't mean some doomsday scenario, but a dramatic universal shift through personal renaissance. The first verse describes the cynicism and indifference that seems pervasive today--"everything's only new once." The second verse describes the broken system--"news of war isn't any news at all." The third verse finds renewal in someone you love--"let's stop counting down the season's end." And the chorus calls for a fresh start--push the reset button on eternity.

How did you get involved in playing music?

Some girl broke my heart when I was, like, 11 [laughs], and my immediate response was to write a song. At that point, it was just lyrics and a melody, so I picked up the guitar and learned to accompany myself. Since then, I've always had a song in my head that I'm working on. And once it's written, I feel the need to record it. And once it's recorded, I feel the urge to go out and perform it. That's the whole not-so-vicious cycle that's ruled my life ever since.

If you could have written any song, what song do you wish you had written and why?

My favorites are the ones I think we all feel like we've written any way, the universal ones: "Imagine," "Heroes," "What's Going On"... If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably go with "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Paul Simon wrote so many perfect songs--all very inclusive--and theyre immaculately arranged.

With the album getting ready for release, what are you up to? What can we expect?

I'm still working that out. A lot of that will depend on whether I can find a good indie label to get behind the album. I'll definitely be performing solo acoustic dates and putting together a touring band at some point, but I might wait to do that until after I've recorded the second album. A flood of new songs keeps arriving and I wanna get 'em down on tape soon.

Name an underrated band you think deserves more attention.

I toured with my friends in Leviride last fall, and witnessed some amazing performances. I think this will be the year they finally get the break they deserve.

What have you been listening to recently?

I'm really enjoying the posthumous Elliott Smith disc and the Kasabian debut, which combines a lot of my faves--Stone Roses, later Primal Scream, Massive Attack, Oasis etc. And I'm really looking forward to the new discs by Doves, New Order, Oasis, Coldplay, Richard Ashcroft, Longwave, Poem Rocket and The Tears. That's the new group featuring Bernard and Brett from the Suede line-up that recorded "Dog Man Star," another of my favorite albums. Should be a great year for music.