The dance-pop duo Cherub sounds out of sync with most of the music that comes out of Nashville. Songs such as "Monogamy," "Doses and Mimosas" and "XOXO" shamelessly draw from the '80s. And when the guys play the tunes live, as they did last year at House of Blues Cambridge Room, the venue erupts into a wild dance party. Just a duo, the band makes one hell of a racket thanks to an assortment of samplers and synthesizers.
"Since Day One, the whole idea behind how we set up the live show has been to break the concept of a DJ or producer with a giant light rig," says multi-instrumentalist Jason Huber in a recent conference call with band mate Jordan Kelley. "We want to get up and be a band and get sweaty and touch everybody and have a lot of fun. From that point, it's been about keeping things streamlined and clean. We can play on a tiny stage or a big stage. We can even play behind a DJ booth if we have to."
The guys first met at Middle Tennessee State University, about "35 or 40 minutes down the road from Nashville." Their initial impressions of one another were a bit off-base. Four years ago, they moved to Nashville and have made the Music City their home base ever since.
"Jason was doing a lot of live performance and I was a studio rat who didn't know how to take what I was doing to a live show," says Kelley. "Jason knew how to do that and was extremely talented at it."
Kelley's first impression was a little different.
"I thought he was a gearhead," he says. "The first time I met him, he was smoking a bong and had a bunch of cool guitars that he had put together. I always for some reason thought he was the jazz guitar guy. He had that hollow body and played jazzy licks. I could not have been more wrong. He doesn't know shit about what he plays. He just plays what he's feeling."
Despite their differences, however, they became friends. In part, a love for '80s music drew them together.
"I like to say I was an '80s baby but the '90s raised me," says Kelley. "I didn't have parents that turned me onto music. Everything I found was due to me having a personal influence and finding music from previous decades. The best thing my dad ever gave me was a Rickie Lee Jones album. It had 'Coolsville' on it and I loved that song.
"There are no synthesizers but there's great songwriting and that's hugely important for us. Regardless of what soundscapes we use, we want to make sure that what we write about is something that connects with people in some way, whether they like it or hate it. Rickie Lee Jones has a lot of that. That's for sure."
Huber says commercial radio helped form his taste in music.
"[The '90s] were a great time for that — not just for straight-up pop music but also alternative rock music," he says. "There were bands classified as alternative writing great pop songs. We'll throw on Alanis Morissette songs. I think that's hilarious. I never assumed I would be singing along to those songs later. We like Vanessa Carlton. My parents introduced me to good songwriting stuff. Billy Joel, the Beatles and the Allman Brothers and stuff like that. They left me with an appreciation for good songs. It's not necessarily having a trained ear but just knowing what you like and appreciating it."
Their latest album, last year's EP Leftovers, culls together songs that didn't make the Year of the Caprese album that was released earlier in the year. Songs such as "Dave's Pick Up Truck," a novelty tune that begins with the line "getting fucked up in Dave's pick up truck" before the bleeps and blips of an old school synth kick in, are hilarious. The fact that the band's label is behind such a whimsical release shows the extent to which the group has been given artistic license to do as it sees fit.
"It's really been an enjoyable process," Huber says of working with Columbia Records. "The whole creative aspect has been entirely uninhibited, which has been really awesome. [We have worked with] Nick Curtis on every single record and we did the Year of the Caprese cycle with him. Taking it to Columbia, we were wondering if we would have to bring on other producers. We're proud it's still a couple of friends working together. They've fostered our creativity and helped put it on another level. They didn't come in and try to meddle. They've been really supportive."
And about that live show. The guys have aspirations of taking it to bigger stages. Once the time is right, they've got plenty of ideas about how to make that transition seamless.
"Since Day One, we've had ideas of a very grand live stage with other musicians and all sorts of gadgets and tricks and treats," says Huber. "Slowly, we're getting to realize those ideas. With each album, we're trying to bring something new and exciting to the stage."