by Holli Stephens
When Joe Haller and Chris Duran first met in their Connecticut high school, a bond was made. “I think the first time we hung out we had a sleepover and we recorded a cover of ‘Better Off Alone’,” Haller says with a laugh. “We’ve been friends for like 10 years.”
The development of Cheerleader has a more recent history. The five-piece indie pop group got its start in Philadelphia when Haller and Duran decided that they wanted to move to a place with an established music scene like Austin or California. Unfortunately, the idea of packing their whole lives away in a suitcase was impractical so the duo started visiting cities on the east coast because of how close-knit the areas are. And finally, they arrived in Philadelphia. Haller mentioned that “they have a great music scene, it’s up-and-coming, and it’s cheap.”
An early and momentous recording studio session was the foundation in getting the band together because future keyboardist, vocalist, and guitarist Josh Pannepacker happened to be situated in the same building. After a friendship was built, finding the other members, bassist and vocalist Paul Impellizeri and drummer Carl Bahner fell into place. Duran comments, “The first time we played the five of us knew that was our band.”
Haller thinks hard before saying, “We think that we’re writing pop songs. All of our influences are more indie so I think there will always be an indie filter.” Duran admires the sounds of the Beach Boys, Nirvana, Pixies, and Talking Heads. The sound that Cheerleader produces could be described as a mash of rock, electro-pop, and alternative rock weaved together with calming vocals and uplifting guitar riffs.
Cheerleader has had a jam-packed couple of months. After playing South by Southwest music festival, and a nine show tour of England, Duran and Haller have a lot to reflect back on. Haller says SXSW was a very overwhelming moment for the band. The initial parking of their tour van was a fiasco. “There were thousands of people trying to park at the same time.” They played in Rachael Ray’s showcase along with some other Philadelphia bands.
Duran went on to say how they played six shows during that week then packed up and shipped off to England to performed there under similar conditions. The experiences outweigh all the turmoil of a busy schedule as they had the opportunity to play in The Great Escape festival as well as at Bush Hall. “It was our first time overseas, actually personally and professionally. We had a blast. We only heard good things going there.”
Cheerleader enjoys performing for big and small audiences alike. Duran says, “When you’re playing for a smaller crowd it’s easier to connect and you can really vibe out. Like basement shows. We came up off of that so there’s kinda like a comfort there. Big shows are great ’cause you get to see so many people hopefully enjoying your music and see them really getting into it. Obviously you get such a rush from that.”
During all this excitement the band still found time to release two singles, “Perfect Vision” and “Waiting, Waiting”. Two years in the making, Haller says that “Perfect Vision” was one of those songs intended to have a big sound that his Macbook’s Garageband couldn’t produce. They needed the opportunity to bring it to the next level. “Waiting, Waiting” has a more sentimental back-story to it. Pannepacker wrote the words in 2011 and thought, “…it was probably a bad relationship I had with someone and it’s the message that letting life happen to you and not necessarily looking for something to make you happy.”
This coming summer the band plans on taking no breaks. Duran knows that they’re going to do some east coast shows and spend a lot of time in the studio working on an album that will hopefully come out in the fall. Haller playfully adds “We’re gonna drink beer and meet new people, play music and just have a good time.”
Cheerleader will be playing their first show back in the States at Boot & Saddle on June 7.