Cheatahs: Variations on a theme with Mythologies

by J. Daugherty

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, shoegaze was a dominant force in the British music scene. For a brief period, bands like Swervedriver, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine were the heroes of alternative rock the world over. Before the Seattle sound championed by Nirvana and Pearl Jam rose to international prominence, swirling dreamy guitars and introspective lyrics ruled the day. Those times are over now.

Or are they? As George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and in this case that might not be such a bad thing. In the 2000s, shoegaze and noise rock surged back into the popular eye, and this trend continues into the 2010s with Cheatahs and their contemporaries. While other members of the so-called “nu-gaze” movement are content to rehash the works of their predecessors, Cheatahs draw from a variety of influences to put a new spin on the genre. Though their debut album, Cheatahs, could be mistaken for a product of the old greats, their current opus Mythologies takes inspiration from the motorik rhythms of Can, Neu!, and Popol Vuh. Listening on a deeper level reveals elements of La Monte Young and even the plainchants of ancient sacred music.

The band’s style takes cues from more than just music, though. Their Murasaki EP was inspired by the Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu, and Mythologies is named after a collection of essays by Roland Barthes, a French philosopher and literary theorist. More writers than just Barthes inform their latest album however. As vocalist Nathan Hewitt said, “There’s [also] some Pynchon and Kerouac on this record for sure.”

As intellectual as their recordings are, Cheatahs get a little more raw in person. Unlike many of today’s acts where immaculate productions are the rule whether in the stadium or the studio, with Cheatahs, “…they are kind of different beasts. Some songs just work way better live and others don’t so we choose the ones that do and build the set around them. The fun part of recording is you’re experimenting and not worrying about whether it’s possible to play or not.”

Though the band brings a lot of live energy into the studio, Cheatahs brings some of their studio polish to the stage with their new album. On their previous record their songs were largely dictated by their live work, but in Nathan’s words, “On this one it was kind of the opposite. We didn’t get to play any of these songs live before we recorded them, and I think that would have been really good if we could have. We’ve already made a few changes to the songs for this tour as we’ve been able to play them and figure them out a little better than the recordings. It’s such a strange process that the recordings are really only one version of a song.”

Though Nathan founded the band and often finds himself in the spotlight, Cheatahs is a collaborative rather than an individual project.

“We all bring in ideas and the ones that everyone like get worked on,” they said. “It’s funny because sometimes a song that gets brought in will be championed by another member and taken to a whole different place than [we] originally thought, which is the best kind of creative work when you get this unexpected result.”

This is evident in their production style. While many bands put the vocals front and center, Cheatahs treat them as just another instrument, blending smoothly into the mix. They give every member a turn in the limelight and show that each element of sound is equally important.

Overall, if you can’t stand My Bloody Valentine and you hate Sonic Youth you probably won’t find much to love about Cheatahs, but if you worship at the altar of Shields and Moore there’s nothing better. Cheatahs take the shoegaze paradigm to another level, expertly blending modern and classic elements to create something different, yet familiar. Mythologies represents a thrilling development in their sound, and their current tour in support of the album promises even more excitement to come.

Live Show: See the Cheatahs at The Shakedown on Nov. 9. For more info, follow them at cheatahs.net. 

Published in the November 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine