What can I really say here. It is beyond an absolute pleasure to be featuring this wonderful remastered version of Cheer-Accident‘s phenomenal title track from their 2000 album Salad Days. Relistening to this fantastic blend of interweaving textures, dynamic guitars, bizarre horns, constantly shifting percussion, and bizarrely punctuated song structure have me in all sorts of nostalgic bouts. Barely graduating high school, getting kicked out of prime skate spots, getting munted from 2 beers. Ah, life you ol’ rascal.
If you’re a math rock head, you need to know about Chicago’s Cheer-Accident, a band that helped charter a new and exciting splice of punk, noise, experimental rock and avant-garde. Formed in 1981 and still going strong, the band continue to release, tour and inspire. Salad Days was the band’s eighth release, recorded over three years and featuring five long and drawn out tracks of horns, flutes, falsetto vocals and anything-but-conventional songwriting. The album wanders from energetic and beguiling to downright puzzling. It’s title track is much more than a 19 minute free-form epic, it is a deconstruction of musicianship and one that continues to leave me in a state of uneasy bliss.
I had the privilege of talking briefly to frontman Thymme Jones about Salad Days, and getting some of my burning questions out on the table…
The name ‘Cheer-Accident’ is one I’ve never been able to guess the meaning of! Can you enlighten us?
“Still in high school (early spring of senior year), I was looking through cards at a Hallmark shop and noticed a category of cards called “CHEER-ACCIDENT.” There was only one card in the bin, but apparently the idea was to cheer someone up after they’d had an accident. (The front of the card showed a guy in a hospital bed with his elevated leg in a cast.) The phrase struck me immediately as a perfect name for SOMETHING. It was used as a name of a cassette, initially, and then stuck as the band name when we became an actual band.) Although it was definitely not something I was remotely conscious of at first, I’ve since enjoyed thinking of it as an embracing of serendipity, which certainly speaks to our way of doing things.”
‘Salad Days’ is an exceptionally long endeavor, almost 19 minutes. ‘Trading Balloons’ is a whopping 52 minutes! There is a lot of experimentation with musical space: lots of drawn out melodies, bits of empty space. I’m interested in your motives here. Can you provide some insight into your songwriting process? What is your intention behind these long epics? An exploration of sound?
“An exploration of sound, definitely, and an exploration of form. And an exploration of how time is perceived. With both pieces, there are minimal and meditative sections which stretch a small amount of material out for extended periods of time, and then there are densely-packed sections which function in the opposite way.”
Both pieces were painstakingly composed by the whole band (a quartet at the time). It was a very time-consuming process, as the “mathier” parts were very much written with all four of us in the room at the same time. It’s akin to sculpture, in that there is a certain amount of material to work with, which we then shave off or add to in order to create the desirable shapes. It’s very “hands on.” In the case of Salad, Jeff actually had about 85% of the form (in terms of its linear progression), which we then built on top of.”
How do you feel about your music being described as ‘math rock’? You evidently blend a lot of different musical motifs, but I’m interested in your opinion of the term.
“All music involves math. Does our music involve MORE math than, say, the polyrhythms and waveforms created by dozens of cicadas? Probably not.
Somebody came up to me after our recent St. Louis show and was enthusiastically talking about how all of our stuff is “math rock.” I asked him if he thought “The Why Album” was math rock. He paused for a few seconds, and then answered, “Yes!” And then he asked why the song “Transposition” was included two times in a row on that release. I informed him that it was on there three times in a row. So much for math!
I think I have an equal lack of feeling about the following terms: rock, math rock, prog rock, experimental, pop. I understand the reference points, and they all point to something that’s somewhat accurate about what we’re doing, but I’ve gotten too spoiled by now: too many people have conveyed their desire/ability to take what we do (be it in person or on a recording) as a whole and unique experience, something which doesn’t fit snugly into any one category, no matter how it might seem to fit in a given moment. (Having said that, I’m going to happily refer to our next album on Skin Graft– our 19th, coming out in the spring of 2018– as ‘kraut pop’.)”