Cheekface formed back in 2017 after the presidential inauguration when Greg Katz and Mandy Tannen began writing together. “The world seemed very destructive at the time. It obviously still does.” Katz says. “We felt like we needed to balance out the destruction by creating something.” They were joined soon after by Mark Edwards on drums. We are best friends now, and I'm invited to all of their birthday parties from now on. I recently had the opportunity to talk to the band about Mr.Bean, making that bagel money, and music. Check it out below. ALSO be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming album, Emphatically No which is out Jan 11th.
1. What have you been listening to lately?
Greg Katz: Thelonious Monk, Kenny Burrell, Sidney Gish, David Combs from Bad Moves’s Best of 2020 playlist.
Mandy Tannen: 40’s country, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell.
Mark "Echo" Edwards: Cloud Nothings, Bad Moves, Jeff Rosenstock, Taylor Swift, Willie Nelson, Sault, Bee Gees
2. How is the Cheeks the cat doing these days?
GK: Cheeks is severely disturbed, so I don’t know if he’s ever doing that great, but from the looks of it on Operator Music Band’s Instagram, he seems to be doing as good as ever.
3. Greg, you used to be a Journalist. What is the worst advice that you can give me when it comes to interviewing?
GK: Ask where they got the band name.
4. Any book recommendations?
GK: I haven’t been able to focus long enough to read too many books during this plague age, but I liked Willie Nelson’s autobiography.
5. Is it true that the band is sponsored by bagels?
GK: They’re our manager actually.
EE: If this is true, I have not received nearly enough complimentary bagels.
6. I told a girl that I could dunk, because I figured it couldn’t be too hard. Well, it’s actually pretty hard. How do I get out of this situation?
MT: Did you specify what you can dunk? I can dunk a mean donut.
GK: If you built your relationship on a foundation of lies, probably best to break it off and start over with someone else.
EE: Grab a broom, two chairs, then get me on a zoom. We’ll put together a workout regimen that involves jumping over a broom a lot. Like a whole lot. You’ll be dunking in no time.
7. Can you wish my friend Taylor a Happy Birthday and give him some life advice? (Taylor this is your present. I’m broke, sorry)
MT: Happy Pandemic Birthday, Taylor! Zoom parties are ok.
GK: If I had to give Taylor one piece of life advice, it would be, listen to Cheekface. This is the kind of present you get for free.
EE: Happiest of birthdays, Taylor! Free advice is worth what you pay for it.
8. How many of your songs are inspired by Ray Romano?
9. Who would win in a fight? Ray Romano or Mr. Bean?
MT: Mr. Bean is so much more wylie.
10. Is the band forklift certified?
GK: Maybe Echo is.
EE: I freakin’ wish ...
To start things off, can you introduce yourselves and give us your role in the band?
GK: I’m Greg and I play guitar and also sing, and I write the songs with Mandy.
MT: I’m Mandy, I play bass and sing background vocals, and write songs with Greg.
EE: I’m Echo (sometimes known as Mark), I play drums, mostly.
How did you meet and how did the band form?
GK: My partner introduced me and Mandy a while ago. We’d see each other at shows and always go, “We should get together and write sometime.” It didn’t happen for like a year, but eventually it did. We wrote for a few months before we sent Echo the demos. He was like, “I’ll do anything you need me to do, I’ll even play drums with one hand and play the synth parts with the other.” He never did end up learning the synth parts.
EE: Yes, it’s true, I tricked Greg into letting me join the band. Not saying I’ll never learn those synth parts, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
What were you doing before forming the band?
MT: I moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. And was floundering finding my people out here in L.A. I found Greg and Echo.
GK: We’re all indie band lifers. We were in other bands. We were also born, raised, ate bagels, etc.
I’m not going to ask how you got your band name, because I’m not a Jabroni. But what were some other names you considered before deciding on Cheekface?
GK: I wanted to call the band Plumping because that’s how I would describe myself, but I could not whip a majority vote for that. Ryan Gosling’s Huge Freakin’ Delts was briefly chosen and then abandoned. I Spread My Arms And I’m In Airplane Mode was a runner up.
Has it been difficult to find inspiration with how crazy 2020 has been?
GK: I wouldn’t say it’s been super hard to find inspiration to write songs, but it’s a lot less practical to work the way we usually work, which is with Mandy and I together in a room.
MT: Not hard to find inspiration, just harder to have banter. Zoom fatigue is real.
Your second full-length album Emphatically No. is coming out Jan 11th. Are you excited for that to finally be out?
MT: So excited! Been looking forward to having people hear it.
GK: Yeah, I think it’s mostly winners on there personally.
EE: Real excited! It’s been lovely to have something to look forward to and to work towards.
What can we expect from the album?
GK: Nothing but solid gold hits, I guess!
MT: Hoping it brings a smile, and a slight head bounce.
Is there anything in particular that inspired the entire album, or is there different inspiration for each track?
GK: Besides pulling in vibes from our perennial faves like Malkmus, Lou Reed, and Modern Lovers, there’s a few songs with direct references to other bands. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Calabasas” and “Original Composition” have references to Minutemen, “Emotional Rent Control” calls back to “Just What I Needed” because R.I.P. Ric Ocasek, and Mandy wanted to try a Tribe Called Quest-type beat on “Don’t Get Hit by a Car.”
What were y'all listening to while working on the album?
MT: Operation Ivy, De la Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Wire.
GK: Minutemen, The Beths, The Cars, Nick Lowe. We learned a Talking Heads tribute set in the middle of making the album so we definitely listened to a lot of them.
EE: All I really remember is Talking Heads… A lot of Talking Heads.
Is there a track that you’re most excited for everyone to hear?
GK: There’s some shining guitar work on “Call Your Mom” from Devin McKnight of Maneka. I’m excited to have that in the world.
Is there anything in particular that you want your listeners to take away from your album?
GK: If it just makes 34 minutes of your day better than it would have been otherwise in this dark time of man, we’re gonna chalk that up to a win.
What is the most important thing for you when it comes to writing a song?
GK: It should be honest, but not earnest.
Do you ever write multiple songs based on one idea or experience?
GK: Yep. That’s how you unite a body of work, baby!
What is your favorite part of the music process?
GK: Writing with Mandy.
MT: Aw! I agree. I am so happy that we get to write, record and perform music together. It comes together as a package! I really enjoy being part of a collaboration.
EE: I think it’s gotta be bringing the songs to people on stage, touring is really my thing. There’s something so unique about the way people connect when we’re all living in a song together for three minutes, I haven’t quite found anything else that feels that good.
What band or artist has inspired you the least?
GK: There’s a lot of songs out there that don’t say anything musically or lyrically. They’re just “a vibe.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think, at our top-dollar best, we aspire to be the opposite of that. We kind of want to jump through the speakers and pull you into the stereo.
How did your podcast “Cheekface Tonight.” come about?
GK: Desperate need for human connection, if we’re being honest. I’m thinking about doing another season.
I’m kind of jealous that you got to interview Rosie Tucker, but I bet Rosie Tucker is kind of jealous that I got to interview Cheekface.
GK: Rosie is one of the great living songwriters and has a unique way of talking about life, so I recommend interviewing them. I can’t speculate on what makes them jealous.
You touch a lot of political and social issues in your music. How important is it for you to use your platform to speak for people who maybe don’t have as much of a voice?
GK: Cheekface is not the voice of the voiceless. Making music that doesn’t aspire to commercial success is a privilege, and by nature it’s done from a position of privilege. People who are struggling more than us have a voice, and if you listen to them, they will tell you what they want to say without needing any help from a random band. That being said, honest songs have to interact with the crises of their time. Anything else is disingenuous, in my opinion.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing or recording music?
MT: I do a little visual art on the side. I do all of Cheekface’s artwork for covers and merch. I like to draw and paint when I’m feeling up to it.
EE: These days I like running. I also like sitting on my sofa, streaming some content, and trying to turn my brain off.
GK: Take my meds on time.
What do you miss the most about touring?
MT: I love playing shows, watching a room come alive, and being a part of it. I miss the mass energy that live music can create.
GK: I miss meeting people at the merch table. It’s interesting getting to know the people who like the music. In San Francisco, someone at the merch table told me to go to Elena’s in Glendale for falafel. Great tip, great falafel.
EE: Green room snacks, gas station coffee, and cheap regional beers.
What do you miss the least?
EE: Carrying drums all over the place, those things are heavy.
GK: The time between soundcheck and the show never seems to get any shorter.
Most memorable show experience?
MT: Playing Chicago for the first time and having so many people come out, when it was I think 10 degrees outside. And they knew the words to the songs!
GK: I’m pretty sure it was like 1 degree, if that. In our shows before the global mishegas, we had been inviting everyone in the audience on stage. A stage invasion definitely underlines the community of band and fans.
EE: Yeah, that short tour at the beginning of the year was so special. It’s one thing to look at your computer screen and be like, “oh cool, people are listening to the songs and liking them.” But it doesn’t really feel real until you’re playing them to a room full of people and they’re singing along. That was extremely cool.
What is something that not even the most devout Cheekface fan would know about you?
GK: The last four digits of my social security number, I’m guessing. Or maybe that’s out there on the dark web and true cheek freaks know.
MT: I LOVE pepperoni pizza, but I don’t eat pepperoni. (At least try my best not to, vegan pepperoni, oh yeah!)
EE: I have a heart murmur, but it’s not a medical concern. My heart is just noisy?
What advice do you have for music fans who want to support you and other artists since touring isn’t a viable option right now?
MT: Share our music with people! The more ears the better. If they like it, cool, if they don’t, that’s cool too.
GK: Honestly, the easiest thing is to just put the songs you like on the Spotify playlist that you listen to when you go for a walk or do the dishes. It helps the algorithm find new people who might like those songs, and it costs you nothing. Other than that, you can also Venmo me $250,000.
To wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
GK: How did you come up with the band name?
I was listening to Juicy by Biggie and the part where he says "Born sinner, opposite of a winner" got stuck in my head and I came up with Born Loser.
MT: If you were a fast food chain, which would you be and why?
Probably Jack In The Box. I'm the personification of Jack in the box tacos because you don't really know what's in them, but they're good. I'm also very greasy.