Featured Story - The Cheek
Fast-rising spike-pop merchants The Cheek wouldn't immediately be the first band you'd pair with a Minimoog Voyager. Razor-sharp hooks, taut guitar lines and a post-punk minimalist attitude doesn't immediately invite participation by one of the world's most influential synths, but The Cheek's singer Rory Cottam argues it's inspired a mini revolution in the band's sound.
The big A&R buzz surrounding The Cheek lead to a major label deal with Polydor, and when it was time to record their debut album, the band called on uber-producer Ed Buller (Suede, Pulp, White Lies). The former Psychedelic Furs keyboard player and Moog evangelist took the band to ICP Studios in Belgium and made sure they picked out the studio's Voyager to invigorate the creative process.
“Ed is absolutely obsessed with The Voyager,” begins Rory. “As well as his history with The Psychedelic Furs, he's also in a band called Node and Bob Moog turned up to their first show. In fact, his favourite game is recreating different acoustic instruments on the Moog in the shortest time possible. The nights in the studio used to fly by!”
When it was time to turn to work, The Voyager really came into its own. While the band's distinctive sound used to be rooted in the traditional guitars/bass/drums line-up, suddenly a whole new dimension was opened up by the simplest features of the powerful synth: “We really didn't go out to Belgium thinking we would put Moog synths on the record, but it just sounded so perfect. It stayed in the control room the whole time, just so we could experiment with new parts. We mainly tinkered with the presets, but even they ushered in a whole new world of sound for us. It definitely gave the album more of a dance feel, which isn't something we'd touched on beforehand. Our second single, Hung Up, saw a huge improvement with the constant pulse we'd added to the second verse. We were all very impressed.”
Before heading to Belgium, Rory admits to being a complete synth novice. Previously a singer only, Rory took to the Moog like a duck to water and argues that The Voyager's many powerful features are intuitively grasped: “It's really user friendly. The way I began to experiment with it was to mess with the presets first. From there, I got a good understanding of the scope of sounds it could produce and then used that as a foundation to experiment.”
With the album in the can, The Cheek wasted no time in getting back to their natural habitat – sweaty gigs, and lots of them. The band, and Rory in particular, now had to work out how he’d incorporate his new responsibility into his performance: “When we got back from Belgium, there was a lot to get to grips with. The other guys were using new pedals and I had to learn how to play the Voyager live. We locked ourselves away for a month to be able to recreate everything we recorded in Belgium. We're on the road now and it's all working really well.”
The band's debut album is set to hit shelves in September 2010, but the Voyager will see plenty of sweaty walls and an enviable list of summer festivals before then. Is the Voyager robust enough to deal with modern touring life? Absolutely: “It's holding up perfectly well!” says Rory. “It's important I clean it down after every show and be careful with it, but that’s about it. It's one of the most valuable bits of kit we've got. To be honest, it's me that hasn't quite held up as well,” he adds, “particularly on the first few dates. The added duties of keyboard playing means I can't jump around as much as I used to. I also don't want to get too carried away and be heavy handed with it.”
Rory has already begun to take the next creative steps with the Moog and started experimenting with it on stage: “We mainly use the four sounds that feature on the album. They're all on the presets, but I tweak them a bit during the set with the cut-off and delay just to vibe off the performance a little more.”
Needless to say, once the band finish the seemingly endless promotional cycle for their as-yet-untitled album, Rory assures us that The Voyager will play an even bigger part in The Cheek’s songwriting process and sound: “We've already been in the studio at Universal, recording a few Arthur Russell songs. We used the Moog a lot in those sessions, which got us even more enthused about the Voyager, and it’s definitely going to feature heavily in our next batch of songs. It's made a huge difference already and we can't wait to see where it'll take our sound next.”
This June you can catch The Cheek at Glastonbury's Queen's Head stage, and supporting Manchester legends Doves at a special woodland gig in Thetford Forest.