"I think we might need some oil," says Paul Siler, bassist for Raleigh's Cherry Valence, from a roadside truck stop. The band is on its umpteenth cross-country jaunt and their vehicle, a semi-legendary prison van, is still holding up. "It needs oil about every 300 miles, but what are you going to do?" Siler says with an obvious affection for the vehicle. It's understandable when you factor in how much time the quintet spends combing America's highways in this lumbering behemoth.
On the heels of their blistering album, Riffin', the band has embarked on their first headlining tour, hitting major cities on both coasts and all points in between. "The best spots for us are along the west coast," says Nick Whitley, one-half of the band's two-headed drum attack. "Portland is great for us because we've got a lot of friends there. We also just had a really good show in Fargo, N.D. We do all right in the big cities, but there are random stretches of weirdness throughout the country. And it's a big country." A place, no doubt, that's becoming more and more familiar with the jacked-up, balls-out TCV sound. In a culture where choreography outweighs musical skills and where shoe gazing introverts become underground icons, bands like TCV are not only an anomaly, they're also a throwback to a time when a heavy riff was worth more than a flat belly.
While the band's studio efforts are more than solid (seek out their bombastic new EP, Revival, on Flapping Jet Records at www.flappingjet.com), nothing can prepare you for their live shows. Ear-bleeding volume and screeching feedback are just part of the total equation, but they bring the band's music up close and personal, eliciting a visceral, physical response that usually includes a little bouncing and involuntary head banging. The urge to fold your middle and ring fingers down and flash the ubiquitous rock hand signal is overwhelming.
"I don't know any other way we could have done it," says guitarist Cheetie Kumar. "We're a rock band and that's what rock bands do. Play live." But the road does take its toll. Kumar says, "This was the 'Hurting My Hands' tour. The knuckle on the forefinger of my right hand is really swollen. I was helping Paul carry his cabinet down stairs and he ran over my other finger and then I cut another finger on the top. I got that 'liquid bandage' stuff and it worked pretty well. No matter how shitty you feel though, once you start playing you sweat it out."
But the rigors of travel bring with them some truly unusual and interesting stories. "We were in Williston, N.D., on Easter Sunday," says Whitley. "We had played an all ages show the night before and one teenage girl and her mom showed up the next day with Easter baskets full of candy and muffins." Arriving in San Diego, they recorded the sessions for Revival and also managed to do something entirely new; shoot a music video. "The guy who runs Flapping Jet Records lives in L.A.," says Siler. "He said, "You guys want to make a video?" and we said, "As long as you're not too serious about it." We shot some goofy stuff in a little room, just messing around and then went up on the rooftop and stood in some flowerpots and messed around some more."
So what do five people do in a van for hours on end? "I sleep a lot throughout the day," says Kumar.
Siler responds, "We read books, play spades. I just learned how to play chess and Nick and I are in the middle of a game right now. We've been on these tours and never done that before. It's a great time killer as well as an exercise for the brain." Think Thin Lizzy ever got into heated chess matches on the tour bus? The idea that there's a band out there whose main goal consists of something other than getting wasted and getting laid night in and night out is a comforting one to say the least.
Kumar says the time spent in the van carries over into the band's almost nightly performances. "You improve because you're not thinking about it as much," she says. "You're caught up in the excitement of the moment and you do things as a band or as an individual that you never thought you could do. It's not a conscious effort. It just sort of happens."
But does spending months away from home affect relationships, both personal and working, for the band's members? "I don't think so," say Siler. "I don't think anybody's broken up over it. All of our jobs work out because everyone's been working at their restaurant job or whatever long enough that people know the deal. We can all kind of juggle our schedules around." Siler, who is a partner in Raleigh music club Kings, states that "When Kings first opened, they knew I was going to be gone for part of the year." So does being away for a month feel like a vacation? "I wouldn't call it a vacation," he demurs. "It's something I love to do, but you keep a little stress up in your neck. Now that Kings has been open a few years, it's a little easier for it to run smoothly. When I get home, I'll try to make up for the time I haven't been around."
But things rarely stand still for a band on the rise. "We're doing the WXYC benefit the first week of October and then we're going to CMJ [Music Festival] in New York," says Siler. "Then we're going to do seven shows with Black Heart Procession and then it looks like we're going to go to England, Spain and Portugal, hopefully doing a few shows in France as well."
So what would be the ideal scenario for The Cherry Valence? "Our dream, I guess, right now is to be able to play music and not worry about money too much," says Kumar. "It would be nice to come home and not worry about going back to work right away. But we don't have any set goals like that. Maybe if we had a business plan, we might be more successful, but if our goal was to be arena stars, we'd be majorly disappointed. I think our pace is pretty logical. People often tend to lose sight of things and forget why that started doing this in the first place."
For more info on The Cherry Valence, check out their Web site at http://www.thecherry valence.com/index.htm