Exactly one week from now Derry-based CHERYM will be releasing their excellent debut album Take It Or Leave It. The album shows the band truly coming into their own as they perfect their pop-punk sound and deliver sincere personal lyrics that rip into misogyny and misogynistic institutions such as the Catholic Church, celebrate queer love, and open the discussion around neurodivergence over the course of ten kick-ass tracks. Take It Or Leave It will be out everywhere on February 16 via Alcopop! Records. CHERYM kick off their tour of Ireland, Europe, and the UK tonight with their debut album show in Derry.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Hannah Richardson and drummer and vocalist Alannagh Doherty to talk about the new album, getting more political in their music, world domination, and so much more. Read the interview below!
Your debut full-length album Take It Or Leave It has been six years in the making and you’ve described it as telling the story of your lives. How do you feel you’ve grown as a band and as people over the course of those six years?
Hannah: I feel like it has been a real whirlwind of a time. I feel like we have grown so much as a band in so many ways both as friends and also with our music sonically. I feel like our songwriting in general has improved and we’re taking influence from a lot of different things. I feel this album has been a wee bit more experimental in the fact that we didn’t feel like we had to meet any sort of narrative or any sort of boundary. It was only just for us, essentially. We wanted to create something that we’re totally happy with and as long as we’re totally happy with it, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter about anybody else. We’ve had people say, “I liked the last EP that you put out but I prefer the rawness of the first EP Mouthbreatherz”. We were like, “The only people we have to impress is ourselves with making this record” and I think that’s exactly what we did. We made something that we were totally happy with. This album really is just a compilation of experiences and things that have happened to us throughout our lives. People always assumed that we were a political punk band and always labeled us as political just because we’re queer. I feel like the queer wave that we are seeing now hadn’t broke into the mainstream the way that it’s doing now and I think that at the time everybody was like, “Oh they’re this political punk band!” and we’re like, “What!? We’re not political!”
Alannagh: That’s what happens when people see queer people in a band. People go, “Oh they’re political!” when really you’re not, you’re just you as a person talking about your personal experiences.
Hannah: Exactly! We were like, “What do you mean we’re political? We’re singing about girls because we fancy girls”. It wasn’t anything statement-y. Alannagh put it a really good way earlier, they were just like, “Everybody labeled us as this political punk band but now we’re just like, ‘You want political? We’ll fucking show ye political! You want to hear the shit? We will give you the shit’”. I suppose this is a wee bit more political than the stuff we’ve done before or whatever. It’s completely out of spite. [laughs]
Alannagh: I love how you’re all, “This album is us being unapologetically ourselves” and now you’re all, “We’ve actually done it out of spite”. [laughs]
Hannah: [laughs] I know! I suppose if you say we’re completely being ourselves, it’s because people put us into that box before we were ever ready to put ourselves into it.
Alannagh: Yeah, we’re not shying away from the difficult topics that need to be addressed.
What changes do you think need to be made so queer people in bands aren’t seen as inherently political?
Alannagh: I think a big part of it - and we noticed this growing up as well - is a lot of female-fronted bands specifically were always put on the bill regardless of genre and that was a big problem. There could be a folk singer, a punk band, and a metal band all put on the same bill because it was like, “You’re there as the diversity hire”. It’s like, “Oh there’s women!” or “Oh there’s queer people!” or “Oh this person’s mixed race!” or “This person’s Black!” That’s not a reason to solely put someone on a bill because you can’t find all the diversity that you want. People need to be looking at the music and picking the right genres and the right people to represent those genres. Instead of taking three female-fronted bands and putting them all on one lineup regardless of genre, if you’re putting on a punk lineup then find a punk band that’s female-led, that’s Black-led, that’s queer-led and actually make the bill make sense. I think that there still is that leg up that white straight men in the music industry have. When we look at festival lineups it’s still not 50/50 and we know that there’s so many women and so many queer people in the music industry that deserve to be on those lineups but they’re not because everybody wants the new 1975. It just seems to happen that way and unfortunately, there still is that bit of glass ceiling that needs to be broken.
What do you think is the first step towards breaking that glass ceiling?
Hannah: We want to make sure that we’re giving the space to non-binary and queer and trans and female and marginalized people. However, one thing we have to make sure we don’t do is tokenize people because in some ways that can be almost as harmful as the stereotype in the first place. With breaking the glass ceiling I think it’s about giving the platform to the relevant people. Even though our music scene has diversified so much in the sense of musicians and who’s in it, a lot of people at the top and in charge at booking agencies and major labels are controlled by old, white men. I feel that’s never going to change until those barriers start to break down and we see more women and non-binary members working at the head of labels and at the top of agencies and stuff like that.
Breaking the glass ceiling, I suppose it’s about finding your people. That’s really important. Finding your community and finding the people who are going to uplift you instead of signing you just because, “Oh this is a really cool thing that’s happening right now!” Finding the people that are actually going to fight in your corner and make sense as opposed to signing a band just because you see they’re on the rise.
Alannagh: Labels will sign the “diversity hire” and be like, “Oh you’re different! Let’s go with you!”
Hannah: Yep. Just making sure that everybody on your team is there for the right reasons is very important as well.
They believe in the music and what you’re actually doing.
Hannah: Exactly! Actually believing in the music and actually believing in what you’re about and your brand and your project as opposed to just being there because it’s all on-brand. We’ve fallen victim to that as well before. Sometimes, we find ourselves on random bills and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we needed some girls for this. Any chance you wanna play it?” We’re like, “Have you even heard our music??” [laughs]
The artwork for Take It Or Leave It features a reference to your debut EP Mouthbreatherz, a reference to your song “The Thing About Them”, and features three Tarot cards - Justice, the Ace of Wands, and The Hierophant. Why did you pick these cards in particular? What do they mean?
Alannagh: The Ace of Wands is all about a new beginning and passion so I thought it was great to throw that in there, as somebody who practices Tarot myself. Justice is like everything is always gonna be fair, everything is always gonna go the way it’s supposed to go. The Hierophant is literally all about climbing that ladder of making sure that we do things correctly to make sure we succeed in what we’re doing. It’s a mix of passion, morality, and finding a way to really climb to the top with those cards in particular. I think that we are super witchy and love to manifest things.
What’s the biggest thing you’re manifesting with this album?
Alannagh: I think one thing in particular is the hope that the people who need to hear it do hear it. For the people who have gone through shit to know that there’s other people who support them in that and other people who understand the issues that they have gone through. If we look at “Alpha Beta Sigma”, we have the issues of abortion rights and women’s rights. That can feel very lonely sometimes and it can feel very isolating, especially if you live in a conservative country or a conservative area. It’s us basically being like, “We hope that you hear this song to know that you’re not alone. There are other people who have your mindset and fit that as well”. We hope the right people find it and they can find comfort in it. That would be our biggest message with this album in particular.
We have a song about ADHD on there and we have a song about autism on there. It’s because Hannah and I are both neurodiverse and we both struggle on different ends of the spectrum. It’s us being like, “Oh by the way I can write about this because it’s my life and someone else might relate to this”.
What do you want people to know about neurodivergence?
Hannah: That we’re actually really nice and kind and fun to be around whenever you get us on a good day and whenever you get us on a bad day leave us alone. [laughs] With “Do It Another Day” I wanted to build a community and I wanted to find the people who could relate to it. It’s so uncommon that you would actually hear a song about neurodiversity or autism or ADHD, usually, it’s about having anxiety or depression or whatever. We wanted to open up the conversation about different aspects of the mental health spectrum and things that affect us as well. Alannagh is autistic and I’ve got ADHD and we both brought those songs to the practice room completely unaware that the other one was bringing a song about neurodiversity. There’s something about that that I find important as well because it speaks volumes about how much we felt that they were relevant to be on the album. It’s something that is affecting us on a day-to-day basis and if somebody out there is listening to the album then they’ll be able to take something from that as well. Maybe it’ll mean something to them and maybe it’ll be important and they’ll feel like they’ve been heard or seen.
Along with abortion rights and women’s rights on “Alpha Beta Sigma” you talk about reclaiming what’s been used against you by misogynistic institutions. What helps you to reclaim your energy?
Alannagh: Hannah and I recently have found that we’ve changed up our style and it’s something that we’re a lot more comfortable in. The clothes you wear, for example, that is very reclaiming. Dressing in something you’re comfortable in and that you know you want to wear is like, “I’m reclaiming this because it’s what I want to do. This is my self-autonomy. It’s my body and it’s no one else’s”. It’s not dressing for societal standards. You’re actually dressing for yourself so you can be happy. That’s just one example that I think so many people can relate to. Just things like that where it’s doing things for yourself instead of being pressured or feeling the pressure of things like social media or external influences and just being like, “You know what? I’m actually gonna listen to my own body and I’m gonna do what makes me happy”. It’s reclaiming that self-autonomy that maybe we were pressured into not having before or taught to compromise our own self-autonomy. That is not what we’re about. I think that is definitely part of the song as well - dressing the way you want and people thinking they can get their hands on you and you being like, “Actually, I said no”. No matter what way you’re dressed people shouldn’t be trying to claim your autonomy, that’s yours and yours to own.
Hannah: Yeah, which sort of relates back to the theme of the album as well which is ultimately about unapologetically yourself without feeling coerced or forced. The freedom to completely be the person that you want to be and not feel like you have to fit any sort of expectation because somebody wants you to.
What helps you to be unapologetically yourself?
Hannah: That’s such a good question! Writing songs about it and putting it on an album. [laughs] It’s not something that has come easily to me, it’s something that I’ve had to learn over the years. For a long time, I found it very difficult to be myself and I think that also feeds into people who are neurodivergent to some extent. It can be very difficult to actually just be the person you want to be. For me, it’s been through doing music and writing songs about it. Also, something that helps me be unapologetically myself is to know the people who are around me, the people in my circle. I feel like whenever you have people who can lift you up and people you can relate to in a certain way, that can be a really helpful thing to just be you and not have to be someone else.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
Alannagh: We’ve taken a different approach every time. This time around we took a little bit of what we did during Hey Tori, because we recorded that during COVID so we couldn’t come together for that, and we realized a way that works for us. We will go home and write separately and it’ll have our specific personal stamp on it. We come with this bare-bones structure of what is my song or Hannah’s song or Nyree’s song and when we bring that to the practice room, that’s when we start putting external influences in it. So if I bring a song and I have a certain way of writing, I will let Hannah then put her stamp on it and let Nyree put their stamp on it and that is what makes it CHERYM. We kinda all come with a skeleton of what is supposed to be a song and it turns into a CHERYM song come the practice room because that’s when we all put our hands on it. That’s when we all get down to the nitty-gritty and make it our own instead of one person’s song.
Alannagh: Yeah, I’d say we have quite a collaborative way of writing.
Alannagh: If I bring in a song for example and Hannah was like, “I don’t really know how I feel about this but do you mind if I try this instead?” We will just throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. What makes it a CHERYM song is the collaborativeness of it.
Hannah: Do you have that figure of speech in Canada - throw shit at the wall and see what sticks?
Hannah: Good, I’m glad. [laughs] I always thought that was a Derry thing.
Alannagh: That’s a worldwide thing.
Hannah: Ok that’s good, thank God for that.
[Hannah takes a drink from her mug]
Alannagh: Is that a Palestinian mug with the gay flag on it?
Hannah: Yeah! [shows mug]
Hannah: It says “Alternative Eurovision 2019. Don’t pinkwash apartheid”.
Alannagh: Very true.
You wrote and recorded “It’s Not Me, It’s You” in 24 hours. What was that process like?
Hannah: I take the longest in the studio to do anything because I just can’t get my head around it half the time. I was doing guitar takes for a long, long, loooong time. We had a tenth song that we were going to put on the record but it wasn’t the vibe we needed it to be to match up with the rest of the songs so our producer George basically just handed Alannagh and Nyree an acoustic guitar and was like, “Go write a song in an hour”. I finished the guitar takes and they came back and were like, “We’ve got a song!” That was very exciting. It was really cool. We did basically a process of elimination because all three of us had written the vocal melody for the chorus because that’s what we do. [laughs] George made us go into the live room and sing and play acoustic guitar or something.
Alannagh: So we all had an acoustic guitar and we were singing our own parts. Then it was pretty much like putting a puzzle together. We took my verses, Hannah’s pre-chorus, Nyree’s chorus, Hannah’s breakdown, and then we kinda stuck it together. You ever see one of them patch blankets? That’s how the song was made. We had three different versions of the song in three different formats and we literally had to patch it all together. It was written in 12 hours and recorded in the other 12.
Hannah: It was a bit mad. [laughs]
Alannagh: It was mental.
Hannah: Alannagh wanted to make it about an experience that was quite personal to them but I purely felt it, I was like, “I get that!”.
Alannagh: I was like, “Has anyone been through this?” and Hannah was like, “I have actually!” and I was like, “Happy days, that’s what the lyrics are going to be about then”.
Hannah: We were able to all put our own wee funny spin on it even though it’s a really morbid reasoning. [laughs] It was cool. I love that song, it’s one of my favourites on the record.
Alannagh: Same. I think it’s the only one in drop D as well. I’m the metalhead in the band and I just forced them to write in drop D. I was like, “We’re going to have a drop-tuned song, lads. Whether yous like it or not”.
Next record’s fully metal.
Alannagh: Oh aye. Well, we do have a surprise with a double kick pedal in it come March.
Hannah: You’ll love it.
Keep the eyes peeled.
Alannagh: Oh aye, keep the eyes and the ears peeled.
You have a YouTube video series that shows you in the studio recording Take It Or Leave It. How did that idea come about?
Alannagh: When I was younger I used to watch Avenged Sevenfold's making of their self-titled album. They recorded the entire album track by track in the studio and I was like, “I would love to do something like that but I’d love to do it almost Big Brother style where I force someone to sit in a chair and just record them talk shit”. That’s pretty much what I did. Every single night I was like, “Guys, we have to get content! We have to get content!” Then it was just me running around with my phone following people about being like, “What are you doing now? What’s this? What’s going on here? Go and sit in this chair and talk about this for five minutes”. I was running around after people being like, “I will make you sit in that chair and I will make you talk about what we did today”. The idea came about from us wanting to make more YouTube content and more quirky stuff that you kinda don’t see from us. Just to make it that wee bit more personal but also put a fun spin on it and have a little stupid storyline to go along with it.
Hannah: Also for the fact that we’re all naturally hilarious so we’re giving people that insight and that humour. They’ve been begging for it all along. Come along for the ride.
The road to get to the store looks so treacherous in the videos.
Alannagh: Don’t take treacherous roads!! Don’t swim in the sea!! That’s literally what it felt like getting to that shop. It was a Waitrose and we had traveled through the trenches to get there.
You’ll be touring Ireland, Europe, and the UK starting this month. What are you looking forward to the most about these shows?
Hannah: Seeing people’s reactions to the new songs is gonna be mad. A lot of these songs we have never played in front of a live audience before. So a lot of it is going to be trial and error. There might be songs on this tour that might never resurface again. [laughs] That’s all part of the fun of it, seeing what people like and what they don’t like. They will let you know and that’s fine, that’s what we’re working with. Also just getting back out again is nice, I love being on the road. It sounds like I’m lying but I actually do really like it! [laughs] I really do enjoy it. Just seeing all the fans again. We’ve got loads of new merch which is exciting. It’ll be class to see people in the jerseys, the O’Neills. People will actually be wearing them then and I think that’s a fine thing to imagine. The people in CHERYM O’Neills jerseys, that’s bizarre.
Alannagh: They’re purple jerseys and we’ll be like, “Why the fuck’s there football fans here!? Oh never mind, they’re just our fans!” [laughs]
Hannah: Exactly! For context, O’Neills is a huge sports brand over here. Made famous by Paul Mescal because he wears their shorts all the time. [laughs] He’s a huge Irish actor at the minute. Everybody’s going mad for him. Now we’ve got our own O’Neills brand shirt that people can wear! There’s loads of exciting things to look forward to.
Which song are you the most excited to play live?
Hannah: I’m excited for “If I Was A Man”.
Alannagh: I’m so excited for “If I Was A Man”. I think that’s going to be mine as well. We’ve played all four of the singles that we’ve released so far. We’ve seen the reaction and it’s been amazing from people but I think playing “If I Was A Man” is going to be great. I love the idea of the fans reacting to that because it’s such a bop. It’s probably my favourite song on the album.
Hannah: It sounds great in the practice room too, just saying.
You have to come over to Canada and play it.
Alannagh: We will.
Hannah: Of course! Bring us to Canada! Do we need a visa to get in there?
Alannagh: Well I don’t.
Hannah: That’s right, you don’t. Well, maybe that’s our way in. Alannagh, we’ll do a Canadian tour next year.
Alannagh: I’m not smuggling yous into Canada!
Hannah: We’ll sort it out.
Alannagh: We’ll get there eventually.
How would you describe the DIY scene in Derry?
Alannagh: I think it’s very communal. Every Derry band kind of knows every other Derry band. We love the scene. It’s kinda made a comeback over the past couple years with bands like Tramp and Parker and Tomcat. It’s been great and I think everybody supports everybody. The only way I can put it is that it's such a community. Everybody just knows everybody and everybody just loves each other’s bands. We’re like a wee family almost. It’s great to see such a revival, especially in Derry, literally one of the homes of punk.
What does the future hold for CHERYM?
Hannah: It holds world domination and an area tour with Olivia Rodrigo really soon, hopefully. That’s the hopes and goals. And a collaboration with…
Alannagh: I was going to say Bring Me The Horizon. I want to collab with Oli Sykes.
Hannah: I was going to say Michael Jackson. [laughs] A collaboration with - what’s that band called that I keep forgetting the name of?
Alannagh: You Me At Six.
Hannah: Yes, them. I’d like to do that, that’d be class. A collaboration with You Me At Six.
Alannagh: Loads of success and finding other gay people to talk about all our problems with.
Hannah: Yes, indeed. And financial stability.
Alannagh: For punk bands? Never.
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