"This must be the strangest interview ever," I say between slurps of noodles. Cheekface and I are set to talk over a virtual bowl of pho, but that tidbit gets lost somewhere in the email chain, and now I'm the only one with a bowl of soup. Frontman Greg Katz replies, "Not even close, not even in the top 100."
It tracks that the L.A. indie rock trio would be as eccentric in interviews as they are on record. Their fourth record, It's Sorted, arrived by surprise this week (January 22), and Katz, co-songwriter and bassist Mandy Tannen and drummer Mark "Echo" Edwards unitedly call it their most cohesive. Namely, in its non-compliance with being the "right" kind of weird.
"It has sort of a theme to it, which is kind of a self-examination: am I a cool weirdo, or am I an unlikable freak masquerading as a respectable member of society?" Katz confesses. The effort's "vein of mania" rides in tandem with its nervy sonics, pedalling somewhere between frantic early new wave and CAKE's speak-singing alt-rock. If you ask Echo, this is the perfect spot to lock up.
"I just feel like, the longer we keep doing Cheekface, the more we sound like Cheekface," he shares, with Katz flippantly adding, "Terrible news for our haters!" There's nothing loaded about his ad-lib, especially when considering the radical earnestness of Cheekface's fans — affectionately referred to as Cheek Freaks. They're a growing yet mighty fanbase, eager to form community without exclusion.
Tannen considers this inclusivity an extension of themselves, as her original goal for Cheekface was to be in a band "that was not putting on any airs," and who stayed true to their core at any cost: "Whoever likes that? Cool. If they don't? Cool, and I guess it attracts people who are like that and want that in their lives."
The unabashed welcoming of the Cheek Freaks comes full circle at the bands shows, which there are no lack of. After a trek across North America last year, they'll return for a victory lap this spring following a brief stint in the UK. Their acute awareness of their draw — easygoing and flush in their callings — has made its way onto It's Sorted, where posturing can't sit comfortably.
Enter "Changes in the Hardcore Scene," a track inspired by a headline published by a certain other music publication. To Katz, the phrase sticks out as "fraught" and "loaded": "Of course, a hardcore scene — like any scene — is on the one hand trumpeting out, 'Everyone come in, you can be weird here," and on the other hand, saying, 'If you're not weird the way we like, you stay out,' you know? That's been such a big part of my own life and my own experience on being on both sides of that: being the gatekeeper, and also being gatekept out of things," he laments.
This level of self-awareness can be petrifying, but for Cheekface, it's freeing. In part, it helps emphasize the project as a vehicle for fun. It keeps the band constantly creating, as they’ve churned out four albums in under five years. Protecting the flame of fun is what keeps them going on anxiety-ridden days where couch rot is imminent — and, for Tannen, keeps the accountability to her bandmates from becoming a chore. The bulk of liability lies within the group, making it easy to write off anything boring.
That's why It's Sorted, as well as its predecessor, 2022's Too Much to Ask, came as surprises. To Cheekface, there's nothing more yawn-worthy than a typical album release cycle, so releasing records as soon as the vinyl pressings are ready is their only criterion. This also explains the plethora of singles they release each year. It’s not to tease anything new — though many of said tracks end up on the LPs — in fact, sometimes the track comes before a record’s conception.
"It's really only real and maximally fun when we get to share it," Echo says of their craft. Whenever he speaks, Tannen and Katz encourage him lightheartedly, smiling as he shares. With this, the thin veneer of sardonicism in their music is peeled away by the Cheekface ethos, one which only bears sincerity.
The post-irony that once ruled punk-adjacent scenes is being engulfed by candour, and It's Sorted is a purposeful line in the sand. The deadpan slights against starting podcasts and New Year's resolutions on album highlight "Trophy Hunting at the Zoo" can't be contested, but the undercurrent remains one of reflection.
With a new level of realization, It's Sorted is the Cheekface record "[least] encumbered by outside forces," according to Katz: "The longer we do it, the more the casing starts to melt away." This breezy apathy remains constant, even when it doesn't land.
"The more people we reach, the more people we reach that we annoy the shit out of, and I fucking love that," Katz continues. "So I want to stay true to anything that annoys the shit out of a lot of people."
When asked what people would find vexing about Cheekface, he smirks quickly: "You'd have to ask them."