Far from digging their own grave and more a case of digging their way out, The Cheaterslicks remain on course in their attempt to appeal to a wider audience with second album ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’.
The road to the present summit of the quite magnificent ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ by The Cheaterslicks has not been an easy one. Whether line-up changes or various ambitions were being thwarted due to a burning desire to appeal to far greater masses than being confined to one pocket of the music industry have presented themselves at various intervals along the way.
Despite such obstacles, one thing that has remained constant in The Cheaterslicks career to date is their willingness to keep forging ahead no matter what lies in front of them. In fact, make that two constants as the band’s debut album ‘Rev Up, Burn Out’ is equal parts compelling as its younger sibling but slides somewhat when it comes to the creative department due to being a bit, well…one dimensional.
This is perhaps where the confusion lies when it comes to The Cheaterslicks and their appeal, as the aforementioned first album was a rockabilly delight which then mutated in to the monumental ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ that possesses some of that old flavour, but at the same juncture inhales a range of influences such as blues and country. Whether this has alienated one or two followers expecting more of the same from ‘Rev Up, Burn Out’, then only The Cheaterslicks is in a position to answer such a query. One thing for certain, however, is that charismatic frontman Paul Lovell Newman and fretboard maestro Ruzz remain confident in their future endeavours, despite struggling to sum up their overall sound when questioned about this.
“I think in my heart, when I wake up in the morning, I’m 100% rockabilly,” comments Paul Lovell Newman. “But the music we make as The Cheaterslicks, I couldn’t place in a category or say this is just rockabilly.”
“I think that’s what makes us quite good and what makes us quite different is the fact that we’re not easy to pigeonhole as we’ve got so many different influences and therefore we appeal to a wider audience rather than just a rockabilly audience or a blues audience due to having all these influences,” explains Ruzz.
“I think we’re widely accepted around Europe because that’s where we do most of our bigger shows,” continues Paul. “The reason for that is that we fit into whatever mindset the crowd happens to be in on any particular night. I suppose we’re like the chameleons of rockabilly because we can adapt to most situations and fill the room with joy and have a good laugh in the process.”
To be more precise, how would you sum-up The Cheaterslicks sound in relation to ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’?
“That’s difficult because we take from a variety of influences and so many different places that it’s not strictly rockabilly,” responds Ruzz. “For example, it’s got blues, country, and western swing and therefore so many different genres that make it difficult to pigeonhole what our sound is due to the different influences. In fact, a lot of people have trouble trying to pinpoint what we sound like.”
The mood is chipper considering it’s a Sunday and just a little over twelve, but both Ruzz and Paul Lovell Newman who, it has to be said, has the appearance of an extra from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ simply for the bowler hat, express a willingness to talk about the band’s occasional struggles when it comes to the rockabilly tag. In fact, the clues are in the title of The Cheaterslicks’ second output, with further evidence to support such suggestions provided by the two band members themselves regarding an interesting anecdote that shall remain off the record at the band’s behest. Surely though, it’s to The Cheaterslicks advantage that their willingness to adopt other influences bodes well for a longer and more creative future?
“It makes songwriting a lot more fun and interesting because we have such different influences and the same as well,” Ruzz responds after some initial thought. “There might be somebody [within the band] who offers a song and we play it out and another member of the band might suggest an idea and then something else. It makes every song different and more fun.”
“I think it has made it a slower process for us to get to where we are though,” reflects Paul. “Out of seven years, it has only been the last couple of years that we have been generating major interest because originally, when we surfaced, people couldn’t pigeonhole us in the sense that this is where you fit and these are the shows you’re going to play. So a lot of the Weekenders [festivals], especially in the UK, wouldn’t touch us and didn’t want to know because we weren’t what they were looking for. I was told by one promoter – I won’t mention any names – that people don’t like to hear a band doing all of their own songs on the rockabilly scene because they want to hear cover versions. I don’t want to do that.”
So various issues exist as well in terms of trying to gain a foothold in the rockabilly circuit or simply to perform at one of these specific festivals?
“I think it has been a similar situation with a young band called The Caezars, who are friends of ours and one of them is from Bristol, they’ve struggled with that rockabilly tag but it’s difficult because you want to be on the scene with all your friends that you’ve grown up with. However, if you want your music to progress you have to take a step back from that scene and not put yourself under a blanket title of just being known as a rockabilly band. I think that is what we’ve done and what we’re doing and we’re not holding ourselves back. Our biggest aim is not to get on a certain Weekender on the rockabilly scene, which a lot of bands aim to do and is the pinnacle of their rockabilly careers, because that’s not for us. We’re more about getting out there and playing and enjoying it and playing to every kind of person and getting more people interested in the kind of music we play rather than playing to the same people every week.”
Despite one or two setbacks when it comes to rockabilly festivals, The Cheaterslicks have experienced a positive reaction on such a circuit when it comes to ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ as Paul explains.
“I think this latest album ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ has actually made me smile because it’s a refreshing change for me as it seems to have been widely accepted. We recently played the Welsh Rockabilly Fair and the crowd was this rockabilly crowd who, I’ve been moaning about for years, ended up singing every song back at me before I’d even started! So they’ve all grabbed this album and they love it, which is fantastic! Finally, somebody has given them a knock on the head and said this is what it can be and they’ve listened enough to it in order to know the words. It’s great when people sing your own words because we can all sing cover versions at each other because we’ve got the records at home, but when they’re singing your own songs that you’ve written, then that’s fabulous and a great feeling. In fact, it has given me a brighter outlook for the future of the scene and what part we can play in it.”
The Cheaterslicks can not only play a major part in the rockin’ scene, but also advantage is in their favour due to the expansive feel of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ that will appeal to other music obsessives possessing similar broad tastes. In fact, there’s something for almost everyone whether it’s the rattling instrumental ‘Gasolina’, blues-inspired ‘Bad, Bad Girl’, western influence of ‘Desert Wind’ or simply to revel in the depth of Paul Lovell Newman’s vocal deliveries – the magnificent ‘Blonde Blue Eyed Beauty’ a prime candidate – then clearly The Cheaterslicks have got the lot. If, however, FLW is beginning to sound a little too gushing in its appraisal at this point, then eighteen songs is perhaps a tad too many, but considering how much the creative juices were flowing in the camp and Paul’s reluctance to turn out the lights and head for home once the recording was completed due to having so much fun (i.e. listen out for the hidden track), then it’s small wonder ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ borders on the epic.
“I think it was down to more and more songs popping out,” explains Ruzz. “For example, every time we had a rehearsal, there was another song [ready] that someone had written and it just got to a point where we had this great list of songs and we thought that we might as well record them all. They’re such a diverse bunch of songs that worked perfectly and so it was a no brainer to get them all down and get them out really. I’m very happy with how it all turned out, as the final product sounds exactly how I imagined it would when we working on the songs.”
“We’re prolific songwriters and that’s why there are eighteen tracks on there,” offers Paul. “The next album is already written and probably half of the one after that as well. I think it’s probably the best outcome of any project I have worked on and I’m totally happy with it, as it’s got the feel and quality of a live recording. We also had the security of recording in the studio whereby we had the option of overdubbing if needed. However, we retained that live feel as that’s what we’re about because we’re a live band and it’s where we’ve got to be rather than on CD. So, if you’re going to put something down, get it as close to what you’re going to do live as possible, that’s how I see it anyway.”
As mentioned earlier in the interview, The Cheaterslicks have experienced a few changes in personnel. Guitarist Ruzz is one of those changes having hopped ship from another fine imprint on the Western Star roster, The Red Hot Trio. Despite Ruzz wishing to maintain his role in both outfits, the issue of time constraints proved to be decisive when it came to making a decision when pledging his services.
“I was with them until April this year,” states Ruzz on his former band The Red Hot Trio. “We started getting busier with tours and stuff like that and I had to choose which band I had to go full-time with. As you can see, I decided to choose The Cheaterslicks in the end.”
Are you responsible for bringing the country influence to The Cheaterslicks latest album?
“I come from a very diverse background as I started in the blues scene and that’s where I learnt my trade,” explains Ruzz. “Then I started learning Albert Lee’s chickin’ pickin-style country twang and things like that, and that’s what I brought to the table in terms of those songs, but they weren’t conscious [decisions], it’s just how it happened.”
In terms of the lyrics who is responsible for them?
“I’d say that I write 75% and then Dan [drummer] does the other 25%,” says Paul. “He’s the master of the murder ballad and he writes some fantastic songs. For example, he wrote ‘Writin’ Home’ and ‘Forgotten Places’ on the album and they’re very good songs. We write about our own experiences but then translate them into a sort of roadmap of America because the tracks capture that Americana feel. It’s a lot more personal to us, but once they’re translated into how they’re going to fit within the band, it becomes an American sound whether rockabilly, country or blues and the finished product is just a representation of the words we put down really.”
For those who are still to experience ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’, then the swooping vocal entrance of ‘Don’t Ya Know’ – a much loved song on these shores – is a perfect indicator of the greatness that ensues. Curious about the finer details of this golden nugget of a song, FLW decides to interrogate The Cheaterslicks further.
“I wrote it about my wife,” responds Paul to the interrogation regarding ‘Don’t Ya Know. “When I met my wife, she was on the wrong side of the tracks and going through a lot of trouble. I was playing in the Riot Rockers at the time, and her father was in the band, which is how I met her. She had been sent to go and live with her father due to being a bad girl, but as soon as I saw her, which was twenty-three years ago, I knew that we would be together. The actual hook to the song I wrote down then with just a few sentences, and I was going through my notes a couple of years ago and finished the song off. There’s not too much to it but it’s all about the love for this woman and my attempt to draw her closer and closer to me in order to let her know how I feel and hopefully she feels the same way about me. It had to feel like a country song as well because country songs are tragic songs of life whether it is love or death.”
With a new album planned for a spring release hopefully next year and talk of another European tour to coincide with the third instalment in The Cheaterslicks’ history, one can only hope that the songs live up to the exemplary quality of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Graveyard’ because it is going to be a tough act to follow.
Finally, somebody has given them a knock on the head and said this is what it can be..."
Paul Lovell Newman
FLW - From the Tapes
In his very own words, resident drummer with The Cheaterslicks Dan Gaisford got in contact with Famous Last Words, after the initial chat with Paul Lovell Newman and Ruzz, to share a couple of interesting anecdotes hauled from the band’s past. First up is the one about the band’s name…
“Shortly after starting the band in 2005, we became aware of another band with a similar name: ‘Cheater Slicks’ – a garage band from America. Unfortunately, our first contact with the band itself was a pretty negative one. They just started insisting we change our name, and they were pretty rude about it. The funny thing is, up until this happened, we were considering changing our name for the sake of clarity, even though our names are not exactly the same anyway. However, once we started getting what amounted to hate mail, especially from the American band’s fans, we thought ‘To hell with this. The last thing a credible rock ‘n’ roll band should do is bow down to pressure and do exactly what it is told’, and so we decided to keep the name. Over the years we’ve had messages from the other band threatening legal action if we don’t change the name, and their fans have posted snide comments on our YouTube videos and sent abuse to our email account; but this has just made us all the more determined to continue using the name. What’s also good is that, in more recent times, as we’ve become more popular and acquired a bigger following, the positive feedback left on the internet far outweighs any negative stuff. It’s really cool to go online and find someone who really likes our band launching a counter-attack against the American band’s fans. We love our name even more now!