“Everybody wanted to sign the next 1975, Arctic Monkeys and Biffy Clyro. No one gave a shit about a band like us!”: Cherym talk being ‘real’ punk band (and if that even means anything anymore)
The Derry trio on meshing their diverse music tastes, diving down guitar pedal rabbit holes and what happens when the alternative becomes the mainstream.
Riding the high of an excellent EP released in 2021, Derry-based Cherym have had a stellar 2022 and are set to have an even better 2023, one packed with festival appearances – including SXSW. We chatted to all three of them: Hannah (she/her, guitar and lead vocals), Nyree (they/them, bass), and Alannagh (she/they, drums) – as Nyree puts it, there’s a bit of a “Ringo isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles” situation, as Alannagh also happens to be a classically-trained guitarist.
They were all stoked to talk to us about everything from how they got their start in Derry’s vibrant live scene to contending with edgeless major-label TikTok punk.
Kicking off by asking how things got started, we immediately dig up some old band drama. Whoops. “Me and Hannah met in secondary school,” Nyree says. “We were sort of like each other’s rivals in school. Then when we went to do music in college, we became more friendly, and started talking about music and how we wanted to be in a band. I wanted to be in a band like the Bangles, and Hannah was like, ‘ugh, whatever…’”
Hannah chimes in to protest: “but I like the Bangles!”
“I know, but then you chose another bass player!” Nyree hits back. “I was all, ‘I’ll be your bass player, and we’ll be like the Bangles’, and you said ‘aye, no sweat.’ And then you chose someone else!”
“Oh my god I forgot about that, I feel so bad!”
“Well, she’s fuckin’ gone now anyway, and I’m back in,” says Nyree. “But yeah, back then, Hannah created Cherym with two other people and I replaced the bass player because she was going off to college, and Alannagh replaced the drummer – I didn’t know Alannagh then, but Hannah did.”
“Aye, Hannah hated me for a wee while!” Alannagh says. “But that was like that time when everybody was 13 and writing angry Facebook comments at each other.”
It’s safe to say that’s passed now: “When I joined the band I felt unqualified, as youse had been in bands before me,” says Nyree. “But Hannah kind of took me under her wing – I was so nervous for our first gig, and she was like, ‘you’re the coolest person here, you do realise that? Everyone’s looking at you, and you don’t have to be nervous because this is what you do.’ And I was like, ‘oh, happy days,’ and went up and played. That’s stuck for like five years now.”
Even before the lineup solidified, there was a steady foundation for bands established in Derry. “When we were teenagers, the Nerve Centre was the hub for music,” says Alannagh. “There’s two scenes in Derry, one’s techno, the other’s rock, so basically you fit into one or the other. Before I was in the band I was going to shows there, and Cherym and Touts were definitely the two staple rock bands playing the Nerve Centre.”
“There was loads of representation for punk music in Derry – we’ve had like the Undertones and loads of other bands coming out doing a similar thing,” Hannah adds.
But Derry’s scene, like any, isn’t perfect. “I don’t think there was that much representation for women and non-binary people, and that was the challenge that we set ourselves at the start: we just wanted to be the representation that we never had.”
There is, unfortunately, always the more cynical other side of that coin: Cherym relay an experience that might sound familiar if you happen to a) be in a band and b) not be a man. “Some promoters ended up getting us on the roster as like, a token band,” says Nyree. “At that point in time I identified as a woman so we were an all-girl band and people fuckin’ ate that shit up, but not for the right reasons. Just to throw us on the lineup so that it was more inclusive. We did want to represent women and non-binary people, but it was getting to a point where it’s like ‘go and listen to the music, please, we just want to be judged on our music!’ But promoters were just like ‘Ayy! Women! With guitars ‘n’all!’
“But we were able to ride that enough where people started listening to the actual music, and whenever it became about that it just felt better.”
As an audience member, it’s also possible you’ve been at a show where a promoter assumed ‘female-fronted guitar band’ is a single genre, and not realised that they were booking a bubbly pop-punk group to play before some brutal deathcore. “But even that would be better than some of the fucking lineups we’ve had to deal with,” says Hannah. “We’ve been put on like… country lineups – do you remember that gig? I won’t say where it was…
“Yeah, it was promoted like: ‘No men on the bill!’,” Alannagh says. “Aye, grand. But then it was: ‘here’s three different groups with three completely different genres. Have fun.’”
That’s not to say, however, that Cherym don’t appreciate a bit of genre-blending: all three of them share a love of punk, but that’s just the intersection of a massive Venn diagram. The different influences are also more evident on Hey Tori than any other Cherym release. “During COVID we took a different turn in our writing,” Alannagh says. “We went off and wrote by ourselves and then brought it to the practice room – before that, we would jam, and something would come out of that. Because of us taking that different approach, you can hear all of the styles that we’re all individually interested in.
“But we’ve all had a shared influence in punk and rock – I don’t know about youse ones but whenever I’m putting drums together my brain automatically goes to metal, I’ll be a very hard hitter or just do something you wouldn’t normally hear in indie music. Whenever I listen to indie music, I’m like ‘guitars, great – vocals, great. Drums – we 4/4 here. I can’t be dealing with that. I have to fill it out with whatever I’ve got, and that I take a lot from metal.
“And Nyree, your basslines, there is a lot of punky stuff going on there, very fancy – almost like Mike Dirnt. Whenever you listen to a Green Day song the guitar is doing the melody but the bass is doing this funky thing in the background, and I feel like that happens a lot with you.”
“And then Hannah as well like, the way that you sing and the way that you play and write, you can hear the Charly Bliss influence, you can hear the pop influence. There is this shared interest in the same sort of music but there’s also this Venn diagram of country, metal and punk alongside that.”
Countless young musicians will tell you it’s far easier to like a bunch of different stuff these days, for obvious reasons. “We were brought up in a time when music was so accessible,” says Nyree. “You’d hear a song on the radio, remember one of the lyrics, type it into Google, and you’d have the song on YouTube. It was a privilege to be able to do that – I come from a council estate area, we wouldn’t have been able to afford music if vinyl was still the only real way. But because of a simple thing like a computer I was just able to access so many more genres and develop my own taste.”
That effect has, more recently, spread to gear too. If you want to deep-dive into guitar effects, the YouTube algorithm’s your oyster. Hannah’s guitar rig is intricate and reflects a deep passion for getting the right guitar tone. Nyree, on the other hand…
“As long as I get a good distortion on the bass I don’t really give a flying fuck!” they laugh. “It doesn’t have to be a pedal – it could just be the amp. I have my own distortion pedal now, a Big Muff, and I swear by it, wouldn’t use anything else. But Hannah has a ton of pedals that all do things. Like the one that goes weargh, weargh , woog.”
“Oh, the POG? – I do kinda have so many –hang on”, Hannah says, and flips her camera around to reveal the extent of her pedal nerdery. “There’s the Plasma pedal that we were using in the studio, which was a cornerstone for a lot of the Hey Tori stuff that was going on. It has this wee electric bolt that runs through it and it’s fucking so cool. Metal Zone, just for absolute filth, it’s the shitest pedal ever, it literally is.
Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro uses one for everything and I agree. It’s great. And then the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star, you can do crazy pitch shifts with it, and there’s a freeze effect which is pure cool. And just a wee delay, a TC Electronic Flashback. And then the Little Big Muff – I’m not sure that’s as good as the big one, which is why it’s not on my main pedalboard at the minute.”
It’s good to know that the incredibly vibey pedalboard Hannah just showed us isn’t her main one. So what’s on that? “There’s a Walrus Audio Mayflower because Jess Abbot from Tancred uses one, and she is my absolute guitar hero – as cheesy as that sounds. And then there’s a Doctor Tone delay and a POG for octaves. Oh, and a Freeze pedal for one bit in the set. And that’s going into an Orange OR15 amp head.”
The alternative to alternative music
Looming above all alternative guitar music in 2023 is the sudden embrace of pop-punk by the mainstream. It’s not surprising to see major labels leap two-footed into the genre, especially when Machine Gun Kelly’s Mainstream Sellout can get nominated for a fucking Grammy. Is this a good thing for a band like Cherym, who got their start in the ‘traditional’ punk way?
“It’s definitely good that alternative music is becoming more mainstream in terms of how people are accepted,” says Alannagh. “We were all bullied growing up for being ‘the weird kid’, or ‘the emo kid’ or whatever. As alternative music starts to come into the light a wee bit more, it’s definitely good for younger generations to be able to dress in an alternative way and not be bullied as much.”
“However,” they add, cautiously, “I do see a lot of like this new pop punk – ugh, I don’t want to call it ‘industry plants’, but like, there’s a lot of ‘pop punk’ that just doesn’t have the roots of it. There’s a guy on Tik Tok at the minute and it’s literally like, ‘and the crowd goes mild’ – he claims he’s all pop-punk but you just know it’s very industry-based.
“Like a lot of this new punk – I don’t mean the real punk, I mean the TikTok punk – is setting a line for industry people to do it from the top down rather than from the bottom up, which is where punk needs to come from. Independent venues, independent bands, working class bands.”
Nyree asks: “I don’t even know why they don’t reach out to a wee shite band like us. We’d be up for it! Like, how do you become an industry plant? Asking for a friend…”
Hannah’s take on it is perhaps a little less optimistic. “There’s a reason why alternative music is alternative. I don’t really… think it should be mainstream? Not to be a pure gatekeepy bastard, I’m not trying to be like that, but when you see people who would have bullied you in school and called you slurs, are starting to listen to the kind of music that was your escape from being bullied at school, the stuff they were slagging you about, oh my god…”
Alannagh then offers us a terrifying window into the For You page: “Yeah, they’re literally on TikTok going, ‘have you heard Pierce The Veil’s King For A Day? Yes, I have – 10 years ago!”
The real kicker, though, is the about-face turn Cherym saw the industry do in response to their music in the wake of the MPPEH (mainstream pop-punk event horizon). “A band like us, we would have never, ever been looked at,” says Hannah. “When we started out we were fucking pure laughed at! The people who were saying ‘youse are a shite band,’ back then, are now saying ‘oh my god can we manage you?’ – they’re only saying that because it’s now a mainstream thing. Back when we started everybody wanted to sign the next 1975, Arctic Monkeys and Biffy Clyro. But no one gave a shit about a band like us.”
Cherym all stress that this feeling does not extend to their current label, Alcopop! Records. “They’re great,” Alannagh says. “Jack from Alcopop! is an absolute sweetheart, and music lover. And he doesn’t really look at things in a ‘ oh, this band has nonbinary members, definitely gonna sign them because it’ll make me profit. Instead it’s, this band is actually good and they have good music. I know it’s important to take it into consideration, obviously, you know, gender or sexuality or race, but he literally he will just hear music and be like, that’s a fucking great band, get me in contact with them. And it just so happens that a lot of the people making great music these days are women and non-binary people!”
Listen to Cherym’s EP Hey Tori and it’s likely you’ll agree. The band have also just announced they’re back in the studio, so if the five tracks on that EP left you wanting, be sure to give them a follow.
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