By Charlette Hannah
Hannah Simpson a.k.a Cherry, inimitable leader of Wellington band Cherry's Gemstones, describes herself and her music as 'vibrant, vivacious, friendly, fun, outrageous, also with a dark kind of moody side as well'. She smiles constantly, even while talking in a voice that somehow manages to be husky and cutesy at the same time, and giggles into her soy chai latte when she pauses for breath. I met up with Cherry on a rainy day for a quick chat.
Charlette: So the first thing I wanted to ask you about was the crowd surf photo shoot you recently did. What was that all about?
Cherry: It's still under wraps, but for New Zealand Music Month we're going to be appearing in a publication - I'm not allowed to say - and I just wanted to do something a bit different, a bit crazy and unique for that. Jeremy Blinko, who took the photos, it was actually his idea, and I thought 'yeah that's great'. So we got together a group of people, shouted them some beers, and got to crowd surf on them!
Charlette: So it went well?
Cherry: Yeah, it went really well. We're also doing these 'pretending to be running away with aliens' shots as well, it's quite funny.
Charlette: It says on your myspace site you've got a new drummer. How did you find him?
Cherry: Well, Ben, or B Jammin, or Benjy as I like to call him, I found B Jammin at the music works shop. I was putting up posters looking for a drummer, and he just started talking to me randomly 'cause he likes to talk to his customers and he's just a really nice guy. So I went in there and he said 'I'd like to drum for you, I'd like to jam with you', something along those lines. So we gave him a go, and he's just a really great guy and a great musician and he works real well with me and Heleyni.
Charlette: What happened to your last drummer?
Cherry: Greta, yeah. It was going quite well for a little while there but then she decided it wasn't quite for her. So she left the band, unfortunately, but it's ok, we've got Ben now.
like most about playing live?
Charlette: What do you like best about playing live?
Cherry: Probably getting the feedback from the audience. Just giving something out, whatever you're expressing, your emotions and the frequency of the sound in a live venue. Say at San Francisco Bathhouse with the loud speakers and the PA is really good there. Just the crowd, and knowing people like your stuff, and you're sharing something of yourself, and they're sharing something with you by participating in the music and the event. I enjoy playing with the other bands as well, my fellow musician friends. Supporting each other and having a good time and expressing life!
Charlette: Do you prefer it to recording?
Cherry: No, no, I like them both probably quite equally. I really enjoyed recording our EP, Love in the Dreamscape Matrix Reality. Did it sort of slowly over a period of about ten months, with a guy called Justin Doyle who is the engineer at a studio called the Blue Room Studios here in Wellington on Abel Smith Street. We just really nutted it out, he worked really hard on it with me, we co-produced it. He had a break in the middle 'cause he also does guitar tech-ing for bands like Shihad and Goldenhorse, so during the summer months we had a bit of break. I really love recording. The idea of capturing something, it's a piece of history. You can build up the layers more.
Charlette: Any plans for an album soon?
Cherry: Definitely. We're talking about an album and working on new material, as I speak. So we've been writing some new songs. I want to write one song a week and then just have lots and lots of material so we can weed out the best and record that. So I want to, for the second piece of work, record a full length album and include several guitar driven tracks and several piano driven tracks. The juxtaposition or the difference between the sound is quite extreme. I used to write quite long drawn out songs, but we're writing some more punchy shorter songs, kinda like pop/punk.
Charlette: So what do you do when you're not playing music?
Cherry: I'm a singing teacher, so I've got a few students, I'm just building it up. I'm on the PACE scheme as well. I spend a lot of my time actually promoting music, singing lessons, meeting people, doing an interview, talking about a potential idea. Got a manager now, so that's good, he's got some good ideas. It's good to have a bit of extra help. Thinking about getting a promoter actually. It's just really hard work, keeping your name out there.
Charlette: Let's go back to the songs a little. What inspires you and what do you write them about?
Cherry: Everything ay, from friends, people, experiences, personal pain, pain of friends or others. Not in a bad way. Like I'd never want to comment on someone elses pain that would be offensive. Just life as well. We've got one song which is relatively new, its about six months old, called Diamonds in the Rough. That song is about several photographs in a photo exhibition that I saw last year, and it was the diamond mining. So it had the black people in Nigeria mining the diamonds, then the overlord kind of guy cutting the diamonds up, and then where they ended up in New York. It's just quite grotesque I thought, and sad. It was interesting actually, 'cause just after I wrote that song the movie Blood Diamond came out, which only just saw the other day. Sometimes I find some issues and things too painful to comment on them. It's quite hard to process things like the state of the environment, you just hear these crazy things. I quite like to talk to people and find out what they do. I talked to this one guy the other week and he works for the piping lines I think in Australia, and he said if there's one more summer of draught, people will be literally going down to buy their water. Sometimes I think, how do you comment on these things in a way that's apt.
Charlette: What's in the future for yourself as a musician and as a band?
Cherry: More touring definitely. On the 27th of April we're going to play Auckland at the Schooner Tavern. On the 19th of May at 1pm we'll be at the Auckland City Art Gallery debuting some more demure, stripped back, movie soundtrack-styled Julie Cruise tunes. But also doing some of the more wild and surreal crazy stuff off the EP. Yeah, I get to play a baby grand at the art gallery!
Charlette: Are you playing in Wellington soon?
Cherry: I don't know yet. Probably sometime in New Zealand Music Month, I haven't booked anything yet. Just giving it a bit of a break. It's such a small town that you can't do too many shows otherwise people get bored.
Charlette: Do you consider yourself a professional?
Cherry: Yeah, definitely. I work extremely hard at what I do, there's no doubt about it. It's crazy, how hard I work. And the hours are crazy as well. You have to be promoting yourself 24/7 in a way. The culture of it can be quite tiring. Like I said, I do all the singing teaching as well, I'm gonna be a School of Rock mentor as well. It's gonna be really fun.
Charlette: What advice would you have for other bands who are trying to 'make it'.
Cherry: Well if you're just starting up, get an email list, get a myspace page, get a friend to help you with the promotion side of things. Get a manager whether it's someone from the industry or not, even if its just someone to help you manage your time, managing accounts, things like joining APRA. Just write write write, write lots of songs, play play play, tour tour tour, record demos. Even if that means just recording yourself in your practice room so you can hear what you sound like and you can go away and listen to it. If you can get hold of a four track, start recording a demo and handing it round so people know who you are. Flyers. You can never hand out enough flyers for your shows. Don't annoy people. I've annoyed people in my time. I once went to an acoustic night and played my acoustic through a distortion pedal, which some people might like, but the venue owners didn't and they wouldn't let me play there for a while. Work hard. Treat it like fun, 'cause rock and roll should be fun, but you need to have a standard, set yourself goals. Just muppet at people about your band. Create a bio, work out what your sound is, who you are. Logo's, t'shirts, stickers, anything just to get your name out there, get it into people's consciousness. But really work on your sound. At the end of the day if you don't have a great sound and you do all that work getting your name out there...
Charlette: We'll just finish with a more superficial question – do you have a funny story?
Cherry: Oh yeah, I wanted to say we want to tour the world and go on a cruise ship tour in about two years time, so thats something I'm working on at the moment. A funny story. I just thought of one but that's probably not appropriate. Five metre's more, that's a good story. My old drummer Ollie, we played together in a few different bands since I was about 16, then we formed Cherry's Gemstones when I was about 21, he was with Cherry's Gemstones for 3 or 4 years. One night we had two shows in a row, we had one on a Wednesday night for a girls birthday party at the San Francisco Bathhouse and then the next night we had one at Bodega. We were all tired from the night before and we were pulling up to the venue, and I wanted him to pull up right outside the door 'cause we had all this gear, and he said 'no, this is fine' and we had a bit of a hootenanny over that. We were a two piece for ages, me and Ollie, so we ended up a bit like an old married couple. So after that we just kept joking about, anytime we had to get gear out we'd say 'just five metres more'.