Chicago-born Cerise has always sought escapism through music. However, it never clicked that her hobby could morph into a full-time vocation until a chance meeting with singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, who planted that very idea in her head: that ‘music is accessible to all’ and if you want it, go get it. The creative equivalent of an epiphany, within three weeks Cerise had bought her first guitar and was penning her own tracks.
Now comes the moment she’s been working towards, the release of her debut album, Smoke Screen Dreams. The result of years of determination (and many finger calluses), this tangible realisation of Cerise’s vision sees the singer metabolise her influences via her own sultry deliver. 80s dream pop with a smokey, haunting deliver, The Cure meets Cat Power – think Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval should she have grown up wearing pitch black eyeliner and a Bauhaus t-shirt – each track transports you to a sepia world of lust and love: nuanced and elaborate, if you scratch beneath the surface there’s a hive of activity.
Here, Cerise has handed us the exclusive premiere of her debut nine-track album. Press play and sit tight, everything’s going to ok.
Alex James Taylor: So, you say that music career really got going when you met singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur in 2003. What was it about this meeting that inspired you so much?
Cerise: I had picked up instruments here and there growing up but never felt I knew what I was doing enough to pursue it. But music was always important to me, especially in high school, it was a culture and lifestyle but I only knew how music was at its finished state. I didn’t grow up around musicians and the piano lessons I took were pretty standard nursery rhyme songs, meeting Joseph Arthur sort of unveiled the working process behind it. Not all musicians work the same but Jo has a free way of working and was open to trying things that were not conventional. Also Jo was very encouraging which is huge for a self-conscious beginner, when his friends asked if I was a musician he would say, “she’s very musical!” When I finally started recording my own songs, Jo liked them and played most the other parts on the album. He helped tie together the songs to a finished place.
AJT: And then you bought yourself your first guitar, what guitar was it?
C: I bought a parlor guitar from Larrivée
AJT: Nice, how quickly did you get a grasp of the basics?
C: I was actually surprised that, this time instead of the years before, I couldn’t get the chords right, but the guy at the store showed me a few open chords and gave me a first year lesson book. Just learning songs I actually liked was so much more fun then lessons in the past, so that definitely made me practice more. I actually started trying to write songs after two weeks, but it took a couple years though before I liked them enough.
AJT: How long ago was that? And when did the idea of actually creating a record hit you?
C: I guess that was about ten years ago, I’d say about seven years ago is when I started trying to record properly.
AJT: From your press release it sounds like the accessibility of music really struck a chord with you (no pun intended), can you tell us a bit about that…
C: It goes back to music always being important to me. I think before I became a musician myself, most of the other work I did was influenced by music in some way. I worked on art and photography at high school to the soundtrack of my favourite bands. When I got to NYC I took portraits and made music videos for Joseph Arthur and other musicians I met. I sort of thought that’s what Id be wanting to do until I actually became a musician myself.
“To me, being a musician in a band seemed like being a ballerina – like you had to be trained for it from the age of six to become this amazing artist.”
AJT: Yeah, you did some modelling and photography before this…
C: Yes, well modelling is something I started very young, around twelve years old, but back then it was just occasional photo shoots in Chicago where I grew up. Everyone still shot film and used contact sheets. I met a couple of great photographers and one I still keep in contact with and occasionally shoot with. We joke that we should make a book because he has taken my picture since I was that age. I picked up a lot working with photographers and was inspired, so around the end of high school I started taking classes at a park district near my house and I don’t know why but I was the only student in the class. The teacher was great and she taught me how to use a camera and work in the darkroom. When I got to NYC soon after I started shooting around the city and shooting my friends. I mostly enjoy portraits and spontaneous documentary style photography.
AJT: In your press release it talks about bands such as The Cure, Bauhaus and Siouxsie And The Banshees first drawing you in to music. What was it about this dramatic, dark aesthetic that caught your attention?
C: When I think back I remember being completely floored by their sounds. The music was exquisite to me. It was otherworldly and unlike anything I had heard before. I think The Cure first drew me in and it was that mix of dark romance that I loved about the sound. I think of The Cure as a band that created a new sound and pioneers in that sound, just like any other great band you would think of like The Beatles or Pink Floyd. The lyrics from those bands are so great too, poetic and subversive. Its very hard to do anything different or make it your own and I love that those bands did that and created a new sound from that. When I started high school there was a group of goth and punk kids that would hang out by a specific tree and I eventually became friends with them, the music was part of a lifestyle to us and that was to be different and express your unique self.
AJT: A lot of your tracks have that same textured, layered build up, similar to The Cure. It creates a great atmospheric sound and really makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end…
C: Yeah, starting with simple guitar chords allowed room for lots of experimentation and layering. So by the time we were mixing we could add or lose parts that worked or didn’t. I think Jo is a master at that, he really knows how to build up a song.
AJT: Did you get a chance to see The Cure on their latest tour?
C: No! Sadly I just missed them at The Hollywood Bowl, I wasn’t sure if I would still be in town and it was sold out. Hopefully I will get to see them before the end of summer. I read they are playing great long sets and playing songs that they haven’t played in years.
AJT: Yeah, I hear they’ve still got it. Do you have a favourite gig you’ve ever been to?
C: I actually was pretty lucky in high school, the manager of The Metro in Chicago saw me trying to get tickets to a show and felt bad and put me on the list. He then put me on the list for any show I wanted for years! I got to see Morrissey play there as well as The Creatures. One of my favourite shows though was seeing My Bloody Valentine play before The Cure at Coachella.
AJT: Wow, I’m jealous. Would you say that there is an overall theme or common thread that runs through the record, lyrically?
C: I think the title Smoke Screen Dreams and that song allude to a feeling of something not being as you think. When I looked up what smoke screen means it’s a cloud of smoke the military would use to disguise their weapons or a disguise someone uses to hide their real intentions. I think for my use, the word is like the smoke screen you create yourself when you think someone is something their not and the ‘weapons’ or pain that’s created from finding out. Most of the songs explain someone that is not really who you think they are, either because of your own smoke screen or one they created to hide from you, but also the delusions you dream up yourself because you want to believe them. Although it was not quite intentional, when I put the songs together it appeared to be the theme to me.
AJT: Finally, how does it feel to finally be able to hold your very own record?
C: Amazing! When I first got the records in the mail and tested one out I couldn’t believe it. To see your own songs on a thing you can hold is pretty gratifying it’s worth all the hard work.