Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cheer Up Charlie Daniels


Though Nashville’s pop rock band Cheer Up Charlie Daniels bear no musical resemblance to the bearded southern rocker they are presumably trying to cheer, they do possess the ability to instantaneously boost the mood of their surroundings.

The CUCD family, whose members are Neil O’Neil, Luke Skidmore, Tyler Jones, Adam Selzer, Lydia Elise, Skylar Glover and Gary Hundley, is an eclectic mix of talent and personalities that come together to form a hodgepodge of rock ‘n’ roll, festive costumes and laughter.

I catch up with Neil, Tyler, Adam and Gary on the patio of Crema in Nashville, and they fill me in on their journey thus far, their victory in BMI’s 2011 Road to Bonnaroo competition and being electrocuted on stage, for starters.

This seven-person, multi-instrumental band has managed to pull talent from all over the US, which has resulted in a deep-seated patriotism that shoots out of everything they do.

A love of America and a desire to make music together are not the only commonalities among this group of individuals, however. Neil speaks to another yarn knitting them all together. “We realized we were all actually illegitimate children of Charlie Daniels from his late ‘70s and early ‘80s tours,” he jokes.

I ask how Charlie Daniels feels about having his name ripped for a band signature, and Gary assures me that Daniels has given his full approval.

“We got an eight and a half by eleven headshot that [Charlie] sent to us that says, ‘Cheer up Neil,’ on it. He knows what we are doing,” Gary says.

The initial movement toward the birth of this family happened when Luke and Neil met in Arizona and came to Nashville for an internship. They started working at Whole Foods and met band members Skylar and Gary, who knew each other from Colorado. Adam was a roommate who joined the band soon after. Once these five guys formed a musical alliance, they realized something critical was missing. 

“We decided it was way too many dudes,” Adam declares.

Gary chimes in, “You know, sausage sells, but not that much.”

The guys decided their family lacked some feminine flair and, coincidentally, Charlie had some daughters out there who were ready to join. The boys stumbled across Lydia and Tyler, and the unconventional family of illegitimate children was complete.

This year, CUCD kicked it into high gear and won the top spot in the Road to Bonnaroo competition, which sets the bar high and only allows a chosen few to make their way to the festival’s coveted stages.

“It was awesome!” Gary says. “When we finally got there and were playing, it was the easiest part of the whole process. If you’ve really been putting in the work and effort by the time you get to an opportunity, you should be ready.”

“The toughest part was not actually performing at Bonnaroo but the competition,” Adam adds.
Neil agrees. “You spend so much time as a band organizing, coordinating, communicating, preparing and developing that by the time you get to make the music, that’s the fun, easy, why-we-did-it part.”

CUCD spend gobs of time together, whether they’re making music, hanging out, working or even living together.

“I think if you were to categorize each of the individuals in this band, you would have seven completely different people who are about as far apart from one another as they could be,” says Adam. “But, like in a family, there are core things that bring us all together—friendship, music, respect and enjoyment of one another.”

“We are eccentric, creative people, and we feed off each other’s energy really well,” Gary adds. “We have to take care of each other because all of our families live outside of [Nashville]. We do that not just in the band but with fellow musicians and our other friends here in Nashville.”

To illustrate the band’s family dynamic, Gary points to the orange juice sitting in front of him. “Neil bought me this orange juice,” he says. “Do you know how depleted my Vitamin C levels were before just a moment ago?”

When it comes to their sound, no specific genre can fully capture the essence of CUCD. Their music offers such a variety of styles that the band themselves have a hard time classifying it.

“I’d like to say four words, A-MER-I-CA,” Gary says of their music. “Other words to describe our music are ‘rock’ and ‘roll.’ We take all our music, roll it together and just rock it out.”

Neil has his own term to qualify their music: “Beatlesquedivocountryrockrap.”

Staring back at his orange juice, Gary muses, “We just play music. It’s true—you can’t really grasp it. We are original, pulp-free, and we are not from concentrate. If you shake well, good things will happen.”
CUCD take their onstage performance seriously. They make masks, dress up, smash things on stage and run around for added effect.

Amid all their crazy onstage antics, one night in particular stands out to them as the most epic of them all.
“Neil was feeling particularly rebellious and decided under his clothes he was going to wear a g-string thong with a confederate flag in it,” Adam explains, laughing. “In the middle of the set, he was going to tear off his pants and [take] the confederate flag out of his thong.

“Everything was going great, and we look over and Neil has dropped to the floor. For a split second we all think he is just squirming on the floor, and then we realize something is seriously wrong. We start to realize Neil is being electrocuted on stage. He was playing through an old, vintage amp and ultimately we learned there was a little piece of metal that got stuck in the circuit board in back. He had become the ground for an entire electrical circuit.”

“320 volts,” Neil says proudly.

“320 volts of rock ‘n’ roll,” beams Gary.

I’m unsure whether to show concern or laugh at the severity of the situation, but Adam looks up and concludes, “Needless to say, the confederate flag was never the same.”

As things are wrapping up and we’re about to go our separate ways, the band members start to explode with enthusiasm.

“Oh man. Yes! Yeaaahhhhh!” Gary shouts.

“Let us just note that there is a 50-year-old man riding a yellow motorcycle, and it’s only a foot tall and two feet long,” Neil says.

Tyler, who has been virtually silent the entire time, corrects, “A crotch rocket, not a motorcycle.”

“With his knees touching his titties,” Gary shouts, laughing excitedly.

“Ahh! He’s doing a wheelie,” yelps Neil.

Everyone breaks into laughter as Gary offers one last observation:

“The only thing that would have made that better would have been if he had a piece of fried chicken in his mouth.”

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