The hazy charm of Cheerleader first shimmered into existence at a Hartford, Connecticut middle school. Here, Joe Haller and Chris Duran cut their musical teeth in Duran’s parents’ basement, and their friendship and musical chemistry sparked a connection that survived the 2000s and colleges in separate states. Reconnecting in their hometown in 2012, Haller and Duran decided it was time to devote themselves to their music. “We sort of realized that, crazy pipedream or not, we owed it to ourselves to give it a shot,” Duran says. On a whim, the duo moved to Philadelphia to start compiling new material.
In 2013, Joe Haller and Chris Duran self-produced and recorded a three-song demo in their apartment in downtown Philly under the name Cheerleader. To their surprise, the release of that three-song demo on SoundCloud led to features in NME and Nylon, some radio play, and a slew of SxSW invitations. Doors were opening quickly, but the duo was suddenly faced with the technical challenges of recreating their music live with only two members.
Haller and Duran already knew local studio manager and multi-instrumentalist Josh Pannepacker from Philly’s music scene, while mutual friends introduced the new trio to Carl Bahner (drums) and Paul Impellizeri (bass). The prospect of performing Cheerleader’s music live had always been daunting for Haller and Duran, who had trouble imagining how to replicate their recordings. But Pannepacker and Bahner’s production backgrounds helped realize their live show.
After a gig in New York, one of the first that Cheerleader played as a five piece, they were approached by Mark Needham, who invited them to record with him in Los Angeles. Haller and Duran were at first overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation. “All of a sudden, we’re in New York having dinner with this guy who has mixed some of the biggest rock records of the past decade, and he’s talking to us about the lo-fi songs we recorded in our apartment at 3am,” Haller says. Eventually, the band embraced the experience of working with a ten-time Grammy nominated producer. The resulting album, The Sunshine of Your Youth, balances the intimacy of the original demos with a lavish ambience worthy of rock musicians with several albums under their belt.
While the album title, The Sunshine of Your Youth might seem to convey pure anticipation, a longing for the emotion and the heat of summertime, Haller and Duran shrug off the significance. “[F]or us the title is more about a state of mind than a particular time in your life – how, no matter what’s going on, life can be full of wonder and beauty, as long as you’re open to these things."
The album’s 10 songs are like floating on a cloud through an extended dream sequence. But delving deeper into the music brings out the darker, deeper notes of truth in the dreamy yet anthemic songs. From the hook-driven “New Daze,” through the forlorn whistling of “Do What You Want,” to the nostalgia of “Little Bird,” the band’s freshman effort indeed strikes those chords of hope, wonder and beauty.