by Kati Mennett
Red lipstick, auburn curls, and a silhouette from a 1950’s pinup. Christina Watka, lead singer of The Cheeks stands on the side of the stage watching as her bandmates take their positions. The fuzzy loudness of the crowd begins to hush as the five men in black suits take hold of their golden instruments, sticks, strings and piano keys. A rhythm fills the air that takes one back to a decade when rock and roll was humming on the radios and dirty dancing was on the verge of getting dirtier.
After opening instrumentals, the tiny silhouette of Watka, 25, takes the stage in a sparkling tight gold dress; and it’s a surprise to hear a voice that is reminiscent of Aretha, Tina, and Janis. Everyone in the room begins tapping their feet, twisting and shouting, and singing along.
The Cheeks’ cast includes Andrew Halchak, 23, on Tenor Saxophone, Maciej Lewandowski, 23, on Bass Guitar, Jon Kenney, on Trombone, Henrique Eisenmann, 23, on keys and Alejandro Santiago, 23, on drums. These six musicians have such a natural chemistry together it oozes out of their pores and into the music.
The Cheeks perform original music interspersed with well-chosen songs by Little Richard and James Brown. Their soulful sexy blend of brass, beats and piano solos is refreshing to hear at a time when pornographic pop music is impossible to escape.
Deli: How did all six of you come together to form this band?
Andrew: In the fall of 2010 Sam Woodbury and I started talking about a group like this. We didn't want to re-invent the wheel or try really hard to be the next big thing, we just wanted to perform quality music for people to get down to, have a good time, and get paid. Done
Christina: Sam Woodbury and Andrew were roommates last year. I am sure a lot of really late table talks and beers induced the idea. Thank God for that. This music is where Sam's heart is...so much that he left Boston for New Orleans and we found Henrique.
Deli: What’s your creative process like?
Alex: Our process is like a steady stream, nice and easy flowing. We don't spend too much time talking, the music speaks for itself and shit just happens.
Jon: our creative process comes from each member of the group. Every rehearsal, a different member will bring in charts for a new song, or even just ideas about what tunes to pursue. When we are playing, a lot of the interpretation is left up to the members of the group so that we all have our own personal identity within the ensemble.
Christina: We all have songs that we bring to the table. Some songs just fit. We work through original tunes really naturally. Luckily, the style we play either hits you hard or it doesn't. We only keep the ones that hit hard. Others aren't worth it.
Deli: A couple of the members have art backgrounds, how does this influence the music, process, and live performance?
Alex: In my opinion, I honestly don't see it influencing the process or music. However, as far as the live performance goes, our bella cantante brings the people, helps get their assess moving, and makes sure we look good.
Christina: Art is it for me. I love it. As a full time installation artist, I pour myself into it, just like I do with The Cheeks. I finally feel like I have a balance between my two loves: art and music. We are all passionate about the stuff we do. That's what influences our sound. PASSION.
Andrew: Everything affects the music. The painting you saw that day, the conversation you just had, the girls you see dancing, the Hennessy people are bringing up to you.
Deli: What are the main inspirations for your music?
Christina: I just want to give as much to the shows as James Brown did. That man worked his ass off. Seriously, though? The inspirations are endless...Kandinsky's lines and rhythm, to Snoop Dogg's music, to my dad's dancing, to Tina Turner and the way she introduces "Proud Mary" in this one live version I watch all the time.
Andrew: see previous answer.
Jon: My main inspirations come from my musical family of friends who inspire me to push my own musicality and continue to make great music.
Deli: How do you want your music to affect people?
Alex: All I want our music to do is to make people dance and send them home so turned on that they fuck all night long. If that doesn't happen then we're not doing our job.
Christina: We want to be appealing to everyone--musicians and non-musicians alike. That's the best music...the stuff that can be appreciated by everybody. We are out there to have a good time, but we can because we work really hard and put in the time to give a really spectacular show.
Jon: With this group I really would like the music to get people absolutely pumped up and dancing.
Andrew: Hopefully people will dance. Hopefully people will have a good time. If we're really in the shit, if we're really deep inside the music, after playing for 2 and a half hours straight, when we're all tired and the place is still filling up, when we are too exhausted to bullshit, that's when it happens. That's when Alex plays some fucked up groove that will trip people up and still make em shake their asses. That's when Maciej will start playing some rumblin earthquakes in the bass. That's when Jon and I will mix in all the bebop, all the hard learned history of our horns. That's when Henrique will mix in the Brazilian shit, the samba Carnival party. That's when Christina will shoot to the upper register and wail. And I can guarantee that we won't be trying to do any of that. It just creeps in. The only thing we're trying to do is keep those hips grinding, the people streaming in and the drinks pouring.