Much has been said over the past year about relative newcomers Cheerleader. It usually begins with Chris Duran and Joe Haller making their way to Philadelphia from Connecticut with the hopes of fleshing out the then-twosome into a full-band project — which they did with the addition of Paul Impellizeri, Josh Pannepacker, and Carl Bahner.
The story continues in a complete snowball effect of success: The young band uploaded some demos to SoundCloud, caught the attention of the blogosphere, played their first shows as a band, got whisked away into the SXSW machine (they'll be heading back again this year, too), hit the overseas scene, released an EP, and hit the road with Colony House and Knox Hamilton this fall, all before bringing it home for one last show of 2014 at Johnny Brenda's on Saturday night.
It seems overwhelming, but it's just another day for guys taking the alt-pop world by storm, one sunny synth-burner at a time.
"[We're] just riding a ride. Just kind of hanging on," said Duran, who plays guitar in the outfit, of the past year. "But it's been great. It's cool to get stuff out there, we've been working on it for awhile."
The tunes began their humble journey in a basement in Connecticut, the state where Duran and Haller met in high school and had since consistently played together. Until this time — post college at this point — they both wanted to expand their musical palates and delve into a project with a poppier aesthetic — a musical project that had no name until a friend nonchalantly noted the guys were each other's biggest cheerleaders.
Thus, those songs — "New Daze," "Do What You Want," and "Dreamer" — hit the interweb, and Cheerleader had formally existed in their hazy, summer-tinged sweetness.
So sweet, in fact, it must be intentional. And it definitely is. Upon first laying the groundwork for Cheerleader, Duran and Haller made calculated efforts as far as the sound and image they wanted to invoke.
"We wanted to make something that was positive and kind of poppy," said Duran.
Which was immediately followed by the "but people like to hate on pop music" conversation, they quickly found.
"One of the things I never want to do is take myself too seriously," said front man Haller. "You've just got to go for it and make big pop songs if you just want to make big pop songs — you've just got to do it."
Even when recording in Los Angeles late this winter, "big pop" was never far out of mind. The opposite, actually: "Half the time when we were recording these songs, we had the radio on and were listening to Katy Perry," shared Haller. "We were super into 'Last Friday Night,' and Robyn ... that Icona Pop 'I Love It.'"
With influences like those — and being verbal about said influences — you have to wonder how that affects potential listeners whose respect for Perry may not be as high as Cheerleader's.
"I think its cool to say ' I like this band you've never heard of before,'" said Haller of the current state of music. "A lot of people are trying to be cool and say, 'I don't like Katy Perry.'"
"I feel like if you feel like you're superior to this, you better have a really high understanding of what you're doing," Duran agreed.
From those pop-fueled sessions — and that discussion — came this fall's "On Your Side" EP, a lovelorn, windows-down dreamscape that pairs perfectly with epic rom-coms (if any studios want to jump on that, "On Your Side," the EP's title track lends itself to triumphant end-credit scenes) that doesn't feel too far from Katy Perry, — case in point: "Just want wind in my hair / You're meeting me there / Love is in the air / But we really don't care" from party anthem "Future Stars" — but still far enough to play as completely authentic and very Cheerleader.
And according to Haller, it's all attributed to doing what feels right. "Just take yourself out of your comfort zone," he said. "Theoretically, we could've been in the basement forever."
But from the band's underground's debut came dazzling, accessible indie pop, which will likely be in broader supply come 2015 as the band's sitting on an LP's worth of songs from this year's recording sessions.
In the meantime, a hometown show containing "a little holiday surprise" will be enough to tide listeners over. Matching outfits may or may not be included.
"We were considering wearing suits or something," said Duran. "Knowing us, we'll just wear whatever we put on that day."
Cheerleader plays Johnny Brenda's with Dream Safari and Louds at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20. Tickets are still available.