Analogue Music | Cheerleader


By Matt Conner

Joe Haller needed to hit reset.

As the frontman for Cheerleader, the first full album cycle of touring and promoting Sunshine of Your Youth took quite a toll alongside the demands of a full-time job. He wasn't the only one. After two years, Haller says he was ready to set it all aside and, for a good six month period, Cheerleader was no more. The project was shelved. Promotion was halted.

It's taken some time—nearly five years—for Cheerleader to come back around, but the Philly-based band has returned with Almost Forever, a less-earnest pop album that pays closer to attention to the details. Fans will be pleased with the compositions themselves, but these flourishes reward repeated listens. In short, Haller and company (Paul Impellizeri, Josh Pannepacker) should be proud.

As he promotes the band's return, Haller was kind enough to sit down with us to chat about the space between albums, the new pop approach, and the steps he's taking to stay healthy this time around.

Analogue: The language around this new album describes you hitting a wall, in so many words, after the first album. I'd love to start there to get perspective on this new album, but I'm curious first how dramatized that is in terms of creating a bio or whether that sounds accurate to you.

Joe Haller: Yeah, I think so. There's a lot that goes into being a band behind the scenes. It's not just playing shows, but it's carving out time for rehearsals and all the guys in the band have full-time jobs and one started a family. This is years ago at this point, but I'd hit a point where I was down in the dumps about the whole thing, the direction we were headed in. I bowed out, so to speak, just for a second because I guess I was overwhelmed at the lifestyle of being on the road all of the time. I also had some anxiety around performing live that was looming large in my mind at that point and time, too.

'Almost Forever' cover
'Almost Forever' cover

Analogue: The reason I ask is because, on the surface, it seems like a wrong move commercially speaking to put out a debut and then wait nearly five years for the next one, like a death knell in terms of marketplace strategy. Were you hearing any of that at the time? Were you just focused on getting well and everything else be damned?

Joe: I think it was that last part. There was a time where I thought we wouldn't continue, that we wouldn't make a follow-up record. But we have a really great team who works with us and everyone just said, 'Okay, take your time and let us know if you change your mind. That's okay.' I felt very fortunate to have people like that on my side. It's like, 'If there are people who believe in the band, then we should do this thing.' There was maybe a six month lapse where the band was ostensibly finished before we decided to pick it back up.

I knew I wanted to pursue a different sound—not an entire rebrand, but I was being pulled in a different direction artistically, so to speak. It took some time to relearn how to approach songwriting in a different way. We knew it was a big risk to take some time between releases and honestly it ended up taking a lot longer than we anticipated. We had to line up a producer. It took me nearly two years to write a batch of songs I knew I could pare down into an album. Then going out and recording the record and mixing it always takes onger. What we thought was a two-year runway ended up taking longer. Plus, as I said, we all have full-time jobs outside of music, so time is precious and we don't get to spend as much time creating as we would like.

Analogue: Was there any turning point when you knew you wanted to come back to the music?

Joe: I do remember... I started the band with a high school buddy of mine, Chris Duran, and he and I poured ourselves a whiskey. We were taking the roommate's dog for a walk around the block. We still loved music. It was still a lifelong dream of ours to make that our career. It was definitely a painful thought that we wouldn't be doing that anymore, at least in a professional way, I guess. But I remember saying, 'Hey, we've got these people behind us. Let's do this but let's do it on our terms a little bit more.'

When we first started the band, we wanted to make pop music. We weren't even necessarily big fans of pop, you know, but we were drawn to the production elements of pop music in particular. We were proud of that first record, but it wasn't necessarily reflective of who we were and who our influences were. I think that was the big impetus for us to move in a slightly different direction.

Analogue: How do you learn to write songs in a different way or process? How do you avoid the instincts that got you to your first album?

Joe: There's more than one way to write a song. Obviously there are myriad ways. I've been writing songs since I was 13 years old or so. I think it was less of a totally new experiment for me and more of a return to form in a way. The first record, Sunshine of Our Youth, we'd just learned how to use recording software. We were just getting into that world of creating sample drum beats and a more loop-based writing format. We were also writing more as a team than we've done in the past. The whole writing process was sort of centered on defining the hook. Where's the hook? What's the big cathartic release? We were interested in creating something more slightly nuanced. Whether we achieved that or not, I don't know. It was just tough to rediscover those old instincts.

"I think I have a tendency to write a song, love it for a week or a month, and then think it's the worst thing I've ever heard."

Analogoue: You said you can't tell but how do you feel about Almost Forever compared to how you felt around the debut's release?

Joe: That's hard to say. I think I feel good about it. It's one of those things where I think I'm too close to both of those records to really even say. I think I have a tendency to write a song, love it for a week or a month, and then think it's the worst thing I've ever heard. I wouldn't say that's the case for any of the songs on either record at this point, but I can't see the forest for the trees. It's that kind of a scenario.

Analogue: So what's the filter there?

Joe: I'm not completely creating in a vacuum. I wrote a few with my writing partner, Chris. Some I did on my own. My manager is also a greatsounding baord for me. He's very honest. If I send him something, he would say, 'Yes, this sounds great.' But we also didn't always see eye to eye. We disagreed but I guess certain ones would stand out. One day I'd be drunk in my studio and think I had something and then the next day, I'd realize it's garbage. Sometimes you can come back to those items and make something from them, but I probably had 30 songs I felt were complete and then we pared them down from there. I guess they were the songs I felt sparked joy, to quote Marie Kondo. [Laughs]

Analogue: Stepping into this again, how do you make sure you're staying healthy this time?

Joe: Obviously I'm older now. I'd like to think I'm a little bit wiser. We learned how to be on the road having been on the road already so frequently, so the stress there has gone down a little bit. I suppose just taking it as it comes. I think we're all more even-keeled compared to when the record first came out. It's just general life skills that you learn as you get older can apply to band stuff, too.

VISIT: Cheerleader