Cheater Slicks’ legacy is long and narrow. Noisy, improvisational garage rock is an acquired taste, but the Columbus trio has been doing it longer and better than most. Pockets of fans exist across the globe, modest in number but fanatical in devotion. It’s the kind of band that 10 people show up to see, but all of them have a religious experience.
Tenth studio album Reality Is a Grape, out Tuesday via Columbus Discount Records, marks 25 years of sonic tumult. The members planned to celebrate the milestone with an anniversary concert last summer, but drummer/howler Dana Hatch suffered a heart attack a week before the show. (He’s doing fine now.)
“I decided after that, no more anniversaries. They’re a curse,” guitarist/vocalist Tom Shannon said, only half-joking. “Live for the moment. Don’t even celebrate the past.”
The epiphany is a recent one, but the philosophy extends back into the making of Reality Is a Grape. Although the band and engineer Adam Smith slavishly recreated the feel of Cheater Slicks’ early ’90s records through all-analog production — “It was just kind of a purist experiment,” Shannon explained — the album is more a product of the desire to keep pressing forward.
Though a slew of live releases have come out since 2007’s Walk Into the Sea, a return to the studio was delayed by life’s busyness, an elongated writing process and a painstaking avoidance of repetition and cliché.
“There’s the pounders on there, but there’s also weird atmospheric stuff,” Shannon said. “We always manage to push it just a little bit farther.”
Hatch wrote Reality Is a Grape’s title track, but Shannon latched onto his own interpretation of the phrase, a neat summation of Cheater Slicks’ appeal.
“I just liked the fact that it was kind of surrealistic. It’s not negative; it’s just kind of confused,” Shannon said. “I don’t really like doing songs about getting older and all that kind of stuff. To me, the whole process is confusing. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or in middle age, it’s all a confusing mess, which I think our music represents pretty well.”
Photo by Jodi Miller