Words by Jasmine Bourgeois
Photos by Cherie Bugtong
Like much of the world right now, I’ve been spending a lot more time at home, and have been hunting for new series to binge. In November of 2019, Netflix dropped I’m With the Band: Nasty Cherry, a docuseries that followed the creation of Charli XCX’s rock-pop baby, Nasty Cherry. As someone who’s both a huge Charli fan and one to start experimental musical projects frequently, I knew the show was going to be one I’d obsess over. I wasn’t wrong — I spent a whole day consuming the entire series. My only regret is that I didn’t binge-watch this sooner.
Nasty Cherry is made up of Debbie Knox-Hewson (drums), Chloe Chaidez (guitar), Gabby Bechtel (vocals), and Georgia Somary (bass). Debbie and Chloe are no strangers to the music industry — Debbie’s a session and touring drummer for Charli, and Chloe’s the frontwoman of indie band Kitten. For Georgia and Gabby, making music was totally new, with neither having sang or played bass prior to Nasty Cherry.
“The mix of experienced and non-experienced musicians is one of my favourite things about our band,” says Debbie. “I was proud to be able to share the skills I’d built up over my career with regards to practice and musical direction, but I was really excited to work with people who could (excuse the cliché) break the rules musically, because they didn’t know what they were yet.”
What happens when you put four people in a house together, and ask them to become the next big hit? I’m With the Band gives us a peek into how it’s done. As the show unfolds, we realize that making a band work isn’t just about writing good songs. It’s like any sort of relationship with other people — it can be pretty on the surface, but can it be built with enough care and affect to keep it from breaking at the slightest complication?
“…The difficulties were so, so worth it. It has given us all a real confidence in our ideas, both individually and collectively,” Debbie emphasizes.
And as the show progresses, we get to see their confidence flourish, too. We watch the four struggle to write, to live together, to be in a band together. But we also see the four of them genuinely mesh, and we can practically feel the lightbulbs when they’ve crafted something they’re proud of.
Nasty Cherry is Charli’s brainchild, but what it can become is entirely up to these four (mostly) strangers. They have all the tools they need to succeed, but can they organically bond in a way that shines through in their music?
Tom Tom talked with Debbie Knox-Hewson to get some more insight on how it felt to be involved in Nasty Cherry.
Tom Tom: Can you tell me a little more about your background? When did you start drumming? How’d you end up working with Charli before Nasty Cherry?
Debbie: I don’t remember the exact age I started drumming, but I was very interested in rhythms and music from a very early age. Some of my earlier memories are of setting up saucepans and other various circular objects and hitting them with things. I actually got the Charli audition through a friend back at music school. I was studying at Tech Music School in London when I heard about the audition. Her team weren’t actually that keen on having more drummers but I went along anyway and was lucky enough to get the gig.
What was the recruiting process like for this project? I know Charli hand picked all of you, but could you give me a little more backstory?
It was less of a recruitment process, and more of a hookup from Charli. After we had finished a run of shows in Asia, she got in touch with me like, ‘hey, I want to put together a girlband and I want you to be in it’. I already knew the bassist Georgia from partying in London – as she was a good friend of Charli’s – and the guitarist, Chloe, came on tour with Charli and I years ago. Gabbriette (our singer) was the only Cherry I hadn’t met!
In the show, Charli talked quite a bit about how important it was for her to help create a band that she would’ve loved to have around when she was 14. Who were some bands who influenced you at that age?
Charli and I both share the same love for coming-of-age nostalgia like The Spice Girls, Josie & The Pussycat Dolls, The Craft, etc. There’s a constant theme with all of those girl groups, whether musical or fictitious, that champions female friendship, femininity and confidence. I’ve always found that genre to be incredibly inspiring and try to channel that in my live performance drumming. Other bands I loved at that age were The Donnas, The Runaways and, away from girl bands: The Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths. I was such an emotional little introvert at 14. I loved nostalgic, sad music that felt like it was written just for me.
As a professional musician, how did it feel working with some folks who are totally new to making music?
Honestly, I loved it. I was proud to be able to share the skills I’d built up over my career with regards to practice and musical direction, but I was really excited to work with people who could (excuse the cliché) break the rules musically, because they didn’t know what they were yet. Gabbriette has a really interesting way of phrasing things, and Georgia’s bass lines can feel completely unexpected to me. The mix of experienced and non-experienced musicians is one of my favourite things about our band. Also, it often means that we start our songs with the lyrics first, which is great. Making the music work around what we want to say feels the most natural, authentic of writing way to me, and it often leads to more inspiration for the musical side of the song. Our song ‘Fuck Modern Love’ for example, was almost completed lyrically before we really built out the music behind it and it’s often a favourite because the lyrical message is so clear. I think over-trained musicians can get bogged down in the technique and the musicality of something and miss the most important bit.
Did you have much of a vision of what you wanted Nasty Cherry to sound like? If so, has the music you all have put out feel much like you thought it would?
Progressive jazz? Just kidding. I knew Nasty Cherry would be a pop band. I guessed it would have the same futuristic pop elements that run through Charli’s music, whilst also sharing a similar sound/attitude with the bands that inspired us (like The Runaways, The Ramones, Roxy Music, etc). We’re still experimenting with our sound, but, so far, everything we’ve put out feels exactly like I thought it would. Songs like ‘Live Forever’ fee
I imagine that living with — and creating art with — a group of new folks has a lot of challenges, but has a lot of potential to be fun and exciting. Could you tell me more about how those 5 months were for you?
It was like emotional house-arrest/ therapy, held in a music studio. But the difficulties were so, so worth it. It has given us all a real confidence in our ideas, both individually and collectively. Before filming the show and being in Nasty Cherry, I couldn’t think of anything more cringing than singing a lyrical idea to someone. But it feels very comfortable now, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s good or not: we share our ideas, we champion one another and the best ideas stick. It feels very empowering.
The show documented a lot of your songwriting, and it seemed like a lot of it happened in a really organic way that came from you all sharing an intentional space. Now that you’re all spread throughout the globe, what do you think the songwriting process is going to look like moving forward?
We currently try to get together once a month to write. It’s tough but the lack of time and ease means we still feel as if, when we are together, it is very intentional. We all come with ideas and share them on rough recordings and I put together demos for us to work from when we have our writing sessions in person.
What’s next for Nasty Cherry?
World domination! We released our first E.P. at the end of 2019, so we will be touring that in the U.K. and the U.S.A at the start of 2020 (come say hey!) and we will be playing at SXSW. We’re gonna do our best to ensure that 2020 is the year of the Cherry