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Cheers Elephant: More Mature But Less Serious, And Poised to Break Out.

March 16, 2012

Text by Kevin Brosky. Images by Colin Kerrigan. Inside images shot on location at One Shot Coffee in Northern Liberties.

It’s a mild October night for Blocktoberfest, an outdoor music and beer festival on South Street, west of Broad Street for a few blocks. These blocks include the Jamaican Jerk Hut, whose adjacent vacant lot and stage have played host to several bands and a large crowd into the evening. The festival is beginning to wind down when Cheers Elephant, the night’s closing band, takes the stage.

Then, after greeting the remainder of the slowly dwindling crowd with a “guten tag,” the four-piece Fishtown rock outfit explodes into the infectious two-chord hook of “Party On Darwin,” a frenzied jam from their then-upcoming third record, which dropped in March. Out of nowhere, there’s wild dancing, both from the instrument-wielding dudes onstage and the suddenly resurrected audience. Free beer appears. It’s a party.

Lead vocalist and guitarist, Derek Krzywicki cavorts crazily about the stage, his electric guitar an extra appendage of his constantly moving torso. Lead guitarist Jordan del Rosario is all over the neck of his screaming guitar, often joining in for backing vocals along with bassist “Travelin’ Matt” Rothstein. Drummer Robert Kingsly, known simply as “King” to his bandmates, is a man possessed. He drums barefoot (because, “it just feels right”), his flailing arms reaching high above his head between each snare drum wallop.

The band rips through songs from Man Is Nature, their early 2011 release, like “Shark Attack,” “6th and Girard” and the euphoric, “Jumbo Shrimp.” The set’s finale, “Space and Time,” is a churning storm of distorted guitar and bass licks and ferocious percussion. With the final note, King slumps over the drum kit in sheer exhaustion.

If there were only half the people still left on South Street as there were a few hours prior, Cheers Elephant didn’t notice for a second.

“While we’ve started taking our music more and more seriously, somehow, onstage, we’ve learned to take ourselves less seriously, and I think that’s a good thing,” explains Krzywicki.

The singer says he and his bandmates are adrenaline junkies who are constantly evolving.

“When I see evangelical preachers on TV, caught up in the moment, with their bodies out of control, I understand where they’re coming from,” he jibes.

In the months since the festival gig, the band has put the finishing touches on a brand new record, Like Wind Blows Fire, one they assert is their most well-produced, mature effort to date. They’ve spent countless rehearsals revamping their live sound and presentation. They’ve shot music videos for new songs. They’ve booked a March tour of the East Coast and Midwest, which will take them through SXSW in Austin. They have a new van.

In short, they’re ready to take this to the next level.

“I have little doubt that we’ll be a full-time band this year,” Krzywicki says.

He’s got a convincing argument.

The members of Cheers Elephant and a crowd of friends are gathered in the upstairs recreation room at Saint Michael’s Church in Kensington. It’s the headquarters of Rock to the Future, a free, after-school children’s music education program, an organization for whom the band is planning a benefit gig.

Here, a camera crew is ready to capture a simulated Cheers Elephant show on the room’s small stage. It’s the final scene for the music video they’ve been shooting throughout this mild week in January for “Doin’ It, Right,” the jivey lead single from Like Wind Blows Fire.

The crew shoots dozens of takes of the bridge section and outro. It’s the most energetic section of the song, with Rothstein’s pounding bass leading into a gigantic chorus of “ahhhhh”s. The “crowd” jumps in unison, arms reaching for the ceiling, as though this really was one of the best shows for which they’d ever been in attendance.

They shoot take after take, the band and audience getting progressively sweatier. For one take, the crew affix a camera to Krzywicki’s abdomen and he crowd surfs onto his back into the eager arms of his pals. For the final take, dozens of balloons come down from above the spectators.

“If only all our shows could be this crazy,” Krzywicki jokes.

They’ve also shot a 3D video for “Balloon in the City,” the album’s dreamy, acoustic closing track, which features Krzywicki as a Russian cosmonaut who gets sucked into a wormhole and transported to a distant planet.

Obviously, a lot has happened for Cheers Elephant since early 2011, when they released their locally-acclaimed second LP, Man Is Nature.

“Houses have burned down, members have lost and gained girlfriends, there have been earthquakes and hurricanes, all during the making of this record,” Krzywicki quips. “We’ve spent a lot of time crafting these songs. Everything that’s there should be there.”

The new record, unlike older efforts, took place a little more organically in the studio, band members say. Recorded at Drexel University’s Mad Dragon Studios, Like Wind Blows Fire also marks the first time the band allowed outside producers to influence their recording process. All the members agree, the “outside ears” played a valuable role in crafting a more mature, better-produced final product.

The maturity is instantly apparent on the lively opener, “Peoples,” with its Beatlesesque three-part vocal harmonies and later, on the toe-tapping title track. The production is precise. There’s no fluff anywhere to be found. It’s simple, but it’s memorable.

It’s February and the Fishtown quartet sits at a booth in the El Bar, a local dive and regular hangout, beers in hand.

They’re musing about the history of their band, which extends all the way back through middle school in Downington, when Krzywicki, Rothstein and Kingsly were Instant Breakfast, a pop-punk outfit.

“Still the best band name we’ve ever thought of,” Krzywicki jokes, and the rest of the crew at the table nods and laughs.

“They told me they needed a bassist,” Rothstein remembers. “I had no idea what a bass even was.”

They recall the summer of 2005 (jokingly, their “Summer of Love”), becoming Cheers Elephant, recruiting Rothstein’s cousin, del Rosario, to play lead guitar and setting out to form a band inspired largely by weed and the Beatles. Speaking of the latter, they’ve been invited to play the Abbey Road on the River festival, a summer music festival and celebration of the Fab Four in Washington, D.C. and Louisville, KY.

All in all, the mood is jovial. They’re thinking about their upcoming record release party at World Café Live, and then they’re heading out on the road to share their new music with anyone who will listen.

And people will listen. And dance. The band members know the hard work they’ve put into their band for so long is about to pay off.

“We feel like we’ve been pushing this boulder for so long,” Krzywicki explains. “Now it’s finally gotten to the point where gravity is starting to help us out.”

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