New Music Friday: Why Cheena quit the downtown scene for Brooklyn

Courtesy of Facebook.
Courtesy of Facebook.

A funny thing happens in a place like New York City. I mean, I guess it happens everywhere, but it seems to happen at an accelerated pace here: change. Nowhere is that change more apparent than in our music scene.

As a New York City artist, you’re very likely to watch the scene change before your very eyes, like some very disappointing caterpillar emerging out of its dingy, DIY cocoon into a bunch of luxury condos. Clubs close down, bands stop playing, the cool stuff moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn (no complaints there). And that’s just over a few measly years.

One band that has grown and adapted with these changes is Cheena. Cheena is a scuzzy punk band of New York City kids who have evolved from a bunch of cigarette-smoking high school kids attending house shows and hanging on St. Marks to… well … basically they’re doing the same thing, but now they have a real band, real jobs, and a real space where they actually throw house shows; but we can’t tell you where it is, because a good secret is hard to keep in New York.

“Everyone who knows where it is has the address already,” frontman Walker Behl told us. “And we’d like to keep it that way. Our landlord has a Google alert set for any time the address comes up in the press.”

Cheena’s new album, Spend the Night With…, drops today via Sacred Bones Records. Behl talked to us about growing up in, and growing with, New York’s music scene. He also talked to us about the number of paisley shirts he owns.

All five members of Cheena were born and raised in New York City: Walker Behl, Logan Montana and Keegan Dakkar are all from lower Manhattan, while Margaret Chardiet and Eugene Terry hail from Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. With the exception of Chardiet, whom they met about four years ago, they all knew each other from high school. Not the same high school, mind you, but from being the weirdos who went to punk/hardcore shows while they were in high school.

“Logan [Montana] went to a high school not far from mine, and we took drivers’ ed together,” Behl said. “I’d leave my school and go to his school and we’d smoke cigarettes on the corner. And there was a high school across the street from mine that had a lot of punk kids, then with them I would go hang out at St. Mark’s. We’d all go to punk shows, usually in the city at places like ABC No Rio, but then, when we got older, stuff started moving out to Bushwick.”

Behl is now 27 and lives in Bushwick, as do most of his bandmates. Actually, a few of Cheena’s members live together in an apartment-turned-DIY-concert-venue, but we can’t tell you where it is, for above-stated secrecy reasons.

So we’re not telling you where this magical place is, but take comfort in knowing that DIY show spaces do still exist, even though they’re fewer and farther in between than even just a few years ago (Palisades is apparently gone for good, BrooklynVegan reported yesterday). And yes, a lot of the ones that are still around are in Bushwick.

As Behl observed, most of New York’s punk/DIY scene used to be in the lower part of Manhattan, up until only recently.

“Now, pretty much most of the scene is in Brooklyn,” he said. “We played Cake Shop [in the Lower East Side] a few weeks ago, and like, no one was there. People don’t go to the city unless they have to. Especially if you have to go to LES on a Friday, and there are so many clubs. That was where we all met, down there, but it’s just basically an NYU campus now.”

So what are Behl’s favorite venues, both past and present?

“The big one in Manhattan would have been ABC No Rio,” he said. “It was never my favorite, but just a lot happened there. I liked Palisades a lot [RIP], you could kinda do whatever you wanted there. I like the more lawless places that are bigger. I liked 285 Kent a lot, too, for the same reason: I love DIY spaces where you can kind of do whatever you want. There are a bunch that just opened up, that I haven’t been to yet, but they exist, and I think that’s great.”

He also mentioned Silent Barn, Alphaville, Trans-Pecos, and Market Hotel.

So if you’ve read my previous posts (and if you’ve read all of them, you are, most likely, my mom), you’ll note that last week I interviewed Future Generations. They’re very different from Cheena, being that they’re an electro-synth-pop situation, but they do live together. Much like Behl lives with both members of Cheena and of their other side projects, most notably Crazy Spirit. So I had to ask the same question I asked last week:

“Is your band living situation more like that of The Monkees or The Spice Girls, specifically when [The Spice Girls] lived on that bus in the movie?”

“Well, I’d say The Monkees,” Behl said. “Mostly, we’re not on a bus, and I own a lot of paisley shirts and flared pants. But I think there are probably some Spice Girls elements in there somewhere.”

So Cheena is cool, and pretty much everybody in Cheena is also in other bands, which are also cool: Crazy Spirit, Pharmakon, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads are all Cheena-related projects.

“After we moved out of our parents’ houses we were in hardcore/punk bands that still play,” he said. “We just made this band on top of it, so it’s the same scene, just another band in that scene.”

It’s nice to have friends. It’s especially nice to have friends in bands.

Check out Spend The Night With… today, and keep your eyes peeled for an album release show in the near future: technically, Cheena’s album release show will take place in LA, but since nobody cares about LA, they’ll also do one here upon a presumably triumphant return.

Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music and to see her ask more people to compare themselves to fictional bands who may or may not live on buses, follow her on Twitter. And to pitch New Music Friday, email Lilly at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.

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