The notion of genre has become increasingly muddled with each passing decade. As technology progresses, so, too, do the means by which that music is produced. New sounds are born from new methods and ideas, and the traditional framework of a once-pure building block evolves into something completely its own.
This is especially true of punk. Yet for Tennessee trio Cheap Time, the songwriting process for its new record, Wallpaper Music, was less about paving the way for some unprecedented sound and more of a unique confluence of ideas from years past.
“‘Punk rock’ is such a vague term now,” said front man Jeffrey Novak. “What we were trying to do with that record was sort of combine everything we thought worked together and not really think about what has been done before, but just what we know from music of the past that we can build on.”
The group’s canvas comes straight from the late ’70s: gritty, Sex Pistols-esque guitar riffs, glam-heavy shimmer and a heavy dose of attitude, with an objective of what Novak described as “one unifying sound.”
“You don’t want to go overboard with tons of crazy overdubs,” he said. “But a lot of the original, late-’70s punk records are very well-produced records, very layered.”
So, too, is Wallpaper Music. Glitzy keyboards and filtered, flange-heavy guitars are found in abundance, each song meticulously crafted and inherently precise. But perhaps the band’s greatest strength is its ability to divert from the norm without compromising its penchant for infectious hooks and bratty punk swagger.
It’s a sound that’s captured the ears of several respected labels, including Jack White’s Third Man Records, which recently released Cheap Time’s 7-inch single, recorded live at Third Man’s Nashville studio. Such an endorsement isn’t lost on the trio.
“We’re not that popular of a band,” Novak said. “We don’t make that much money. You’re just doing what you’re doing … and these labels just sort of fall in your lap in a way.”
Having endured several lineup changes and the relentlessly nagging uphill climb of a touring indie band, Cheap Time has managed to evolve and adapt in the face of adversity — an ongoing maturation more apparent with each new release. Now with a fourth studio album in the works, what was once a snot-nosed punk act has evolved into an accomplished and ever-ripening wrecking ball.
“It’s a building process,” Novak said. “You learn from the mistakes of each record and then you try to do something different on the next one that’s more interesting to you. … I feel like I fail more than half of the time with what I’m trying to do. But that’s why I do it.”