cherries on top

April 02, 2017

words by: David Ma

It's a small imprint, working towards a special sound - and most certainly not on a mass scale. Founded in 2012, Cherries on Top has nine releases to their name. Some sold out, all are solid, and none can be described as hollow or trend-chasing. Maybe ‘quality funk’ is more apt. 

“The Cherries sound will always have a funk base,” Hernando says. “Whether it's a modern soul or house track, we want the funk to be present.” Sheila is a longtime DJ (Shred One) and member of the West Coast’s chief boogie collective Sweater Funk. And Brearley has an extensive background in music, having cut his teeth in Chicago’s indie-rap scene as Meaty Ogre, producing for local MCs like Qwel and Robust - on Galapagos 4 Records. He has numerous, multi-genre releases dating back to the late ‘90s. It seems natural the two would eventually release vinyl of their own, even given the uncertain nature of the business. “We started Cherries because there was so much music that we really loved - but was only available digitally - that we really wanted to play at our vinyl DJ nights. We also had a lot of friends making really awesome music that we wanted to play on vinyl as well.” 

At this pace, Cherries is on course to do even greater things - with their high standard of rich releases underpinned with all that funkiness, regardless of genre. Globetrotter set out to find out more about pair’s daily operation, the impetus for it all, and the what’s to come for the little label that could. Read on for a glimpse into what it takes to release ‘quality funk’ in a modern era. 

GT: Was there was a moment you two looked at each other and said, “let’s start a label?”

SH: Our destined meeting with our artist Doug Shorts really solidified our starting of Cherries. When Andrew made his first song with Doug, we realized we truly had a special sound.

GT: How did everything with Doug come about?

SH: Our friend, rapper Robust, met Doug when he was working security at his girlfriend's building on the north side of Chicago. They would talk about soul and funk music, and Doug mentioned that he released some 45s of his own in the 70s.  Eventually Robust got a copy of the Masterplan Inc 45 "Something To Be Done" and mentioned it to Andrew. Andrew had randomly picked up a different record by Doug a few days before, and picked it up and showed it to Robust, and they both got the chills. [The three] began working on music immediately.  Andrew eventually helped Doug hook up a deal with Jazzman Records in the UK and Número Group in Chicago to release some of Doug's band Masterplan Inc’s never-before released music.

GT: You mentioned it earlier, but talk a bit about the connection to Sweater Funk and Cherries.

SH: I've been a member of the Sweater Funk crew since 2006, when we were playing records for two people in a grimey-ass basement in Chinatown in San Francisco. It's amazing how much the party and the sound has grown. So many of our members have different projects such as K-Maxx, Johan (Plaza), Sean Boogie (Sound Boutique Records), and you can definitely hear how much Sweater Funk has influenced us all. Freddy Anzures DJs and creates all of Sweater Funk and Cherries' visuals. We're a talented bunch!

GT: What was it about the Social Lovers - Enjoy the Ride record [the first official 12" LP release on Cherries] and sound that attracted you? It’s a killer album that received a lot of positive buzz.

SH: We had the music for the Social Lovers record before we even started Cherries, actually.  We had a CD of 20 or so tracks that we loved, and we're listening to for years before we got the chance to release. Their sound fits right in with what we are trying to do. It's modern but retains a classic 80s/90s dance sound: classy, sexy, mellow.  

GT: What advice do you have for new labels that want to start up?

SH: You have to be willing to run a record label as a labor love for at least the first ten releases. Unless you make a record that hits big independently, or becomes a viral hit, you should expect to be losing money or barely breaking even for at least a few years. Most labels are successful just consistently releasing records for a long time, while building up a catalog until it can sustain itself. We’ve found every new release means more overall sales of our back catalog. The more quality music you release, the more new fans you’ll gain, and those new fans will check out your back catalog, and hopefully tell a friend. You have to be willing to stay in it for the long haul to see any success.

GT: How is the workload divided?

SH: Andrew is in charge of all production. He makes sure that the records sound great - from the studio to the pressing plant. I take care of all the sales. We both A&R [GT: Artists & Repertoire - or scouting for new talent] and ship. It's just the two of us right now, so we have Cherries meetings all hours of the day.

GT: What’s your A&R process like for finding new talent?

SH: Everything up to now has happened more or less through close friends and family. We prefer it that way, but that being said we are always looking for new talent and artists. We check Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc, and we have been getting a lot of submissions via our Facebook page as well.

GT: You’re now based in New York. But did being in Chicago, and the city itself as a setting, affect your label at all?

SH: Andrew lived in Chicago for half of his life, and we started Cherries in Chicago. Chicago definitely is home, and influences a lot of our sound and inspires us to put out quality music that Chicagoans will approve of. We are in NYC, but Chicago is part of our soul.

GT: What’s your dream record to put out?

SH: We want all of our artists to do a collaborative full album. Most all of our artists are multi-instrumentalists and if we can manage to put all of them in the same room for a week, we would really love to put out a "Cherries’ Players" LP. 

GT: What are the step-by-step considerations before you release record?

SH: It's simple: both Andrew and I must absolutely love it for us to release anything. If one of us likes it, and the other doesn't, we won’t release it.