Ex-Cheat Singer/Guitarist Fletcher Stewart Returns to Action With Odd Order

After the slow demise of Knoxville's surf-punk band the Cheat over the course of 2009, founding member Fletcher Stewart started keeping a low profile. He still played in various bands, but mainly as a side man, not giving much of his attention to the musical vision he invested with his former band. But with his new project Odd Order, Stewart's stepped back into the role of frontman.

Guitarist/singer Stewart, bassist William Tugwell, and drummer Bryan Fribourg make up Odd Order, a local band that's been around for about a year that blasts out punk-inspired songs with pop hooks borne from years of songcraft. Stewart has the history to prove it—playing since the mid-1990s with various groups around Knoxville, he honed his skills with long-time stalwarts the Cheat. That band, which began as the Cuts before the name change, included Stewart, guitarist Harold Hefner, bassist Ian Lawrence, and drummer Julia Hungerford and were a testament to high-energy, well-crafted punk music that left audiences with racing hearts and tapping toes. When the Cheat dissolved, Stewart's 10-year musical relationship with Hefner ended. What might have been a setback became a challenge.

"We learned to play together when we were kids growing up in Jefferson County," Stewart says. "When something like that ends, you have to build it up again. I prefer it that way, actually."

It was then that Stewart began writing with Fribourg, who played drums in the Cheat during their final shows.

"I've know Brian since junior high. We played shows in 1996 at the Mercury in a band called Pen15," Stewart says.

Soon after, Stewart brought in Tugwell, who he'd also known for years, on bass. The circuit of affiliation goes on; Tugwell and Fribourg are the rhythm section for the brash punk band the Chore Boys.

In October, Odd Order released the five-track EP Secret Crime on Return to Zero, a label started by the members of the Cheat. (It's also the title of the single release by Lawrence's new project, the Burning Itch; Stewart says that Return to Zero is more of a title for the group's enterprises than a functioning record label.) Tossing together the influence of punk, surf rock, new wave, and metal with Stewart's fantasy-inspired lyrics, Secret Crime was recorded with West Coast punk icon Paul Roessler, who credits include stints with the Screamers and the Dead Kennedys. (His brother is ex-Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler.)

Stewart connected with Roessler through Lawrence. After hearing the band's demos, Roessler invited Odd Order to come record at Satellite Park, where he works. Traveling to Roessler's studio, nestled on a mountain in Malibu, Calif., the band recorded Secret Crime in three days.

"He was like a little guru," Stewart says of Roessler. "He didn't eat anything except Luna Bars, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee for the entire three days."

Stewart was nervous about working with someone with a résumé like Roessler's. But he says the producer's openness to experimentation and to the band's production input, along with his work ethic, made the sessions an enjoyable experience.

With a fresh EP and new material in the works, Odd Order's priorities for the immediate future are pragmatic: more shows—they have an upcoming gig with local industrial group Ascension Party and Stewart's other band, Luminoth—and eventually a second record. "I think concentrating on getting a solid set together, we'd be into eventually playing stuff regionally," Stewart says.

"I think we've set a pretty high standard with our first recording, so we'll have to do something just as good next time," says Fribourg.