music (2006-47)

Quote Me on That...

The Cheat is more better than ever, again

Local band Bellfield makes a name for itself

by Kevin Crowe

"Memphis was kick-ass,” says Julia Hungerford, the drummer for local sultans of misplaced surf rock, The Cheat.

It was October, Friday the 13th. “Everyone was drunk and rowdy,” says muscleman/guitarist Fletcher Stewart, a guy who’s not shy about going shirtless for a photo op in the brisk November air. “A guy lost his grill,” Stewart goes on. “His grill got George Formaned.”

In the corner, some toasted kid was snorting his own loogie, a weird attempt to impress the ladies. It failed, but the kid was nothing if not persistent. And he kept on snorting. The Cheat, impressed by the fetid offering, gave him a free T-shirt.

“He was trying to get more free stuff out of it,” says Harold Heffner (guitar, keys and vox). That same night, in a whiskey-soaked agreement, Ian Lawrence (bass and keys), bought a bass guitar for $20 bucks off of some snot-nose band.

“Rocktober,” Lawrence says. “Don’t quote me on that. It’s like something you’d see on one of those cheesy mail-order guitar companies. ‘Rocktober savings!’”

You’ll hear similar stories about most cities The Cheat visited that week. Lexington ruled. Louisville was cool. Same for Anytown, U.S.A. When this quartet is on stage, crowds are usually rowdy. You already know this if you were at Host Clothing in the Old City on Nov. 3, when a beery crowd turned Bedlam. Beer foam flew threw the air. Stewart’s guitar got drenched. Overhead, a platter of carrots, cauliflower and other freshly cut vegetables spiraled off a giant plastic saucer, thrown like a Frisbee.

“Everything is more better,” Stewart says. “The lyrics aren’t just love-song shit anymore.”

“We all get along better,” Hungerford says, “and that makes it easier. We get along more better.”

“More better again!” Stewart goes on. “I can see the headline now, The Cheat are more better—dot, dot, dot—again .” He pauses, in intense contemplation, then asks: “How come the Metro Pulse never runs transcripted interviews? You’d win the Pulitzer. Think of how much of a better read it would be if it was just a straight-up transcript, instead of The Cheat are a band from Knoxville, Tennessee, who used to be called The Cuts.”

We’re sharing some beers, not really talking music anymore. Just killing time, basically. I’ve learned that their sound has, in fact, matured since the band’s early days back in 2003. There’s a new album coming out, sometime before their next tour in March. They’ll be playing with the Black Lips and Cheap Time this Friday, both crazy bands that’ll potentially tear the Grotto apart. So, let’s talk. What’s it like being on tour?

“It’s basically living homeless,” Hungerford says.

“You realize how much the same everywhere is,” Lawrence adds.

“You can go places,” comes Heffner, “and see weird parallels of your friends.”

And, if you’re really lucky, Lawrence will try to piss in a water bottle. “I don’t understand why this is such an unnatural thing,” Lawrence says. Hungerford rejoins: “There’s gonna be dribble!”

“I’m not peeing on you for sexual fulfillment,” Lawrence continues. “I mean, what’s the trouble?”

Best interview yet, going straight into the gutter where we’re all more comfortable. There’s still some lingering talk about the tour in March, which is going to be huge, if things go according to plan. On the other side of the room Stewart and Heffner are playing with a plastic orca and a couple of Mexican wrestling masks.

“I already got four shows booked,” Hungerford says, “and this is for March. It’s only November…. Up the West coast, play a few shows, ’cause I think we can get all the way to San Fran.”

“I think we can get to Seattle, too,” Lawrence adds. “Fuck it.”

Then Stewart jumps in, going off on a tangent: “We recorded on the machine that ‘Back in Black’ was recorded on.” Oh yeah? Really? “Then the idiot at the fucking soundboard erased it,” Lawrence says.

But that doesn’t matter, because there’s still a bright light, a reason The Cheat is so eager to get back on the road and head west. In L.A. there’s another group called The Cheat. “We’re going to L.A. specifically to beat them up,” Lawrence confesses. “You can quote me on that——” It’s all theater:

Stewart : “To take what’s rightfully ours.”

Heffner : “Have you been threatening them online yet?”

Hungerford : “No, we need to get on that.”

Heffner : “If they didn’t suck so bad, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

Hungerford : “If it was our bad, and we were like, ‘Hey, we didn’t know you guys were that cool,’ then we might be dignified and back down.”

Lawrence : “Actually, fuck dignity. You can quote me on that.”

Who: The Cheat, The Black Lips and Cheap Time

Coming to a Club Near You

by Heather Downs

Bellfield’s not the stereotypical money-hungry, groupie-desiring, superstar-wannabe rock band. No, they’re much more than that. They have that fresh outlook on life, that “reach for the stars” ambition that grabs at your heart and pulls at your sleeves. They have that star-shooting innocence that hasn’t yet been tampered with. They’re not even a year old—still a baby band—but they’re not so naïve that they believe they’ll make fame instantly. They’re smarter than that. They don’t believe in happiness arriving from full wallets or a fan base of millions. They just want to be, ultimately, successful.

But how do you measure success? If you measure it by a band’s audience number, then Bellfield has reached it. Their very first show drew in a crowd of 135. Some would call that luck; others call it talent.

Bellfield’s a jack of many trades, it seems. Promptness is one. They’re early and I’m lovin’ it. It’s a Tuesday night and the four of us are sitting inside Panera Bread, around a table of six chairs—two of which are empty and could only be filled by Bellfield’s own vocalist and bass player Alex Bayless and their percussionist Jed Eaton. Maybe Eaton should have appeared. He does, after all, end up being the “nut” of most of the Bellfield jokes—something that can only be explained by the band members themselves.

“That’s our tradition before every performance. We assume he’s going to mess up at least once,” says drummer Chad Fifer, who along with guitar and vocal leader, Rob Morrow, explode in giggles just thinking about all the inside jokes. 

Dave Chapelle, Dane Cook… name any one cast member from Saturday Night Live and Bellfield will admit they watch ‘em religiously. Morrow then admits he has a fetish for armadillos. The question whether they’re one of those prankster, weird humor-loving bands has just been answered.

Van Gallik, 22, who also plays guitar and vocals, is the most poised of the three. He could be assumed ringleader of the group, considering his band mates call him the “business man.” Sitting next to him is his partner in vocals and guitar, Rob Morrow, who could be mistaken for Smallville ’s Tom Wellington. He’s got the hair, the face and the charm.

Next to Morrow is Chad Fifer, 28, who just so happens to have a degree in marine biology. He may not plan to use it anytime soon, but he sure knows how to beat some drums. When he’s not pounding so hard as to snap his drumsticks in two, he gets the privilege of hitting the cowbell on stage. But he doesn’t mind it. He laughs about it.

It’s one of the things that actually set Bellfield apart from other local bands. “We use different instruments and different electric guitars,” says Morrow. “We change up.”

Fifer describes Bellfield’s music as “acoustic rock with electric guitar”—a label that has been tagged to a number of Knoxville bands. Regardless, Bellfield can’t name one of its competitors. “We have no competition. Knoxville’s been a real welcoming center. We play with everyone,” says Morrow. 

Bellfield has played with their local favorites Llama Train and Carbon Leaf. But their dream band to open for, they all agree, would be Dave Matthews. And it’s easy to see why. Bellfield’s already got down the acoustic sets, the Dave lullabies and the smooth tempos. Think Dave Matthews, then add a hint of a heavy rock jam here and there, and you have Bellfield’s sound nailed.

Bellfield may be Dave idols, but they’re original in song. The songwriting’s left to the group’s singers and guitarists, Morrow and Gallik. Morrow describes his writing as darker and more complex, in comparison to Gallik’s popish, more structured lyrics. “Our writing styles sound better mixed together, not by themselves,” says Gallik.

So far the band has created three original songs, which they plan to release on demo in February. Gallik says the three songs are meant to jumpstart gigs. His lyrical inspiration is derived from “bitterness toward past relatives, ex-girlfriends and toward a shitty life,” he says. Morrow’s, on the other hand, are a response to emotion. “I’m only inspired to write when I’m pissed off or angry,” he retorts.

Morrow and Gallik may differ on lyrical inspiration, but they do share a craft, as well as a past. The two go back, way back. Try 15 years back. At six years old, they were riding their bicycles to each other’s houses, down a street named Bellfield. It has memories and so does the band.

Being in a band was a dream of Morrow’s from day one. He was one of those kids that played Green Day songs in his garage, he says. Eventually, Morrow and Gallik moved up to playing in Knoxville bars and put their educations on hold at The University of Tennessee in order to pursue their music. Neither regrets it to this day. “I picked up the guitar after hearing ‘Ladyland’ by Jimi Hendrix,” says Morrow. Since then, he’s never looked back.

Morrow and Gallik haven’t always been the only guitarists in the group. They just recently kicked their ninth-month-playing guitarist to the curb. “We needed him to contribute more instrumentally,” says Gallik. “And he wasn’t giving us that.” The leadership quality in Vance is even more apparent now. Fifer and Morrow make another joke about his “leadership” position. But Gallik laughs right along, poking fun back. The group swaps jokes for another minute, like a bunch of guys’ guys laughing and playing around a game of poker.

Fifer’s the group prankster, they all agree. For one, he owns a sperm Halloween costume. If that’s not enough, he also used it in a band member’s initiation. Morrow tells the story: “We made our old bass player dress up in a giant sperm costume, and then made him walk down the street and go inside the gas station. He had to act like he didn’t have it on.” Laughter erupts once again, lasting this time for what seems two minutes.

Fifer squirms with energy, as he remembers another unusual experience. “I signed some girl’s boobs. It wasn’t so average for me,” he laughs.

Bellfield has that abundant energy of a young band. So it may be surprising to discover that they’re not so big on the party scene. They say they’re the kind that crash after playing shows—crash on the bed that is.

Gallik says they want to be like O.A.R. or Will Hoge. “They play a lot of different shows and then build a fanbase from there. That’s what I want to do,” he says.

He already has a permanent fan: his wife, who also just so happens to be a music major. “She’s supportive,” says Gallik. “She’s very critical on everything, which keeps me focused on what I’m doing.”

There’s another burst of laughter from comedians Morrow and Fifer, as they blurt something about Gallik’s wife being his own music critic. They know what’s coming next.

The subject suddenly changes to Bellfield’s favorite music venues. “Blue Cats has great sound on stage and World Grotto is one of the cleanest venues in town,” says Gallik.

Speaking of which, the band will be performing at Blue Cats, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. Students with an ID get in for $5. Those without get in for $6. Also, Tuesday, the day before their Blue Cats show, they’ll be playing live and on-air on 90.3 The Rock, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

But Bellfield says they’re not just sticking to Knoxville venues. Their next stop is a regional tour. They want to build an even bigger fan base. “We want to get to the point where we’re playing city to city,” says Morrow. “Our goal is to never be famous, but to always be successful.”

Those may sound like the starting words of every new band, but it may be safe to say that this one in particular has already reached as high as the stars. Now, they just have to catch one.

What: Bellfield w/Brandy Robinson and Summit Hill