Punk is more than just a music genre, it's a way of life. Cher Strauberry has embraced this mantra, both as a professional skater and as a performer. She's made her mark in the skating world, taking home trophies in competitions at just 12 and donating one of her boards to The Smithsonian. Now, she's putting all of her focus into music and is ready to show the world a very different side of her through her debut solo record, "CHERing is Caring"—coming to a streaming platform near you on June 18, 2021. We sat down with Cher to learn how she fell in love with punk, what inspired this record and what went down during her first tattoo.
What went into putting together this record?
It’s just kind of an audio collage. I always have my tape recorder on me and I’m always recording talking to people everywhere I go. My friend Mark (Cross), he puts out some punk band’s records, he was like “you need to release a record of your silly little acoustic songs.” I didn’t think anyone would want to hear that, but he finally convinced me and I realized I had a lot of songs when I started going through all of my cassettes. It started as a pile of tapes and it’s essentially been recorded over the past two years.
How did you decide what would make the record?
I took the bag of tapes over to my friend Cole’s studio and a lot of it was run through Billie Joe from Green Day’s 4-track recorder. I didn’t know what was on the tapes so I was like, “I guess we should just smoke weed, sit here and listen to all of it. Then you can tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what I like.” So that’s what we did. It probably took three-and-a-half hours just to listen to all of the tapes. As we were going, we made notes and he’d be like “This is so good, I love it,” and I’d be like “Dude, this is the most inaudible, poorly recorded nonsense I’ve ever made. But okay, if you like it.”
Slowly, there were songs he decided we should record with a full band and I probably went to his studio three times in the middle of the night because we were both working full-time jobs. I would go over there around midnight and we’d record until like four in the morning. We probably recorded 10 or 11 songs, then the rest were straight from my tape recorder.
Tell us about the debut single, “Down n Out,” and what went into making it.
I didn’t want it to be the single, but everyone else liked it. I was like, “Really? That song?” I picked all of the songs that I thought were singles and that was not one of them. It’s me and Cole playing whatever instruments were there—drums, bass, whatever. A lot of the time, Cole wouldn’t even have heard the song before, let alone played it. So I would teach him on the spit how to play the guitar part while I would record the drums so that we could do two things at once.
Which songs did you want to be the singles?
I wanted this song “Swish & Spit” to be the single. I also really liked the “I’ll Be Waiting” song, I thought that one came out pretty cute. I think the rest of the songs that I chose ended up being singles, like the song “Stop.” But I’m someone who lives in the now, so I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow.
We noticed that there are some clips with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill on the record. What’s the story behind those tracks?
Like I said, I take these tape recorders everywhere with me and I always have. I make a lot of zines and I wanted to do an audio zine with my friend Miss Zits. We got free tickets and backstage passes to see Bikini Kill in Oakland two nights in a row, so I was like “Do you want to drive and make an adventure out of it?” So we slept in her car, painted and we did a bunch of fun stuff, then we went to the concert.
I was backstage at the Bikini Kill concert and I kept seeing these people that I love like Allison Wolfe from Bratmobile, my friend Seth Bogart and Kathleen Hanna. It was a good excuse to run up and talk to people you really admire. It’s not like, “Let’s take a selfie,” instead I was like, “Say literally anything into my tape recorder.” And since all of the older punks I look up to are into tapes, they were way more receptive to talk to me.
I saw Rodney Biggenheimer, he introduced The Germs back in the day and he’s an amazing DJ. I saw him in a restaurant and asked him if he would say “You’re listening to Diddly Squat Audio Zine” and he said something completely wrong, but it was so funny that I left all of it in there.
When Cole got to this point in the tapes, he was like, “What is this?” And I said, “Oh, that’s an audio zine. I never got to finish it.” Cole said “We have to put this on here, it’s so cool.” I was down to incorporate it because I wanted this record to feel like a mixtape and have it go all over the place.
How else does this record differ from the music you make with your punk band, Twompsax?
It’s definitely more soft, lovey-dovey silly girl on her guitar songs, as opposed to my angry punk band. But I’ve always written songs on an acoustic guitar and I’ve always loved so many bands who do just that. I think I was really shy to show anyone this side of my music, but I’ve always done it. I still approach my music in the same punk ethic ways and even in Twompsax, I write and record everything myself.
The energy is very different. I like the idea of not having to jump off of something crazy. With my punk band, it’s a fight to the death and it’s me versus me. I’m kicking my own ass and I walk away from shows spitting up blood, makeup everywhere, destroying one to 10 things—it’s just a chaotic mess, which I love. But it’s very cool to just put some flowers on the amp and play acoustic guitar without being so agro all the time. I’m also a Gemini, so I’ve got the two sides there.
When did you first get into punk music?
I think I was 11. I have an older brother and two older sisters who handed me Misfits CDs, which gave me an intro to that. There were also punk shows in my town that happened every weekend. They were always at a church, so my parents were like “Oh yeah, that’s fine.” I would see crazy bands play there.
Then when I was 14 or 15, I wasn’t skateboarding anymore so I was all about playing music and that’s when I started playing guitar in my first band. Oakland was only like 30 minutes away so I would get into the older kids' cars and go to Gilman Street. Then I decided that I wasn’t really about the Hot Topic punk shit and I started getting into bands that were more accessible. That was always really cool to me because I could meet all the people I was into. Tons of those artists are still my friends now and I’ve continued to be really into the East Bay punk scene.
Aside from the music, what appealed to you about the punk?
That there was a community, honestly. Even in skateboarding, I got picked on and it’s a boy’s world. I’m still dealing with those same problems that I dealt with when I was 13 and it’s super frustrating. But then I was reading zines and seeing how multi-talented every single punk musician was. These musicians were in six different bands, play like six different instruments, they also have a fan zine and they’re also helping out at homeless shelters. There’s no goal, the goal was community. There’s no rock star-ism. I think that’s why I wanted to be involved in it. I didn’t have tight-knit friends growing up so when I found punk, they welcomed me with open arms.
Was becoming a professional musician something you aspired to when you got into punk?
I definitely love playing shows. I will say that I’ve played on big stages to thousands of people with my bands and I’ve also played in a living room to eight people—I really do like them the same. I just love playing live music, there’s no better feeling. It’s kind of the same feeling as learning a new trick on a skateboard. I guess my only goal is to beat my own self. I’d like to be comfortable, now that I’m 28. I don’t want to live in a closet anymore or hop into dumpsters to eat, even though I still would. There are some regular comforts that would be nice.
Bottom line, the only goal has been playing live. I don’t want to be anything, I just want to play and watch other people play. Really, it’s just for me. I don’t even know why I write songs because sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s just written itself. If people like it, that’s great but mostly it’s all for me. It’s even weird being on a bigger record label, having more eyes on me or answering questions for an interview.
I feel like I’ve been doing the same thing forever, but ever since I transitioned now there’s more eyes on me. I’ve always made zines, played music and skated, but now there’s a lot of people watching. It’s honestly nerve-wracking for me and I don’t know if I like it. I definitely don’t want to be some famous musician, I just want to play live and have fun.
How do you think playing live is going to be different when we can finally go back to it?
I really hope that we can go back to it soon. Shows will probably be outdoors for the first long while. Looking at pictures at shows from before with a million people screaming in a microphone and we’re all sweaty, rolling on each other—it doesn’t seem real at this point after not doing it for so long. I’m down to roll with the punches to make it happen, but I also hope that people wait. I get it, we’re all going through it and we all miss it a lot, but if it means putting more people in danger then I’m not down.
I also wonder if we’ll all have really bad social anxiety when we go back. But it could also be really sick because people will be so happy to be doing literally anything. Hopefully people will have a better sense of community and personal space. Maybe this has been a good wakeup call. I’m really trying to look at the positive things, because obviously it sucks and I miss music so much. I’ve never gone this long without playing a show since I was like, 15 years old. At this point, I just want to go to a show let alone play one. I could go watch the worst ban and probably still be really excited about it.
Which bands are you most excited to see when things open back up?
There’s this whole Australian punk scene that I’m really obsessed with. I want to see a show there live so bad. I think Australia has handled [the pandemic] pretty well, because there are already full blown shows there. I would freak out and lose my mind if I got to go to a show there.
Let’s talk about your tattoos. What’s the story behind your first tattoo?
My first tattoo was a puzzle piece of a half heart on my hip when I was 15 that my friend Scott Allbright drew. He was my favorite musician when I was a little baby and he had a band called Poor Bailey. The little puzzle piece is from a zine he made. I don’t know how we had a tattoo gun at my friend’s house but my friend was like “I can tattoo you, I’ve done it before.” I was like, “Sick” and he started doing it. But he’d taken acid and had to stop halfway through because he was like, “Oh no, I can’t see the lines anymore.” I was like, “You can’t leave it halfway finished,” so our other friend was really stoned and said “I think I can do it.” So he finished it and there’s a really distinct start and stop point in the middle of the tattoo. It’s really funny, I still love it.
What are some of your other favorite tattoos?
I’ve gotten a lot of tattoos on tour with bands. I have a little cowboy boot on my ankle that my friend Zach from this band The Cowboys did. My friend Wavvie was the first person I ever told that I was trans to and she tattooed all over my friends. Whenever I see her, she gives me 10 new cute tattoos. I have my partner’s name on me. I have tons of my friends’ names tattooed on me, I never thought that would happen. I have “Punk” tattooed under my boob, which I got listening to the Sex Pistols. I have a little butt plug on me that’s really cute and named Miss Butt Plug.
I got a tattoo from Frank (Iero) from My Chemical Romance randomly at Mark’s shop. He was getting tattooed and Mark somehow convinced him to blast a little drawing on my wrist. I have tons of my friends’ names tattooed on me, I never thought that would happen. I have “Punk” tattooed under my boob, which I got listening to the Sex Pistols. I had a tattoo gun for one night and I did like six or seven tattoos on my left thigh.
I hate going to tattoo shops and I love getting tattoos from people randomly. I’ve only paid for like three tattoos. It’s not something that I really think about too much, honestly. But I love all of them and I want a lot more.
What was going through your mind when you were tattooing yourself?
I wasn’t thinking at all. We’d just started this queer skateboarding company and all of the tattoos were doodles from my notebooks. I did a little smiley face and then crossed it, super ignorant. I definitely wasn’t thinking, it all just happened very fast.
Have you tattooed anyone else?
I did one tattoo on my friend, I wrote “Cher” on their ankle. But that’s the only one I’ve ever done. I don’t want to do any more, I’m not good at them. Doing tattoos on yourself is much easier than doing one on someone else. I don’t think I trust myself enough.
Do you have any tattoos that are an homage to your music?
I have the logo of a band I was in high school. I also have the serial number of the first vinyl I released. But I have tons of other music related ones though.
What else are you working on aside from this record?
I’m working on a new skate video that will probably be done and out by Halloween. I just moved to Austin, Texas because I didn’t like New York. I’m working on another record that’s almost done and I have a new punk band that I’m flying back to go record with. I have a zine compilation of all the zines that I’ve been working on, hopefully we’ll have a book out by the end of the year. I have shoes and a clothing line coming out this year. I’ve been making stuffed animals and I really want to do that a lot more. I’m always working on too many things. Those are just the things I remember, but I’m sure I have my hand in like three other projects.