“I’ve always wanted to work with a girl band,” Charli XCX says. “Not a classically pop girl band, but a girl band who have a rock & roll-type energy.”
Enter Nasty Cherry, a four-piece outfit with members from both London and Southern California that’s released a series of hooky, atmospheric singles this year. Not an actual member, Charli instead played the role of old-school impresario.
“It was definitely a surprise,” says Nasty Cherry guitarist and Los Angeles native Chloe Chaidez. She first met Charli XCX when her other band Kitten opened for the pop star on tour.
“She had her birthday party in Palm Springs with about 50 people, then the next day we went out to a Mexican restaurant and she said, ‘I have this idea,’” Chaidez recalls. After a decade in the industry, the Kitten founder and vocalist had trouble believing the idea would actually pan out. “Everything falls through. The fact that this has gotten to where this has gotten is so amazing.”
Charli also recruited her own touring drummer of five years, Debbie Knox-Hewson. While she has years of road and session experience under her belt, Nasty Cherry is her first real creative outlet. “It’s really exciting to write music and have creative input,” Knox-Hewson says. “As fun as it is to help with someone else’s vision, it’s really nice to have my own now.”
The group’s bassist, Georgia Somary, was new to her instrument. Working in set designing and other visual endeavors, she’d always felt her role in music was to hype up her friends. “I loved music and performance, but it never felt like an option for me before,” she says.
When original singer Grace McKagen couldn’t balance Nasty Cherry with her other band, Charli reached out to Gabbriette Bechtel, a California-bred model and photographer, who she was “basically Instagram-stalking for visual references.”
Bechtel had never sung before but recorded herself and sent Charli a clip. “I was floored,” Charli says. “She has this gorgeous, sultry voice. It sounds so bruised and beautiful, and I was just like, ‘OK, Gabbriette’s the shit.’”
Nasty Cherry became official in early 2019, signing with Charli’s label, Vroom Vroom Recordings. Inspired by Josie and the Pussycats and The Craft, Charli wanted the group to mirror the “girl gangs” and covens of her favorite movies. “My vision is that they become the biggest band in the world, a band I would have wanted to listen to and have been inspired by when I was 15,” Charli says, sounding like a true label exec.
Nasty Cherry’s music and camaraderie progressed quickly. The musicians moved into a house together and began practicing, and throwing a few parties here and there. On the first night, they shared an “awkward pizza,” as Somary describes it. Their only responsibility was to write music, which flowed easily. “All of us opened up right away,” Bechtel says, “bringing our diaries and things we had written down. [We] talked with each other about anything and everything we had been feeling, not holding back.”
“It felt very natural even though it’s a ‘manufactured’ band, as it were,” Knox-Hewson recalls. It came so naturally that they were able to play a song together within the first 10 minutes of their initial session.
The members’ shared love for similar artists helped establish their bond. They list off Roxy Music, Spice Girls, and the Runaways as key inspirations. “We had a Hilary Duff moment, and I think after that we became friends,” Somary reflects, speaking to her giggling bandmates.
Nasty Cherry debuted in March with “Win,” a wiry punk-pop song with tinges of Sky Ferreira, the Runaways, and gothy Eighties New Wave. Charli helped write both their debut track and the more recent “Live Forever,” but she’s largely keeping her distance as the band works on an upcoming EP. They refer to her as “mama bear,” thankful for her continuous feedback but equally grateful that she’s allowed them to grow independently of their founder’s own established career.
“If they need me, they call me,” Charli says. “Otherwise, I like to watch them do their thing.”