Local Love: Cliffhanger Interview


Cliffhanger is a new band in the scene. They recently released their debut EP “Just Ignite”. We had the chance to talk with them about the EP, future plans and their thoughts on the local scene. Read it all below!

Can you state your names and what you do in the band?
Trevor Utz – Plays bass and sings
Mike Centracco – Rhythm Guitar
Jordan Benker – Lead Guitar
Mike Licari – Drums

How did you all meet?
Mike C met Mike L met a long time ago while playing in local bands. After I (Mike C) graduated from college, I wanted to start up a new band that was different from what I used to play but combined my love for old and new pop punk. I (Mike C) met Jordan at the Milwaukee Warped Tour where we discussed the possibility of starting a band. I reached out to Mike L to inquire about playing drums from Cliffhanger and he agreed. Jordan introduced me to Trevor after they had met at Penny Road Pub while Jordan was playing a solo show. A few months after we all met, we decided to head into the studio to record, “Just Ignite.”

How were the first practices, did you go into Cliffhanger with the understanding that it would be a pop punk band? Did you try to model your sound after anything?
Well, I (Mike C) met with Jordan for about a year before we brought Mike and Trevor into the equation. Those first practices with just us were mostly getting a few ideas down and seeing how we could improve them and make them sound different from what was currently being played. Jordan has a huge pop background so we were looking to incorporate that into the sound, but that took a different direction when the other members joined. The first few practices as a full band were fun. There was a lot of energy going on. We had taught Trevor the songs we wrote and he wrote his own lines to it and completed the sound.
We all have different pop/pop punk influences in the band. Both Mikes are into pop punk and Trevor and Jordan are heavily pop influenced. We decided to play to our strengths to create a pop punk sound that was fresh and new, but gave that nostalgic feel to it. Essentially, we modeled our sound after music we all enjoyed playing. Cliche, but true.

After listening to “Just Ignite” you can definitely hear the nostalgic sound your talking about. You recently released “Just Ignite” (Thanks again for sending it over!) how has the reception been?
It’s been pretty good! We’ve had a few places review it and we’ve gotten great feedback on it. We didn’t have many fans when we released it because it was our first release, but that number is growing daily. We wanted to release a strong EP to introduce to ourselves to the scene and we feel that “Just Ignite” does just that. We’re still very excited about the EP and want as many people to hear it as possible. We’d like to thank anyone who’s bought it or listened to it. It means the world to us.

I always enjoy making connections between the song titles and the lyrics in those songs. So if its not asking too much could we get the stories/meanings behind the song on the EP?

For Trevor, City Skyline was about how he would listen to a new CD, whether it be his or the newest CD of his favorite band, during late night drives to Chicago. It was a good way to really give a CD a good listen through. Whenever his own CDs were in his car, he would imagine that everyone was listening to the same songs he was. The city skyline was a metaphor for the amount of people there is to be reached. For Mike, the lyrics are about an underdog having an opportunity to start over and have a big impact on a new surrounding.

They Used to Call Me “Anal Girl” goes pretty deep, if you catch my drift :)

Bruises and Sabotage is named after Mike C’s friend Ricardo. He passed away a few years ago. Ricardo would always go into school with new bruises either on his face or arm from getting into some petty fight. Ricardo was a badass though and it didn’t bother him. Sabotage was the name of his bike crew that he used to ride around with. Some of the lyrics relate to past pictures and memories I had of him.

I was most intrigued by They Used to Call Me “Anal Girl” and I’m not disappointed. haha
Do you as a band shy away from the label Pop Punk, to me Pop Punk has always gotten an unfair reputation. With that said What is cliffhanger defending pop punk from?

Trevor: No, we embrace it. I think there’s been a lot of issues with the label of “pop punk” because it really is a balance of both pop and punk. Some bands tend to go more punk than others; while others seem to go more pop than punk. I think the best bands have found the balance between the two but for that reason, there’s a lot of discrepancies with the label because there’s a wide range of what “pop punk” encompasses. We’re simply trying to mesh the two sides by taking influence from both and meeting them in the middle.

In regards to defending pop punk, I think pop punk has strayed from it’s melodic driven roots and has developed more complex guitar and drum parts. It also has become less vocal centered. I feel lyrics have become too self-deprecating in recent years. We address those issues, but we don’t solely dwell on those issues in our songs.

What are your thoughts on the local pop punk scene. I don’t think its shocking to say that Fall Out Boy for a long time were synonymous with Chicago Pop Punk. Not going into Fall Out Boy’s newer sound it seems that Real Friends have taken over that mantle. What are your thoughts on that and what are some of your favorite local bands?
Trevor: Real Friends put Chicago back on the map for pop punk. Hopefully, it will give exposure to all the other hardworking pop punk bands in the area. There are also a lot of people behind the scenes of music who have helped these musicians get on the map. Everybody works together and through that, success is being met.

Mike: I think the local pop punk scene has been struggling for a while. There are some great bands out there like Knuckle Puck, Real Friends, and Knockout Kid, but there needs to be more! I respect the success that Real Friends and Fall Out Boy have achieved and I hope to see more bands out of Chicago like that to help influence the genre. One of my favorite local bands is Aim At Your Enemies. If you’re not listening to them, you should. Sleep On It is very new to the scene and they have a very awesome sound to them.

Knuckle Puck are one, my favorite bands! I can’t wait for new music from them.
Speaking of new music what are Cliffhangers plans for the future? Touring? Another EP?

We agree! We’d love to try and play a show with them too!

Right now, Cliffhanger is trying to get attention in Chicago. We have more songs written which are played at our shows. We hope to record a 5 or 6 song EP later this year or early next year. We want to tour when we know that people will come out to the show in other cities and we don’t feel that we have that outreach yet.

I’m sure more people will hear about Cliffhanger very soon!
Any final thoughts?

We hope so! We’d like to thank you for taking the time to get to know us a little bit better! We’d also like to thank everyone who’s checked out “Just Ignite” and if you haven’t you can find it on iTunes!


Pick up a copy of “Just Ignite” HERE

Watch the lyric video for “City Skyline”


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