Q&A: Wussy's Chuck Cleaver And Lisa Walker On The Cincinnati Scene, Playing Music With Your Ex, And Shaking The "Critic's Band" Tag
It's high time Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, the core of Cincinnati crust-stained yet dreamy jangle-pop heroes Wussy, get uttered in the same breath as holier-than-thou lady/dude combos like John Doe & Exene, Ira & Georgia, Mac & Laura, and Thurston & Kim. The rough-and-tumble, whiny disposition of the dirtbaggy, bearded Cleaver combines with the super-sweetness of the sublimely voiced Walker to create emotive, gritty poptones. Wussy is beloved by many a rock scribe and certainly don't mind the props, but with their most recent LP (the excellent Strawberry) and a tour on deck, the band is quite ready to shake the "critic's band" tag.
Sound of the City spoke to the jovial Cleaver and Walker as they prepped for tour in their hometown.
How are you guys?
Chuck Cleaver: We have a nature program on, so we're good.
Lisa Walker: It's about the Himalayas and it's on PBS.
Is that the program of choice for Wussy?
Walker: Actually... uh, yeah. Pretty much. [laughs] We like PBS, nature shows and documentaries.
Cleaver: ... And NASCAR, of course.
Walker: Oh, no! Not NASCAR! [laughs] But possibly stock car or tractor pull. That would not be out of the question.
Were you floored that Robert Christgau is such a huge supporter of your band?
Walker: We were, at first but now we're more used to it. It still floors us, I think...
Cleaver: Always. I used to read the guy in Creem when I was a kid in the early '70s and stuff. So the idea of somebody I used to read and actually follow would write about me is just pretty weird.
Walker: It's surreal, that's for sure.
Christgau had two of your albums in his top 10 of 2011.
Cleaver: Yeah, I know. The one higher up on his list took us about eight hours to make...
Walker: ... and none of us listen to that one.
Cleaver: We don't even really like it. [Laughing]
Walker: Well actually, we'll listen to the ones that we did in the studio; the ones that we kinda labored over. This because, as you make it, you listen to it a lot and there's some joy in looking at the finished product. But I don't think any of us listen to the acoustic one. I haven't been able to get through it. [Laughing]
Christgau has been into Wussy since you started the band, right?
Cleaver: Pretty much.
Walker: He actually sorta made it possible for us to do what we are doing now, in a way, just because he kind of opened the door for other writers. Other people read him (Christgau) and started paying attention and it really brought us, in a very small way, to an international audience. Which is pretty cool, when you're stuck in Ohio. [Laughing]
Chuck, was he a fan of your old band, Ass Ponys?
Walker: I think. [To Chuck] Wasn't he?
Cleaver: Yeah, yeah. I remember seeing positive reviews and stuff. It seems so.
Has Christgau been to any of your shows?
Walker: Oh, once.
Cleaver: I think he was at the Cake Shop...
Walker: ...it was actually the same show the Village Voice did a review on a couple years ago, and also somebody from Rolling Stone. It was weird because we looked out [from the stage] right before we started to play and there was nobody there. Like, nobody. We tuned, we looked up and there were like 70 people in the room who just appeared. It was almost like South by Southwest when there's showcases and people kid of run from one thing to the other. We don't play in New York very much so we were too familiar with that phenomenon there. We looked out and half of them had notebooks in their hands.
So is Wussy a "critic's band?"
It feels like with Strawberry you're going beyond that.
Cleaver: We hope so. Being a critic's band is better than not being one, I guess. But, it would be kinda nice...
Walker: ...it would be nice if I didn't have to ask people what side they wanted with, you know, their sandwich. Not that I'm not fine doing that. But when that happens, like when we're playing music more for a living than like going to our restaurant jobs and things like that, I think that will make us feel we've maybe graduated to the next level, ya know? We're actually fine with being a critic's band and we're fine with working our regular jobs, for now, ya know? But I guess that would be kind of a goal, for now.
Cleaver: We don't talk about stuff like that too much. But [to Lisa] you're right. That's kind of a goal, I guess.