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Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Rock


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"On the Cheerfully Combative Midwestern Noise-Pop of Wussy The odd couple soldiers on"

It's Tuesday night at the Cake Shop, and Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, the delightfully volatile artistic/romantic heart of Cincinnati jangle-pop quartet Wussy, are onstage, before a small but adoring crowd, discussing their available merch.

Chuck [sardonically]: "We got about 800 fuckin' buttons."

Lisa [cheerfully]: "I made about 1,000. It took me four nights."

Chuck [haughtily]: " 'I.' 'I.' Fuck you. We. We sat and watched shitty television and made them together."

Aficionados of surly, grudgingly beautiful, self-loathing Midwestern rock are perhaps already acquainted with Chuck, he of the poorly named Ass Ponys, who, for a decade or so, trudged alongside the titans of that particular genre, especially on 2001's grimly gorgeous (and excellently named) Lohio. Back then, you wouldn't have figured his next project to play out on a Fleetwood Mac/Quasi/Richard and Linda Thompson are-they-or-aren't-they-and-will-they-eventually-kill-each-other-regardless? battlefield of tough love and vivid unease.

But in 2005, the adequately named Wussy burst forth with "Airborne," the stupendously combative leadoff track to their debut, Funeral Dress, wherein Chuck and Lisa sort of tunefully yell at each other, hating themselves for loving each other already. Lisa, easily the louder and more aggrieved of the two, barks, "And you told me that you love me/But you don't really love me/You remind me every day/But when you're living on a flood plain/It doesn't take a hard rain/To wash it all away"; on "Yellow Cotton Dress," Chuck warily retorts with "Yellow cotton dress/Is beautiful, no doubt/But it becomes a motherfucker/When you fill it out." You'd have given 'em six months at best and prayed it didn't end in homicide.

But the record ended with the hesitant, rapturous ballad "Don't Leave Just Now," and they didn't, and four years and a couple more full-lengths later, they're still making both music and, apparently, buttons together. Backed by a suitably wobbly rhythm section of bassist Mark Messerly and new-guy drummer Joe Klug, the heavily tattooed lovebirds of prey offer ragged serenades terrible and true at the Cake Shop, easily the closest thing to a dank Ohio basement venue on the Lower East Side, Lisa having apparently mellowed and cheered up considerably, bouncing up and down, her head nearly scraping the acoustic foam and Christmas lights affixed to the ceiling. Chuck, hirsute and bespectacled and gruff, complaining that his protruding gut is slowly turning his guitar into a "reverse dobro," is markedly less exuberant; he perfectly fits the profile of a guy named Chuck who used to be in a band named the Ass Ponys. Lisa's enthusiasm is hilariously incongruous; you sometimes get the feeling she's been kidnapped by a grouchy bar band and is just rolling with it.

Their combative rapport remains, though. The show begins with "Little Paper Birds," leadoff batter on their new, self-titled record, a soft, sweet, gauzy, country-ish ballad that evokes the lost-Americana romanticism of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's bazillion-Grammy-winning Raising Sand, Chuck and Lisa's voices intertwined in a similarly frail double helix, their mutual hostility just a touch more cryptic these days: "I finally got your letter/And your punctuation hit me like a truck."

But soon, they're back to raising hell: "Sun Giant Says Hey," from 2007's Left for Dead, has a breezy noise-pop swing but a discordant dual-vocal clash between Chuck's plaintive warble and Lisa's excitable, exasperated yelps, as if they're singing completely different songs; midway through, in a small gesture of casual camaraderie, Lisa leans down to helpfully adjust the knobs on Chuck's guitar pedal as he bashes away. Which is not to say that she's the docile one: Between songs, as she's praising "awesome" opening act Doug Gillard, Chuck rolls his eyes and mutters something about people his age sounding moronic when they say the word "awesome"—she rebuts with a middle finger.

It's dangerous, of course, to view every shred of music and banter the pair offers through the prism of a personal relationship even devout fans know absolutely nothing about—dangerous, but also fun, in a tabloid-trashy sort of way, to view every grievance, lament, and accusation as detritus from a real-life lovers' spat, when, trust me, a Midwestern bar band has plenty of other shit to bitch about. But Wussy's best songs have an alluring ambiguity, leaving you wondering who and/or what they're grousing about—or if they're grousing at all. Fast, cheap, and out of control, the ramshackle carport-garage anthem "Happiness Bleeds" begins with Chuck barking, "I remember puking down the side of a car/The cost of drinking liquor from the mouth of a jar" and other such debauched niceties, his breathless tone pitched perfectly between fond nostalgia and nightmarish regret, with Lisa moaning angelically at the margins until she joins him for the song's climactic, cathartic chant:

La la-la la la la la-la la la la

La la-la la la la la

La la-la-la la la la

Baby, I love you

- Rob Harvilla - Village Voice

""Turning our everyday bummers into untidy art""

For exposing ordinary life's flaming weirdness, you can't beat the shabby folk rock on this Cincinnati band's witty third album. Leading with scratchy electric guitars, songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker express bitter dejection and wobbly optimism in raw voices that ooze needy angst. One highlight: "Happiness Bleeds," in which the hero pukes down the side of a car and searches for "a bag of mildewy porn," then ponders the meaning of existence. But every track, from "All the Bugs Are Growing" to "Maglite," captures messy, seething passions in all their juicy splendor. 8/10 stars - SPIN

""Newcomer improves old-timer in songful, dissonant Ohio quartet""

“An ideal partnership--vocally and lyrically. More Velvets than Burritos, yet country still. It's as if they've reduced all of white Ohio to an articulated drone, unlocked a silo or warehouse of hummable tunes, and worked out the harmonies.” Grade: A - Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide

""Now three albums into a cult career so undeserved that it makes you question not just the music biz but greater cosmic matters...""

“Now three albums into a cult career that’s so undeserved that it makes you question not just the music biz but greater cosmic matters, Wussy’s latest one might not match their other records but it still beats out 99% of the rootsy-rock/alt-country bands out there, and it still sounds like one of the strongest releases so far in ‘09. Maybe it’s Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker’s yearning-but-determined vocals or maybe it’s just that know-how that propels their songs forward. Anyone who still supports No Depression should be boosting this crew, too. With Chris Brokaw and Doug Gillard. Tue., June 16, 8 p.m., 2009? - Village Voice

""Few bands since the Velvet-steeped heyday of the Feelies, Yo La Tengo and R.E.M. have abandoned themselves so completely to the ebbing, flowing currents of keening, droning guitars.""

The Cincinnati quartet's third full-length album might be more subdued than their previous efforts, but much like the Velvets' crepuscular third LP, what it sacrifices in noisy grandeur it makes up for in sumptuous melodies and grooves. The album-opening "Little Paper Birds" might even be a tremulous, lo-fi homage to "Pale Blue Eyes." -- Bill Friskics-Warren - Washington Post

""One of the best indie-rock albums of the year.. If this is happiness, it's not a conventional portrait. But this one features both a signature sound and a healthy dose of Middle American weirdness, so it'll do.”"

The Cincinnati band Wussy's self-titled third album is a song cycle about a fictional couple, written by a real one: Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver, who don't likely suffer the same troubles as their counterparts. On Wussy, the two take snapshots of infidelity, seething anger and other problems, replete with everyday details and rough-hewn melodies that are catchier than they initially appear. It's one of the best indie-rock albums of the year.

In the standout "Happiness Bleeds," Cleaver warbles over a thin sheet of guitar fuzz, sounding like a spooked Neil Young as he sets the song's opening scene: "I remember puking down the side of a car / the cost of drinking liquor from the mouth of a jar." This man is not doing well, but at least he's thinking about the big picture. After puking, he goes hunting for "a bag of mildewy porn" and pauses to consider the meaning of life.

Then the killer chorus kicks in, with Cleaver spitting the song title while dropping his register, as if he were impersonating a mescaline-addled Elvis. Along the way, Walker joins him for some buoyant "la la las" and "baby-I-love-yous." If this is happiness, it's not a conventional portrait. But this one features both a signature sound and a healthy dose of Middle American weirdness, so it'll do. - NPR Fresh Air Review + Song of the Day

""There's no humble way to sell one of the best bands in the world, so I won't lowball it..""

Inside the basic-on-paper four-piece framework that is Wussy, you'll experience marital intensity like peak X, amplifier squall like great Crazy Horse, and oddball folklore panoramas like early R.E.M. And wouldn't it be impolite not to mention the hooks they shoot through the heartbreak, as if Lucinda Williams had been conceived by a gang of college-rock warhorses? Miss and mope. - Village Voice

"“Superb…imagine a Yo La Tengo too tight to get cute or far out dispensing a Velvet Underground derivative fluent enough to warm the erectile tissue of anyone with a thing for guitar drones.”"

4 of 5 stars
Second album from Midwestern drone rockers is just fairly superb

This Cincinnati four-some barely play out and have managed a single two-week tour in two-plus years. Their second album is less superb than 2005's Funeral Dress. But it's still fairly superb. Then, former Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver had a hand in seven of eleven songs; now, his partner in art and life, Lisa Walker, takes eight of twelve. More soulful, sinewy and sexy than first appears, Walker's solicitous voice suits lyrics that mix goodly dollops of Midwestern Christianity- angels, Communion, a Christmas play, "Killer Trees" that probably include the one where a man named Jesus was left for dead - with the occasional "love is running down my chin." But she's more seductive balanced up against Cleaver's pissed-off tenor and anxious falsetto, as in the irresistible infidelity duet "What's-His-Name." Instrumentally, imagine a Yo La Tengo too tight to get cute or far out dispensing a Velvet Underground derivative fluent enough to warm the erectile tissue of anyone with a thing for guitar drones. Then pray that some day it gets out of Cincinnati.

Rolling Stone, Nov. 15, 2007 - Rolling Stone

"Superb... FOUR STARS"

“Superb…imagine a Yo La Tengo too tight to get cute or far out dispensing a Velvet Underground derivative fluent enough to warm the erectile tissue of anyone with a thing for guitar drones.” - Rolling Stone


Funeral Dress (2006)
Left for Dead (2007)
Wussy (2009)
Strawberry (2011)

Rigor Mortis - EP (2008)
Fly Fly Fly - split 7" with the Fervor (2010)
Funeral Dress II (2011)
"Happiness Bleeds" - NPR Song of the Day
"Muscle Cars" - KEXP Song of the Day



Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Cincinnati's Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker began playing together in 2001 as a result of Cleaver’s stage fright when asked to perform a brief run of solo shows. The duo’s first performance was largely unplanned, and yet went without incident… so they agreed to continue and expand. Mark Messerly came on board in 2002 as bassist and utility man, with Dawn Burman joining on drums shortly thereafter. Joe Klug was added as drummer and multi-instrumentalist after Burman’s departure in early 2009. The four-piece has released several albums and EP's on their native Cincinnati’s Shake It label. Wussy is known for its use of “an army of alternately droning and jangling guitars” (Uncut/UK) to offset the traditional three-minute pop format. Lyrics are typically split evenly between Cleaver and Walker.

Their work has met with critical praise from Rolling Stone and SPIN, both of which gave the band’s second and third albums four stars each, in addition to favorable reviews from Village Voice, NPR, Washington Post, Uncut, and many other press outlets. The “Dean of American Critics” Robert Christgau placed the band’s first two albums (Funeral Dress and Left For Dead) on his Best of the Decade list, and their third album (Wussy) ranked tenth in his best of 2009 Dean’s List.

Wussy releases its fourth full-length, Strawberry, in November 2011. Recorded and mixed by John Curley (Afghan Whigs) at Cincinnati's Ultrasuede Studios, Strawberry marks a decided turn in trajectory for the band. The first with Klug as drummer and co-producer, this album places greater emphasis on song structure and arrangement than previous efforts - while still holding fast to the band’s signature midwestern drone. The end result is their most cohesive release to-date, with an underpinning of churning guitars acting as the rudder of the small but mighty Wussy vessel.