"People tell us we have an '80s sound; I just don't hear it." As the words are leaving Kent Meloy's mouth, I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Michelangelo in which the painter of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel espoused the necessity of perspective.
"At least that's not what we were trying for," the guitarist finishes.
Now that I buy. Considering the eclectic jumble that each member of the band brings to the table, it's hard to imagine them producing anything too premeditated. Although their collective musical and performance experience is extensive, Kelp bears little resemblance to any of their former projects, and it seems to be an awakening for each of them.
"We have fun together, we gel," says drummer Jim Lipscomb. "I used to be way too serious; these guys have loosened me up. This is my second family."
It's a sentiment echoed by all as they discuss their excitement and the improbable way they found one another.
Aside from Lipscomb, the entire band answered classified ads that Meloy placed to staff his new project. His last band, Staring at the Sea, was contemplative and somewhat complex. This time, he had something more carefree in mind.
"It started to bug me that I was maybe connecting with that one guy in the back. It wasn't getting it for me. Then I saw (local band) Lovely Crash and thought, 'Wow, you can do this and have fun?"
Fun is Rena Hopkins' middle name. The singer's precise diction and bubbly demeanor are giveaways that she has theater training, the perfect asset for her spirited job as frontwoman.
"I have very little background in music, but I did spend some time living in my car in New Orleans playing accordion on the street for change," Hopkins says. "I got FedExed enough money to get home then spent my last $5 to buy a pair of hose to cover up the bruises from a fist fight and auditioned for Shadowbox Cabaret."
Her three-year stint with the comedic/musical troupe began Hopkins' affair with musical performance, and her departure led her to the local music scene. Her energy inspires the entire band, and their collective enthusiasm has served to guide their musical direction. That and a pivotal moment at the "80s Pop Rocks II" show earlier this year, where they delivered show-stopping renditions of "Johnny Are You Queer?" and "Dream Police." The strong audience response was an epiphany.
"I realized that jumping around was in my repertoire," jokes Meloy. "After all this time, I really do want to be a Rock star!"
The quintet is completed by bassist Gary Weimer and keyboardist Peg Jordan. Weimer, a Chicago native, brings a trove of road experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of Rock music. And everyone agrees that Jordan's Classical and Jazz piano background is Kelp's "secret weapon," while her analog synth dalliances have a lot to do with the '80s comparisons. Jordan, like all of her bandmates, has also contributed songs to Kelp's growing, extensive catalog.
Weimer explains that this is part of their strategy. "For a band to survive, you have to be able to bring people in to see you. Playing one set of music every three or four weeks in a small range of clubs isn't going to prove anything. We're on a kick now to put a couple of sets together and take it to the suburbs."
Hopkins is prepared to weather the longer shows with a peculiar vocal elixir: shots of olive oil. "I need the right mix of olive oil and booze," she exclaims. "It works great! And it leaves a pretty green film in the toilet."
For the moment, the band's focus is Saturday's "Festivus Maximus II," a benefit for the Autism Society of Cincinnati co-founded by Meloy, who was also a force behind the successful Harvest Moon benefit shows. Earlier this year, he and Lipscomb led hundreds of bands in the Rock Together hurricane relief concert series, which spread nationwide. With that kind of altruistic record, there's nothing but good karma ahead for Kelp.
KELP (planetkelp.com) performs Saturday at the Southgate House.