As another long Cincinnati winter grudgingly drags itself away, and another brief Cincinnati spring sheepishly tiptoes in, nearly everyone around here is craving the sunshine. If we can't get it from the outdoors just yet, we can get it from the music of Cincinnati Indie Rock duo Wil-o-ee.
Patrick Kelsch (guitar/vocals) and Steve McCabe (drums) have been creating and playing their sunny soundscapes since 2002. The pair met at their day jobs working for a catering business.
"We would trade music back and forth at work," McCabe tells me. "I was content playing in my basement. I had been doing that for two or three years, playing along with my records."
The two would trade tapes from established artists, but one day Kelsch brought McCabe a tape of his own original music. That's when McCabe decided that perhaps they should play together. "Pat saved me from the basement," he says.
Their first gig as Wil-o-ee was in the fall of 2002 with Cluck the Hen, whom McCabe also played with for about a year.
"They're a really good songwriting unit," McCabe says of that band. "Cluck the Hen helped launch Wil-o-ee."
Wil-o-ee is Kelsch's first band. "It's really exciting for me, 'cause it's the first time I ever tried (playing music for an audience)," he says. "Steve really encouraged me to do it."
The enthusiasm the duo has for their project is infectious. When, at their shows, a smile creeps across your face before you know what has happened. It's nearly physically impossible to be unhappy while seeing them play live. The energy they emanate and the bright and upbeat tone of their songs are enough to snap the grumpiest out of their funk.
Kelsch, the main songwriter, is humble about Wil-o-ee's music.
"Our songs are really just basic chord progressions, really American-sounding arrangements, but then we make subtle changes and make it sound new," he says.
They count among their influences "the usual suspects" — The Beatles and The Stones, Guided By Voices, Beck and The Flaming Lips. McCabe is also a big fan of Southwestern and California acts like The Thrills (McCabe calls them "an Irish band that wrote a California record") and Calexico. "It just seems like a lot of bands from the Southwest — you can hear the sunshine in their music, the broadness of the landscapes," McCabe says. "We try to make things sound expansive."
In their quest for a more expansive sound, the duo intend to bring in a permanent third member. "We've got our sights on somebody that could work out great," McCabe says. "We never really wanted to be another two-piece thing, but we want to add the right personality. I like working with Pat because he's so positive, so we want another positive force in the band. We've played with a lot of cool people in the past year, but they're all in different bands. We want somebody all our own."
Ben Davis of the Giant Judys recently added some guitar to the Wil-o-ee set at last month's Leap Day Show, much to the delight of the audience. The duo just finished recording their first single containing the poppy, uptempo song, "Sunbelt," and the more experimental soundscape, "Marble." The single will be given out free at their next show on Friday at the Northside Tavern. Kelsch's vocals really shine through on this recording, as does the band's inventive songwriting and skillful playing. The single is a great introduction to the band's sound and leaves the listener craving more. Fortunately, Wil-o-ee do plan to record a full-length CD soon.
They aren't too overreaching in their goals at this point. "Right now our biggest goal is to make good music," Kelsch says. McCabe agrees: "I'm excited just to be part of the local scene right now. There's a lot of fun people, a lot of love. People have treated us great."
Negativity is hard to find in Kelsch or McCabe. In fact, Wil-o-ee's one and only manifesto is, in McCabe's words, "To never let any cynicism to set in, to always stay positive."
If the slow approach of spring has been getting you down, just check out Wil-o-ee at their next show.
WIL-O-EE (wil-o-ee.com) plays Northside Tavern on Friday.