Locals Only: : Wojo

Local five-piece delivers upbeat, wet Soul with 'Borderlands'

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Dale M. Johnson


My chair leg sinks into a crater-sized hole in the wood floor at Arnold's Bar and Grill where Justin Lynch (vocals, guitar) works. We sit in the back by the heater. Weirdly enough, behind us another musician slides through the back door, unloading equipment. Lynch opens and closes the door, helping the guy out, creating multiple drafts.

Engaging, eccentric, creative and clever with a wiry build, Lynch wears a funky green cardigan, striped pants and cool glasses. He's 34. With high cheekbones and a cut jaw, Lynch is literally animated — in high school and college he was a cartoonist for Marvel comics.

The only person I've ever met who "grew up" in Mount Adams, Lynch now lives in Northern Kentucky. He speaks quickly, gestures erratically. Highly expressive, Lynch changes subjects rapid-fire in short, colorful flashes and his eyes hold a spark, a gold bug.

Lynch met Mike Goetz (of GhostMonster) in high school. When Goetz played Tesla's "Love Song" at a party, Lynch noted the way the girls gazed at his superpower friend. That was that. Lynch joined Goetz' Metal band, learning to play by doing it.

At Northern Kentucky University, Lynch studied journalism and editorial cartooning, hitting Leo Coffeehouse's open mics, joined by Aaron Zlatkin (bass). The two played as Turnaround Norman, named after a Tom Robbins character. In 2000, they found J. Matt Retherford (drums). They added Mike Fair (lead guitar) and Luke Alquizola (keys) in 2003.

Wojo, a reference to Detective Stan Wojciehowicz from the Barney Miller TV show, is sometimes mistaken as "Mojo." Lynch chuckles, explaining that he's always had trouble with band names. Turnaround Norman often morphed into Turning Normandy.

Wojo released Exist on Cool in 2001. In 2002, Lynch put out a solo album, The Skywriter's Penmanship Trials. How to Try Without Succeeding came in 2003. Wojo's most recent work, Borderlands, appeared last year. Although he sees this album as their most creative, successful work thus far, Lynch laughs, poking fun at himself, saying, "Our fans are made up of agoraphobics and shut-ins."

On Borderlands, "I Know What You Need" is an upbeat, party-your-ass-off-downtown tune, straight-up Soul Rock with a Southern feel, "more Memphis than Motown," Lynch says, moving his arms like Doctor Octopus.

In "Long Month of Sundays," the tone holds a more complex, artsy delivery similar to the Violent Femmes' approach. Vocals are clear, crisp and curious with an imaginative element. Self-reflective, when Lynch's quirkiness settles into the sound, the songs are at their best, giving them a post-Punk or Alt-Americana feel. Some songs could become sexual, but don't. It might get weirder, but it doesn't. Instead, the sound remains in the middle ground, resting on an interesting edge, a cartoon dripping with satire. Wonder Woman had a magic, invisible jet. But she was also half naked.

On influences, Lynch mentions singer/songwriter Michael Penn, who did the film score for Boogie Nights, as well as Kurt Vonnegut's Slapstick. A scenic writer rather than a narrative writer, he says, "I'm better at scriptwriting, condensing whole scenes into a couple of lines. The tone, the pitch, all of these things convey emotion."

Wojo's sound creates images of twisty waters, the Big Mac bridge, drives to Rabbit Hash, the scene when Spider-Man kisses the girl upside down, pot luck dinners or rocking out on a porch, not giving two shits about sleep, sucka.

"It's not edgy or progressive," Lynch says, "more escapist, about open spaces. I never got into music that was agitating or gratuitously suicidal. I liked music that made me feel better. Look at the Punk Rock kid in bondage gear, the one with self-loathing, disassociated from the world. Isn't the whole getup so that we pay attention to him, so that he's not disassociated? I don't have time to hang out with people who make you feel bad. A lot of our songs are about just being OK."

Surface, upbeat. But a slight, underlying irony breathes under the water's surface of this riverland sound. It's like this: everybody loves Superman. But even Superman had a day job and secrets.

WOJO (myspace.com/wojotherockband) rocks out at The Avenue in Covington Friday and on Saturday they take on The Poison Room.

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