Wussy is not a side project. In fact, it's a band that recently tends to play out more than two of its members' better-known main outlets: The Ass Ponys and Messerly & Ewing. AP frontman Chuck Cleaver asked singer/songwriter Lisa Miller to join him for a song or two during last November's Cincinnati Music Week, and the rest is history. Miller's harmonizing with Cleaver on the Ass Ponys' classic "Dried Up" at last year's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards was a show-stopper and encouraged the pair to start writing songs together. Fast forward to a showcase spot this September at the MidPoint Music Festival and the proper introduction of multi-instrumentalist Mark Messerly (mandolin, harmonica, accordion) into the fold, and the band's ubiquitous nature finds them everywhere, with frequent appearances at Plush, the Northside Tavern and the Southgate House's Parlour stage.
The quirky, wry nature of Wussy's individual members (revealed below) are a sharp contrast to the achingly beautiful numbers like "God's Camaro" and the heartbreaking Miller/Cleaver-penned "Don't Leave Just Now," a song the trio have been performing live, both likely find their way onto a recording medium by next spring. Currently collaborating on new songs and honing its sound, the group's thoughts have turned to adding a drummer to further flesh out the amorphous, acoustic-based Wussy sound — which could be described as slightly organic, ethereal and melancholic, but as moving as a phone call from a long-dead relative.
CityBeat recently sat down cyber-style with the Wussy principals: guitarist/vocalist Cleaver, vocalist/guitarist Miller and jack-of-all-trades Messerly, and got the dirty little details on the band's name, the side-project issue and their future plans.
CityBeat: Wussy? Sounds French.
Explain the origins of the name.
Cleaver: Well, it's short. Aesthetically pleasing. It rolls well off the tongue. It also pokes fun at our music, that way, we can really play anything. Everyone's a winner with a name like "Wussy."
CB: Everyone seems to refer to you as a Chuck Cleaver side project.
Miller: We're new. People don't know much about us yet. They do know about Chuck and his work with Ass Ponys. That's great. So it's only natural that we'd see things like "featuring "Chuck Cleaver" following our name. Initially, he was the only person they'd heard of — we've since added Mark (Messerly), another local music veteran. Maybe we're more like the "Chuck Cleaver Side Show."
Cleaver: Or the "Chuck Cleaver Slide Show." Dull vacation shit. I'm not really the featured performer. I write some, I sing some. But ultimately, it's a collaboration of all members. I consider both bands equally valid.
CB: Lisa, tell us a little more about your singing background.
Miller: I sang in church for a number of years, a chorale that went overseas, oratorios and such. But I was like the little church girl who wanted to rock out. I've actually been writing for a long time, but just didn't have much impetus to finish things. Now that I'm actually out performing, I have a reason to finish. I'll be inspired to complete a song so that we can perform it at a show that night, which for some reason drives Chuck nuts.
CB: Where do you want to take Wussy? Word is you're considering a drummer.
Cleaver: We've always had it in mind to be a full band. But you build it organically. You go with what makes sense. We're going to be electric, but you start with what you have.
Messerly: The full extent of ambition right now is to just let this evolution happen and to get drunk at the Northside Tavern at least once a month.
Miller: Dawn Burman has joined and will be playing once we get all practiced up.
CB: What's the song writing process like for Wussy?
Miller: Chuck's the first person I've ever written with. I think you have to trust someone in order to write with them. Chuck's a very careful writer, and I like that. It shows in his work, plus his world-view is truly skewed, and that makes for some interesting songs. There's nothing worse than music that leaves you with no impression whatsoever.
CB: Chuck , you're taking almost a back seat role with Wussy vs. your frontman role with the Ass Ponys.
Cleaver: It's nice to be in another role. Being the frontperson can be kind of scary. I never wanted to be the frontman in Ass Ponys. We actually auditioned singers, but nobody sang it the way I heard it. Lisa does though. Her voice is very natural, and she always nails it.
CB: You guys brought in Mark Messerly, a journeyman in the Cincinnati music scene. What does he add to the Wussy sound?
Miller: He's the actual musician of us. He plays about 15 things. He knows what he's doing. Plus, he's a wonderful writer.
Cleaver: (And) he wears a good hat.
Messerly: If you've got a song you like but wish it sounded more like something from late period Burl Ives — then I'm your man.
WUSSY plays the Northside Tavern on Dec. 10. For more information check out: www.wussymusic.com