Cover Story: (In)Focus and to the Point

MidPoint 05 has it all: 300 bands, including Cincinnati's (in)camera, interesting workshops and speakers and the best buzz around

James McKenna


The beat boys begin to tell their own version of the crime with slow and mounting thuds. Bill's word is gospel without temporal restraint; Jay's answer resonates, gruff and reminiscent of kitchen duty role call.

Huddling together in a strangely comfortable mingling of trust and conspiracy, they recant their own memories, all different but each as clear as yesterday.

There's a ruckus like a trashcan fire building from near the south wall. It's just Susan and Robert. They're at it again — 12 fingers, six apiece twisted up in a climbing game of Mercy, twin protesters sounding off for different causes. "I can't/I won't/I can't/I won't," Susan moans.

All the while Shelagh finger-paints those vital blueprints in black and white, a coded message becomes matter-of-fact: You wouldn't know because you weren't there, but here goes the story.

Is there something cliché about appropriating human characteristics to inanimate instruments? Well, maybe, but that would depend on who's playing them.

Where individual experience counts, watching an outfit of veterans like Cincinnati's (in)camera is no less than watching wood, metal and plastic spring to life. And rightly so. With a combined history that spans more than two decades, more than 10 bands and international boundaries, live performance is second nature as shoe-tying. And professionalism? Well, that's like breathing.

At some awkward point, all of the words I've prepared for this interview sound juvenile and the ones I'm imagining off the cuff are outrageous: "It's cool how you guys sound like The Cure if they had chick singers." Or "How did you do that thing just now where you used the guitar like it was a keyboard?"

OK, change of plans. Stick to the basics and try not to humiliate myself. As I open my mouth to speak, though, something remarkable happens — I don't have to say a word.

"It's spelled S-H-E-L-A-G-H, but it sounds like 'Sheila,' " keyboardist Shelagh Larkin offers. "And I'm married with two kids."

And just as comfortable and simple as a Sunday morning cup of coffee, I'm learning the details of a group whose lineage might be coined "Midwest Herculean," spawning from local bands like Roundhead, The Wolverton Brothers, Subrosa, Montclaire and Blanco Nombre.

Call it stigma, an assumption that a musician's level of accomplishment slithers in direct correlation alongside his or her cockiness and condescension. But in talking to the members of (in)camera, I'm instantly stricken by their maturity. They have an honest, supportive approach to songwriting and love nothing more than to see other bands do well. (So much so, in fact, that at times I feel my questions are leading them toward mild slander in a subconscious effort to prove that nobody can be that nice, right? Wrong.)

Later, their infectious excitement for music will begin to spill over into unfinished sentences and good-natured interruptions, but for now, Jay McCubbin (home renovator by day, bassist by night) wants to make it perfectly clear that (in)camera is, in every sense, a group effort.

"We all come from such drastically different musical backgrounds that this project was an opportunity for us to explore things outside our comfort zone," McCubbin says. "We need each perspective in order to do that."

Drummer Bill Bullock jokes that that's why it takes "forever" to write a whole song, and guitarist Susan Smith agrees.

"We're certainly not trying to crank out two-minute Pop songs," she says. "We're constantly looking for different structures and sounds that are more interesting than your norm."

Despite this democratic approach to songwriting and band organization, it's common knowledge that every group has a boss, a foreman. The unique thing about (in)camera is that each member seems to have his/her own autonomous clout, and it in no way hinders their openness to other ideas. In fact, testing different waters is the group's principle mainstay.

To avoid being pigeonholed, it's necessary to layer their sound with as many variations as possible. This vision comes through in tunes like "Juniper," with an unfaltering chord progression that doesn't even think about taking the slightest hairpin turn until it's met with just the right amount of synth. While Stereolab's heavy use of Electronica comes through prominently in the sound, each band member's forte — from Susan's Punk to Bill's Indie Rock — is evident in the sampling.

The overall effect is music that manages to transmit a sense of deep history while marching steadfastly into the future.

And that future, for the members of (in)camera, is completely disengaged from angst. Because of their individual endeavors, they undoubtedly reap some valuable benefits from Cincinnati's networking scheme, having been familiar with virtually every venue owner, promotional fixture and recording expert in the city.

At the same time, they've watched the rise and fall of friends and counterparts, traveled and returned home to a deteriorating downtown culture and personally encountered the disappointing blows that musical politics can often bring. If an actual "Scene Card" existed, wherein holders could score points for their association with the area's most prolific events, (in)camera would have long ago reached Gold status.

Naturally, this older band mentality could be helpful in advising less experienced musicians. Oops.

" 'Older band?" Susan trills. "Maybe more experienced, but definitely young-spirited."

With a gig schedule that's quickly filling up, imparting sage wisdom to young hipsters would be an interesting side dish on (in)camera's musical menu. While undeniably pleased to note their evolving demographic, the only pressure they acknowledge is in creating an innovative mixture of new and old and, ultimately, a good time for those who choose to listen.

So just who exactly are these fans? Refreshingly enough, (in)camera's crowd base is just as hard to cast into a particular genre as the music is itself.

"We're pulling from a more varied spectrum than most local bands," Bill opines, "So it should be interesting to see who sticks around."

They realize they're limited in the way they're received, but their disinterest in "popularity contests" provides a comfortable perch from which they'll mediate the action. It's probable that (in)camera will gain steam as a must-see for those eager to deviate from the Tristate music nucleus.

A major opportunity for the band to showcase its wares is this year's MidPoint Music Festival, where they can be seen upstairs at alchemize on Friday. The conversant folks will agree that it's not uncommon to hear the occasional sarcastic and back-biting "MidPoint horror story" from jilted local talent, but that hasn't curbed (in)camera's enthusiasm one bit. They view the festival (this is their debut MPMF appearance) as the most viable remedy for a somewhat dwindling music scene.

"Downtown was dead," Susan states, recalling her return from a 10-year stint in San Francisco a year and a half ago. "But then I find myself at MidPoint, and suddenly I can watch live music. Downtown. And be safe in the process!"

In reference to Cincinnati's music culture as a whole, (in)camera is continually inspired by the venues and musicians they feel are perpetuating the local energy. Sharing the stage with bands like the Fairmount Girls, Culture Queer, Chalk, Infinite Number of Sounds and The Ass Ponys, (in)camera enjoys a welcoming niche, and the members agree that they still rely upon the existing wellspring of Cincinnati talent for inspiration.

Soon it'll be time for the band to hit the studio to record, and they couldn't have hand-picked a better supporting cast, which includes Joe Burn of the band Hilltop Distillery. With their live performing skills coming together swimmingly, band members are anxious to see how their songs will translate when recorded.

"We're absolutely obsessed with texture, layered sounds and experimentation," Shelagh explains. "I have a feeling this music is going to come into its own through recording."

Others nod in agreement, and guitarist Robert Paquette, who does speak — though rarely — gives the ol' thumbs up. In standard (in)camera fashion, there's no big rush. Their methodology isn't subject to pressure from deadlines or sales projections, and they're content to apply freakish perfectionism to each and every detail in order to produce something they feel good about.

In the meantime, each member has a personal agenda, and a few have side-projects they aim to pursue. For example, Robert's Americana band Guardrail Angel will continue to hit the fair and carnival circuit with a vengeance, while Jay continues his work with the Wolvertons and Susan joins Robert in the Noise project, Deneaux.

The unintentional "cool" that the members of (in)camera exude is undeniable. They embody self-awareness, and their obvious stamina tells me they don't plan on hanging it up any time soon.

Susan sums it up: "I am sure that I'm better now than I have ever been."

(IN)CAMERA plays the MidPoint Music Festival at 11 p.m. Friday at alchemize (upstairs). Learn more at

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