It’s 2 p.m. on a chilly Friday afternoon in Chicago. The sky is gray and in the middle of making a crucial weather decision for its fussy weekenders.
There’s a comfort in that uncertainty, and only devout Midwesterners could endure the winter’s bite without complaint, but always with caution and compassion.
For now, only a dial tone separates me from Wussy’s leads Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver. The two are preparing for their March 4th show at Webster Hall in New York, and it’s a few hours before show time. This weekend, they will be in Chicago, with a two-show reign on March 11 and 12.
“Honestly, I think New York is the most fun for us,” Walker said, noting her favorite stops, Seattle and Cincinnati, their hometown, rounds out the top three.
Walker interrupts the interview every now and then to ask for Cleaver’s opinion on her outfit, and Cleaver checks in with bandmates Mark Messerly, Joe Klug and John Erhardt about their van and any last minute changes. Wussy’s six shows deep into their world tour, debuting their latest album Forever Sounds.
“The New York crowd gives us an energy that we don’t get anywhere else, and that’s not to disparage any of the other locations,” Walker added. “Maybe it’s a cultural or regional, and we feel it. It’s something that you can feel in your bones.”
Wussy’s collective sound is a treasured relic of the ‘90s. Pieces of that era’s grit, rust and crunch come alive and create a thick cloud of noise around Walker and Cleaver’s vocals and songwriting.
Walker admitted Wussy first took on leftover songs from Cleaver’s band Ass Ponys, and while this newfound cohesion and collaboration took years to craft, it is still a work in progress.
“The last six or seven years, I feel like we’ve really come into our own. The band has its own writing style now,” Walker said, adding this new record is evident of their growth as lyricists, artists and musicians.
“On this record, we have songs where the band was playing, and we came up with the music in practice,” Walker explained. “That’s a big evolution for us where we’re writing the songs in the practice space with everyone.”
Overall, their songs are short stories, and each listen revitalizes the album and sends off a new meaning. Forever Sounds, the band’s sixth album, is a prime example of how setting the scenes are crucial to the narrative. Intimacy and reflection and clarity are reserved for the chorus, and those are explicit in “Hands of God,” “Gone” and “Donny’s Death Scene.”
Not to mention “Dropping Houses,” Forever Sounds’ single, finds moments of clarity in between shots of pitch black darkness, flashes of neon lights and racing white stars.
“We wanted [this record] to hit people musically first and lyrically second,” Walker said. “I grew up listening to classic rock where you had to look at a lyric sheet or the album’s notes to know what people were saying.”
While Walker, a self-proclaimed “TV nerd,” looks to pop culture for inspiration, Cleaver often finds himself sifting through his past as a way to make music and importantly, move forward.
Their mix of influences does match and works for Wussy, and the two aren’t shy to share their Ohio roots and Midwestern attitude. Cleaver’s memories of his hometown Clarksville are tucked away in his back pocket.
He recalled his town was so small that his high school’s graduating class had about 50 students, and it was built near an Indian burial ground, which was desecrated over the years.
“There was always this overwhelming fear that perhaps, we as a town, were cursed,” Cleaver said.
“Just about everyone that I know, including me, has found somebody dead as a kid. That has a big effect on you regardless of what age you are, but when you’re a kid that’s especially weird,” he added. “That weirdness becomes normal because it’s all over the place.”
“And I grew up two hours away, and I’ve never had anything happen to me like that – never, ever, ever,” Walker interjected.
Walker added in a way, that “weirdness” is what makes Wussy current, creative, cool and importantly, an escape.
“You know, we’re from shit towns. We haven’t always had things easy, but things are going to be OK. It’s OK to be a weirdo. It’s OK to be an outsider,” Walker said. “Life hands you some real shit. Sometimes, you just have to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get through this, and we’re going to get through this together.’”