Currently comprised of founding members and primary songwriters Chuck Cleaver (vocals, guitar), known for being a member of Ass Ponys and Lisa Walker (vocals, guitar), along with Mark Messerly (bass, keys), John Erhardt (pedal steel, guitar), and Joe Klug (drums), the Cincinnati, OH-based shoegaze quintet Wussy can trace their origins back to 2001 when its founding duo began playing together as a dare during a brief run of solo Cleaver shows. The first show they played together while being largely unplanned went without incident, so they agreed that they should continue as a fully fleshed band. Cleaver and Walker recruited Dawn Burman (drums) and Messerly in 2002 And as a quartet, Wussy released three full-length albums and a critically applauded EP that received praise from a number of major media outlets including Rolling Stone, SPIN, Village Voice, NPR, The Washington Post, Uncutand the legendary Robert Christgau, who placed the Cincinnati act’s first two efforts Funeral Dress and Left for Dead on his best of the decade list and their third, self-titled release on his best of 2009 list.
Wussy’s forthcoming seventh studio What Heaven Is Like is slated for May 18, 2018 release through Damnably Records in Europe and Shake It! Records in the States, and the album’s latest single “Gloria” is reportedly inspired by the protagonist of Fargo‘s Season 3, Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon — but in a much larger sense, the song is meant to paint a portrait of an inscrutable everywoman, who dares to stand up to an omnipresent, almost supernatural, villain. As the band’s Lisa Walker explains in press notes, “This season of Fargo was so bleak and unrelenting. The V.M. Varga character seemed like an undefeatable entity, something between a robber baron and whoever’s secretly watching you from the other side of your screen in real-time. Gloria’s purity of heart made her this bright shining light.. the only person actually impervious to the enemy. But even beyond that, I was very inspired this year by several women who dared to put everything on the line, even their own lives, to stand up for what is right. I tried to show my respect for this great courage in the re-telling of Gloria’s story.” Interestingly, the band pairs this narrative story within a song that manages to be cinematic yet intimate while nodding at Americana and early 90s Pearl Jam — i.e., “Tremor Christ,” off Vitalogy and so on.
After 2014’s full-length effort, Voir Dire, the Chicago, IL-born and-based members of Minor Characters, a trio of long-time friends and schoolmates Andrew Pelletier (guitar, vocals), Shelby Pollard (guitar) and Thomas Benko (drums) felt a collective sense profound angst and confusion that almost broke the band up. “Getting that out was such a stressful moment in all of our lives that I think the band kind of imploded and deflated because of it,” the band’s Andrew Pelletier recalls in press notes. “We weren’t playing anymore and we decided to take a number of months off. In that interim, I did a little bit of traveling.”
Pelletier’s traveling took place primarily during 2016, arguably one of the most politically contentious years in at least 50 years of American history, and naturally those trips criss-crossing the States (and eventually to Asia) wound up influencing the Chicago-based band’s frontman, who eventually wrote a series of deeply personal vignettes focusing on his observations on the sociopolitical moment paired with sardonic reflections on the band’s health; but reportedly underneath it all, is a desire that many of us have felt — a desire to pack up your shit and leave for a while, despite the fact that American culture is inescapable.
As Pelletier says in press notes, “The insanity of the current government would be…I wouldn’t call it a source of inspiration, but certainly a source of disillusionment turned into inspiration. There are many things in my life that I put off,” the band’s frontman adds on a more personal note, “one of them being travel, especially to Asia because I’ve always wanted to go to Asia, and then also being in a relationship I put off for many, may years.” After his travels, Pelletier reconvened with his bandmates Pollard and Benko, along with Joe Meland (piano, string arrangements) and a series of collaborators at SHIRK Studios, where instead of a breakneck recording sessions, the band allowed the songs to morph with every recorded iteration, giving each individual version a unique life. As the band’s Pollard says, “We’re doing string arrangements on this record, horn arrangements, there’s organ. There’s all of these components that, because we gave ourselves such unlimited amount of time to focus on, ‘Is this song ready?’ we were really able to figure out what each track needed individually and then it just so happens that it fits together.”The end result is the band’s forthcoming album We Can’t Be Wrong, which is slated for an April 6, 2018 release — and while the album’s latest single “Pimps of Freedom (Whores of D.C.)” will remind some listeners of The Bends-era Radiohead and JOVM mainstays Husky, possesses a breathless and bristling sense of outrage, as the song thematically focuses on the crony capitalists in DC deregulating then dismantling the government and handing it over to make money.
The album’s latest single is the shimmering, arena rock friendly “Nola,” a song inspired by Pelletier’s experience of heading down to New Orleans, as a wide-eyed, college kid to help in hurricane assistance relief post-Hurricane Katrina. As Pelletier explained to the folks at Glide Magazine “When I arrived, I was shocked to be met with such death and destruction, yet a city undyingly full of hope. I fell head over heels for the place, it’s people, the Eden of American music. When I got home from the trip I wanted to go back immediately, so I wrote a song about it. I actually did go back, like three times in the next two years. Nola was originally a Nick Drake-ian folk tune but my bandmates wanted it to be roaring and bombastic and lead off the album.” Sonically speaking, the rousingly arena rock hook song continues in a similar vein of its predecessor, as it owes a debt to 90s alt rock — i.e., The Bends-era Radiohead and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam; but at its core the song thematically focuses on the need for hope and redemption, in the face of the horrors of death, destruction and even political instability. Ultimately, the song suggests that sometimes clinging to hope of hope may be the only thing you have to sustain you.
Last month, I wrote about the indie rock All-Star act Lo Tom, an indie rock act, which features some incredibly accomplished musicians and artists, with more than 125 combined years of playing, writing, recording and touring as professional musicians. And interestingly enough, the band, which is currently comprised of David Bazan, best known for his work in Pedro the Lion; Trey Many, a member of Velour 100 and Starfinder 59; TW Walsh, a bandmate of Bazan’s in Pedro the Lion, a member of The Soft Drugs and a well-regarded solo artist; and Jason Martin, a bandmate of Trey Many in Starfinder 59 are long-time friends, who used to mess around and jam together, missed playing together and decided that they should spend some time writing and recording together.
The quartet’s self-tiled debut is slated for a July 14, 2014 release through Barsuk Records and was written and recorded during a rare period of free time that each member of the quartet could spare. And the sessions consisted of the longtime friends meeting up with some loose riffs and beats and seeing where things would go, while Bazan, who wrote most of the album’s lyrics would make up something quickly and on the spot, before eventually refining them. Interestingly enough, the album’s first single “Overboard” possessed the looseness of four, friends and old pros getting together and jamming, and as soon as someone starts off with a idea, the other bandmates know where to go and how to flesh it out. The band manages to find a comfortable balance a free-flowing, jam session within a band that also manages to seamlessly mesh elements of the work of each individual member; in fact, the single features the soaring hooks and power chords of the alt rock and power pop that have clearly influenced it, and each member’s own work.
The album’s second and latest single “Covered Wagon” will further cement each member’s individual reputation for crafting hook-laden, anthemic, power chord-based indie rock. But interestingly enough, the song to my ear reminds me of Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3‘s excellent Northern Aggression, Vs. and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam, as it may arguably be one of the more straightforward and forceful rock songs off the new album — and one of my favorites of the entire summer so far.
Last month, the band announced their first live dates together, and as you may recall, the tour includes an August 12, 2017 stop at Rough Trade. Check out the tour dates below.
Led by its founding member, composer and bassist Ezra Gale and featuring Rick Parker (trombone), Alex Asher (trombone), Jon Lipscomb (guitar) and Madhu Siddappa, the Brooklyn-based trombone-led dub quintet Super Hi-Fi can trace their origins to a rather unlikely beginning. Gale, who was a founding member of acclaimed San Francisco-based Afrobeat act Aphrodisia, an act that once played at Fela Kuti‘s famed Lagos, Nigeria-based night club The Shrine, had relocated to Brooklyn and was collaborating with Quoc Pham in Sound Liberation Front when Gale was asked to get a band together for Pham and Gale’s then-monthly Afro-Dub Sessions parties in Williamsburg. Much like DJ Turmix’s Boogaloo Party, the Afro-Dub Sessions Party would pair the live band fronted by Gale with the dub’s top-flight producers and DJs including Victor Rice, Prince Polo, Subatomic Sound System, the Beverley Road All-Stars and others.
When Gale founded Super Hi-Fi, the project was initially intended to translate the improvisatory mixing process of dub to the live show; however, with the 2012 release of their critically applauded debut effort Dub to the Bone, a busy touring schedule in which they opened for nationally known acts like Rubblebucket, Beats Antique and John Brown’s Body, followed by the release of their Yule Analog Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, the project began to cement its growing reputation for crafting a unique and expansive take on dub and reggae.
With the recent release of Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana, the Brooklyn-based dub quintet push the boundaries of reggae and dub by paying tribute to Nirvana. And in typical Super Hi-Fi fashion, the members of the band manage to create their own take on the iconic Seattle-based trio’s material with renowned dub producers, Sao Paulo, Brazil‘s Victor Rice; Venice, Italy‘s Doctor Sub; and Brooklyn’s Prince Polo — all of whom are frequent collaborators with the band — assisting to further bend and morph the band’s sound in trippy and psychedelic ways, which help take fairly familiar songs into bold, new territory.
Adding to the uniqueness of the release, Very Special Recordings, a small, boutique Brooklyn-based label founded by Super Hi-Fi’s Ezra Gale, that specializes in releases cassettes that showcase the diverse of their borough’s and city’s music scene. Interestingly, while we all live in a world of Spotify playlists and streamable music that one never really owns, cassettes have seen something of a renaissance of late with several artists and labels releasing cassette only releases — and in some way, it’s a response against not just streaming services but against the trend towards technophilia for the sake of technophilia. While being relatively cheap to make and sell, a cassette tape does require a bit of effort — you’d have to go to a physical record store to purchase your favorite band’s new record and then bring it home to play; have a label or friend mail or give you a tape; and at the very least, you’ll probably listen to the whole tape, if not an entire side once. Plus, let’s not forget, that unless your favorite song is the first song or last song of a side, finding it can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. And yet, if you remember buying cassettes at your local record store, as I do, it’s an experience that frankly I sometimes miss very dearly.
I recently spoke to Super Hi-Fi’s Ezra Gale about Super Hi Fi Plays Nirvana, how the arranging and re-arranging process differs from Gale’s normal songwriting process, the band’s upcoming releases and more. Check it out below.
WRH: In the Q&As for The Joy of Violent Movement, we almost always begin with some fairly introductory stuff for readers. So let’s begin, shall we?
WRH: How did the members of the band meet?
Ezra Gale: I had an idea for a two trombone band and placed a Craigslist ad for trombone players which got exactly two responses, from Alex Asher and Ryan Snow, who became our first two trombone players. Everybody else I just met through other musicians.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
EG: It’s dub, but I don’t know if it’s reggae.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
EG: The last album I bought was Bowie‘s last album, Blackstar, which is just incredible.
WRH: Seminal albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind, U2’s Achtung Baby, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down On The Upside, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy and others reaching important milestone anniversaries, it’s a bit surprising to me that to my knowledge more bands haven’t seriously begun to tackle them with more covers and more tribute albums, especially if you consider how many Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Beatles tribute albums have been released over the years. Why haven’t there been more Pearl Jam, U2, R.E.M. tributes and covers? And how did you come upon paying tribute to Nirvana?
EG: I really don’t know about those other bands, for us we started playing a version of “Something In the Way” a couple years ago, and we all sort of got the idea that maybe a whole album of Nirvana tunes could be interesting.
WRH: Much like your fantastic Christmas albums, Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana features a couple of very well-known songs such as In Utereo’s “Heart Shaped Box,” and their famous Unplugged cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” as well as some rather deeper cuts such as “Verse Chorus Verse,” their Incesticide cover of “Love Buzz” Nevermind’s “Something In The Way” and “Polly.” What inspired you to choose those songs to tackle instead of something more tried and true?
EG: Well, initially I wanted to do all really obscure ones. Nirvana is a band whose famous songs have been played to death and I don’t know if anyone really needs to hear another version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, for example. But I know them from when Bleach came out and they were just this really great, intense band from Seattle that not many people knew- my college band even opened for them then, randomly. So I wanted to spotlight some of those lesser-known songs of theirs. But then, I think i was riding my bike and I suddenly started hearing “Heart Shaped Box” in this really slow, weird way, so we ended up doing that one. Ultimately it’s just about giving each song a different treatment and finding something new to do with it, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before.
WRH: How do you go about re-arranging material that’s fairly familiar in a way that adds your particular spin to it — while maintaining something familiar? And how does the process of re-arranging material differ from your normal songwriting process?
EG: It is different than a normal songwriting process. This album was very similar to our two Christmas albums (“Yule Analog” Vols. I and II), in that the goal was to take familiar material and make it sound different. And like in arranging those Christmas songs, I made some rules for myself doing it, which were that the melody line had to be the same, but everything else around it could change. So the rhythms are obviously very different, but also, Nirvana was a band with only one singer and we have two trombones, so in a lot of these versions the second trombone part is made up- like in “Verse Chorus Verse”, “Heart Shaped Box” and “Where Did You Sleep” especially. And also the chords are quite different in some of these, “Polly” and “Where Did You Sleep” especially are pretty different chord changes than the Nirvana versions.
My attitude towards cover versions is just that there’s no point in doing them if all you’re doing is to play it like the original version. No matter how great the original song is, I don’t ever want to regurgitate what someone else has done- go listen to the original if you want that. At the same time, I think it should be recognizable as the original song, somehow. So the challenge of taking material and sort of shaping it into something different that still has echoes of the original song is something I really enjoy doing.
WRH: While doing a little research for this interview, I learned that you’re currently working on your sophomore full-length effort, as well as Beatles/Police 45 for Record Store Day. Could you tell us a little bit about those projects?
EG: Yes, we are about 80% done with the mixing for the new full-length album, which is going to be called “The Blue and White” and it will be our second LP of all-original music. It’s quite different I think, there are lots of vocals and different sounds for us. It was recorded and mixed all onto tape too, which has been a real pain in some ways (!) but is so, so worth it- it sounds amazing I think. It will be out in the springtime sometime I think, on vinyl, somehow or other, we haven’t figured out yet.
And then the single is done and will be released on Electric Cowbell Records for Record Store Day in April, it’s the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which was actually recorded for our “Dub to the Bone” album but left off it, and a version of The Police‘s “Hole In My Life” which we recorded for the new album, both extremely whacked-out and different versions, I can’t wait to play it for people.
WRH What’s next for the band?
EG: We haven’t been playing live that much the last few months because I’ve been so focused on finishing these albums, so once we’re done completely with the new LP I’m looking forward to playing a lot more in the new year.
Omega/Whatever’s latest single “Vampire” much like the album’s previous single is deeply indebted to 90s alt rock –in particular, I’m reminded of Vs. and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam but with a wry sense of humor, as the song’s narrator is desperately pleaded for an easy-going, less stressful life to a propulsive, anthemic hook that pairs ethereal synths with twangy and crunchy guitars fed through effects pedals.
The recently released video follows the adventures of a motorcycle helmet wearing, jorts wearing protagonist, who brings a goofy amount of joy to all that crosses his path; but the video manages to evoke a bitter irony at its core — the sort of easy-going life the narrator is pleading for may not be possible; and in fact, the joy that the protagonist brings to everyone, has him passing out exhausted and alone.