Wussy on the West Coast
They have all the ingredients of a band on the verge of commercial success.
They have devoted fans, great press and a new album that has been gushed about on music review blogs and websites. For the past decade it seems Wussy has been standing on the doorstep of greatness, but for some reason, the music-listening public has yet to answer the door.
This rag tag band of do-it-yourself musicians led by bearded frontman Chuck Cleaver and sinewy beauty Lisa Walker, have put out acclaimed album after acclaimed album each time caring less and less if they are ever welcomed into mainstream success.
“We just want to be true to ourselves and do what feels, right,” says Lisa Walker. “We’re done trying to make it, we just want to make good records and focus on that. We’re not trying to be something we are not. We’re not trying to be trendy. We appreciate good music … we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel.”
In a March review of the band’s new album “Strawberry,” critic Robert Chrisgau said “Wussy has been the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005, only nobody knows it except me and my friends.”
That sentiment is shared by the press and fans of the band across the globe, including in Merced where longtime fan Kenny Mostern shelled out the guarantee money to get the band to come to Merced to play at the Partisan on June 19.
“I first listened to Chuck Cleaver and his band the Ass Ponys in the ‘90s, when they were moderately well known on the indie rock circuit,” says Mostern, who twice booked shows in Merced bringing a theatre piece called Migritude and a performance by Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby to the Multicultural Arts Center. “In 2005, when the first Wussy album came out I read a good review of it and bought it, and became hooked. Their second album, “Left for Dead” was my album of the decade.
“I spent time on their website and Facebook feed waiting for them to announce they were coming West, but although they announced they were going a couple times, they never did. When they finally had a real plan, I made sure to get them here.”
That same scenario played out in Washington and in England where a fan covered one of their songs on Youtube and it was such a hit that a small record label is flying them out for a short tour and album release.
“It’s weird,” says Walker. “The press loves us and the people that work with us have told us the reaction they get is either ‘I never heard of these guys’ or ‘I’ve been waiting for them for years.’ It’s always been kind of one or the other.”
So, how does a band that can inspire a critic to call them the best band of the decade and a music buff in Merced to shell out the cash to bring them to the Valley not land on the general public’s radar?
“We don’t pander. We’ve been presented with certain opportunities and haven’t taken them,” says Walker. “I’ve talked to other bands, take whatever that first offer was given to them. They weren’t even a band anymore.”
Cleaver says their singular focus is to make good music and share it with the folks who want to listen to it. He says they will never be prepackaged with fancy haircuts and gimmickry, just old fashioned ‘60s and ‘70s–style rock music and nothing more.
“It’s about getting people to hear our music. Letting people decide for themselves,” says Cleaver. “Word of mouth is undervalued thing. If we have a good crowd you can look out at the people and it’s multi-generational, there’s hipsters and there’s just about everybody.”
That vast appeal likely comes from a brand of music that can only come from a pair of songwriters and a band with a limitless catalog of music in their heads. Cleaver 53, and Walker, 35, have found a rare balance with their music.
“If we were to take a cue from any band we’re like the Rolling Stones,” says Walker. “They write in tandem. Sometimes songs come more fully formed, other times we totally deconstruct it. It kind of always comes together.”