Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker sound happy. And why wouldn't they? Three terrific albums since the birth of their band Wussy, and their musical partnership has only grown stronger. Their most recent album, the eponymous Wussy, stands as their most complete album so far. It's the apex of their individually formidable songwriting talents, which have been culled into a singular, irrefutable energy.
"I do think it's our best record," says Cleaver with hesitant confidence. "I mean, I'm happy with it." He pauses: "Whatever that means really."
Cleaver's tone is humble, but there's no doubt that he's very proud of this record and this band — and rightfully so. After almost four years, Walker and Cleaver have solidified a position that makes them another one of those very rare pair of exceptional guy/girl, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife songwriters and performers who seem to constantly deal in margins of their own relationship. Think Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, and, of course, Richard and Linda Thompson. Yet Walker and Cleaver don't necessarily see it that way.
"I don't exactly know about that whole thing about these songs being about us," says Cleaver. "I mean, yes, we wrote these songs, but not every last thing said in them is autobiographical."
"I write about all sorts of things," she says. "Everything isn't about my own life. It's about other things. But people seem to hear stuff in the songs and think it's all about us. I don't think it is. But it's nice to connect with an audience in that way, I suppose."
If Wussy were an autobiographical record, God bless the poor souls whose story it is. Things are amiss in these songs. There's guilt. There's suspicion. Trust is quickly dissolving and dissipating. And then, in the songs' starkest moments, there's resignation.
"It's OK," sings Walker on standout track "Muscle Cars." Cleaver echoes the line "It's OK" as Walker swiftly adds, "Pull me under." And again, Cleaver replies, "Pull me under," with Walker delivering the final and unconditioned ultimatum: "All the way." Cleaver, once again, in the manner of a church congregation's call and response, counters gently: "All the way."
It's a harrowing verse, one that could make the most casual listener imagine that such sentiment could only come from voices in a relationship at the very edge of the abyss. But autobiography?
"That's what's weird to me," says Cleaver. "An author or a novelist can write something completely absurd but nobody would take it to be literal or about them. I can hardly imagine what sort of monster Stephen King would be if people wanted to say his stories were autobiographical. It's just a big leap to go there."
Adds Walker with a laugh, "If the things written on this record were about my life, I certainly would not still be hanging around!"
It's a notion that, as much as it seems to baffle Walker and Cleaver, flatters the both of them as songwriters and as performers.
"We haven't played these songs much yet in front of a live audience," says Walker. "But I look forward to it. The positive comments from critics have been really nice, but it's sort of an abstract thing to me. It's always cool to get in front of an audience and experience the songs with them."
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