My Soapbox: Lisa Walker, Wussy singer, guitarist

2011 ended with a four-star Rolling Stone review for Cincinnati’s Wussy, the indie rock band that records on the local label, Shake It. The critically acclaimed group has been recording since 2005, garnering praise from Village Voice, the Washington Post and a host of online critics. But band members remain humble and hard-working. When she's not making music, Indiana-born Walker keeps hungry diners happy at Melt—she's even been known to deliver an order or two to Melt-neighbor, Northside Tavern. In honor of the latest acclaim for Strawberry, Soapbox’s Evan Wallis sat down with Northsider 34-year old Lisa Walker, Wussy singer and guitarist, to talk about the local music scene, inspiration and how SXSW-bound Wussy defines success.

SB: What defines a successful album for Wussy?
Walker: One where we all get to play the parts that we want and we all like it in the end. We never know what people will think, but if in the end, people like what we put out there, that’s awesome for us. We don’t really make music for other people, but anytime you put something you spent so much time and energy on, you do hope other people like it.

SB: A couple days ago, your Twitter account said, “Is it weird to get excited when I see our record come up on pirate sites?” Why’s that?
Walker: It’s the new radio. That is how people find out about your music. The music industry is always changing and you have to pay attention. We make all our own art for the albums and try to give people something they actually want to buy. They find out about us from the Internet, then come to a show and maybe they buy our CD there.

SB: How do you think the local music scene is doing right now?
Walker: It’s great. It’s kind of a sleeper city. Things that fly temporarily on the East and West coasts wouldn’t fly here. There aren’t fads. If people pay attention to something here, it’s because they genuinely like it.

SB: What can a vibrant music scene do for a city?
Walker: It gives the city part of its identity. It’s not just about the association. Because the artists live and work in the towns, they understand the mindset of the city and become a mouthpiece for it. Sort of like a poet laureate for the town. Just how music helps individuals express themselves, if a town embraces their music scene, the music can help the city express itself.

SB: What needs to be done to build a vibrant music scene?
Walker: More of what is happening now. Over the past year, I went to a lot of shows in scenes I wasn’t really familiar with, and there is so much incredible stuff happening. Bands that are touring, going to festivals and making our city look awesome. There is a lot of self-loathing in Cincinnati, but once people make peace with it, everyone seems to be really proud that they are from Cincinnati, and I think that speaks to what music can do for a town.

SB: Some bands like the Heartless Bastards or the Greenhornes have gotten recognition then moved to a different city. Have you always wanted to stay here?
Walker: We’ve always wanted to stay here. A couple of us have tried to leave, but it never works. We like it here better. If you have even a little bit of money in Cincinnati, you can do a lot. The music festivals around town are a good example. They have gotten big corporate sponsors and local ones, too. There is a lot of opportunity in Cincinnati.

SB: Does Cincinnati play a part in shaping your music?
Walker: Yes. We don’t just write about our individual relationships, but our friends and coworkers, the people we love. All those people live in Cincinnati like us. When we tour, we get comments that we sound Midwestern. I’m not really sure what that means, but I think people outside of Cincinnati like the music because it’s novel to them. People have even said that they are from the Midwest but now live in New York or somewhere and that our music reminds them of back home. We’re just writing what we now. We know Cincinnati.

SB: Is Cincinnati a good town for artists?
Walker: I think so. I think a lot of it has to do with the cost of living. I don’t pay much for my place and it’s beautiful. I work, but compared to friends that have moved to somewhere like New York, if they don’t make it big immediately, they are stuck. With a low cost of living you get more free time to do what you want. If you’re a creative person, ideally, that free time is when you create what you love. You even have time to watch a little TV, then make a band.

Interview by Evan Wallis
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