"It was our seventh show before we had one that didn't feature at least the threat of the band breaking up!" The room laughs as Sam Womelsdorf chronicles the volatile history of his three-piece multimedia collaborative, Culture Queer. The group has existed since early '99 as a side project for the busiest Girl in Fairmount, Dana Hamblin; ex-Throneberry co-founder and current Loveland magistrate, Womelsdorf; and Scott Fredette, a photographer/film conceptualist. CQ saturates the visual aspect of their performances, projecting an unpredictable array of video images onto a screen behind them, while their bassless attack allows for a sonic sparseness where the three distinct voices cohabit their groovy electric lounge. The blend will be further enhanced by a narrative storyline, a musical play in two acts, when the band appears Oct. 20 at the Contemporary Art Center.
"The idea to have the video stuff was there right at the band's conception; it was not at all an afterthought," explains Womelsdorf, who starred in the local production of the award-winning Warren Leight play, Side Man, last fall at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. A graduate of UC's drama program, he also pops up on cable in his role as Harry Connick Jr.'s roommate in Jodie Foster's directorial debut, Little Man Tate. Womelsdorf's inventiveness is the backbone of Culture Queer's music, while his dry stage manner often plays the foil to the onstage drama provided by the other two.
Hamblin brings a diversified background to the project, too. Known first as the dervish/bassist/vocalist in legendary Trailercore juggernaut Ditchweed, she has expanded her output in numerous directions. She was once at the center of the Girl Posse, an Indie Rock power clique that threatened social takeover in the early '90s.
Her visual sensibilities have helped shape the look of the Clifton Rock scene through a series of fashion shows she's participated in. She taught herself to play the drums and helped to propel her Fairmount Girls to one of the top original bands in the city, while maintaining her vintage clothing boutique, Daughter Judy, in Northside. The ultimate pack rat, Hamblin has accumulated 50 time capsules of pop culture, and this submersion tends to inform, in some way, every piece of visual imagery with which she is associated.
The secret ingredient, however, is Fredette, a longtime friend of Womelsdorf, who more recently found mutual admiration with Hamblin concerning matters of taste. Fredette edits their often hilarious video projections, in which they all star. So uninhibited by expectations is this enigmatic acid, who when added, can make the beaker go "BOOM!" but usually will catalyze such equally profound non-moments so as to create a vague feeling of Lynchian bafflement.
"We don't really know what effect it has," Fredette begins when asked of the impact, in terms of content, that the video has on the music. "We can't stand there and watch it, but I do turn to check it occasionally, and sometimes it matches up pretty well. You know, serendipity."
Hamblin adds, "It's been a huge adjustment playing onstage with this band, because as you look out at people, you get no reaction. They are all watching TV."
The reactions have actually been very positive, and with the track records of its members, CQ have had little trouble getting quality shows at clubs like Sudsy Malone's and the Southgate House. It may have been March of '99 when the group debuted, supporting the revered Slo-core band Low (but don't ask these three, my inquiry only prompted contention, confusion and steely looks), but they have also been featured on bills in word-of-mouth party venues downtown and in Covington. These new venues are contributing to a newfound rejuvenation.
"There has been very little spirit for going to see bands in the traditional sense," says Fredette. "But integrating additional layers to the presentation helps."
They will be the first "normal Rock band" to appear as part of the CAC's Friday series, when they unveil their two-act play on Oct. 20. "The first act is called 'The Rehearsal,' " jokes Womelsdorf, when asked if the band wanted to tip its hand concerning the storyline of the newest endeavor, so it seems to be a work in progress. But the conception stage is relished here.
"What makes this band different from any I've been in, or am in, is the way we collaborate," says Womelsdorf. "Everyone's just so fertile with ideas that if we had to, I think we could write a record in a week. Since there is no bass, it changes the musical dynamic dramatically and for the better. We take that aesthetic plunge, and we do feel naked without the bass sometimes, but the payoff is that you can really hook-up the guitar with the drums, and getting that done creates a ton of space for everyone's singing."
Their name originated from bygone Lakota High School social labeling, where kids who looked strange and didn't play sports were designated Culture Queers.
"It was Ali (Edwards of Ruby Velios) who hipped us," explains Hamblin. "We've had a few funny situations where someone has recognized the term."
Fredette feels that the promises of the conveniently-named smoking cessation aid, Nicoderm CQ, are also apropos for the band -- "The power to fight, the power to comfort, the power to MAKE YOU QUIT."
With the band's highest profile engagement approaching, here's hoping nobody quits. ©