Interview by Pete CriglerAss Ponys were one of the most adventurous and exciting alternative rock bands that ended up getting signed in the post-Nirvana major label feeding frenzy of the mid-'90s. Songs like "Julia Pastrana" and their 'hit' "Little Bastard" are just some of the amazing songs the band produced in a recording career that lasted from 1991 until 2001. In 2002, they entered into an extended hiatus while frontman Chuck Cleaver has gone on to form the critically-adored Wussy. He corresponded with me over a number of years and you're about to read the final result.
PSF: When did the band get started?
CC: Late 1988, early '89... our first show was in Newport, KY at a now defunct club called The Tophat. We made $15.00 cash.
PSF: What was the scene like when the band got started?
CC: Extremely diverse, as always. The Afghan Whigs were getting their thing going. The Wolverton Brothers, the Tigerlillies, Middlemarch, Over The Rhine... all kinds of different shit. The clubs were mostly in Clifton. Sudsy Malone's was where we started. On a Tuesday night. Later on, when MTV and whoever was touting all that "Cincinnati Scene" stuff, it was just business as usual for us. Everybody, really.
PSF: How did you hook up with John Curley to produce the band and how did that help the band?
CC: I think we met John via Jimmy Davidson, our patron saint. Ultrasuede was just getting started in a house on Pullan Street in Northside. The board and other recording equipment was on the upper floor if I remember right and we did things in different rooms. I recall singing mostly in the bathroom and playing several guitar parts standing on a bed. The studio's obviously grown since then. Ass Ponys did everything but our last two with John and Wussy's done everything with him. We work well together.
PSF: What happened with Dan (Kleingers, original drummer)? I remember reading that he left to become a glassblower or something?
CC: At the time he quit, Dan said he wanted to learn to blow glass. I'm pretty sure he didn't follow through. Not sure what he's doing these days.
PSF: When did Okra/Safe House shut down and how did you guys deal with that?
CC: Dan Dow, Bela & everyone else at Okra were and remain the salt of the earth. A completely wonderful, honorable experience. The guy at Safehouse was/is a fucking crook. Nuff said.
PSF: How did you get signed by A&M and were you expecting it at all?
CC: We'd recorded the album (1994's Electric Rock Music) and were gonna put it out on our own. A friend of ours at a local radio station said he knew some "label people" and wondered if he could send a cassette to a few of 'em. We said okay so he did. A few weeks later, this guy Jeff Suhy from A&M called me (all that was on the cassette was the band name and my phone number). He said that it had been laying around on his desk for a couple weeks and that he was intrigued that there was no press material, photo, etc. - just a cassette with a name and number. So he finally listened to it and continued to do so for the next 10 days or so. He said he liked it the way it was and had pitched it to the big wigs at A&M and that they'd given it the okay and that he wanted to meet with us. I thought it was a joke and didn't pay much attention... but we actually did end up meeting with him and it came out exactly the way we recorded it.
PSF: What was "success" like and how did you deal with it?
CC: Not sure we were a success. Hard to say. We were pretty much confused the entire time we were there but in retrospect I'm glad to have done it.
PSF: Why did John (Erhardt, founding guitarist) leave and how was the transition with Bill Alletzhauser?
CC: John had a baby daughter at the time and we were gone so much that she didn't know him when he came home. Understandably it freaked him out so he hung it up. It was tough but we understood and supported his decision. Dave knew Bill, so the transition was relatively quick.
PSF: Did you guys know you were going to get dropped and how did you deal with it?
CC: Getting dropped was always a matter of when so it was no big surprise. We were all bummed at different levels but eventually everything settled back into obscurity.
PSF: How did Checkered Past come into the picture?
CC: Interestingly enough, good old Jeff Suhy got us in touch with the Checkered Past guys and we were able to make the best two records we ever did. Again, a totally wonderful experience.
PSF: When did the label close down and how you guys deal with that situation again?
CC: I think they quit right around the time Lohio came out but I'm not completely sure. We were accustomed to closing labels down so it wasn't all that big of a deal.
PSF: When did John come back and how did that work out?
CC: We kicked Bill out for being a douche a year or so after Lohio came out and John came back shortly thereafter. It worked out really well but I was so burned out on AP (Ass Ponys) and everything else at the time that it never really found legs.
PSF: Are you guys still planning on re-releasing the rest of the catalog along with live stuff?
CC: Yes, eventually Shake-It is planning on re-releasing everything that we can. The A&M stuff's still up in the air but the last two are coming out, intact with extra studio and live songs, in the summer of 2011.
PSF: What is your favorite and least favorite Ass Ponys song?
CC: My favorite? Depends on the day. "Kitten," "Kung Fu Reference," "Dried Up" and "Dollar a Day" are right up there. Least favorite? "California Bingo," maybe.
PSF: What are you currently up to and do you keep in touch with anyone?
CC: I'm playing with Lisa Walker, Mark Messerly and Joe Klug in a band called Wussy. We've put out four full length CD's and two EP's in six years and have a new CD coming out in the late summer/early fall of 2011. I'm also doing some live duo stuff with John Erhardt, the original guitarist in Ass Ponys. He, Randy Cheek and Dave Morrison are all still active in the Cincinnati musical community and I see 'em when I can.
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