Amanda Howland's voice is so soft, it sounds as if it were spun from cotton. When she speaks, she barely registers on a tape recorder. She seems an unlikely candidate to front a noise duo that sounds like tires squealing on wet asphalt.
Then again, the cordial gal with the economy-sized laugh seated next to Howland doesn't seem like the type who would pen howling anti-anthems bearing titles like "Diseased Worms Crawling Through a Fractured Skull 2." Nor does the thin, quiet young man standing before them come across as one who would craft tortured squalls of feedback that prod and pester listeners like a school bully on the prowl for milk money. But she does, and he does.
By now, the members of the Cleveland No-Fi Underground are used to scrambling expectations as they do the conventions of modern rock. An eight-member collective that includes the noise duos Black Cabbage, Dead Peasant Insurance, Thursday Club, and I Sing the Body Electric, the No-Fi Underground is a conglomerate of musical misfits who are pooling their resources to build a scene for talented yet difficult oddballs such as themselves. Their albums range from brisk proto-metal to damaged pop, the lone common denominators being abrasiveness and decibel levels that rival a 747 at takeoff.
But if their sounds aren't united, the experiences of the No-Fi gang are. All have had trouble finding like-minded bands to play with and have met with mostly antagonistic responses to their mostly antagonistic music -- from suffering the indignity of having someone blast the jukebox during their set to getting physically assaulted. Having met each other at various shows in the past year, the No-Fi members have banded together to carve a niche in the crowded, often unresponsive local music community.
"If anything, what we want to do is just get the word out that there's something else going on," I Sing the Body Electric drummer Steve Shipcasse explains over a pitcher of beer at the Five O' Clock. To this end, the group is launching a new series of shows, to take place every second Thursday of the month at Pat's in the Flats. Dubbed "No Cleveland," the gigs will serve as a showcase -- and a safe haven -- for some of the city's most unorthodox, adventurous acts.
"One reason that we all got together is to pool the audiences that we have and sort of beat people over the head with it every month, so that we can generate something," Howland says of the series, which kicks off Thursday, October 14, with a bill featuring all four of the No-Fi groups. "We all liked each others' music and went to each others' shows, but we'd just be basically playing for a couple of people, so we thought that if we put everything together and had it regularly, that we'd all be able to build on it."
Since the shuttering of the D.I.Y. spot Speak in Tongues a few years back, Cleveland has lacked a steady outlet for experimental acts. On their own, none of these bands will ever pack a club. They know this.
"We're like, 'It'd be nice if we sold three CDs tonight, made five dollars, bought some drinks, that'd be pretty good,'" chuckles Kat Stewart, who sings and plays farfisa in Black Cabbage. Together, they should have no trouble funding a couple rounds. It's a start.
"There are other bands that are doing things outside of a conventional setting, as far as punk rock goes, and I think what this does is provides an outlet for them," says Robert Resch, bassist in I Sing the Body Electric. "I think this makes it OK."
The collective is open to the participation of other bands. (No-Fi can be reached at www.ebuh.com/no-fi/.)
"I think ultimately, we're all doing this pretty much for our own amusement," says Black Cabbage bassist Jeff Curtis. "I think the reason why it's called 'No Cleveland' is that if people want to come up and give us shit about it, it's like we'll just say, 'No!' We don't care. We're still going to keep doing this. I think we all sort of feel like there must be other people out there who feel the same way we do."
They'll find out on Thursday.