The situation I'm drinking beers at the U District's Cafe Racer with Shana Cleveland, lead singer of the soulful, psych garage quartet The Curious Mystery; we're sitting in the Cafe's OBAMA Room (that's "Official Bad Art Museum of Art"--a Vespa mirrored like a disco ball sits next to our table). Cleveland lives nearby--she played open mikes here when she moved from L.A. eight years ago--and this is where she first met the musicians who'd become the Sandcastles, the band that backs her solo side project. "I was writing all these quieter songs," she says, "and they just didn't feel right for The Curious Mystery."
I note that she does look a lot like Ronette Nedra Talley. "That's like the best compliment!" she says.
Shop Talk Oh Man, Cover the Ground, the Sandcastles' first full-length, was completed in March and is full of gentle, drifting numbers. "It's about roaming around, rambling," says Cleveland of the album's title.
I ask if she ever gets overwhelmed learning songs for both The Curious Mystery and her solo work.
"I've never been worried about being really tight," she says. "I kind of like it when people are a little bit sloppy, so I just accept it and go with it. I guess it might not happen as much if I only had one band, but I can't say for sure. I might fuck up just as much."
BTW: Music is part of Cleveland's pedigree--her parents both play the blues, and her mother currently heads the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Blues in the Schools program. Today Cleveland is a professed Billie Holiday lover. But as a kid she purposely avoided her parents' kind of music, gravitating instead towards grunge rock, an interest they both encouraged and used as a bribe.
"I have this really funny memory," she says, "I went to this honors high school for a while, and they had this cruise for all of the black kids to get to know each other. And I didn't want to go, and my mom wanted me to, and she was like, 'I'll buy you a Smashing Pumpkins VHS tape if you go.' So I went on the cruise."
Shana Cleveland plays the Comet Tavern this Saturday, August 6, with The Tempers, Cali Giraffes, Corespondents, and Mercy Sounds. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $7.