Like almost everyone else, John Hoffman’s schedule – the 2019 touring as a guitarist for the local punk band Vacation, Engineering recordings and mixing live sound – lightened in March.
Because of the pandemic, bands like Vacation came off the streets and there weren’t any live shows Hoffman could mix.
He had time for other activities. Some concerned social justice. He attended the infamous June Cincinnati City Council meeting when a councilor, David Mann, was closed and left office. During the street protests around this time, Hoffman turned into a walking public address system.
“I have this powered PA speaker that you can just plug a microphone into,” explains Hoffman, “and the first day of protest after the first one that we gathered like random aggressive people on Main Street in the courthouse and everyone was shouting their frustration at the cops guarding the buildings, but I realized that these cops couldn’t hear all of the really powerful things people were saying to them, so I got the idea I have my PA speaker with me Backpack style strap mounted on my chest. The only way to get it powered by a car battery. That’s why I carried this car battery in my backpack on my back and a PA speaker on my chest. “
Not every Cincinnatian appreciated ingenuity. Hoffman recalls, “This one guy drove past me the first day I brought it out, and he stopped his car in the middle of Main Street and just said, ‘I hope it’s hard. ‘”
Hoffman also used his free time to put together a new band. The timing was right because the musicians he had in mind were off the road and free too.
Maura Weaver and Megan Schroer had been together for several years in different bands and toured separately in Cincinnati bands and outside of town. That stopped in March.
The trio called their band Mimes and asked a question: what can a band be if they can’t play live shows?
“The bands I’ve been doing for a few years have been mostly touring, bands that I’m kind of a rented weapon with,” says Weaver, who most recently played with Schroer in the San Jose band Ogikubo Station and the Pittsburgh band The Homeless toured gospel choir. Cincinnatians may also know Weaver from the pop-punk group Mixtapes. “The fact that we couldn’t play opened it up for me creatively where there was no pressure to be successful in a touring format. I feel like I’m with other bands sometimes. Because we can’t play shows, it’s like we can do whatever we want. And now I think, why haven’t I done this with my creative projects before? “
“The other bands that we both did, Maura and I, already had a solid idea and sound, so we had to work within that framework, while with the Mimes we just wanted to write what we feel, I like it, too the time to write and throw it together, and it doesn’t have to sound like something specific, and every song can sound different or the same, ”says Schroer. “It’s just all that happens.”
“We only smoke until something sounds cool,” explains Hoffman.
The group has completed “Plastic Pompeii”, their 35-minute debut album. The 11 songs on the album are everywhere. There’s “Heirloom Sins Part II” that could qualify as a sweet, if not juicy, piano ballad until it ends up going insane. There’s a lot of fuzzy lo-fi pop, such as the title track, which features a spoken part by local hip-hop artist Siri Imani. and there is the song “David Mann” about David Mann.
“David Mann is tired and wants to see his wife,” the song begins. “It feels like he’s been in the office all his life.”
“In a way, it’s subtly a wink because punk bands are so often political,” says Hoffman. “And I thought it would be really funny if a band was all about local politics.”
The band plans to self-release “Plastic Pompeii” digitally and on cassette before the vinyl version is released on Let’s Pretend Records, the Bloomington, Indiana label, whose catalog includes releases from other Cincinnati bands such as Vacation and Swim Team . Instead of playing live shows, the mimes have taken the route of the music video. To date, the band has released four videos.
“When we started we thought we couldn’t play shows. So how can we prove that we are worth what we create? Because in the studio you can do anything to make yourself sound like a good band. Thats is quite easy. And we say, oh let’s do some music videos, as many as possible, so we have something other than just the footage, ”says Hoffman. “Because you can get on a band’s record and see them live, and they can just be totally awkward, not putting on an exciting show at all.”
But the day will come when the mimes will have the opportunity to leave the recording studio, step away from the camera, and make their way to the stage. What will happen? Will they go back to their previous pre-pandemic commitments, leaving the Mimes behind? If the Mimes stay a band, will they even know how to play a song in front of a live audience?
“We play a different instrument every time we record,” says Hoffman. “With the live setup, I don’t even know how we’d go about it because it’s like, OK, do we switch instruments between songs or do we just commit to one instrument so that it gets streamlined?
“I’m definitely very concerned about this. I had this dream when we were playing a show at the Comet. It was the Mimes’ first show, but we hadn’t practiced before. I can’t remember how to play any of these songs on our album if I haven’t sat down and practiced them. And I had this dream where we came to our show and when our set started I said, ‘Oh, (the hell), I don’t know any of these songs. ‘“
“But we’re not going to play a show anywhere in the next six months,” says Schroer.
“Probably a lot longer,” says Hoffman.
“Yes,” says Schroer. “More than that.”