Even as a child, Kade Weinmann had a tendency to absorb media, voraciously reading books and listening to podcasts and narrative-driven songs. In more recent years, though, these binges have become more focused, serving as a sort of stage-setting for the songwriting process the musician has adopted in Cellar Dwellar.
Prior to starting on the band’s first album, for instance, Weinmann read up on Eastern religions and worked his way through director David Lynch’s film catalog, which lent the songwriting a more surrealist, at times spiritual quality. And for the sextet’s forthcoming record, expected out sometime this winter, the singer pivoted to the paranormal and “high-strangeness events,” as he termed them, which meant taking in the collected works of Philip K. Dick, among other materials.
“Normally when I know I want to go into a phase of writing, I’ll absorb as much as I can,” said Weinmann, who will join his bandmates in concert at Midwest Psych Fest, which takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, at Troubadour Farm in Galena, Ohio. (Cellar Dwellar is currently slated to perform at 11:10 p.m. on Saturday. You can find a full schedule and roster of performers here.) “So, for this new one, it was anything Philip K. Dick, anything on the occult, and anything on alien abduction. I studied alien abduction cases and what some theories were for the zeitgeist of the 1960s UFO surge, trying to get a feel for people’s mental states.”
While Weinmann has control over this intake, he abdicates it once he picks up the pen, describing the writing as a freeform, stream-of-consciousness process over which he holds little influence. Indeed, the musician said it can sometimes be weeks or months before he gains some grasp of what he is actually wrangling with in a song. As an example, he pointed to a track on the band’s debut that he initially believed to be rooted in repeated viewings of “Twin Peaks,” but which he later realized dealt with the death of his sister and the weighty emotions he grappled with in the wake of her passing.
“In the moment, I was unaware that it was coming from a personal place,” Weinmann said of the song, “Dweller on the Threshold.” “And then three, six months down the road, it was like, okay, I understand better why I was writing that. But it wasn’t a conscious decision. … It was almost a way of mourning her passing through that psychedelic sound.”
While Weinmann started Cellar Dwellar as a pandemic-era solo project, the band has since swelled to six members, the singer joined by Jayci Kaufman, Nico Linik, Nick Partridge, Adi Mars and Jesse "Iron" Lung. As the membership expanded, the group’s sound has become wilder and more untamed, reflecting the sense of control Weinmann begrudgingly sacrificed in opening up the roster to new contributors.
“That absolutely was not easy,” Weinmann said, and laughed. “And actually, I fought it a lot and it caused a lot of disagreements. And it’s something I still struggle with, at points. … But this isn’t my solo project anymore. It’s a band. And at the end of the day, I have to put my stubbornness away and trust that ultimately, we’re going to make decisions that are going to best serve the song.”
There are other pitfalls of starting a band which Weinmann sidestepped more readily, recalling how he came into Cellar Dwellar with an awareness of how music can become an ego-driven pursuit for some. From the jump, this led the group to lend its talents to a range of activist causes, the musicians performing at protests against Dwell (formerly Xenos) and in support of reproductive rights, and then later organizing a backyard festival to raise music education funds for low-income youth.
“People can get into a band and pursue music for egotistical reasons, so this is a way for us to circumvent that and make sure we’re doing some good for the local community,” said Weinmann, who attributed this urge to the lessons he learned in the Mosaic program at Central Crossing High School in Grove City. “It was an arts and politics program, and the goal was to organize events around Columbus. … I know we did a big climate change event, and we did a project to try and get women’s health products in more public bathrooms. … Being in that program definitely shaped Cellar Dwellar as a band.”
It has not, however, impacted the music itself, which tends toward the surrealist rather than serving as a more direct bulwark against the world’s ills. This is a lesson Weinmann learned early on, recalling how the first song he wrote for the band, “Rapture,” fell flat in its delivery, its messaging hitting far too on the nose. “People on the street yelling ‘blood and soil,’” he sings at one point, making explicit reference to the rise of white nationalism and an associated, ugly strain of fascism that have grown unfortunately pronounced in recent years.
“I was really conscious of having this grand message and it didn’t pan out,” Weinmann said. “I’ve learned the stuff where I just let it flow out, at least to me, is significantly better.”