It's been a few years since Milwaukee's The Five Mod Four released its split EP with The Wrens. Other than running a pair of labels -- Contraphonic and No Karma -- what has front man Michael Wojtasiak been up to?
Well, he and his band mates were in Detroit recording "Whiskers," the new full-length out now on Contraphonic, with Dave Melkonian, who also performed on the record.
They began with demos for 30 tunes and whittled it down to the 12 low-fi pop numbers that recall the great Scottish Postcard Record bands of the late '70s and early '80s, like Aztec Camera and The Fire Engines. As well as Orange Juice, whose indie classic "Poor Old Soul" The Five Mod Four covers on "Whiskers."
"For me, making the album was kind of like diving headfirst without checking to see if there was any water in the pool," says Wojtasiak. "I'd just spent a couple years musically in a comfort zone, which dissolved a week before recording started. So the whole experience was pretty spontaneous.
"We'd be sitting at dinner and someone would come up with a new vocal harmony and we'd run back and try it. There was the thrill of discovery, but also the very grown-up realization that without a plan, it could end up a disaster."
With so many originals why the cover of "Poor Old Soul"?
"I was driving to the studio, not really sure what songs we were going to attempt, and 'Poor Old Soul' came on the stereo," Wojtasiak recalls. "I listened to it over and over on the way to Detroit, then got there and said 'I think we should learn this.' The next day, it was done. It's one of my favorites on the album, because it just happened. No one had to strangle each other to make it work."
That said, the cover could be something of a Five Mod Four manifesto or statement of solidarity with those Scottish bands -- and others -- who had a knack for a melody and a catchy guitar figure but were content to get it down on tape in an honest, no-nonsense fashion rather than spend a lot of time polishing it and pushing it into the middle of the road.
That's exactly how "Whiskers" feels. Although the band's label says the disc "confidently asserts (the band's) adult voice," the music instead suggests that while Wojtasiak and company may have advanced, they haven't shed their desire to create immediate, fun music.
And Wojtasiak says that his is not the only band out there doing this.
"I think there are tons, even within the bands we know personally. Ten Words for Snow are our label mates and probably my favorite band to see live. Plus they helped make "Whiskers." There's a great band from Oshkosh called The Willis. those guys were in a band 10 years ago called Cookie Bug that were a huge influence on me. I could go on and on."
We'll let him stop here and prepare for The Five Mod Four's upcoming CD release gig on April 22 at Riverwest Commons, but first, we have to ask ... what's the significance of the name?
"Douglas Adams once said 'Nobody writes jokes in base 13.' Well, nobody was naming their bands in long division, so I figured I'd fill the void. The Five Mod Four started out as a solo project, so it all adds up. Pun, unfortunately, intended."
The Five Mod Four Web site is fivemodfour.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.