By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 11, 2005 at 5:21 AM

{image1}Paul Amitai is a fixture on the Milwaukee scene and has been for a decade now. He started out as singer and guitarist for local ska favorites The Pacers and later was part of the downtempo electronica outfit Jookbeat.

In between, he studied film and worked as an engineer at Citizen King's Bionic Studios and has been writing, recording and performing as a solo performer and as part of numerous collaborative projects.

So, it might come as a surprise that Amitai is just now releasing his first solo CD, "River of Shadows." What's not unexpected is that the disc is as wide-ranging as Amitai's musical career to date.

As he prepares for a collaborative performance with Collections of Colonies of Bees that will serve as the release party for "River of Shadows," Amitai talked to us about the record and about playing well with others.

OMC: It seems like the first disc is long overdue. How long have you been working on it?

Paul Amitai: Yeah, it's been a long time coming. Some of the songs go back almost 10 years, but the recording process began in earnest about four or five years ago. It's evolved as I've gone from putting together rhythm tracks on an Akai MPC sampler to multi-track recording on a Roland digital eight-track to more heavy-duty editing and processing when I finally bought a computer three years ago.

The scary thing is that I haven't put anything out really since the days of The Pacers, even though I've been busy performing and recording all along. I recorded and produced a full-length with my former band Jookbeet in '98, but never put it out. So this is my first "official" album in a long time.

In a lot of ways, I think it was good to let it incubate for a while. If a song still holds up three years later, that's a good sign. I've had time to perform stuff live, go back home and re-arrange it, adjust it until it feels complete. At the same time, eventually you have to move on or you'd keep tweaking it forever.

OMC: You've got such diverse and wide-ranging tastes and the record reflects that. Do those influences just come out in your music or do you consciously plug them in to the music?

PA: I think the album is a pretty honest reflection of where I'm coming from, more so than anything I've done in the past. The influences are all pretty well synthesized in my brain by this point, but over the years I feel I've become more comfortable in my own voice. I have greater control over my own abilities and limitations as a singer/instrumentalist/songwriter. There's definitely elements of many things that move me: The Wailers, Jacob Miller, King Tubby, Steve Reich, Nina Simone, Bowie, Coltrane, Sly Stone, etc. But it's not a conscious thing on my part to try collage together all of these references. I am, however, interested in trying to find a meeting point between soul music, electronic music, and more experimental forms.

The songwriting process develops in a lot of different ways for me. Sometimes it will start with lyrics, vocals and some skeletal chord changes, sometimes it starts with a sequenced rhythm idea. Sometimes I'll have bits and pieces of each of these elements and I'll just randomly plug them in together and see if they work. I'm definitely into chance operations. Whatever I can do to get outside of my own clichés.

OMC: How do you strike a balance between electronic elements and traditional instrumentation?

PA: I don't really think about it. Whatever suits the mood, or suits the idea best. It's not necessary to have both to make the idea complete. But I do like the combination of traditional instruments with more heavily processed elements. Incorporating singing also seems to warm things up in relation to the digital/electronic. The human voice adds some immediacy or intimacy to the music. But since I've played in live bands as well as worked on more studio-bound projects -- film soundtracks, music concrete "tape pieces" -- it's a pretty fluid transition between "live" performance, programming and editing.

OMC: Tell us about your live collaborations, such as the upcoming one with Collections of Colonies of Bees. Will you do your music or theirs or a bit of both? What do you take home from these kinds of collaborative projects?

PA: Collections of Colonies of Bees will be backing me on my songs. I'm a big fan of the Bees as well all of the members' other projects. Jon Mueller and Chris Rosenau were in Pele among other bands. Mueller runs his own experimental music label called Crouton Music. Jon Minor and Jim Schoenecker had a really cool electronic label called Topscore. Minor and Schoenecker also recorded and performed as Dartanjal and Lo-Fidelity Index. All of the music these guys have been making has been among my favorite stuff. So whenever I'd see them, I would always hit them up with CDs of the songs I had been working on. I was flattered to find that they were really into what I was doing, and they approached me about playing together. Secretly, I had envisioned working together, so it was nice that the feeling was mutual.

So far in rehearsal, it sounds really great. They will be adding percussion, guitar, bass, keys and electronics on top of the sequenced material with which I normally perform live. In some cases, the live instrumentation will replace the sequenced stuff. But the combination of both live and programmed elements is working nicely. It definitely adds weight and greater dynamic to the material.

OMC: Will you keep doing solo shows to promote the record?

PA: I'll probably continue to do solo shows as it's just more feasible at this point. But playing with the Bees is a nice validation and a cool support system. I'm playing with a bunch of guys whom I really respect, and they completely get what I'm trying to do.

Paul Amitai's Web site is The "River of Shadows" release party is Saturday, Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. at Onopa Brewing. Also on the bill are Emotional Joystick, Digitata and DJ John BTS.WRKNG.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.