By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 17, 2006 at 5:30 AM
Although Peter Buffett no longer lives in Milwaukee, he spent enough years writing, recording and performing in Brew City that we haven’t forgotten him quite yet.

So, we approached his new disc, “Gold Star,” with open ears and were surprised to hear Buffett -- who is best known for his award-winning, mostly instrumental movie scores -- singing pop songs!!

And Buffett is more than just a masterful composer and producer, it turns out. He can sing, too!

The 12 songs on the disc, released on his own BisonHead Records, are melodic and lush and recall the likes of Peter Gabriel for their varied sounds, their modern feel and for the timbre of Buffett’s voice.

We recently hooked up with Buffett to ask about the disc and the feeling of hearing his own voice on tape!

OMC: Why the decision to move into vocal pop music?

PB: There was always a songwriter hiding somewhere inside! My Comet9 project was the first real step in that direction a few years back. I had written and sung songs back when I was in college. They were pretty bad, frankly. But I felt that the only way I could express what was going on in my life was through traditional songwriting -- so I took the plunge.

OMC: You didn’t sing with Comet9, did you?

PB: I didn't sing with the band. But I definitely formed it because I was itching to write some pop songs.

OMC: Did it feel like a pretty major move or the logical next step?

PB: In a funny way, both. It was a major move for me personally, but the songs just started to come out. So it felt natural in a surprising sort of way.

OMC: Having previously only done instrumental music, were you self-conscious about singing and hearing yourself on the playback?

PB: Most definitely! I'm still getting used to it. And nearly everyone that's listened that knows me is very surprised at the sound of my voice … so I'm not alone, I guess. It helps that I can hide in a room with a microphone and a computer and do it all myself.

OMC: Did you have sort of a pop music touchstone that you used as an inspiration for the project. Not somebody you were seeking to imitate, but maybe someone whose music made you think, "that's what I want to do."

PB: Well, even though you don't hear it too much in the music -- except for “Broken Idol,” Beck was a huge influence. He really makes you feel that anything is possible within pop music. And when I first heard Gerry Rafferty many, many years ago I thought that that's what I wanted to sound like vocally.

OMC: I felt like a heard a distinct Peter Gabriel vibe. I guess he could have been called the Beck of his generation in some ways: open ears, especially, and willing to incorporate everything.

PB: Absolutely. I think the song "Shed" really sounds like him, and there are some other places where that's true as well.

OMC: Who were the musicians on the record or was it a 100 percent solo project?

PB: It's 100 percent solo. Which amazes me -- I've been working in a home studio environment since 1979, believe it or not. And it has come to the point where nearly anything you can imagine is possible with the software -- at least in the musical world that I like to inhabit.

OMC: And what now? Will you perform the songs live? Are you onto another project already?

PB: I've definitely thought about how to perform these songs live. That would be a huge step for sure. Right now I'm focusing on getting the songs out in the world. Which is no easy task. Anyone who thinks you can put up a Web site and you'll be discovered is wrong! I am doing some targeted radio promotion and working on getting the songs into the hands of music supervisors. The only way any of these songs will break through is if they find a home in a movie or T.V. show. There's no way I'm getting in a van and traveling the country, playing clubs! I'm way too old...

Other than that, I'm in the process of writing more material -- there will be at least one more of these albums -- and also scoring a few documentaries and small films.
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 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.