By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 21, 2009 at 5:26 AM

For those of you that want to rock ... salute the Chief!

A hard-rockin', three-piece rock and roll outfit, Chief got together about three years ago when guitarist Chris Tischler and drummer Matt Liban -- who have been in numerous local bands over the years -- joined bassist Dave Benton and sort of unwittingly became a band.

Chief recently released its second CD, the four-song EP "The Reign of Rock," which follows the self-titled 2007 debut full-length. The band celebrates with a CD release gig Friday, Jan. 23 at Frank's Power Plant in Bay View. Decapitado also plays at the 10 p.m. show. Cover is $5.

"I don't think any of us were really out to 'form' a band," says Tischler. "I wasn't really out to 'form' a band again. For one, I was already fairly full time with the cover band I was in and had finally kind of 'shaken' the feeling that I simply had to be in an original band all the time."

But, Tischler recalls, there was a spark there at the early rehearsals.

"Once Dave, Matt and I finally got together, we'd run through some of my older songs and after about the second time getting together we pretty much knew we were a 'thing.' It's a pretty natural and easy feeling playing with those guys."

And the spark is evident on the two discs, which are hard rock but with a touch of restraint. Think more Thin Lizzy than Led Zeppelin. Considering their enviable talent it's not remarkable that these three guys can pull of what seems an unlikely sound -- based on their other projects (like The 5 Card Studs, Hudson, Johnny and The Losers, Mother's Room, Loyal Order of Water Buffalo, etc.) - but even given that, Tischler's spot-on metal squeal is both alarming and funny.

But don't think for a second that Chief is a joke band. The songs are well-written and although, Tischler says, there is a hint of irony, he and his bandmates take the music seriously.

"Sure, there's a bit of 'caricature' -- for lack of a better term -- happening within it," he says. "Thing is, when the song is happening, the sh*t's all real, man. Sure, when I sing a line like ‘I've always been a rocker, it's just time to rock some more...,' it may sound corny and I might sound like I'm trying to sing it all 'rocker dude' and whatnot, but I'm not bullshitting when I'm doing it. It's very real to us and very near and dear to me. Otherwise why the hell would I/we bother doing it?"

But you Studs fans, especially, won't be surprised to find that Tischler and the boys like to have a good time.

"As with any music that you write and perform, you can't be in a constant state of 'Ooo, I'm so serious' that you can't occasionally poke fun at yourself or just have fun with it while it's happening. I know because I've done that in bands before because I felt that's how I was supposed to be. Act like that and it gets to a point where you don't even want to be around yourself because you've turned into a major drag.

"You should take Chief pretty seriously, but have as much fun with it as we do, if not more. ... We're not up there shoegazing or standing still and shit-we're up there going full-tilt and rocking our asses off every time we play."

For someone who escapes reality regularly with his band The 5 Card Studs, Tischler finds Chief to be a means of release from the release.

"It's a total release in general; at times very cathartic, as well. The cover band thing is a release in itself as it's all 'pretend.' Actually for me, that's the thing that's a little bit different, not the other way around. In Chief it's the classic way of 'getting out' what's inside. Sure, sometimes the delivery can be a little bit tongue in cheek, but it's still the thing that I do musically that's 'real'."

And what is real for Chief? Tischler says it's not as simple as just name-checking Phil Lynott and other classic rock outfits working in a similar vein. When I mention Lynott's Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake (there is that yelp he does, after all) ...

Tischler quips: Lizzy? Hell, yes. The 'Snake? At least not consciously. However, far be it from me to send back a plate of metal just because there might be some hair in it.

"We listen to many different kinds of music and, although it might not seem like it on first listen, it all influences what we play. Sure-there's the 'rock' spectrum of it all: Grand Funk Railroad, Zeppelin, The Who, UFO, Dave-era Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon -- yes, I said Saxon -- more 'recent' examples like Queens Of The Stone Age and Danko Jones. There are also things you probably wouldn't get at first glance, though: Jeff Buckley, Elvis Costello, Dinosaur Jr. -- loud and quiet - hell, even Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Tom Jones creep in there vocally once in a while."

Chief is out there playing gigs, but due to other commitments, maybe not as often as some bands, but it has released two records in two years, so the trio is working pretty hard. The new disc, Tischler says, is a sort of document of the year since the debut was released.

"It was just a sampling of the stuff we'd been working on since we released the first record. The four tunes on the EP were obviously just the ones that were the tightest of the bunch. We also had an opportunity to try a different recording atmosphere than where we usually do it. Everything just kind of fell into place from there. It was pretty easy ... it went pretty quickly."

But ask Tischler if he expects Chief to take off and compete with the 5 Card Studs for his (and Liban's) time and it's clear a chord is struck.

"I never expected to be in a cover band for 13 years, but I have been," he says. "Who can tell what can happen? One of the major things about being in both bands that sucks is that any time anyone's ever asked me about Chief, it's never been about just Chief; the 5 Card Studs always get mentioned in almost the same breath (guilty as charged, -ed.).

"To me that's somewhat unfair to Chief, as it gets seen as some kind of 'pet project' or something just because it's not as 'busy' in public or makes as much money as the other thing. Whether it 'takes off' or not for me is somewhat irrelevant. As long as the three of us have fun with it and it maintains itself as a creative entity-and still rocks-then it will keep going. As busy as the Studs can be, I still fight to have it not compete with Chief, because if I don't have something like Chief, I go nuts."

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.