WAMI board president Zoy Begos lauded Milwaukee trio Chief as "the perfect intersection where rock meets heavy metal."
For me, Chief is the living, breathing, Milwaukee spirit of Thin Lizzy: heavy guitars and a pounding rhythm section, but with good songs constructed around melodies.
The band, which comprises three local veterans – Chris Tischler, Matt Liban and Dave Benton (the first two are also 5-Card Studs bandmates) – has a new full-length CD, called "Chief II," arriving officially on May 1 at a Tonic Tavern release party (read on for details).
In advance of the gig, we caught up with Tishler to ask about the band that almost ceased to be, the music that vanished into the ether and the perhaps miraculous new CD from Milwaukee's heavy rocking power trio.
OnMilwaukee: Chief has a new record, tell us about it.
Chris Tischler: The inventively titled "Chief II" is our first full-length release in I don't even know how long. Eight songs, almost 50 minutes running time – whole lotta rock going on in there. Last recorded thing we did was an EP about seven years ago and then slowly came to this latest rock-a-thon we have today.
In all seriousness, we're really proud of it and glad that it finally came to fruition. Had some speed bumps along the way, but the end result is something we didn't necessarily know that we had in us. Jeff Hamilton brought a lot out of me and all of us in the studio; he's good at pushing you when you need to be pushed to get out what he knows you can do as well as hearing certain things a song might need to push it a bit further. That's the sign of a great producer in my book.
Lyrically it's a bit darker than what we've had in the past, but it's also not as personally purging as stuff I've written before. Think that gets a bit heavy handed and old. Musically, it's much heavier and I guess just powerful than anything we've done previously. Even the acoustic tune with the string section on it – brilliantly put together/played by Lode (Lodwijk Brockhuizen) – is pretty heavy.I could go on and on about it, but I just think it's a really strong rock and roll album.
OMC: Sounds like it almost didn't happen. First off, the band was considering calling it quits?
CT: Yes, no, maybe, sorta, not. We did have an "episode" of that nature in the past when we were indeed kind of disbanded, I guess, but in the end we realized that was a stupid call and that we needed to continue this. This time around it was more of just taking time off whether we wanted to or not due to our schedules all being pretty insane.
OMC: What led you to keep going?
CT" When the "breakup" thing happened? Honestly? We hadn't played together for a while, but were still in touch with one another. Matt and myself obviously, as we're in another cover band together anyway, so we work together essentially. Iron Maiden was playing Tinley Park, so we all got tickets and went together. A week later we wrote back and forth seeing if anyone wanted to get together to jam and that was that. Chief was Chief again. That was quite a long time ago, though. Not many people – sometimes probably us included – realize that we've been a band for almost t10en years now.
OMC: And then, there was a studio issue, too, wasn't there? Tell us what happened.
CT: It's a touchy subject, but first and foremost let it be said that it was not any person’s fault...
We recorded this album in three separate, main sessions and they were kind of spread out due to our other commitments. After the first session, we'd done a rough mix of the tunes and sat on them for a while, listening to them on our own for any improvements, fixes, etc., that we could point out when we went in to do the final mix.
Then we'd heard that there was a computer issue in the interim. Meaning, some stuff might've gotten lost into the "digital ether." Then we'd heard everything was recovered and it was all cool. When we went back in months later for mixing, some of the individual tracks were gone.
Boring sounding recording stuff to anyone else, but it's kind of like saving up to buy a really nice car, then going to pay for it and pick it up only to realize your savings have been drained. Total hole in the gut feeling for everyone involved, not just the band.
OMC: Was there a moment after the that when you hesitated and thought, "that's it, I give up?"
CT: Maybe for a small moment, but I don't think so. Yeah, sucks out loud to have that happen, but you either sit there and sulk about it or you just pick up your wounded and keep on marching. I know that Jeff felt terrible that it happened, but what are you gonna do? It was by no fault of his, his work, his studio or anything like that at all. It was just a fluke thing that happened.
In the end it was actually a blessing, really. We'd had a while to sit on the songs we'd recorded and the tracks that we had to play over again for the most part ended up much better than what we'd done initially. It sounded more cohesive at the very least, but I think those tracks were a hell of a lot stronger and had more gusto than what we first played. We'd also had time to write a few more tunes to actually make this thing into a full-length record, as initially we'd toyed with just releasing singles or another EP. We're not a singles band, though. We're a damn rock and roll band.
OMC: What's the state of the band right now?
CT: Chief is awesome. We get along, we're friends and we're brothers by choice. That to me has always been there, but it just seems really, really stronger now. We know our abilities and our limitations, which I think makes anyone in a team stronger anyway. We're a different lot in that we don't play every weekend, tour regularly or put out a record every year ... but when we do any of those things, we do it with more gumption than most out there. Hopefully future schedules will allow us the chance to play more often and get farther out. We have actually talked about doing touring in certain capacities this time around, we just need to do it right so everyone's cool about it. It's hard to be in another band that plays about 100 gigs a year and have any kind of normal life with your families, loved ones and friends, let alone keep a kick-ass rock band going on a regular basis, but we also realize how important Chief is to us all and want to make the best of it and be able to take it where it should go when things arise.
OMC: Give us the details on a release party.
CT: The release party is at Tonic Tavern in Bay View on Friday, May 1. We're filming live footage of the show as well as footage of the accompanying 'revelry' to use in our next video – most likely for track No. 4 off of the album, "Whisperman."
Wanted to do it there as it's a bit more intimate than some other places, not only because it's good for some video footage, but also because it's cool as hell when you can play that close to people. The main gist of this is not just to have a "record release show," but more of just having a kick-ass party and possibly getting some of what goes with that on tape ... toasting beers, boatloads of high-fives and just having a damn good time.
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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.