California guitarist, singer and songwriter Dave Alvin has one of the most impressive resumes in American music. He's been a key element in The Blasters and The Knitters and has even been a member of The Gun Club, The Flesh Eaters and X.
But he's been a solo musician and bandleader for a large chunk of his career by now, with more than a dozen discs under his own name, starting with 1987's "Romeo's Escape."
His latest, "Eleven Eleven" is a swampy, electric blues-based rock and roll record that was written entirely on the road, something he'd never done previously. It also features his brother Phil Alvin and other former members of The Blasters, too.
When we got a chance to ask Alvin – whose website features him in a Deone Jahnke photo snapped at Turner Hall Ballroom – a few questions, we asked about the record, about how he writes and records, about The Blasters and about his Monday, July 4 performance in Milwaukee at Shank Hall with his band The Guilty Ones.
Tickets for that 8 p.m. – which also features Semi-Twang – are $20.
OnMilwaukee.com: Am I right in thinking that "Eleven Eleven" has an even swampier, bluesier sound than your past work?
DA: I could argue with that. But, if you say so – fine by me. Maybe. My last electric album "Ashgrove" was kind of in a similar vein than some of my other recordings – solo and with The Blasters. I just go sonically where the songs tell me to go.
OMC: Do you go into the studio with a specific sound in mind that you try to capture?
DA: I go in knowing the direction i want the song to go – i.e. electric or acoustic. Then I gather the musicians and play together in a circle and see where the song takes us. It's an organic process.
OMC: I'd love to hear a bit about how you write. Are you workman-like about it and sit down and say, "I've gotta write," or does it happen in a more "as it comes" kind of way?
DA: Again, both. I'll take a song anyway it wants to show up. Sometimes you have to be a workman about it. Sometimes it just shows up when you're driving to get hamburgers.
OMC: I suspect you've noticed your songs are sometimes very place-centric. Often that place in California. Do you pluck these places from your imagination to capture a certain vibe or image or are they rooted in specific experiences?
DA: I live on the road of the united states as much or more than I do in California. So while I do consider myself a California songwriter I also consider myself an American songwriter.
OMC: Are you a homebody or do you like to travel?
DA: With who? (Laughs) Sometimes I get tired of the road. Sometimes I get bored at home. I'm Mr. Duality.
OMC: Back when The Blasters were starting out did you imagine that American rock and roll go "back to its roots" in such a big way?
DA: Well, I hoped it would. It comes and goes out of style. I've been doing this so long I see it come and go time and time again. I think its wonderful ... it'll never go away.
OMC: Speaking of The Blasters, does the subject of a reunion come up in this age of rock and roll reunions?
DA: Well, we do some shows occasionally. Just for fun. But beyond me writing 10 songs for my brother to sing, and all of us to get into a studio and not kill each other – the odds are a bit long. I wouldn't hold my breath.
OMC: ou're in Milwaukee on July 4. Anything special planned? A searing version of "The Star Spangled Banner" or something?
DA: I plan to get a beer and a kielbasa. And maybe I'll drop "The Star Spangled Banner" into my guitar solo on my song "4th of July."
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.