A few years ago, on this site, I suggested that Milwaukee’s Stephanie Dosen was poised for the big time. After all, Dosen has a great voice, is a fine guitar player and a talented songwriter.
But, after releasing her debut disc, "Ghosts, Mice & Vagabonds" locally, things seemed to quiet down for Dosen, who relocated to Nashville.
But if you think I was wrong, think again. Dosen has never stopped working hard and now she's based in London with a record deal and a new CD hitting the racks soon via V2/Bella Union. She was featured on a recent MOJO Magazine CD and has been touring Europe extensively.
We decided to catch up with her just as “A Lily for the Spectre” is being readied for release. The new disc is breathy, melodic and ethereal, which means she found the perfect collaborator in former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde.
When we first talked to Dosen, she was in an Amsterdam hotel room, but most of her replies come from her current hometown in England.
OMC: It's been a long time since we talked. Let's go back a bit; what happened after you recorded the first CD?
SD: After I recorded "Ghosts, Mice & Vagabonds" I tried to do all I could to promote it and sell it independently. I played a ton of shows around the Milwaukee/Chicago area. I played college shows. I cried in my basement. None of that really seemed to work. It's not easy being a little indie artist. You have to be tough or stupid to keep going.
OMC: It had seemed here that you had kind of fallen off the scene for a bit. But you didn't stop working, you just left town, right?
SD: I got a ton of advice when I was in Milwaukee, most of it was, "we want you to stay, but you really should go to L.A. or Nashville if you want to be in the music business." I found a lovely manager in Nashville and began to sort out my next record. I had close calls with several different major labels they flew me out to L.A. for showcases and then said that my music was "too arty" or wasn't "pop" enough, or that I was too old. I just kept writing, and playing shows and polishing my dentures.
OMC: It was pretty amazing to pick up MOJO magazine and see that you had a cover of a Beatles tune on Sgt. Pepper's covers CD. Did you record the track especially for that project?
SD: MOJO contacted the labels and I think within an hour or two it was all decided. There was a sort of feeding frenzy to try to get on the disc and then to try to get your favorite song. It was like musical chairs and I luckily got a very nice chair. I covered "Within You Without You" by George Harrison.
OMC: Tell us a bit about how you hooked up with Bella Union.
SD: Simon Raymonde who owns Bella Union contacted me on myspace. I was a big fan of the Cocteau Twins and so I immediately began to properly freak out. We began working on my second record. He encouraged me to make the record I wanted to make, not the record that “the business” wanted. So I was incredibly free to do exactly what I wanted. It’s called “A Lily for the Spectre” and it comes out in the U.K. on June 11. It is being released in Europe by V2 records.
OMC: They sent you on a tour of the U.K. in February, too. How did that go? Did you get a good response there?
SD: It was a whirlwind and very fun with good response. I went on tour with Duke Special and after that with label mates Robert Gomez and Midlake. Its a good thing I had cut my teeth playing Milwaukee bars, it got me ready for a Glasgow audience.
OMC: Tell us a bit about recording the album. What was the experience like compared to doing your previous recording?
SD: Half of the record was made in Kentucky at a friends' studio in the mountains. It was deep in a hollow of a mountain. It was magical because it was full of owls and quite possibly an albino big foot of some sort. There are birds on my vocal tracks here and there because it was impossible to keep them quiet or reason with them. I then sent the tracks to Simon and he played bass and piano and produced the rest adding strings etc. It was all done by post and online across the ocean.
OMC: And the response to the record has been...
SD: I've had some kind press in the U.K. I got a four-star review in MOJO so I had a dance party right then and there to celebrate. I invited every bird and squirrel in the vicinity for nuts and to get sh-t-faced.
OMC: Are you writing up a storm these days? Are you a prolific songwriter?
SD: I've been traveling so much there hasn’t been time alone enough to write. But I’m storing up for winter like a bear ... collecting stories and ideas and hurts to scratch at later. If I was home I'd be writing, I think.
OMC: Do you get back to Milwaukee much?
SD: I live in London right now (and) I really love it but I do miss Milwaukee. You can’t get Count Chocula or buttered popcorn here and it’s devastating.
OMC: What do you miss most about the city?
SD: Milwaukee's pickles, my friends, Lake M, the Brewers, Summerfest, "fill-in-the-blank fest" and Jimmy Johns after the bars close.
OMC: Any U.S. tours planned? When can your hometown fans see you live?
SD: I should be doing some U.S. touring next year. It would be sooner but we are staying in U.K. and Europe this year. Tie a ribbon though please because I'll be very happy to see my Milwaukee again.
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.